Innovation and Tactics in the Indie Media World

Rabble has some incisive thoughts comparing Indymedia and Guerilla News Network:

In general it was interesting to look at the differences between GNN and Indyemdia. Both organizations are about radical media production, and both started with about the same number of people 5 years ago. GNN had 4 people, indymedia 8 attending meetings but a core of about 4 people. The visions were drastically different. Today GNN is 5 people who are doing very high production value work which focuses on entering american pop culture and injecting political messages.

Which leads him to ask the question: “They [Ourmedia] are building second generation open publishing tools, not indymedia. GNN is also building them, but why not indymedia[?]”

I have a couple of answers. The first is that it’s easier to move 5 people than 500, and that it’s a trade off, of sorts. The small group can be more innovative and take more risks, but is more likely to dissolve through attrition or failure. Indymedia retains a sort of structural integrity that means it’s harder to attack and destroy outright, even if it takes longer to introduce new methods.

Another answer has to do with money. The Indymedia network contains a plethora of conflicted ideas, opinions and feelings about money. Some of the differences are regional, some of them are between groups and individuals. The network as a consensus doesn’t know if, how and when to bring in money and to spend it.

But, in any event, most of the technologies and innovations that efforts such as GNN and Ourmedia roll out require some kind of funding to sustain.

Even if the code that underlies publishing tools can be written by a base of volunteers, hosting all the media is not inexpensive.

I suspect that when Indymedia was 8 people, it was easier to reach a consensus on where to turn for money and how. Now, stretched over nearly every continent on Earth, it’s not so easy to find that consensus network-wide.

Ourmedia, at least, is not concerned with creating media, or facilitating its creation — just storage and distribution. Innovation is easier when it has a clear and certain trajectory.

Indymedia, by comparison, is very fundamentally concerned with creation. And not just providing tools, but training and means. That’s harder, I’ll argue, especially as Indymedia tries to bring the means outside of the western middle-class.

In the bigger picture, what’s important is that these varying efforts and orgnanizations remain collaborative and open, and not competitive. Indy media makers can benefit from the bandwidth offered by Ourmedia without having to forsake working with Indymedia. Similarly, GNN and IMCs can work together and do — at the U-C IMC we lent use of our equipment to a GNN reporter doing interviews in Urbana last year.

Cooperation and a diversity of tactics will make independent media a strong force. That isn’t to say Indymedia shouldn’t innovate or try and find broad consensus on issues like funding. Rather, perhaps some innovations by other groups means Indymedia doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel and can focus on things that a world-wide network is better suited for — whatever those things may be.