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Santa Cruz Indymedia

LOCAL Commentary :: Alternative Media

How Is Indymedia An Independent News source?

Although Indymedia is by no means perfect, its decentralized, ultra-democratic, and technologically efficient manner makes it a tremendous tool of the contemporary activist and alternative media movement. It is not independent in the sense that it is unhindered by subjective points of view, but it is independent in the sense it does not fall into the same traps of mainstream media.

A pervasive and engaging media is important to the functionality of any democracy. For any well-performing democracy to function, it must first have a thorough press core and objective/multiple media outlets, which in effect create an educated populace. This educated citizenry, in turn, makes informed decisions about the maintenance and future of their nation. Yet, many in this contemporary period find our mass media and journalistic outlets unworthy of the public’s trust because of their imbedded commercial interests and biased perspectives. In the effort to provide a more balanced version of the news to more readily inform the populace, many have resorted to create their own media outlets. One of the most widespread, readily available and technically innovative means of ‘alternative media’ in recent years has been Founded in a historically important moment, Indymedia strives to embolden people to action through their inspired motives and decentralized tactics.

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It is an inherently human trait to want know what’s happening in one’s surrounding. News gathering sources, such as the newspaper have become an important piece in the making and recording of the world we live in. In his piece “The American Newspaper?, former writer and editor of major newspapers and magazines Will Irwin writes, “It is both an intellectual craving and a commercial need for the modern world. In popular psychology, it [news] has come to a crying primal want of the mind, like hunger of the body… the complex organism of modern society could no more move without it than a man could move without filaments and a ganglia? (Irwin 1911: 125).
Indeed, news is important, but because of the current structure of the journalistic apparatuses, media critics believe public is receiving ‘news’ that merely serves to subjugate them. Luminary theorist Robert McChesney asserted that ‘news’ and “the media system has been set up to serve the interests of those who make the policies behind closed doors—large profit-driven media corporations—while the broad and vital interests of the population have been largely neglected? (McChesney 2004: 18). Media sources have been liable to having ever increasing profit margins as they only see themselves as accountable to their stockholders, people likely to be in the upper economic brackets. Not denying this fact, corporate media’s moguls like Clear Channel’s Lowry Mays assert, “We’re not in the business of providing news and information. We’re simply in the business of selling our customers’ products? (Ibid: 45). The way they make money, is of course, largely unreported by the mainstream press.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, journalistic sources are widely regarded as being totally objective and as purveyors of the steadfast truth, thus the public’s construction of the world around them is shaped by the media. Yet, though the journalistic sources are interested in purveying the news to the masses, many critics believe that ‘news-making’ is the means to the ends of political and economic power, making their relating of the news inherently skewed towards the suppression of the public.. With the advent of advertising, mainstream media sources are perfect tools hidden and explicit ads by those wanting to more readily sell their respective products to the passive consumer. McChesney states, “Advertising emerged in response to the needs of corporate capitalism. It quickly and necessarily came to colonize much of the press, radically transforming its logic and content, and making most media part of the broader commercial marketing system? (Ibid: 138). As a result, the arena of the media has been one of ever increased competition with companies gobbling other companies another in the pursuit of maximizing profit creating such goliaths as Clear Channel, AOL Time-Warner, and Vivendi-Universal. As many companies are streamlined into few with both vertical and horizontal dominations of markets, the number of voices heard is diminished, thus limiting the forums for critique or dissent by those representing other viewpoints.

