J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

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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.


11 Responses to “San Fran Smackdown– Indymedia / Blogosphere Divide Rages on KRON Blog”

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

    I have worked in MSM for more than 20 years. There’s a standard way that a story like the protest (and the sallient point of the story, a police officer severely injured after getting bashed over the head with a hammer or metal pipe.”

    99% of the MSM coverage of a story like this would consist of some b-roll of the protesters, some b-roll of the damage from the vandalism, and a sound bite from the police spokesman. That’s it, move on.

    My intent Friday night was to expose my TBAiT readers and by extention our television viewers to another side to this story. I thought that by shining a spotlight on images taken citizens who actually saw what was going on, it would provide a clearer view of the incident to our viewers.

    Too often in my view you only hear a very select few voices on television. It’s the same police and politicians (and sorry to Columbia University) pointy-headed academics providing the same range of views over and over. I really think I was doing something good by at least opening it up to other voices.

    As for your key question, I think ultimately both are right. My bosses want to make money. They don’t apologize for it. I want to cash a paycheck on Friday. I don’t apologize for that either.

    I understand that Indymedia has a political mission that’s not as interested in making money… although they have to fundraise from somewhere to support hosting, bandwidth, etc. But the fundamental mission is a non-profit one.

    To me it’s an issue of attribution. In every case I posted a link prior to the pictures back to the original source material. After 24 hours, I took down all the photos for which I didn’t have explicit permission from the photographers and replaced them with links to the Indymedia servers.

    In the days since, we have run a still picture on television taken from the sf.indymedia.org site of the injured officer bleeding on the sidewalk. We have followed the accepted practice of supering up a “courtesy” sf.indymedia.org banner over the picture. I received a communication from that photographer giving me explicit permission to continue using it as long as we continue to show that super.

    Could I have done a better job Friday night of communicating with the Indymedia people? Yes. I was caught up in the excitement of covering a breaking news story in a new and different way. That’s certainly a lesson learned.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful post.

    Brian Shields
    Online News Manager
    San Francisco

  2. Sorry, my copy editing went haywire in that third sentence.

    It should read: There’s a standard way that a story like the protest (and the sallient point of the story, a police officer severely injured after getting bashed over the head with a hammer or metal pipe) is covered.

  3. Please send me an email, so that we could have a private conversation. Thank you.

  4. janky said

    Thanks Josh for writing this up. I thought you would have taken a more opinionated stance –since we both know each other and understand how much time we have put into indymedia. But, I also understand that this is inherently about dialogue and I welcome the bit of fresh air regarding what has taken place.

    So, I guess my asking that Kron4 to remove posting that they did not recieve permission to use has created some sort of drama in the blogsphere. (there’s always drama and shit-talking. So, I wont touch on that here)

    My reasons are pretty well stated and I would like to go somewhat more in depth here. I made it pretty clear that this was not about Brian Shields or his blog. The reasons are 4 fold.


    1) The most important reason is that, yes, we are trying to make a radical alternative to corporate media. That unto itself (for me) would require that the corporate media is taken out of the picture entirely.

    Now I know, some folks have a problem with this, as can be seen on the Kron4 website. They cried that it was bullshit that anti-capitalists were trying to use copyright law ironically to their advantage.

    I will be the first to trash copyright law for it’s biased nature for those who hold power over the media & entertainment industry. But, I will utilize it when it protects me as an individual artist against a corporate media station utilizing my labor without my consent.

    This does not conflict with my ideology. I see indymedia as creating a “common” within media production seperate from the corporate media. Those knowledgeable in the history of commons knows that this is not without bounds. The limits of the common are created by singular subjects (ie. artist, craftspeople, workers) collectively.

    We obviously don’t live in a world where commons is the main form of ownership, but, we are effectively trying to create such a world with indymedia. We should use everything in our power to protect that commons from private interests.


    2) As editors of the site, the indybay collective, has a social contract with people who use and post to our site. It is important to us that we are not representative of our user base. We mearly edit what is contributed in a fasion that is open and democratic.

    Because of this, we do not give ourselves the right, as editors, to have control over content on the site. Thus, we also have no right to give permission for use on a corporate and commercial website or television station. It is pretty simple how this incident could be construed by the community as us giving rights to a corporate news channel.


    3) Here is where my personal politics come into play.

