The emerging model of independent digital media is spontaneous and self-organizing, decentralized and fiercely autonomous. Important to bear in mind: the list below is a catalog of attributes that pre-dates the Trump administration. After inauguration, all bets are off and the need to be flexible and ready for the rules and conventional wisdom to change has never been so imperative.
It is worth noting that some of the attributes outlined below have applied to independent media from before the advent of the open web, but they are mentioned here because the web has and will continue to mutate everything that comes in contact with it. This is not meant to be an authoritative list; just a set of observations that people working in the overlap of media and technology might find useful, from the perspective of a person who has worked in digital media technology production for many years. Your input and responses are valued and welcome (send replies to vision((( @ ))) levelnews.org).
* Open source independent media is grassroots public-interest media; it is not top-down.
* Unlike broadcast media, indie media doesn't tell you what to think. It requires audience participation in the form of comparing sources, doing additional research, making up your own mind and keeping it open when additional information surfaces.
* It is spontaneous and self-organizing. Anyone can participate in any way imaginable.
* It is media that can function as a form of mutual aid.
* It is decentralized and publishes on the open web (no pay-walls, no forced sign-ins, no "app-only" content). It is spread out across the internet, does not depend on centralized platforms and prefers to drive traffic to its own media properties.
* It is issue-oriented, not personality driven. Eschews fluff.
* Its cornerstone is make-your-own, DIY culture. It responds to critics by saying: "If you don't like what I'm doing, build your own." This is where open source software can complement these efforts.
* It doesn't censor voices it disagrees with, but will criticize the hell out of them in public forums.
* It incubates interesting subgenres in an accessible way, for example what I call "slow news" -- part news, part history lesson. Deep and well-researched, slow news looks at larger historical patterns as a big picture unfolding over time, which is vital for contextualization of current events.
The least conflicted funding sources are crowd-funding and self-funding. This can also come in the form of merchandising, running events/conferences, and content upselling ("Want to find out more? Join our club!"). Many content producers are self-funding activists donating spare time.
Less appealing funding sources are online ad networks (Google Ads, Youtube monetization). Some digital media activists are pushing back against this model due to ad networks' reliance on ubiquitous Orwellian "surveillance capitalism". Alternative solutions for this problem do not exist and/or may not be financially viable. This is an area that is ripe for improvement and innovation.
Other funding sources being used are foundation funding and private funding. This is what some call the "sugar daddy" model of indie media finance due to the top-down nature of begging for grants from the rich and powerful. Private funding also falls into this category, but mileage may vary depending on the funder. You might notice that a privately-funded media outlet is remarkably quiet when it comes to private donor pet-issues.
Decentralization of indie media sites across the open web is great. It makes this network of indie media strong and resilient but has its own drawbacks at this time:
* The dominant technology currently being used relies on the (relatively) centralized infrastructure of the "open web" which may come under attack by net neutrality opponents. Resistance to net neutrality opponents may be fragmented unless content creators and audiences unite to resist.
* Access must be made more redundant. The DNS system for resolving web addresses and dominant use of centralized servers for media properties are weak points. Further decentralization of networking software will likely become necessary in the future due to censorship efforts.
* Indie media has fallen prey to co-opting by "3rd party" platform providers within the tech industry due to indie media's over-reliance on 3rd party providers' traffic and revenue streams, as well as capacity for "scaling" (if you've had an article go viral and your server crashed, you know what this means -- 3rd party sites might demand media sites publish directly on their platform and cite incidents like this as the reason).
* Indie media creators need accessible legal and other resources that traditional corporate media provides to its producers. A networked form of mutual aid could possibly address this pain-point.
* Indie media producers suffer from low pay due to lack of funding and, like all independent contractors, are penalized by the expense of everyday things like medical insurance.
* Mimicry of indie media sources by bad actors is easy; Operation Mockingbird is the blueprint for disinformation campaigns that look and feel like the genuine article
* "Weaponized" participation: witch hunts resulting in violence may be used to undermine and discredit all of public-interest indie/alt media (example: "Pizzagate")
Following the model outlined above, independent software production may be a way of promoting technology that complements indie media's humanist values. Value systems are still being codified and are evolving all the time. Aral Balkan's "Ethical design manifesto" is a valuable guidepost for these efforts. It is useful to remember that digital culture is a relatively new adventure in the much longer history of mass media.
There are currently no professional pathways that I am aware of for totally independent software development besides self-funding, which most young people caught in the debt cycle after years of technical schooling simply cannot afford to do.
The tech industry, through its various mouthpieces, likes to promote the idea that there is only one pathway to software development: Venture Capital funding.
Through foundations and grants, the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (NPIC) channels what few idealistic young people that are interested in tech humanism back into projects that may function as controlled opposition. These take the form of colonial projects that wear a mask of "humanism" while hurting marginalized communities (even if the young idealists participating in this model don't understand this). Indie media participants who are (justifiably) frustrated with the tech community's myopia must keep in mind that math, science and engineering graduates may not be equipped with the educational background in politics, history, philosophy and ethics to decipher the motives of their masters.
Lastly, the tech community is desperately lacking something similar to an "arts fellowship" system for independent software/digital media production. We need independent software incubators. Without a viable pathway to support independent technology projects, expect more of the same from the tech community.