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Theorists such as Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky believe that the mainstream media not only represent exploitative economic interests, but of political interests as well. In “A Propaganda Model? they state, “The mass media are drawn into a symbiotic relationship with powerful sources of information by economic necessity and reciprocity of interest? (Herman and Chomsky 1988: 292). Because news sources need a reliable stream of news for their continual sales, the ever-active government serves as a first-rate feeding source. The government, an institution that generally has the veneer of ‘rationalism’, is many times seen as the official and legitimate source of news with crystallized documentations of the truth. Thus, the “journalists can appear as stenographers to those in power—exactly what one would expect in an authoritarian society with little or no formal press freedom? (McChesney 2004: 70). Both these powerful apparatuses benefit greatly from this relationship as they work in collusion to create their notions of the truth for their own respective gains.
But in some ways, the mainstream news media is of equal to or greater power than the government. In his “Speeches on the Media? series in the late 1960s, former Vice President Spiro Agnew said, “The American people would rightly not tolerate this kind of concentration of power in government. It is not fair and relevant to question its concentration in the hands of a tiny and closed fraternity of privileged men elected by no one, and enjoying a monopoly sanctioned and licensed by the government?? (Agnew 1969: 69). Though these non-publicly decreed men achieved their positions of power through sheer economic will, they have the power to decide whether or not something should be approached or seen by the entirety of the world. The astonished former Vice-President declared, “They can elevate men from local obscurity to national prominence within a week...For millions of Americans, the network reporter who covers a continuing issue, like ABM or Civil Rights, becomes in effect, the presiding judge in a national trial by jury? (Ibid: 68). They have the ability to structure what is spotlighted and what is silenced on the stage of the contemporary world. Agnew, McChesney and others believe that a stronger democracy is greatly benefited by having a platform for the people’s voices and the more people who raise their concerns the better. But in our corporate dominated world, the platforms and arenas for news reporting are dominated by a very powerful few working to further their own interests. What kind of hope is there for the future?

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News? II
In his “The American Newspaper?, Irwin writes “News is a report of just what occurs in the world, or rather what has just occurred. But a million billion things occur hourly in the world, from the movement of the finger by which I write this line to the surging crowd which is at this minute harrying strikebreakers along the Canadian border? (Irwin 1911: 127). News is by all means arbitrary, and no account of what is considered news should be equated with the absolute truth. Everyone newscaster, no matter how accurately they are trying to portray the ‘truth’, is always guilty of injecting their point of view in their reports. The journalist Irwin asserts that on all accounts, news “amounts to gossip the impressionist picture of truth. It is gossip organized to our users, subdued to our own hand, and raided to both a science and an art? (Ibid: 132). With this in mind, media critics such as McChesney don’t attack the mainstream press because of its inability to portray ‘objective’ news; such a notion is impossible. But these critics find the idea of a self-interested news monopoly very disconcerting.
According to McChesney, it wasn’t until the 20th Century that the notion of an objective or nonpartisan journalism came about, whereas before then, such a concept would be unthinkable to most. He writes, “Journalism’s purpose was to persuade as well as to inform and the press tended to be highly partisan. A partisan press system has much to offer a democratic society—as long as there are numerous well-subsidized media providing a broad range of perspectives? (McChesney 2004: 58). Furthering this idea, he notes that St. Louis once had ten newspapers, each with their own perspective all trying to persuade their readership of their particular ideas. During this time, the various cells of the press criticized others, thus the mainstream press ideologically balanced itself. The emergence of such organizations as the Associated Press and companies like Fox Corp. with their advertising/government skewed views and monopoly of media venues have made criticism a very hard to do within the system. Alternatively, journalists and artists joined in the effort to create news and media outside this ever increasingly corrupt system and create their own visions of news. Alternative media has gained support and audience from around the world and found its champion in the Independent Media Centers, but more specifically, the website
With the ability to be accessed by virtually anybody, the Internet is one of the most democratic forms of _expression ever created. The Internet combines almost all the forms of media that came before it perhaps “fulfilling the Wagnerian dream of the Gesamtkunstwerk—the fusion of all the arts in one work? (Horkheimer and Adorno 1972: 73). In an essay celebrating the potential of the Internet, author Mark Poster writes, “The metaphor of the ‘superhighway’ only attends to the movement of information, leaving out the various kinds of cyberspace on the Internet, meeting places, work areas and electronic cafes in which this vast transmission of images and words becomes places of communicative relation? (Poster 1995: 613). Virtual meetings of the minds can take place from anywhere in the world by anybody. Almost any kind of media can be transferred between the two parties and because the Internet is so vast, it is very difficult for an authority to regulate. Such a decentralized and technically innovative mode renders “senders receivers, producers consumers, rulers ruled, upsetting the logic of understanding the first age? (Ibid: 618). The two-way interactive nature of the Internet creates new kinds of bonding that would otherwise be impossible without it creating an age of communication like which the world has never seen. The Internet’s nature inspires the proliferation of considerable points of view creating an ‘explosion of narrativity’ and many perspectives of what is considered ‘newsworthy’. A decentralized news organization, Indymedia not only embodies many of Poster’s utopic aspirations for the Internet, but also those of who wish to have a widely proliferated news source to challenge the claims of mainstream media.

