By: Karim Mostafa
Dozens Of Alternative Media Reporters Descend on D.C.
As protesters gathered in Washington, D.C., for the World Trade
Organization, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund meetings
yesterday and today, an estimated 100 independent journalists had
signed up to cover the event.
With Seattle under their belts, many of this motley band (some with
formal training; some without) will bring their own laptops, video
cameras, and cell phones to work out of the new Independent Media
Center (IMC) located on N Street in downtown Washington, just blocks
away from the meetings and protests.
The November WTO protests in Seattle proved to be the testing ground
for the IMC – a new-media newsroom for independent journalists to
upload photos, video, audio, or text from protests’ frontlines onto
their site, indymedia.org.
These independent journalists, who identify themselves as ‘media
activists’ or ‘media creators,’ have combined their distribution
efforts to provide coverage of grassroots organizations and events they
believe the mainstream media has ignored. Their ‘people’s newsroom’ has
been based on ‘a model for public participation in media creation.’ And
in the process, they’ve found the mainstream media reading, and in at
least one case, purchasing their work.
The Web site’s creators have taken their lead from software’s open-
source movement by allowing content to be posted from multiple sites in
hopes of getting diverse voices. ‘Anybody’s voice can have an avenue to
express their struggle,’ says Sheri Herndon, a co-founder of Seattle-
An editorial review occurs after content is posted to the site. Herndon
says a ‘non-hierarchical, democratic decision process’ is used to
review postings. Herndon defines a removable item as ‘whatever is
patently inappropriate such as advocating one person’s campaign.’ Evan
Henshaw-Plath, technology coordinator for the IMC, says that ‘Less than
1% is pulled and it’s often pulled because it wasn’t uploaded right.’
So an effort for objectivity is made.
Even the site’s copyright policy encourages an open flow of
information. ‘All content is free for reprint and rebroadcast, on the
Net and elsewhere, for non-commercial use, unless otherwise noted by
And, according to Manse Jacobi, mainstream media is checking out the
content. ‘Ninety-eight percent of the site’s hits [during Seattle] came
from corporate media,’ says the technology director from Free Speech
Internet TV who has worked closely with the IMC network.
In Washington this weekend, the Center had a desk to handle calls from
the mainstream press looking for content. Herndon says that ABC News
bought footage of last Monday’s protests in D.C. from the Center’s video
coordinator, Eddie Becker. Since free-lance journalists retain the
copyrights to anything posted on the site, they collect payment for
materials sold to news organizations. In Seattle, there was a 50-50
split between the site and journalists. In D.C., journalists can collect
the full payment, but they’re strongly encouraged to make a contribution
to the IMC if their work is sold.
When asked if he was aware of IMC’s content, Douglas B. Feaver,
executive editor of washingtonpost.com, said Friday, ‘I won’t talk
about our coverage plans. I am not aware of them, but I can’t speak for
my [staff]. I’m not absolutely certain that we won’t use anything of
theirs.’ The washingtonpost.com site does, in its news section, have a
link to the Web site of Mobilization for Global Justice, which is
closely tied to the IMC.
During Seattle’s protests, the IMC site was a featured link on numerous
high-traffic Web sites such as Yahoo! News, CNN, Wired News, and
America Online. D.C.’s protest coverage also will be available in half
a dozen languages, which may increase distribution overseas.
The genesis of IMC came from activists attending planning sessions in
late September for the WTO protests in Seattle. ‘We weren’t convinced
that media was going to get the voices of the grassroots organization,’
said Jeff Perlstein, an IMC co-founder, while speaking on a Press
Freedom conference panel in New York last week.
IMC’s founders now consider Seattle’s experiment to have been a dress
rehearsal for a distribution model of content that is catching on
elsewhere. Since its inception, IMCs have opened in Philadelphia,
Boston, and Los Angeles. Other journalists have expressed interest in
setting up similar models in Toronto and Montreal.
The IMC’s mission statement says, ‘We seek to generate alternatives to
the biases inherent in the corporate media controlled by profit, and to
identify and create positive models for a sustainable and equitable
Karim Mostafa (email@example.com) is assistant editor for
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