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Independent Journalists Beware Of The Internet

In the Nov. 3 session of my Independent Media class the topic for discussion was corporate censorship of dissident voices on the internet, like Google removing certain results from its searches. This of course directly linked to the issue of net neutrality, the principle that states all users should have access to the same internet without interference from the gatekeepers of information.

Web censorship and net neutrality are serious threats to indy media, the mainstream is so integrated with corporate America that their view stays dominant on the major distributors of online information while independent voices must be found out in the shadows. It is because most journalists seek the largest audience possible that they choose to rely on corporate-owned distribution systems meaning results are susceptible to complete censorship.

We can read about Google removing an independent voice from search results, but what is the broader picture of the relationship between indy media and the corporate mainstream?
As soon as independent journalists began using electronic distribution channels for their content they lost their independence. By embracing television and the internet (it doesn’t apply as much to radio or print, though they are still controlled by large corporations) journalists support the very people they criticize: Big Business.

Really, the only truly independent media is produced and distributed by entities not influenced by big business interests. Colonial era pamphleteers and activists who distribute their materials on printed media are really the only examples of independent media. Sadly because the internet access is controlled by Comcast and other media companies, and searches are controlled by Google and Microsoft, if one of these companies decides that a certain blog is unruly, they can take steps to stop it. The dilemma is that there really aren’t many alternatives to the internet right now for cheap mass distribution.

I’m not saying independent journalists should all switch back to hand-printed pamphlets, but I hope they all are aware that the wonders of the internet could be stripped away from them in an instant.

(Social) Media War. Literally

Twitter just got itself into a whole new game, the nation of Kenya has tweeted a warning to Somalia that it may face a series of military attacks, according to Al Jazeera English.

Somalia may want to click the “unfollow” button if this is how it’s going to be.

Jim Gilliam’s Vision Of The Internet Grows

Internet wiz Jim Gilliam who co-founded Robber Greenwald’s Brave new Films spoke about the power of the internet in his video The Internet is My Religion. His personal experience with the internet’s ability to bring people together to solve problems – in his case, pressuring a doctor to perform a risky surgery to save his life – is a moving testimony to the internet’s usefulness.

Today, the power of the internet has never been stronger. Recently the Occupy Wall Street movement has found success in creating cell phone application that make communication between occupiers easier, according to a Huffington Post article. The Shouty App. is a smartphone application that streams the conversations held at the general assembly meetings. The app works by broadcasting the assembly over a wireless intranet network – a scaled-down version of the internet – so that more people can hear the topics discussed.

Additionally the “I’m Getting Arrested” app alerts family members and lawyers if the app owner is apprehended by police. Occupy movements across the country have organized “Hackathons” where programmers work on applications that could help organize the protests better.

A slightly questionable, but still a use of the togetherness function of the internet or “crowdsourcing,” is iRadar, which allows drivers to report traffic police on highways in order to alert other drivers so they can slow down when nearing them. The app is made by Cobra, a company that makes radar detectors, for the iPhone so users can receive alerts in their cars.

All these innovations go back to Gilliam’s proclamation that the internet is his religion, as people begin to use the internet for organizing OWS or the Arab Spring uprisings more and more. The movement toward using the internet to organize is growing fast and one can only imagine what the future holds.

The Business of The Internet is Bizarre

When I see independent blogs like Perezhilton, icnahascheesburger, or boingboing, my immediate reaction is to say “what’s the point?” But what these sites have managed to do –and I’m sure they would answer me the same way — is successfully craft a selling point to advertisers.
While independent media largely remains in the immense shadow of mainstream media, some entertainment blogs have become the kings of the net, raking in millions of dollars from advertising revenue generated on their popular pages. With funny pictures, jokes and ridicule of public figures, these sites are aimed at the massive audience seeking a relief to boredom on the internet.

What can be drawn from this? Perhaps the simple fact: Showbiz and the bizarre, sell ads.

But can other Independent sites use these tactics to make a profit? I don’t see Democracy Now! devoting much space to lolcats any time soon but The Young Turks are not too far away from Perez Hilton when they cover stories like “Hot Teacher Fired For Being Too Hot,” which has over 30 million views on YouTube. And the pictures of bikini models on Huffington Post are there for obvious reasons.

