Archive | February, 2003

Indy Film Trackin’ and Jammin’ the Mainstream

Jason, of Micro-Film mag fame, passed along to me this Film Threat review of an indy documentary called Culturejam: Hijacking Commercial Culture.

Although the reviewer comes off as kind of a butthead (despite giving the flick a positive review), I’m curious to see the movie. Culture Jamming is the territory where individuals take on the corporate media and culture mano-a-mano, and it can be liberating. It’s a counter-attack against the hyper-commercialized carpet bombing of our everyday conscious life. If it’s any good, such a film should serve as both a catharsis and an impetus to go out reclaim some mental space.

In the indy film vein, I was in Chicago Saturday and got to make a trip to the famous Quimby’s Bookstore, where I picked up a tape of Russ Forster’s 8-track documentary “So Wrong, They’re Right.” It’s quite a trip through an only slightly obsessive-compulsive underground — but it proves that freaks like us are what make life just a little more dangerous for the entertainment cartel.

By the way, you can listen to an interview with Russ Forster on the July 19, 2002 edition of the mediageek radioshow. It’s one of my favorite interviews so far, just for the sheer fun Russ exudes on being part of the Geek Nation.

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D.I.Y. Isn’t a Merit Badge

A.J. over at Papercuts has some choice words on the Google-Blogger deal:

“While Blogger doesn’t have the cool factor of Moveable Type, I like it because it’s easy to use, accessible from almost anywhere, and has provided me with a place to host the ‘blog ad-free with little fuss. The truth is sometimes in order to get your projects done, you have to take the path of least resistance (Blogger, freemail like Yahoo mail, Microsoft products, free hosting sites, etc.). I don’t think this lessens the importance of people’s individual DIY projects. Does your zine really have more indie cred because it was produced on a 286 speed PC using WordPerfect 3.0 and printed on a dot-matrix printer? ”


Mediageek started on Blogger, before it was mediageek. It’s a great and super-simple tool. I switched to Moveable Type for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was because I wanted something a little more complex than Blogger and I wanted to quit using ftp. And the transition to Moveable Type wasn’t simple and took about a month before I was satisfied enough to go live.

I’m glad I made the switch, not because I think Blogger sucks, but because the extra features of MT made it worth the effort. Were it not for Blogger, there would be no mediageek — I’d have never made the effort without having already had some experience with blogging. Blogger made it easy to test the waters and decide it was something worth doing.

Like almost everything in the social realm, it becomes easy to forget that DIY is about doing it yourself rather than satisfying some social norm declared by those invested in laying claim to the concept. If you like particular methods, tools or aesthetics, then use them. If you don’t, then don’t use ’em. Be skeptical of the purity police — why are they’re rules any better than yours? But if you like someone else’s rules then that’s cool, too.

We all have opinions about what’s accpetable, what sucks and what kicks ass. I have my own defintion of DIY that I tend to follow, but also continues to evolve over time. You can have yours, and you can read my thoughts here and think they’re bullshit. That’s fine — just don’t expect me to do it differently.

May a billion more blogs (and projects) bloom.

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All Your Blog Are Belong to Google; Will (the A-List) Bloggers Tolerate the Masses?

It was bound to happen — Google is buying Blogger, the seminal blogging ap that put thousands of weblogs (including this one) on the ‘net. Logically, in the short term this will amount to a major step up in reliability for Blogger and Blogspot hosted users.

In a way this sort of fulfills part of the promise of Blogspot to become the Tripod or Geocities of blogs — a simple, no hassle, not techie way to get your blog on-line for free. What remains to be seen is if an expanded–and probably more popular–Blogspot will suffer the same problems as the likes of Geocities and Tripod–bandwidth limitations, crazy ads and banners, etc.

I think this deal also radically reveals the fact that weblogs are simply tools, despite all the yak (meta-blogging) about blogging as journalism, democratized publishing, and on and on. The only idifference about the blogging world two years ago and the blogging world now is that it is exponentially bigger at this moment. Interest in blogging has now reached a sufficient critical mass for a large ‘net company like Google to consider it a reasonable business to get into — either as a directly profitable service or a way to link people into profitable services (kind of like loss-leaders).

At the moment Google is still largely considered a benevolent company and so reception to this deal will likely be more optimistic than if Blogger were acquired by AOL or even Yahoo. Nevertheless, there will probably be those who also view this as an evil co-opt of a grassroots phenomenon.

