J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

“If tools could make anyone who picked them up an expert, they’d be valuable indeed.” Plato, The Republic

Archive for July, 2005

Now would probably be the time…

Posted by chanders on July 13, 2005

…to post something brilliant here to demonstrate to all the visitors from elsewhere that I’m more than just a one trick pony. But I feel like I’ve been in front of laptop all day (oh, wait. I have been.)  Perhaps I can try to sound smart tomorrow.

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San Fran Smackdown– Indymedia / Blogosphere Divide Rages on KRON Blog

Posted by chanders on July 11, 2005

[Update (7/13/05): This post is only a personal opinion on the KRON incident and doesn’t claim to speak for Indymedia or NYC IMC]

Last weekend, as protests against the G8 raged in Scotland, Richmond, and San Francisco, a shouting match of another kind erupted on the pages of The Bay Area is Talking, a San Francisco blog run by local TV station KRON. According to its website, The Bay Area is Talking "is a blog devoted to the daily conversation that is news in the San Francisco Bay Area community. If it’s being discussed in the Bay Area, we hope you’ll find it here."  In other words, TBAIT is something of a meta-blog, run by KRON , which attempts to syndicate the best "citizens journalism" from the Bay Area.

The other party to the dispute was the San Francisco Bay Independent Media Center, about which most visitors to this blog are probably at least passingly familiar.  One key aspect of Indybay that may not be common knowledge to everyone is its posting policy, which reads: "Unless otherwise stated, all content contributed to this site is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint or rebroadcast. If you want to specify different conditions, please do so in the summary, including any © copyright statement. Please read our privacy and disclaimer statements before continuing."

So here’s what happened. On the night of July 8th, TBAIT began to run photos and text descriptions of violent protests against the G8 that broke out in the San Francisco Mission district. At least a few, if not most of those photos were taken directly from Indybay. Wrote Brian of TBAIT:

"In this week in which citizen’s journalism has received so much attention, there’s another source for information on what went on Friday night … It’s called Indybay.org which appears to have offered real-time coverage of the protest with people using various wireless technologies to report in throughout the event." What then followed was a detailed recap of the protests, largely using media found on Indybay.

A few hours later, all hell broke loose.

At 3 am, "Janky" from Indybay posted this comment to TBAIT, noting that "you are not athorized to use these photos. A set are the ones that I have taken and I request that you take them down immediately." Janky then quoted the afformentioned IMC posting policy. [full disclosure: I know Janky personally, having met him as a colleague, first during the RNC and later at the Indyconference in Austin]  After a bit of uncertainty, Terry Heaton, a consultant to TBAIT, long-time blogger and blogging partisan asked:

"Janky, how is the purpose of IndyBay served by denying wider use of the journalism provided by your members? If, in fact, you are giving voice to those who wouldn’t normally have a voice, why would you wish to limit that voice to a closed network?I think what you’re doing is absolutely fabulous, and I wish you well, but I don’t agree with an anti-capitalist group applying a rule of capitalism (limited use) to an otherwise outstanding mission. I think Brian is doing you a favor here, and I think you should reconsider." Terry’s was only the first post in what became a lengthy debate about fair use, Indymedia, preching to the choir, capitalism, and citizens journalism. The whole debate is too complex to summarize here, though JD Lasica of New Media Musings tried with this rather-poorly worded (IMHO) post:

"Almost inconceivably, the Indy Media folks cried "copyright infringement," and KRON complied by taking down a photo. But why in the world would Indy Media want to restrict the widespread online distribution of such a newsworthy set of photos? What rank hypocrisy."

It was, of course, almost impossible for any blogger to resist: Indymedia, the anarchists defending the copyright of a set of online photographs, and not only that, once again, like all lefty-crazies, content to preach to the choir. At least, thats largely how it was framed on the one or two blogs to pick up the thread.