Maybe it is time for more news sites who want to raise their popularity and profits to jump on board and cater to the masses. Yes, it might detract a bit from the integrity of the news and information on the sites, but wouldn’t it be worth it to have more traffic and more money? It could even draw people’s awareness to more important issues.
It may seem farfetched, but I’m going to wait for Democracy Now!’s “Reporter intimidation re-mix video” to hit the front page.

Occupy Wall Street Gets Demanding

Cenk Uygur from The Young Turks may have found just want the Occupy Wall Street movement needs – a demand.

Uygur introduced the Wolf-PAC on Wednesday, a Political Action Committee for raising money for a campaign to introduce a constitutional amendment that would outlaw corporations from donating to political campaigns. The plan is to send PAC members to state legislators and persuade them to call a constitutional convention in order to pass the amendment. Uygur introduced the PAC at a general assembly in the midst of the Occupy Wall Street in New York City, in his speech he referred to the plan as “occupying” state houses, seemingly aligning Wolf-PAC with the OWS movement.

Wolf-PAC is a response to the Supreme Court’s 1978 ruling that corporations are legally “people” and a decision last year ruling that they could contribute to political campaigns. Uygur’s amendment states:

“Corporations are not people. They have none of the Constitutional rights of human beings. Corporations are not allowed to give money to any politician, directly or indirectly. No politician can raise over $100 from any person or entity. All elections must be publicly financed.”

This may be demand that OWS was lacking for the past month, it is strikingly similar to the original suggestion of demanding Obama to create a committee to oversee campaign corruption.

Additionally, Uygur’s proposal may be more realistic than the original, though actually succeeding in calling a constitutional convention is still a very long shot.

Indymedia: An Essential Organization

Indymedia is an exercise in freedom of the press the way it was supposed to be. The breadth of its coverage is impressive, it does not seem to be concerned with what will attract the most readers, but is genuinely trying to find injustice and report it. Its largest success, coverage at the WTO protests in Seattle was important for the event as a safeguard against biased corporate media coverage of the demonstrations. They continue to provide the same reporting today.

The organization’s structure is important as well, with many branches reporting from around the world, Indymedia is able to able to maintain a range of international reporters while mainstream media struggles to pay the bills required by international bureaus.

The U.S. site today is focused on the Occupy Wall Street protests around the country, just browsing through the front-page articles it is possible to get an in-depth view of what types of protests are happening in various cities, all in one spot. The top story is about Verizon workers marching in solidarity with Occupy Boston, there is a piece about Occupy Los Angles, a sidebar announcement says Portland public access television will air a program about Occupy Portland. By producing smaller, more intimate stories, Indymedia is able to present a snapshot of the world from the ground up.

The Good And The Bad of Independent Music Blogs

An interesting development in online independent media is music blogs. Though music and the internet have been friendly ever since the discovery of the power to share music digitally, what makes the blogs different is that many share new music form artists as well as obtain original interviews and sometimes do real reporting on the music industry.

For example, lessThan3 is an electronic dance music blog that streams newly released music and posts Q&A interviews with artists (less than three refers to the internet “heart” comprised of the number three and the less-than symbol,”<3” ). This blog focuses on big-name artists though they claim to feature independents as well; they also put up articles about events the authors attend. All of this is paid for by the authors and through t-shirt sales with the blog’s logo – true independence.

There is, however, a darker side to music blogs; sites devoted to providing links to illegal files are the norm these days. Remix-Nation is one of them, it features descriptive articles highlighting news from artists in a variety dance and Hip-hop genres. Each post features a track from the artist along with the link to download it. Remix-Nation cites the legal loophole found within the Terms & Conditions page of thousands of music blogs:

“Remix-Nation.com provides links to audio files hosted on external sites…and allows people to listen for personal use only. We do not condone the downloading of any songs on this website…The music should be purchased legally elsewhere. “

This policy is laughable given that the download link is obviously displayed on the page and often the post about an artist will reference the fact that there is a free download available on the site. It’s commendable that sites are providing music news to the public, but the illegal download links are not the best policy, especially when the music is produced by small electronic music artists who don’t make nearly as much as mainstream artists.