Independent Nonprofit, Noncorporate, Noncommercial Global News: Democracy Now! Celebrates 25 Years on the Air

By Deborah A. Cecere

“From New York – this – is Democ­ra­cy Now!” With this icon­ic phrase, Amy Good­man opens each hour-long broadcast.

Pho­to Cred­it: Amy Good­man and Juan González in the Democ­ra­cy Now! New York stu­dio. Cre­ative Commons.

What is an inde­pen­dent, non­prof­it, non­cor­po­rate, non­com­mer­cial glob­al news pro­gram? How is it broad­cast and fund­ed? And why do I tune in daily?

Democ­ra­cy Now! start­ed in 1996 as a dai­ly news pro­gram on pub­lic radio; in 2001, live tele­vi­sion and online broad­casts were added to the mix. View­ing and lis­ten­ing to Democ­ra­cy Now! are pos­si­ble via pub­lic access mul­ti­me­dia sta­tions, chan­nels (radio, satel­lite, and cable tele­vi­sion), and the Inter­net. Democ­ra­cy Now! is entire­ly audi­ence-sup­port­ed – it does not accept fund­ing from gov­ern­ment agen­cies or cor­po­ra­tions and is not sup­port­ed by adver­tis­ing, sub­scrip­tion, or license fees. This struc­ture is not only excep­tion­al with­in the world of cor­po­rate and com­mer­cial mass media but also with­in the pub­lic-broad­cast­ing sys­tems in the U.S. and Ger­man-speak­ing countries.

An inde­pen­dent media is indis­pens­able to a func­tion­ing democ­ra­cy. Only an inde­pen­dent media can engage fac­tu­al­ly and impar­tial­ly with the press­ing issues of the day. Democ­ra­cy Now! meets this chal­lenge in a man­ner that is quite unpar­al­leled with­in the US or the inter­na­tion­al news media and thus ful­fills the man­date inher­ent in its name.

This starts with what gets cov­eredDemoc­ra­cy Now! explores issues affect­ing peo­ple pro­found­ly: the cli­mate cri­sis, sys­temic racism, envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice, and women’s rights, just to men­tion a few. This is under­scored by who does the talk­ing. The guests, rep­re­sent­ing the authen­tic voic­es of those who are clos­est to mak­ing the sto­ry, run the gamut from schol­ars, inves­tiga­tive reporters, and politi­cians to mem­bers of grass­roots move­ments, teach­ers, and artists. Amy Good­man, host since 1996, describes Democ­ra­cy Now! and its gen­e­sis: “The whole idea was peo­ple speak­ing for them­selves. The media is a huge kitchen table that stretch­es across the globe, that we all sit around and debate and dis­cuss the most impor­tant issues of the day: war and peace, life and death, inequal­i­ty, equal­i­ty, racial eco­nom­ic jus­tice, LGBTQ issues, the cli­mate cri­sis. And of course, now, over­all respect for sci­ence in deal­ing with the pan­dem­ic and issues of equi­ty along the way.”

The open­ing 15 min­utes of the news hour are ded­i­cat­ed to the head­lines – the nation­al and inter­na­tion­al sto­ries mak­ing break­ing news. Head­lines are fol­lowed by the main part of the pro­gram in which one or more top­i­cal issues are dis­cussed com­pre­hen­sive­ly. One of the co-hosts, Juan González or Ner­meen Shaikh, usu­al­ly join Amy Good­man for these in-depth seg­ments. Guests are giv­en ample time to lay out their sto­ries dur­ing inter­views. Both the head­lines and the in-depth seg­ments are inter­spersed with pri­ma­ry source video and sound clips. Occa­sion­al­ly, a debate between guests takes place with­in round­ta­bles orga­nized around more con­tro­ver­sial top­ics. Inter­na­tion­al guests are asked to com­ment on how U.S. domes­tic issues and for­eign pol­i­cy affect their nation and its cit­i­zens. Domes­tic guests are asked, in turn, to explain U.S. domes­tic issues to a glob­al audi­ence and to place them with­in a glob­al context.

Non-Eng­lish-speak­ing guests are inter­pret­ed on air, and tran­scripts of all seg­ments as well as links to guests’ pub­li­ca­tions with­out pay­walls are avail­able online and dai­ly. Web­site exclu­sives, sup­ple­men­tary inter­views that have extend­ed beyond the hour-long pro­gram, are avail­able online only. The 30-sec­ond seg­ment breaks are filled with con­tem­po­rary and non­con­tem­po­rary inter­na­tion­al music and are often employed strik­ing­ly as iron­ic polit­i­cal com­men­tary. Before the pan­dem­ic, all the hosts and often the guests met in the New York stu­dio. Since March 2021, only Amy Good­man is present in the stu­dio, and the par­tic­i­pa­tion of the co-hosts and all the guests is made pos­si­ble by livestream­ing from remote loca­tions around the world.

Now you know why I tune in dai­ly for my U.S. and glob­al news. You may have thought cor­po­rate-spon­sored cable news net­works (not nam­ing names here) were the only game in town, but there’s an alter­na­tive to the drone of mass media news: Democ­ra­cy Now! I hope you will feel inclined to add their ‘Dai­ly Digest’ to your inbox.

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Deb­o­rah A. Cecere was born and raised in New York and has lived in Ger­many and worked in the pub­lish­ing indus­try for over 30 years. She is a free­lance pro­fes­sion­al copy­ed­i­tor, who spe­cial­izes in aca­d­e­m­ic writ­ings in the human­i­ties, fic­tion, cre­ative non­fic­tion, cook­books, and food writing.