But given that Pyra, the company behind Blogger, was always conceived as a for-profit entity–even if there wasn’t much in the way of profits–this Google buyout isn’t so monumentally different in essence. The only difference is scale.

Like I’ve argued before, the tool isn’t so important as what people do with the tool. If Google extends the blog tool to more people, then the likelihood that some new, previously unheard voices will enter the mix goes way up. It also means that it gets harder for one voice to gain a large audience, even though that one voice may indeed gain a bigger audience than it once had. For instance, even if only a few dozen of people tune in to a late-night public access cable TV show, the producers of that show are still likely reaching more people than if they didn’t have access to such a tool.

Tangentally, popularity and mass audience are fickle mistresses, and the earliest and most popular bloggers had the luck to be big fishes in a small pond, and some had the luck of getting bigger as the pond got bigger. But the growth of audience and producers also tends to make some folks declare the end of blogging as something special. I argue the opposite is true.

The simple fact is, when we democratize the tools of mass media, we increase the number of voices and channels exponentially. The audience for each voice is arguably bigger than it would be without the tools, but it does get harder for someone to have a truly mass audience of the scale of Yahoo or even Salon.

Which leads to a very logical, but nonetheless hard question: do any of us really need a mass audience? Beyond the ego boost, what is the real purpose?

Fame, celebrity and mass audiences are the product of inequality. They’re the product of a monopolization of the tools for making media.
When there were only 3 TV networks, anyone appearing on one of them immediately became a star. It’s even sort of true with 150 cable networks. But it becomes less true with 10,000 or 10,000,000 channels.

Personally, I have no use for stars or celebrity. If expanding the accessability of media tools creates more voices and chips away at the power of celebrity then I’m all for it. Let’s recognize that democratizing the tools of communication means eroding our own inflated egos.

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Mediachannel Going On Hiatus — How Do We Fund Independent Media?

Yesterday I received an e-mail from announcing that they’re going on hiatus due to funding problems:

“We’ve had to make some difficult choices to insure our survival. We
are sad to report that we are going on a temporary hiatus to cut our
costs and give us some time to reorganize with some new sustainability
strategies. We expect to return soon with more of the diverse content,
hardhitting features, and useful resources that we are known for. “

Mediachannel has provided a valuable “news tracker” of press reports on the FCC’s media ownership review, along with a daily roundup of global media news headlines. Mediachannel will continue the daily weblog from executive editor and “News Dissector” Danny Schechter.

This hiatus unfortunately demonstrates how hard it can be to run a non-profit media organization, especially one that has employees. Having employees makes it easier for an organization to be consitent and have very regular updates and reports. Unfortunately, employees greatly increase your monthly costs, and salaries are not the kind of costs that you want to get into arears on.

By contrast, organizations like Indymedia primarily rely on volunteers, which means IMCs can operate on much less money, but can suffer from greater inconsistency.

It’s hard to make an argument that either method is better for running a nonprofit media organization. My guess is that a hybrid model of having employees and volunteers makes for a good mix of lower costs and consistency.

The Urbana-Champaign IMC is experimenting with this model. The U-C IMC recently hired a quarter-time coordinator for its weekly radio news program, where the funding is covered by a grant. Most of the labor to produce the show, however, is volunteer. With this arrangement the coordinator helps maintain consistency week-to-week, especially by providing training and coaching to volunteers on a weekly basis. Of course, the future of this arrangement is contingent on being able to renew the grant.

Which brings me to the direct human side of this equation — it must suck to be one of Mediachannel’s employees right now. My guess is that these workers were not laid off like an auto worker — they probably had some role in making the decision. Nonetheless, hiatus probably means no pay, which likely makes it all the harder to have the time to try and get the organization jump started again.

I don’t know what Mediachannel’s funding model was, so I don’t know how it failed. But that is a key issue. Even though technology may make it easier to communicate with a larger audience cheaply, it still takes time and effort to produce content. If someone isn’t paid for her time that she spends on production, then she still has to find time to go out and earn a living. Not to mention the fact that the technology isn’t free. How to fund our non-profit and independent media is one of the biggest questions we face right now.

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Satellite Pawn

Since the FCC and Justice Dept. rejected a deal to merge the US’s only two direct-satellite broadcasters, DirecTV and Echostar, DirecTV has been back on the block looking for a buyer. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp has expressed interest in adding DirecTV to its inventory of European and Asian direct-broadcast satellite holdings. But last Friday the […]

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