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Unlike mainstream media, Indymedia is not tied down to the weights of profit margins or overt government approval thus taking it out of the realm of culture commodities. In Nicholas Garnham’s “Political Economy of Mass-Communication? he illustrates five strategies the mainstream media has adopted to attract, keep, and subject their audiences: (a)copyright: commidization of information through uniqueness of author; turning author into commodity, (b)control of access to consumption through a singular point of distribution, (c)built in obsolescence through manipulation of time, (d) packaging audiences to the advertisers, and (e) patronizing the State (Garnham1986: 245-246); Indymedia is impervious to all of these.
(a) Everyone can publish on either anonymously or not with no money to be gained, thus taking ‘copyrighting’ out of the equation. (b) Everyone has access to the news of, thus negating any notion of a fee or central entry point. (c and d) While each Indymedia cell does have a constant stream of news, it is not dependant on this fact. To gain an audience, mainstream media sources must generate a rotating supply of news for people to absorb in effort to gain advertising revenue. Because Indymedia isn’t tied to advertisers, these too are not Indymedia’s tactics. (e) Indymedia by no means patronizes the state, and if anything is critical of the state’s motivations and actions. In fact, Indymedia was born out of the revolt against perceived State oppression of the Third World.
Indymedia started at the Seattle’s WTO meeting in 1999, in which activists rented a storefront downtown to be a hub where activists documenting the protest could gather and share. During the Seattle protests, alternative media makers provided up-to the minute reports in all forms of media uploading the materials at the Seattle storefront. This new alternative media resource,, received a world following in a relatively small time; “the site received more than 1.5 million visitors during the week, outperforming CNN’s website during the same period? (Coyer 2005: 168). This ‘surprisingly effective news organization’ and ‘glimpse of what lies ahead for journalism in the new century’ ( displayed news stories the mainstream media especially demonstrated as “mainstream broadcasters reported police were not firing plastic bullets, while there was already footage up on the Indymedia site of people on the street with large welts on their bodies holding up plastic bullets? (Coyer 2005: 169). This Seattle model was adopted during other large scale protests throughout the world and then eventually adopted by over 150 leftist communities.
Activist Kate Coyer states, “open publishing is at the heart of the IMC [Independent Media Center] project because it ensures a place for everyone’s voice and participation is key to what makes Indymedia a participatory and thus inherently democratic medium. Anyone who comes to the site can post video, audio, print, or photography, or publicly comment on any other posting without going through an editor? (Coyer 2005: 170). ‘Open publishing’ refers to the free and easily edited software that everyone can use to publish on the website. Thus in theory, Indymedia can be a launching pad for any points of dissent, critique, and support for any assortment of events and issues. In its short lifetime, Indymedia has become an important forum and tool for those who wish to portray their own versions of the news and the ‘truth’.
Indymedia is decentralized, structured in local self-governing IMC collectives around the world. Website design changes, local Indymedia events, and editorial guidelines are decided upon by those within each local IMC. Each local IMC is broken up into various working groups that all have tasks and duties to fulfill such as outreach, tech related, coverage, and editing. The editorial policies, while specific to each local IMC, generally call for the removal of hate speech and news copied from corporate websites and do so by ‘hiding’ the story, essentially making it inaccessible to everybody. Along with ‘hiding’ stories, the editorial board decides which stories should be featured in the center of the website. All other articles headlines are feature in order in small font on the right of the screen.

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Actually covering story might be daunting but the process of publishing certainly isn’t. After many hours of editing photos, re-recording audio, and writing a discussion, publishing is almost merely a matter of cut and paste. To have one’s work seen by those accessing the site, one must click the prominent red publishing button on the top of the screen. Then, one must choose from among the topic choices what kind of article it is, then fill in a publishing name, a headline, a brief description, and then the body of the story. One could then upload up to twenty other media including image and audio files to go with the story. After waiting a few moments, the article is uploaded onto the website and appears at along the right border of the website. At some point, an editor screens it for offensive or disruptive content and if the story is pertinent enough to the community it is featured prominently in the center of the website’s screen.

Indymedia Critiques
Although Indymedia is largely non-hierarchal, its decentralized nature implies that people, for whatever reason, will do more work than others. Because everyone in Indymedia is not paid, the amount of passion and work that goes into Indymedia processes is solely up to the person involved. As John D. H. Downing explicates, “in the understanding of social movements, emotion is directly relevant both to collective mobilization and the onset of individual activism? (Downing 2003: 638). Because of strong emotional ties to the group and other reasons, some are moreheavily involved with others, thus creating a de facto hierarchy.

