What does "new media" mean? A faster, better, multimedia-enhanced online experience? Or can it signify something deeper? I want to investigate the intersection of journalism and technology and how it can be used for social change, using European IndyMedia Centers (IMCs) as a starting point.
According to their website, IndyMedia is "a collective of independent media organizations and hundreds of journalists offering grassroots, non-corporate coverage. Indymedia is a democratic media outlet for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of truth." IndyMedia began in Seattle in 1999 during the WTO protests, as a clearinghouse for independent journalists to provide immediate text , audio and video reports. They also published a print newsletter, and later produced documentaries. Helped by millions of webhits and mainstream media coverage, IMCs spread and now have dozens of groups worldwide. The rise of the anti-globalization movement has also attracted increasing attention to the events and issues covered by IndyMedia volunteers.
Because "the goal is to be as decentralized as possible while remaining functional," according to "gekked" of the San Francisco IMC, there is no central office or group that oversees any other. Many have no official quarters, simply servers, e-mail lists and face-to-face meetings for technical and editorial groups. To further this goal, IndyMedia only uses open-source software and an open-publishing system that allows anyone in the world to post content. The Sydney IMC writes that they are "a global community of actvist geeks" who use Linux for networking and web hosting, and scavenged and donated computers.
I want to visit several European IndyMedia Centers and find out how the idea of decentralization makes them different from or similar to each other. Are the issues they focus on particularly local, or global in nature? In cities where physical offices exist, I want to visually record them. I want to write about the "activist geeks" who run each city's IMC website, as well as the actual editorial teams who decide what stories appear on the site, and those who do the reporting themselves and simply participate from the field. Why are both journalists and techie geeks coming together over issues such as anti-globalization and making information free? What are the larger things that draw this disparate community together, globally and locally? While activists get a lot of press attention, who are the people behind the scenes who make things like IndyMedia possible?
This investigation would be interesting to chronicle on the web because it addresses issues relevant to media workers, computer programmers and activists, all of whom have a heavy presence online. Because the IMCs are so decentralized, many people don't necessarily know how each city's group functions. While there are guidelines and help available for establishing an IMC in an area, what type of people take on the responsibilities in each place? How do they network and find people who can cover each aspect of an IMC? Are they plagued with internal problems suffered by many non-profits and activist groups?
To prepare for this trip, I will contact each city's IMC and start an online dialogue well in advance, getting as much background information as possible before meeting with them in person. I will also visit the San Francisco IMC office and talk to people there (to have another comparison point for the European IMCs), and conduct phone interviews with people at the original Seattle IMC, since they helped other IMCs get established.
Ideally, I will be able to sit in on IMC tech or editorial meetings in each European city. I will also schedule to meet with people individually. From the information I have now, it seems that two or three days in each city would be enough to gather information from various participants.
I am assuming that there will be English-speaking contacts in each city, but if I find out through e-mail dialogue that this is not the case, the current itinerary would be changed to focus on the IMCs I can most effectively report on. My ideal plan is to fly from San Francisco to London, then use other forms of transportation to get to Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Genoa and Barcelona, and fly back to San Francisco from Barcelona (if necessary, this can also work flying in and out of one centrally located city like Paris). Genoa and Barcelona, more than the others, have had heavy IMC presence in the past. The World Bank protests in Barcelona in June led to the cancellation of the summit, and the G8 protests in Genoa in August made global headlines when an activist was shot to death by a police officer. There is an EU Summit in Barcelona in March which will presumably mobilize activists again. However, there are IMCs in each city, some with offices, and each with their own calendar of events and local news. The London IMC publishes a print newsletter as well. While there are other IMCs in Europe, I have chosen these Western European cities because they have a solid IMC and/or are in a reasonable travelling distance. I decided upon Europe over the U.S. because the IMCs are geographically closer to each other, and because each country's local news varies more between them than between American IMCs.
This trip could take place at any time, and would take two and a half to three weeks. If given this opportunity, I will start posting background information to my website in advance, and update it regularly throughout the journey. I have access to a digital video camera, a digital camera, and a laptop, and can use those (and edit the video at home when I get back). Otherwise, posting text from internet cafes and scanning photos once I returned will also be an option. I currently have a collaborative weblog and could easily create a separate one solely for the trip, and write a full-blown journalistic piece once I returned.
I believe connecting various IMCs through comparative reporting would be useful to a broad range of people, and that this project could spark curiosity in others about the political and social potential of a powerful network that brings together activists, journalists and computer engineers. Journalism and technology can come together in more ways than just broadband entertainment, and I feel strongly that this issue will have increasing relevance as more activists get online, and as corporate control of the media becomes more and more monopolized. I am passionate about free speech and press issues, as well as grassroots democratic movements. I would love the chance to explore these topics through travel and writing, and help others who are seeking information about global and local community networks, envisioning a truly "new media."