The Independent Media Center is coming to St. Louis. A grassroots organization of radical journalists and activists, the Independent Media Center, or IMC, was conceived in Seattle in 1999 to cover the WTO protests from the people's perspective. Riding the wave of recent IMCs that have sprouted up worldwide, local activists and Confluence journalists have teamed up to build an online, progressive news journal and community calendar for the St. Louis area.
The global IMC website has inspired many communities to take reporting into their own hands, due mainly to widespread dissatisfaction with inaccurate or biased reporting from corporate-controlled media. As stated on the global site, "The Independent Media Center is a network of collectively run media outlets for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of the truth. We work out of a love and inspiration for people who continue to work for a better world, despite corporate media's distortions and unwillingness to cover the efforts to free humanity."
Goals of individual IMCs remain loosely centered around the original site. The advantage of the IMC project is that individual groups can form de-centralized media centers that focus more on local issues, in addition to the global protest scene. Local IMCs also form a broad-based media network for activists, a source for communication between other IMC groups and among people of the community. Local IMCs are able to create individual spaces for community growth around accessible, inclusive reporting. Dann Green, a member of the IMC St. Louis, describes his goal for the group, "to have a forum for voices that have few other forums."
People from the Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, area have also been collaborating on their own IMC, which opened to the public in January, 2001. Sascha Meinrath, a member of the Champaign-Urbana IMC, expressed a similar goal. "I want to see a convergence of activism, media, reporting, and news, a lot of things that people are doing independently to have some sort of nexus where resources and information are shared."
The global site provides links to local IMCs worldwide, from Seattle to Prague to Brazil. Articles focus on direct conflicts from the people's perspective, yet in-depth investigation into the causes and complaints that stimulated these actions are also well-documented. In addition, IMC sites are defined by an 'open-posting' column, or newswire, where anyone can instantly upload and publish articles, photographs, video and sound files of individual issues of concern that deal with current political, environmental, and social justice events. Once posted, any article is also given a space directly beneath it on the page for instant publication of commentary and public reactions.
The need for alternate media sources in communities is clear. Danielle Chnyoweth of the Champaign-Urbana IMC commented, "People complain about how their story doesn't get in or the media warps their story; they complain about having watered down drivel that doesn't take a position on anything. I think that people actually wake up and get excited when they see a response. That's unfortunate, too, I wish that instead of them complaining about it and waiting for someone else to respond to it they would come up with an alternative themselves."
Networking, both within the IMC and in the larger community, is also a main component of the project. One story Meinrath worked on involved a local Union leader, Dave Johnson. Johnson was brought up on charges and eventually censured by the AFL-CIO for personally endorsing Ralph Nader's presidential candidacy, independent of his position with the Union. Meinrath's article exposed an issue that had received little attention by the mainstream media, and in doing so forged connections between the IMC and Union members. "(T)hey all of a sudden start seeing a commonality between the oppression that they face and the oppression that other folks face. That sort of bridge, that understanding of how we're all in the same boat of being screwed by the status quo, really gets developed. These sort of natural coalitions are formed and the IMC is a tool to demonstrate that yes, we are all in this together," said Meinrath.
While public response to the IMC in the Champaign-Urbana area has been positive, other media groups have also expressed a keen interest in the project. Meinrath noted that many of their website's visitors are coming from the News-Gazette mainframe, the area's mainstream newspaper, and that local reporters have come to view IMC as a resource that has "the inside scoop on the issues." At a recent press conference with the Urbana Mayor concerning tax cuts, Chynoweth was surprised that she was the only reporter asking questions. "I think things like that send a wake-up call to other reporters that they can't just sit there and be a mouthpiece for the elites. You need to ask interesting questions," said Chynoweth.
Challenging the dominant model of current media targets not only the reporters but also the public view of the role of media in daily life. One of the most difficult aspect of creating an IMC, according to Green, is, "facilitating the mindset transformation where people stop thinking about the media as something delivered to them, and start thinking of it as a thing they can create, share, and learn in." The focus of the project lies not only in production and presentation of news, but the way people view and learn from their everyday lives. "The model of independent media that I see is giving six year-olds disposable cameras and saying, 'go document what's important to you.' I do not want standards to get in the way of having people do technically shoddy jobs on things that are important to them, but content-wise are rich stories," said Chynoweth.
The Champaign-Urbana group's projects combine the ideas of many members of the local community and focus on media as a learning experience. Chynweth and Sehvilla Mann both participate in a program at the local radio station, WEFT, to produce 'Radio Girls,' an hour-long show every other week that provides young women the opportunity to create their own radio show. Pauline Bartolone, another Champaign-Urbana 'IMC-er,' has also been working to produce daily five-minute 'drop-ins' for morning news programming on WEFT that reports on environmental impacts as part of a collaboration of three local progressive groups.
The Champaign-Urbana IMC group also declined creating an editorial board beyond the policy of "no hate speech." As Meinrath noted, "the idea of having an editorial board that's overseeing everything is such a huge waste of energy when we have so many other things we need to be focusing on."
The Germany IMC has been the only site to experience 'spamming,' or unwanted, excessive postings on their newswire from Nazi groups. As a result, the Germany IMC has kept their open posting, but has moved the 'publish' link off their main page and has created an editorial policy for their news wire. The issue has stimulated discussion on various news groups dedicated to addressing changes in policy and current issues central to the IMC project. A recent proposal was posted on an IMC discussion list, email@example.com, which stated: "To be an IMC, a site must use open publishing defined as a newswire on the front page that articles will appear on directly when they are posted. (With allowances for technical difficulties.)"
Yet so far, the IMC has been dominated by progressive and liberal voices, especially since the concept was designed and cultivated according to anarchist ideals.
Another argument central to the IMC concerns the question of objectivity in Independent Media, in the use of language, structure, and in the tendency for strong opinions. As Mark Quercus of the St. Louis IMC stated, "I think we need to admit that there is little objectivity in the corporate media today their news is biased towards aiding people in power, both corporate and political. So objectivity for IMC is examining the social and political implications behind any news that occurs."
Meinrath noted that people have been conscientious about explicating opinions in their articles so far. He also added, "if people are going to be pissed off that a lot of people feel something contrary to what they believe, OK. Our job is not to not be controversial; our job is to report the experience and feelings of the community, and frankly that is going to piss off a lot of people. A lot of people in our community have been really screwed by the system. And our goal is to explicate these problems in society, not to rant and rave but say that these are real people's experiences, and they exist and they're important."
While much of the IMC's attention is focused on environmental, political, and social justice problems, it is also a positive forum for connection. One of the goals of the St. Louis IMC is to create a community calendar that links up activist events as well as arts, music, and entertainment. As Green stated, "(it's) a focus on what we're creating and what we desire, rather than a focus on what's falling apart around us and what we hate though I'd like to see some of both and all the in-between."
If you have a story to tell or want to become involved in some aspect of the project, check out the site or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. People are needed as journalists for print, audio, photography and video, also for outreach and tech.
Finley Kipp is an independent journalist with Confluence, the St. Louis
grassroots journal of environmental and social justice, and the St. Louis
Independent Media Center. She participates in Food Not Bombs, a
consensus-based community organization dedicated to recycling and
redistributing healthy food. Currently, she is about to graduate from
Washington University with a B.A. in English Literature.