According to Indymedia’s mission statement it is a “democratic media outlet for the creation of radial, accurate, and passionate tellings of the truth?. But of course, no one can maintain perfect objectivity. Indymedia and IMC was founded during an intensely leftist place in history and Indymedia is primarily used to proliferate information that traditionally fall along leftists causes, such as protests, rallies, and strikes. Indymedia is not purely democratic because those who do not represent these leftist views will either will not have their article prominently featured in the website or have they’re articles will be blocked by the editors.

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Although Indymedia is by no means perfect, its decentralized, ultra-democratic, and technologically efficient manner makes it the best tool of the contemporary activist and alternative media movement. It is not independent in the sense that it is unhindered by subjective points of view, but it is independent in the sense it does not fall into the same traps of mainstream media. Because no money is transacted, it is not implicitly or explicitly tied to the world of big business or of big government. Indymedia and Imps are run by people who believe in the alternative media cause and what alternative media represents. More research could be done about the social groupings of Indymedia and the sociological characteristics of the people in varying IMC cells. Primarily, the people I worked with at Indymedia were passionate people who used the website as a tool to spread progressive messages and word on events. Indymedia in itself was not what was celebrated, but the ideas and groups that used Indymedia as a tool for information spreading what was appreciated by the Indymedia staff. Indymedia is a vehicle and very much the embodiment of all alternative groupings, organizations, and people that made it happen.


Agnew, Spiro. “Speeches on the Media?. Killing The Messenger. Ed. Tom Goldstein.
New York: Columbia University Press, 1989. 66-85.

Coyer, Kate. If It Bleeds: “The Participatory Newsmaking of the Independent Media
Center?. Global Activism Global Media. Ed. Wilma

de Jong, Martin Shaw, and Neil Stammers. Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2005. 165- 178.
Downing, John D.H. “Audiences and Readers of Alternative Media: The Absent Lure of
the Virtually Unknown?. Media, Culture & Society 2003. Vol. 25: 625-645.

Garnham, Nicholas. “Contribution to a Political Economy of Mass Communication?.
Media and Cultural Studies: Key Works. Ed. Meenakshi Gigi Durham and
Douglas M. Kellner. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2001. 225-252.

Herman, Edward and Noam Chomsky. “A Propoganda Model?. Media and Cultural
Studies: Key Works. Ed. Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas M. Kellner. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2001. 280-317.

Irwin, Will. “The American Newspaper?. Killing The Messenger. Ed. Tom Goldstein.
New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.123-139.

McChesney, Robert W. The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communication Politics in the
21st Century. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2004.

Poster, Mark. “Postmodern Virtualities?. Media and Cultural Studies: Key Works. Ed.
Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas M. Kellner. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2001.611-625.

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Re: How Is Indymedia An Independent News source?

I disagree, Indymedia is heavily censored. There is very little free speech here. If you don't really see that, you must be smoking too much ganje. What censors need to do here is lay off and let people have their say, whether it agrees with their personal agenda or not. Until that happens, Indymedia is just another media outlet that does the same thing as other outlets. Spin it's own point of view directed by the people who moderate what can be news. That's not so independent when worldwide media outlets do exactly the same thing. If people can't have their say, how is Indymedia represenative of Independent media?

"Although Indymedia is by no means perfect, its decentralized, ultra-democratic, and technologically efficient manner makes it the best tool of the contemporary activist and alternative media movement. It is not independent in the sense that it is unhindered by subjective points of view, but it is independent in the sense it does not fall into the same traps of mainstream media."

Your comments are an oxymoron. How is indymedia "Ultra-democratic" when it is "unhindered by subjective points of view"? In order to be ultra democratic, the will of the people of is represented, not the will of a majority opinion here.

Re: How Is Indymedia An Independent News source?

Indeed, I find it to be rather unfortunate that indymedia has a heavy bias - if indymedia truly did live up to its ideal of a free and independent press, then everyone would be allowed to have their say - rather than posts and articles getting deleted when those who run the website don't agree with them.

Re: How Is Indymedia An Independent News source?

In indy's case the term independent is just a false round around to avoid being labeled as liberal. If the member sites would cease to censor every opinion not held by the radical left staff, then a true forum for the people would be allowed to evolve.

