BY E.K. HUDSON
Canada’s mediascape has a new independent, alternative player in Montreal-based startup Ricochet. Their launch’s otherwise rampant success—which includes a still-running Indiegogo campaign that has raised nearly $50,000 so far—was marred this week by an unfortunate controversy.
This past Tuesday, Ricochet editor Ethan Cox sat down with Jesse Brown on his popular Canadian media podcast, Canadaland. During the interview, Brown posed an important question, asking Cox how exactly a media outlet ended up being accused of doing the kinds of things it was created to oppose.
Rabble is a progressive media outlet founded in 2001. Cox worked with Rabble from spring 2012 and tendered his resignation last fall, claiming Rabble‘s decision-makers had strayed from the site’s founding principles in a number of pointed ways, including poor working conditions and allowing a sponsor to censor content. Rabble disputes Cox’s claims.
The latest controversy—dubbed “Rabble vs. Ricochet“—resulted in shots being fired on both sides, and concluded with more of a challenge to the old idiom “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” than Ricochet (or Rabble, for that matter) could have hoped.
As a former member of media collectives at a campus community radio station, television station, and student newspaper—all outlets that worked hard to be an alternative voice—and later as president of Canadian University Press amid financial crisis, I’ve personally wrestled with Brown’s question in the past.
In my experience, the “how” is often explained in one of two ways: first, there’s a change of values in either the people managing the money, or the organization as a whole.
The bottom line—no matter what industry you live in—is when there’s no money, there’s no capacity. Maybe you have to sell out, yes, but at least you survive to fight another day (likely far in the future). A principled action or position for any group with bills to pay is difficult without money as backup.
This might be treacherous to some readers, staff, or volunteers, but maybe not. Perceptions and values can change dramatically when you have to look a crisis in the eye, and people will bail. If anyone’s left standing, they may decide the tried-and-true methods of the mainstream might have to do until capacity is rebuilt.
The second explanation is less straightforward: experimentation. Maybe it’s time to try something brand new, never-done-before, that idea “so crazy it just might work! What have we got to lose?”
Well, you might fail, and lose whatever embers were still burning. Or the experiment might work, but take you to an unexpected place, where you’ve inadvertently turned into the monster you were trying to destroy (i.e.: you sold out but didn’t realize it . . . until it was too late. Whoops).
It would have been interesting (and still would be) to hear the perspectives of others who’ve worked in alternative media, or perhaps an honest conversation between Rabble and Ricochet comparing lessons learned. Ideally, we’d see some indication of some communication and solidarity between the two.
But instead, the devolution into mudslinging has hindered a productive conversation about how indie media can learn from each other’s successes and failures. That way, the next time someonehas a great idea and finds the means to follow through on it, we’ll have a stronger chance of succeeding.
You’ll notice I used “we” in that last sentence, because we are in this together, unfortunate bedmates though we may be.
The Ricochet vs. Rabble controversy is only the latest example of how not to deal with conflict between organizations that could otherwise be allies. Both outlets are independent and trying to provide a different set of voices to a Canadian media scene largely dominated by private media outlets and, of course, our public broadcaster.
We all lose out when indie organizations pit themselves against each other. So, if we — readers and media types alike — truly want to support independent alternative media, let’s change how we talk about Rabbleand Ricochet right now, and how we talk about other independent alternatives while we’re at it. ♦
Image via Ricochet