    First and foremost, I am a service industry worker. I view my relationship to capitalism as thus: my labor is paid piecemeal by those who have power and wealth within capitalism. I view this relationship as a form of theft. Primarily, because, my full value is not controlled by me or my coworkers. This is what is called as wage-slavery.

    Outside of my job, I have many projects –including indymedia– that I am able to have control over my labor and how things that affect me take place. Certainly, a corporate news service coming along a lifting the entirety of my work is a problem. It just replicates every problem that I have with wage-slavery and the largest problem I have with capitalism itself.


    4) The only real benefit that would come from allowing corporate media to utilize indymedia’s content is that they would create unbiased and truthful accounts of what has taken place. One would think that getting source material from a site that hosts many first person accounts that the corporate media would have gotten their stories better. (I know better than to believe that, but, that is the argument being put out by Brian and others on his site)

    Nearly every Bay Area TV station has lifted content from indybay regarding this event. The coverage has been completely biased in support of the police force, and they have continued to repeat verbatim what is being told to them by Fong and Suhr. (ironically, neither of them witnessed the incident) So, one would conjecture that the corporate news stations only want footage, pictures and spectacle and ignore entirely our content, eyewitness accounts & thoughts of how these are being treated in the media. (ie. only utilizing us when it is convenient for them)


    Honestly, this incident of the Kron4 website using indybay’s material is not that big of a problem for me. Kron4 has been better than others with reporting the incident.

    That does not excuse them for what took place, however.

    I think all those involved, can use to learn a lot from this incident. (ie. more understanding of each other should hopefully come out) Brian has been more professional than I would have imagined, by respecting our requests that all content be taken down.


  5. Janky says:

    “2) As editors of the site, the indybay collective, has a social contract with people who use and post to our site. It is important to us that we are not representative of our user base. We mearly edit what is contributed in a fasion that is open and democratic.

    Because of this, we do not give ourselves the right, as editors, to have control over content on the site. Thus, we also have no right to give permission for use on a corporate and commercial website or television station. It is pretty simple how this incident could be construed by the community as us giving rights to a corporate news channel.”

    But if you have no right to give permission, what right do you have to withhold it?

    That’s why I refused to take down the pictures at 3AM. Janky or Indymedia didn’t hold the copyright to those images. The photographers did. I made it clear on one of my earliest responses that if specific photographers wished me to remove specific photographs, let me know which ones and I would… and I did receive one e-mail referencing a specific image… and that came down immediately.

    I also welcome the more reasoned nature of Janky’s post here. And I appreciate that it appears you know that I thought I was doing something that would help you. Maybe I was mistaken. As I said above, I should clearly have communicated better. But after reading this post I’m perhaps slightly less concerned that someone would bash in the head with a hammer over this whole thing.

  6. Janky,

    Thank you for this reasoned dialog. As I said, TBAiT is a work-in-progress, and I repeat my invitation for lunch the next time I’m in SF.

  7. Chris:

    Maybe you could facilitate some sort of meet-up with Janky and myself to talk this out face to face… and if things go well maybe we’ll do it again the next time Terry comes to town.

    Some nice neutral ground where we could sit down and talk this out face to face.

    What do you think?

  8. amo said

    btw, Janky is a photographer, so his comments on tBAIT were about the photos he published on Indybay (which under U.S. copyright law he owns).

  9. Chris said

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks for thinking of me. But I live in NYC and wouldn’t be much of a logistical help, for obvious reasons. Besides, I don’t know what I could really add. I’m just a NYC based IMC volunteer and grad student who thinks way too much about these things 🙂

    But seriously, if you’re interested in working, in some fashion or another, with Indybay you should reach out to them. They may have no interest in TBAIT, which would be good for you to know right away so as you don’t waste your time. But there may be a way to lay some sort of ground rules that will avoid these kind of contretemps in the future and help everyone. Just a thought.

    Can I just step out of grad school mode for a ‘sec and say that I f-ing love Indybay??? They’re one of the most respected nodes in the IMC network for a reason, and there’s also a reason why everyone wants their content :)!! NYC would be well served to have an IMC half as networked into the community as they are.

  10. funferal said

    Two models of community radio

    I’ve just finished reading Seizing the Airwaves, which charts the state of free or pirate radio in the United States….

  11. Gentle situation! Total to favorite

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