Get Local

It would be more helpful to talk about the specific controversy converning santa cruz indymedia exclusion and censorship (as it related to this site). Not simply to denounce it, but to propose alternatives that might be helpful and to suggest support for those alternatives.

Of course, while it's true that one alternative to selective or censored news is more news and establishing more sites, remember A.J. Liebling's classic comment: "There's freedom in the press in America--freedom for anyone who owns one."

The local history of particular controversies here in Santa Cruz is important to having a clear idea of just what santa cruz indymedia regards as its boundaries, what its procedures are, how open its process really is, and what help can be offered to improve the situation.

I both praise and denounce indymedia on my radio show.

Re: How Is Indymedia An Independent News source?

Typically I try to stay out of comment drama, but this seems to be a common issue among indymedias in the US....

Historically, Indymedia has been a largely anarchist and anti-authoritarian project, not just in Santa Cruz, but globally. As such, I've noticed that collectives tends to rely heavily on the old anarchist concept of "freedom of association" in their editing process.

Personally, were I an editor, I wouldn't put up with sexist, racist, classist, or homophobic comments. Likewise, I wouldn't keep around comments from Zionists, fascists, and other right-wing trolls, nor let Leninist and otherwise authoritarians use anti-authoritarian media as an organizing platform.

In my experience, comments posted by friends that have been removed have been a useless waste of bandwith, and the removal was completely justified.

Sure, I have some issues with Santa Cruz Indymedia, most of which are just issues I have with Santa Cruz "activists" who do the bulk of the posting, and the projects that are focused on in this city, but some are with the moderation. For example, the invitation to Last Night Santa Cruz taking precident over the bus strike on the features section when the strike was going on. But if I had big enough issues with it, I would join the collective, or start my own website.

An excellent critique of the problem with commercial

This is an excellent, thoroughly researched and well thought out analysis of what is wrong with traditional media and how independent media can offer real alternatives to the capitalism-driven commerical news we are inundated by 24/7.

It is refreshing for someone to take the time to analyze the source of the problem with commercial news rather than simply complain about it. When we know what those problems are, then we are more likely to be able to create an alternative free of the compromising elements which colors what ends up in mainstream media.

Even though I am a participant in and endorser of independent media, I am, by virtue of being in our culture, also a consumer of cul

An excellent critique of the problem with commercial media, con't. - promise of independent media

... I am also a consumer of commerical media. I continually remind myself that the world they construct for me isn't "reality" and I always process information carefully, even going so far as to research claims made in commercial media. Many times I've found out that what has been reported as fact in commercial media has been misrepresented or even false.

I strongly believe that everyone needs to familiarize themselves with rules of logic and the principles of logical fallacies in particular. Though independent media is free of capitalism-based control, it's open posting forum means that it can be open to abuse. I frequently see the same old, tired arguments posted here that are clearly aimed at discrediting and disrupting indymedia as a powerful community resource.

Indymedias across the world have already had a powerful impact on commerical news and, in many instances, are even setting the direction for commericial news. Though commerical news is by no means an ideal, it is the most widely available news to most people in the United States. When Indymedias act as vital, cutting-edge news organizations, they not only deliver that news to other indymedia participants, it also increases people's impact in our society by setting the agenda in the corporate news. This amounts to real power in our society, which is what the populace is sorely lacking.

The point? Indymedia has had and can continue to have an enormous impact on our immediate community, the larger region, our society and even the entire world. However, to be effective, it needs activists at the grass roots level. It means researching stories, posting them and/or volunteering at local activist groups or indymedia. Indymedia is only as good as we the people are willing to make it.


Re: How Is Indymedia An Independent News source?

"I disagree, Indymedia is heavily censored. There is very little free speech here. If you don't really see that, you must be smoking too much ganje."

Shut up cop, go fight real crime. You're nothing more than an annoyance on these sites.

Re: How Is Indymedia An Independent News source?

"Indeed, I find it to be rather unfortunate that indymedia has a heavy bias - if indymedia truly did live up to its ideal of a free and independent press, then everyone would be allowed to have their say - rather than posts and articles getting deleted when those who run the website don't agree with them."

Unfortunately there is a shred of truth to this. Especially the New York City IMC, they censor anything and everything, no matter how sincere and accurate, concerning the 9/11 truth movement. They delete all posts related to it under the credo that "we don't like promoting conspiracy theories". That alone makes one want to hit them squarely in the mouth due to sheer anger.


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