Survival Strategies for Independent Media: What is our future?

The following ideas were presented by Bob Hackett, Carly Stasko , and Paul D. Boin at the Uncensoring Media Morphosis conference at Carleton University in 2004.


We have two main challenges in building independent media: .. how to make them sustaining (organizationally, economically) .. how not to be coopted or marginalized

We need to change the relationship between the audience and the media, and there are two main ways to do this: .. media education (a long-term process, can be coopted by media corps. if they’re involved) .. culture jamming

We can go through openings that present themselves in the dominant media. However, there are drawbacks to this approach: it can be too reactive; too difficult to change media frames once they’re set; can distort purpose of efforts as we work within structure; it leaves the problematic structure intact)

We can change the very institutions of media (this is ‘media reform’ and is targettted both towards corporations and the state). It looks at changing public policy, as well as overhauling the structure, content and distribution patterns of existing media. Media Reform needs to be elvated to the status of a movement, similar to civil rights or feminism.

One fundamentally important thing to do is to bring in the other groups of people (our allies) who would also benefit from having a healthier media environment. This is where we build the links to other social movements.

Independent media can be used both for media education, and for alternative voices (including as a voice for the media reform movement since mainstream media is not likely to be sympathetic).

We need community support, we can’t do it alone. However, recognize that empowering the individual to do their own thing is what independent media is all about, it is a form of empowerment and a fundamental shift in an individual’s relationship with the media.

One central aspect is distribution. This is where mainstream media have a tremendous advantage and where independent media are isolated and disconnected, we need to bring some unity / collectivity to this area.

The meaning of jamming, aligned with the purpose of independent media and what we’re doing, is threefold: .. stopping the machinery from functioning .. musical improvisation, playing off of what others are doing .. preserving sweet things, like making jam > >>> destruction, creation, preservation <<<<

Two fitting images of our situation: 1) Cutting the strings on the puppet, then realizing that’s not enough, we need to stand up on our own too 2) Playing a board game, we needn’t be confined by the game, we can make up our own new rules

Diversity is important for health, homogenization leads to stagnation. Understand that much of what happens with media, when people are becoming involved, they are unpaid / underpaid (often get burnt out and leave) .. this situation means that usually only certain people can get involved, can do without monetary compensation, such as students / youths / single people / wealthy people

Our challenge, how to create systems that are sustaining and supportive to the people who are creating the media?

When talking about survival of independent media, no worries, it’s not a sinking ship, seeing so many people and examples we can realize that, and realize also that it’s more about taking care of people and allowing them to keep doing it, doing it well, doing it in a healthy manner.

In our approach to reaching people, we need to have a good criticism / analysis of the current situation, but at same time need to be providing them with positive alternatives (remind them there’s hope).

Some things to do: .. support existing local & independent media .. share independent videos with friends (start a club) .. droplifting (get indy stuff in mainstream locations) .. donate indy materials to libraries .. change peoples’ homepages to indymedia (if they’re familiar with it, they’ll be ready to support if it’s under attack) .. communicate with the audience, share with them what we’re doing, what we’re up to

We need to not look at us as independent media as serving people, instead look at it as we’re partnering with others to do something together.

People will gravitate towards information / media that gives them something they can use or need. (reference: Herbert Ganswin) so will especially gravitate to better media as democracy becomes more participatory.

The concept of open-publishing poses some problems. While it is good to have a place for all people to put their stories, at the same time it can be overwhelming. Lots of people are only looking for good stuff and don’t want an ‘anything goes’ environment .. what could really help is some sort of summaries or reviews, or maybe some sort of good gatekeeper that ensures only quality material gets by. Some qualities people are looking for in stories: well written, concise, context, links, more entry points.

One important thing to realize is that various independent / alternative media could do a lot better job of things if they coordinated cooperation. Individually many groups can’t do a complete job, but feeding off each other it would be possible for more comprehensive coverage on stories. A suggestion was for story ‘primers’ to be sent around, from which one group could choose to cover one angle, another group could grab another aspect, etc.

For participatory media, we need to do skill sharing, to give people the tools and capabilities to make their own. We need to be creative in how we help people learn these skills. One thing that can really help in doing this is to provide an opportunity for audience, and for response / feedback on what people have done. This is a way for follow through, and for validation of what the person has created.

It’s important to realize that we’re in a formative process which includes the practise of visioning things into being. We’re creating new forms and new forums for people to communicate, create, educate, think, and learn how to think through participating.

Something vitally important is that as we build these alternatives, we come together to share the challenges we’ve encountered and that we share the strategies we’ve discovered for success. In this way we can all improve what we’re doing.

One example of a strategy was a play on speed dating, having people do short pairings up as a way to start meetings or otherwise build some personal connection-building into an activity.

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