Archive | September, 2003

Columbia Journalism Review Covers the “New Alternatives”

The article on alt. weeklies that I last blogged is part of a full-issue special report of the CJR on the New Alternatives. IMCistas have been buzzing away over the article on IMCs, entitled “Edging Away from Anarchy, Inside the Indymedia Collective, Passion vs. Pragmatism,” which for the most part manages not to misconstrue Indymedia the way the mainstream press usually tends to. There’s also a reasonable article on Low-Power FM.

In looking at an issue of CJR like this I have to remind myself that it’s a good thing to have these typically underground media brought to the attention of more mainstream journalists and communications scholars. While much of the data seems like old hat to me — someone who’s been living and breathing this stuff for about 10 years — it’s unfortunately under the radar for most folks.

Even though the occasional mainstream press article on Indymedia or LPFM comes up every so often, single articles tend to be fleeting. I think a whole issue dedicated to new alternative media carries a little more weight. No, it’s not comprehensive, but for all the minor nits one might pick with these articles, bringing them together lends a broader picture that seems more like a real and coherent movement is afoot.

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What’s So Alternative About Alternative Weeklies?

The Columbia Journalism Review’s Matt Welch takes the Alt. Weekly establishment to task after attending their annual convention:

“The dull pieties of official progressivism is one of many attributes that show how modern alt weeklies have strayed from what made them alternative in the first place. The papers once embraced amateur writers; now they are firmly established in the journalistic pecking order, with the salaries and professional standards to match.”

Amen to that. Welch rightly points out that by ownership, alt. weeklies aren’t even alternative to the mainstream media industry, with giants like Village Voice media and the New York Times gobbling up properties all over the place.

I see alt. weeklies as part of a larger phenomenon of command and control progressivism that infects every corner of so-called alternative, and truly independent media.

Command and control progressivism dictates that the most important thing for any “progressive media” is that it broadcast all the proper points of view, regardless of how all that content is created. By this ideology, a newspaper or radio station can be run in a manner that is indistinguishable from Fox News or the Chicago Tribune, with complete top-down control. It doesn’t matter to the command and control progressive as long as what is printed and aired meets their political standard.

I’ve had the misfortune to confront this ideology time and again throughout my work in community radio and indpendent media. These folks always want more Chomsky or Amy Goodman, regardless of what it takes to put them in, and regardless of what local authors and producers have to be displaced. And, most tellingly, regardless of what kind of anti-democratic machinations that need to be effected to force things to suit their desires.

Indeed, it’s this kind of command and control progressivism that was behind the Pacifica takeover, where over a course of several years Pacifica management implemented increasingly strong top-down management structures, forced more standardized network-wide programming, and replaced community volunteers with paid professionals. It was done in the name of increasing “quality” and listenership. But, as it became clear, especially to those who fought to regain control of Pacifica, it ended up homogenizing Pacifica, not to mention making it more oriented towards white, middle-class professional
“progressives,” at the expense of minorities and the working-class.

While blasting the alt. weeklies, Welch praises blogs. Not because they are on the whole so much better, but because they are so much more diverse, freewheeling and interesting:

“For all the history made by newspapers between 1960 and 2000, the profession was also busy contracting, standardizing, and homogenizing. Most cities now have their monopolist daily, their alt weekly or two, their business journal. Journalism is done a certain way, by a certain kind of people. Bloggers are basically oblivious to such traditions, so reading the best of them is like receiving a bracing slap in the face. It’s a reminder that America is far more diverse and iconoclastic than its newsrooms.”

I agree, even though I have to point out that several of the most popular A-list bloggers are veterans of the mainstream media themselves (see Mikey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan, for two examples).

However, I also think that Welch overlooks Indymedia, which shares many of the features of blogs, but with the further advantage of being a large, interconnected, but loose network, which provides for all sorts of cooperation, mutual aid and assistance, that goes beyond the very loose and informal connections between bloggers.

On top of that, Indymedia avoids the dangerous command and control pitfalls of the so-called “alternative” media, since it is explicitly and fundamentally open, non-hierarchical and democratic.

I’m not saying that Indymedia is better than blogging — obviously I’m a avid blogger myself. Instead, I’m pointing out the Indymedia provides a similar alternative to the alternatives, that goes even further by putting forth a model for cooperation and network-building that is utterly apart from the corporate model.

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Last Minute Stay of Execution for Media Ownership Rules

A three justice panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia today blocked the implementation of the FCC’s new loosened media ownership rules, which were supposed to go into effect tomorrow. The block was prompted by the numerous legal challenges that have been mounted against the rules. The Court’s order said,

“Given the magnitude of this matter, and the public’s interest in reaching the proper resolution, a stay is warranted pending thorough and efficient judicial review.”

The major suit filed against the FCC comes from the LPFM advocacy organization, the Prometheus Radio Project, which filed their suit with the assistance of the Media Access Project.

I think it’s interesting that the suit is being heard by the Philadelphia Court, since it’s typical for FCC cases to be heard in the DC Circuit Court. However, Prometheus is based in Philadelphia, so this may very well be tactical decision — since the DC Circuit is very conservative and pro-deregulation — in addition to being convenient for Prometheus.

Even though it’s just an early victory, this block is important, since it’s hard to stop a speeding train, and undoing the FCC’s changes once the media giants have already set their deals in motion could prove difficult. It’s also important because it’s another blow to Mikey Powell, who’s once bulletproof reign over the FCC is becoming increasingly pockmarked.

This move might also buy some more time for Congress to undo the FCC’s new rules as they come back into session — especially, since the Court’s block will move this back onto the top of the heap.

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