Archive | November, 2004

Happy 5th Birthday Indymedia

Today is the 5th anniversary of the Battle of Seattle at the 1999 WTO Ministerial protests, and so is also a fine day to celebrate the birthday of Indymedia. Although Indymedia actually formed over months preceeding the WTO, it was five years ago today that the IMC took center stage as the conduit of information from Seattle.

In November 1999 I was just barely aware of the preparations underway in anticipation of the WTO, though I knew it was going to be a big deal. Many people from Champaign-Urbana went to the protests, and in talking to them afterward and hearing about the IMC I kept asking them and myself, “why can’t we do that here?”

Less than a year later, enough people here who were asking themselves the same question got together and made plans for the Urbana-Champaign IMC, which had its “official” opening on January 20, 2001.

Since 1999 we’ve seen some of the first IMCs change, split and go on hiatus, along with over a hundred others join the network. I’m amazed that we’ve kept it together in Champaign-Urbana for almost four years, especially since compared to places like New York, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle, we’re pretty far off the activist mind-map. Even so, the U-C IMC is facing challenges, including trying to find a new home for our physical space.

There are many justified critiques of IMC, from battles over editing website newswires, to more significant questions about diversity, disparity between the global North and South, and the effectiveness of the media we make. Critiques are important, because they remind us of the things we need to address and give consideration.

I think IMC is still an extremely effective approach to making independment media and networking geographically dispersed communities with common media approaches, strategies and solidarity. It’s far from perfect, but we must recognize that IMC is one big experiment that is not quite like anything attempted before. While it draws on the rich history of the alternative press, community radio, public access TV and other oppositional media movements, IMC is a multimedia endeavor that attempts to leverage the power of electronic and social networks.

The free association of local IMCs without hierarchies is the most powerful and protective element of the IMC movement. While it presents new challenges for global decision making, it also helps make IMC easy to grow and hard to kill.

Five years seems like a short period of time, but it’s an important benchmark for an alternative or activist organization, especially one that is not run in a top-down fashion. At this point, I’d bargain that it would take much more forceful direct and coordinated state repression to stamp out IMC. Even as individual local IMCs come and go, I predict the network has another five years ahead of it, at the very least.

Santa Cruz IMC has a short feature on the anniversary with links to a Freak Radio program looking back on the WTO protests and the audio portion of the This Is What Democracy Looks Like documentary. NYC IMC also has a feature that includes links to articles examining the legacy of the Battle of Seattle.

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Radioshow Headlines for 11-26-04

These are the media news headlines as read on the 11-26-04 edition of mediageek. The headlines include these stories: Democracy Now Coming to UPTV; Chicago Access Network Faces Opposition from Comcast; Federal Government Windfall in FM Spectrum Auction.

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One Hundred New Pirate Radio Stations… or Maybe 1000

Kirsten Anderberg explores what volunteers with Freak Radio Santa Cruz, Free Radio Olympia and Radio Free Cascadia think about the recent FCC raid on Freak Radio in her new article “One Hunderd New Pirate Radio Stations.” She also gives a good overview of the events that led up to the raid.

I agree that one hundred new stations only makes it harder to shut the movement down. But what about 1000?

Transmitters are cheap. Cheaper than computers, and if you go under 20 watts, they’re cheaper than iPods, for crying out loud.

But you don’t even have to broadcast at multi-watt power if that level of power and risk makes you nervous. Small, low-powered transmitters keep getting cheaper and easier to find, partially thanks to the popularity of iPods and mp3 players.

You can easily mod a $30 Griffin iTrip or Belkin TuneCast to extend it’s range a few more yards. Or if you’re not too afraid of a soldering iron, you can put together a Ramsey FM-10c or just buy an assembled CanaKit UK108 for $18 and you just have to put it in a case like this.

Incidentally, the CanaKit is the same transmitter that the Walker Art Center gave away hundreds of during their Radio ReVolt project. They have also posted a list of places to buy low-power and micropower transmitters.

With any of these ultra-low-power “legal” Part 15 transmitters you can easily cover a dorm, apartment building or city block. If you don’t mind exceeding Part 15 limits you can pretty easily get your signal out a quarter mile or more. Your audience is smaller than a 20 watt station, but so is your risk. But if you and ten friends each get together with a station, then you’ve got a network.

Of course, countless pirate stations are currently on the air with 10s of watts without ever being bothered by the FCC. Many of them don’t run 24/7, don’t do much publicity, or otherwise haven’t managed to get themselves onto the FCC’s enforcement agenda.

It’s important to remember that stations like Freak Radio kept a high profile in their community. The benefit is that it engendered community support, and probably contributed to the station being on the air for nine years before being shut down. The downside, is that it makes you an easy target.

There are many different ways to get on the air, from super-micro-power to low-power, from 24/7 to an hour a week, out in the open, or underground. I say, choose your method and do it.

If you’re so inclined, DIYmedia.net has a nice list of sellers for both ultra-low Part 15 transmitters, and higher watt units.

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Criticizing Wikipedia; the Problem with Open Editing

Jason Scott has an interesting critique of Wikipedia, from the standpoint of a contributor. He isn’t criticizing the wiki method, per se, so much as this particular institution of the method. And unlike many other critiques of Wikipedia I’ve read, he isn’t questioning the credibility of the content, but how content is manipulated and deleted by those who had no role in creating it.

I haven’t messed with Wikipedia too much myself. While the idea of a world-edited encyclopedia sounds great on the surface, my experience dealing with trolls and right-wingnuts on Indymedia sites makes me suspicious about the same issues Jason brings up.

If just anybody could edit and change content on the Urbana-Champaign IMC site, then I’m certain we’d be fighting a constant battle of articles being vandalized with homophobic and racist crap.

As it is, the collectives behind most reasonably popular IMC websites have to dedicate a bit of time to cleaning the open newswire of that sort of useless content that drives away people who would use the site constructively as a place to read and share news.

Indeed, that, apparently, is what drove Jason away from Wikipedia — having his hard work denigrated and vandalized by people for no apparently constructive reason. That would drive me away, too.

The Internet is not a utopia, and there are lots of people who would rather use its power to stroke their egos, cause trouble and hurt others. That’s a fact of life, regardless of what your own political standpoint is. The real question is how you can still harness this power to spread information and give a platform to people who are otherwise systematically deprived, while protecting all of this from those who would destroy it.

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Radioshow headlines for 11-19-04

These are the media news headlines as read on the 11-19-04 edition of mediageek. The headlines include these stories: Patrick Thompson Receives Continuance on Eavesdropping Charge, Adelstein’s Surprise Renomination to the FCC, Lott Lays In to Public Broadcasting, McCain says no quick action on indecency or DTV.

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