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Category: Media

Independent Media: Creating the Solution?

When I think about Independent Media, the question of relevancy often arises. Community Media Activists obviously care about what they are doing, but does anyone else care?

Does Independent Media make a difference? I went to the panel discussion “Independent Media – Creating the Solution” at the National Conference to Reform the Media this weekend wondering about what they have to say, wanting to know How Does Independent Media Create the Solution? I had just finished a long, hot, six-hour drive to St. Louis hoping to find some answers.
I arrived a few minutes late and had to choose from one of four panels happening at the time catering to about 2000 people packed into the basement of the hotel.

The panel I chose was standing room only, so I stood in the back listening to Laura Flanders, host at Pacifica, who got my attention by giving kudos to IMC’s, Free Speech TV, Paper Tiger TV and others, thanking them for their work.

As an IMC journalist I appreciated that, but sitting in a barren, grand ballroom with 500 people looking at a little dot speaking miles away, it was hard to feel close to independent media.

Democracy Now! was the currency in trade at the National Conference to Reform the Media. Everyone was wearing Democracy Now! t-shirts and talking about how independent media needs to continue its work to ‘amplify’ the message. This is exciting. I know that Amy Goodman produces good journalism, but somehow I feel like I am at a big leftist cult teach in.

I felt like I was in some bizarro upside down universe which was the antithesis of the media universe I normally inhabit in the South. While it feels good to look around and see these people who I think might feel the same way as me on some issues, I wonder how much reach these people have in reality.

Laura Flanders was promoting the IWT – a global news network which I heard about previously. Flanders asked if the media we create allows us to break into the mainstream then are we going to be able to create legitimate, relevant media?

As an IMC journalist I am not particularly interested in breaking into the mainstream, but I was listening even though that was not the question at the top of my mind. Flanders said the mainstream media is the “independent of reality media.”

The second panelist, Salim Muwakkil, having worked in both mainstream and alternative media, urged the audience of 500 or so to creatively disseminate progressive ideas. He encouraged outreach to mainstream journalists.

As a member of the Progressive Media Project, he was surprised at the success of this project in disseminating progressive op-eds to mainstream papers. Muwakkil said a key reason for the lack of success of independent media was due to a lack of support from progressive foundations and think tanks.

Muwakkil says that conservatives maintain full spectrum dominance which has created a sense of urgency for results among progressive journalists, including Democracy Now! and Air America.

Muwakkil was concerned about the apparent lack of concern regarding racial justice issues and thinks that both the mainstream and independent media have dropped this agenda, overtly by mainstream media and perhaps overlooked by the media reform movement, caught up in its critique of conservative full spectrum dominance.

Robert Greenwalkd, creator of “Outfoxed” and “Unprecedented” called this conference ‘radical’ and felt attendees had an amazing opportunity to create solutions, which he attributes to technology.

His company Brave New Films is dedicated to alternative distribution, utilizing all the new technologies available for distribution.

Greenwald felt that producers are too focused on being right and not enough on content. “We need to find better ways to tell the story. We need to be thinking about new distribution methods,” Greenwald urged.

Not feeling particularly inspired by this panel I was thinking about leaving. I am never going to have the resources to produce anything that is nationally released; as an IMC journalist I am used to working with dumpster-dived equipment pulled from the debris of industrial production.

I don’t think I will ever host a nationally syndicated radio program. At best I will probably just barely produce content for Indymedia. These people consider themselves the alternative media, but within progressive circles, these people are mainstream to me.

Tennessee Indymedia has no money. Global Indymedia has very little money and these panelists all seem like they belong at a good coffee shop in Manhattan, not out in a cornfield in Missouri or even in a mid-sized southern city like the kind that dominates Tennessee.

This journalism is relevant; I understand it is relevant; I just don’t know if it is going to go over in the South, though. It is mostly dominated by people from the Northeast and West Coast. As for Indymedia, I don’t even see Indymedia as “going over” because I don’t view Indymedia as something that has to dominate markets and move into the mainstream.

The only time I hope Indymedia ever moves into the mainstream is when everyone incorporates the values of producing autonomous, independent community-based media, rather than being “consumers” of media. I am not trying to be antagonistic toward these people, I just feel out of place here.

Linda Jue of the Independent Press Association said that this was the decade for Independent Media. She said that the IPA is dedicated to building a progressive, independent print network. Sometimes I couldn’t hear her because sound began bleeding in from the room next door and I wondered who decided to put the conference in a hotel.

The last time this conference happened at a university where people could move around and go to different spaces and it just felt more accessible last time than it did this time in a stuffy conference hotel, even if it was a union hotel.

Jue felt that we did not have a way to amplify our message. Jue said that “Most people don’t share our values. Most people don’t know what we know.” I was wondering how 500 people sitting in a room are really going to learn anything.

I wonder how many conversations could be happening instead of sitting here listening to representatives of “Independent Media” talk at us.

I know these people feel like they are Independent Journalists who are fighting against the mainstream, but what does that make IMC journalists? In their value system my work feels non-existent, or at least not on their map.

I don’t feel at home with the bloggers who had their conference in Nashville the week before last, but I don’t feel anything in a 500 person conference room hearing people repeat the word “echo chamber” over and over again, referring to their belief that we need to use all of our different networks to amplify key resources such as Democracy Now! or Air America.

I wonder where we can really have conversations about these issues and where the work at this conference is really going to lead. I don’t think it is going to lead to money for the Tennessee IMC, or even a space to have an IMC.

I think this is not a conference, but rather a glorified trade show, like any other trade show, and these people are true believers.
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