As a PhD student in the Columbia University Journalism Department who has worked with NYC Indymedia and whose research is on "citizens journalism" (an area that I explicity argue includes Indymedia) I supposed I’m either way to biased to talk about this … or, in the spirit of the "end of objectivity," just the person to share my rambilngs. In believe in the second spirit, fortunately, so here I go …

I think the dispute about "fair use," while possibly interesting to lawyers and somewhat relevant, is a red herring, at least for Indymedia and for most bloggers and researchers. The argument about fair use largely misses the point. What’s really important here has more to do with the notion of a non-corporate alternative to the increasingly misnamed mainstream-media, what that means to Indymedia, what that means to many bloggers, and what that might mean to the "gurus" of the blogging world. Indymedia was founded in 1999 (an enternity ago in the world of the internet) as a specifically anti-captialist alternative to the corporate media. That whole notion of anti-capitalism is as much a part of Indymedia’s DNA as the notion of "being the media." Or rather, as I’ve written elsewhere, Indymedia sees the two as inseperable: by facilitating individuals "being the media" Indymedia also facilitates "media justice," and, by extension, a radical critique.

Needless to say, this isn’t the way many bloggers think, especially the people who have written the most about the blogosphere. As Lasica baldly puts it in his comments on the IMC-TBAIT dust-up: "[according to Indymedia] KRON = big media, therefore bad. Gimme a break." For many bloggers, the key to the blogosphere is not anti-corporate anti-capitalism; rather, its the facilitation of "citizen journalism," and the exact facilitator of that "citizen journalism" is not all that important. In other words, the corporate press can get into the citizen’s journalism game too; in fact, this is the only way that the corporate press will survive. Many of the best-funded and most talked about "citizen’s journalism" projects of the past year or so– the Bayosphere (to a degree), the Northwest Voice , the L.A. Times ill-fated experiment with the wiki-world— propose some merger between old and new media.

What’s more, Indymedia implicitly advocates for an end to the mainstream media entirely, as part of its radically anti-corporate stance. The buzz in the blogosphere seems to be, on the other hand, that "citizens journalism" can supplement, though not replace, big media (this isn’t a universal argument, though its rapidly becoming the "mainstream" one). For Indymedia, then, the position of what’s called citizen’s media within the capitalist system matters a great deal; what’s more, Indymedia sees citizens media as something that can and should eventually replace big media. For most partisans of citizen’s journalism, on the other hand, the focus lies on the position of the journalist, and the goal is to get the mainstream media to understand and eventually incorporate citizen’s media into its structure.

They key quote in the entire debate is this one, from Terry Heaton:

"Finally, we can argue legalities until the cows come home, but those arguments pale in comparison with the bigger picture. KRON is taking a huge risk with this venture, and I don’t think it’s possible to overstate that. We’re so accustomed to howling at the moon that we don’t know how to react when the moon finally says, "What do you want?" This "personal media revolution," as JD calls it, is a new thing. The institutional press will certainly try to "harness" the energy, but we all know that’s impossible. In KRON, I submit, you have a group of people who understand this."

vs this, from "k"

"Brian, we have put years of effort, unpaid, volunteer effort in service of a political cause
(which perhaps you cannot understand) into building indybay.org. now you want to come along, and your corporation now belatedly recognizing the power of "citizen" independent journalism, turn it to your corporate profit and advantage."

Who is right? Upon this question, I imagine, a great deal hangs.

Finally, I want to conclude by arguing that at least part of this dispute is based on mutual ignorance. While there have been multiple scholarly pieces on Indymedia, they are somewhat negelected in the blogosphere. To his credit, Lasica mentions Indymedia 23 times over the course of his blog; on the other hand, it comes up on PressThink only once and on the OJR site a few times at most. When you consider that Indymedia is one of the oldest and most consistant participatory journalistic endeavors this is somewhat surprising, and I can say for certain that Indymedia has noticed it.  One poster to TBAIT describes Indymedia as "constant updates all night long. And oh wait, this type of coverage has been happening for over 5 years now. [TBAIT is] profound? come on buddy."

At the same time, Indymedia has a lot more to do with regard to figuring out how its going to adjust to a world where citizens journalism has gone mainstream. Its no surprise that this conflict first reared its head on the left-coast– they’re always a little bit ahead. But sooner or later, this is a conundrum that will be faced by a lot of bloggers and a lot of IMC’s. I know in NYC I might have jumped at the chance for the kind of exposure that KRON provided … but now that I think about it, I don’t know anymore. At the very least, NYC IMC is rolling out its own blogging experiment in the next few weeks, and interested folks should stay tuned to NYC Indymedia to see how it goes.


Posted in Projects: Random Musings | 11 Comments »