The Inner Workings of Alternative Media: Part 2
By Kirsten Anderberg (This article is part 2, in a 3-part series)
I wanted to see what motivated people working in alternative media, as well as what they needed to help support their efforts, to ensure a healthy alternative to mainstream media for us all. In the second part of this continuing article, (for part one, visit http://resist.ca/~kirstena/pagealtpress1.html), I continue with interviews about alternative media with some of the folks that produce it. I interviewed Bradley Allen (Free Radio Santa Cruz and the Santa Cruz Independent Media Center (IMC)), Lance Scott (Co-founder of Eat the State! (ETS!)), Christa Donner (Ladyfriend and Free Advice Zines), an editor from a prisoner newsletter that goes out with prisoner book deliveries who wanted to remain anonymous, Chuck Munson (Coordinating webmaster for Infoshop.org and librarian), and via phone, Tim Walker (campaigns manager for Adbusters Magazine).
1. How long have you been involved in alternative media, how did you first get involved? What did you learn from your previous experiences in alternative media?:
Bradley (SC IMC): "About 4 years. I first got involved in producing alternative media through Santa Cruz Indymedia. My first alternative media experience was when I wrote about my first protest. The protest was in San Diego against the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) in June 2001. I wrote an article which was published in the Santa Cruz Comic News and I posted it on Santa Cruz Indymedia (Beyond Biodevastation: Through the Mind and Eyes of Demonstrator (http://santacruz.indymedia.org/newswire/display/122/index.php)"
Lance (ETS!): "20 years (& still not on the local supermarket racks!). After college I went to intern at my favorite magazine (RAIN magazine in Portland) because I liked their vision & approach to social change & eco-sustainability. Though I'd never taken a journalism class, I ended up becoming editor there within a year or so. It taught me that I, too, could be a journalist."
Christa (Ladyfriend): "For about 11 years... since I was a senior in high school. A girl was selling her 1-page zine at a show in Fort Wayne, where I grew up. I paid her a dollar, read about how lame her gym teacher was and perused her interview with the lead singer of a local band, and I loved it. I loved that she could use this thing to approach people she wanted to meet (either by interviewing them or by handing them her zine). I was a really shy kid, so I also liked that she could put something of her self and her interests out there in print form, and that people would read it. I wanted to get to know her better, and I wanted to try making my own zine."
Prisoner Publication: "Wow, 8 -10 years in one way or another."
Tim (Adbusters): Tim said he has been involved for 4 years now. Starting with Quebec city FTAA protests, organizers came to his college and talked about it, so he got into it. He looked it up and there was nothing on the regular news about it, and so he then stumbled upon alternative press, finding the other side of issues finally. He said alternative media gives people new windows, and what he has learned is that "people can be the media."
Chuck (Infoshop.org): "I got seriously involved in alternative media around 1985-86 when I got involved in some anarchist and leftist publications in Lawrence, Kansas. I was a student activist and was in art school. But my involvement in alternative media goes back further, to high school. I was another one of those quiet, smart high school outcasts who hated school and was creative. I started up this thing called "Paco's Fan Club" which was a blank blook (popular at that time) with cartoons and stories that several of us passed around in classes. It turned into one of the biggest unofficial clubs in the school. I'm sure that zines are more common in high schools these days, but I'm sure this was atypical for 1981-1982. I became a student activist several years into my collegiate experience at the University of Kansas. I was involved in the anti-apartheid divestment movement, Central America solidarity, and the gay rights struggle on campus. I was also an art student, so it seemed natural for me to design flyers for various protests. I know some people take the Internet for granted, but back then I had to go around campus at night and put up protest flyers in classrooms, only to have most of them ripped down by police and right wing students.
The first "zine" I got involved with was something called "Praxis," which was published by a campus club for leftists. I got to attend my first "layout party," where we drank beer, listened to the Sun City reggae album, and pasted text and graphics on layout paper. Around this time I also got to help with the production of an issue of the campus "Disorientation" guide, which was published by anarchist and leftist student activists. In 1986, I became an anarchist and then worked with some local anarchists on a zine called "The Gentle Anarchist." After graduating from KU and leaving Lawrence, I went to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Believe it or not, despite being a busy graduate student, I had time to take over the student zine at the library school, which was titled "The Journal of Disjunctive Librarianship." Yes, that zine was mimeographed. I can still recall the smell of mimeograph fluid. After graduating library school in 1990, I started Practical Anarchy zine in 1991."
2. What is the most rewarding alternative media project you have been involved with?:
Bradley (SC IMC): "Both Santa Cruz Indymedia and Free Radio Santa Cruz are very rewarding. FRSC has a lot of listeners in Santa Cruz and around the world, thanks to the internet. And, FRSC has a lot of people involved in the project (at least 30). However, through Indymedia I have created friendships in Atlanta, Portland, the Bay Area, and other places around the world! Alternative media is more than a critical source of news and ideas, it is a network of people."
Lance (ETS!): "RAIN was pretty rewarding because I got to meet & interview lots of people I really admire: Starhawk, Frances Moore Lappe, Ernest Callenbach, Peter Berg, et al. Also, I was honored to be part of its legacy, for which I had/have huge respect. Perhaps even more rewarding, though, was working with the Seattle Community Catalyst, a monthly newspaper I founded in 1990. It was designed to connect change agents in the local community of Seattle & give a voice to all the good work they were doing. Instead of harping on problems, the Catalyst offered solutions, or at least ways to help resist the problems, & it did it on a local level. I wish something like that still existed..."
Christa (Ladyfriend): "I think that curating the exhibition "Page Me: the art of zines, comix, and other artist-made books" in Cleveland a few years ago was the most rewarding -- there's really nowhere in Cleveland to find a lot of independent comics and zines, so it was amazing to introduce such things to audiences that were absolutely fascinated by them but had never even heard of them before. I also found out that there are tons of self-publishers in that city who I'd never even met before. They kept coming to drop off their zines in the "add your own" section, and it was great to discover (and share) that my town was seething with amazing independent activity."
Tim (Adbusters): Tim said that Adbusters was the most rewarding media project he has worked on.
Chuck (Infoshop.org): "Infoshop.org. The only reason I'm still doing this project every day after more than 9 years is because I have fun doing it! It has been a headache at times and I've gone through burnout and periods of disillusionment, but I really have fun with this project. The positive feedback I get from so many people helps motivate me. It's so humbling to travel to another place and have somebody come up to you and tell you how the website changed their life. Or when comrades remind me of how important the website is. I also get a big kick out of the occasional e-mail complaint I get from somebody who is upset that somebody spray-painted the Infoshop web address in an "inappropriate" place."
3. What is the best alternative media project/publication you have ever seen?:
Bradley (SC IMC): "Free Radio Santa Cruz."
Lance (ETS!): "Oh, I don't know. There are so many I like for different reasons. I guess I still have a soft spot for the Whole Earth Catalog/CoEvolution Quarterly/Whole Earth Review. I think they taught me more than I ever learned in school."
Christa (Ladyfriend): "I think that the Bookmobile Project/Projet Mobilivre (www.mobilivre.org) is the most inspiring and fantastic alt media project I've come across in the past few years. Not only do they bring independent publications to new audiences, but they provide workshops and discussions to get these people making their own, to make the community more diverse and accessible. It's amazing."
Prisoner Publication: "The Beehive collective does those awesome political posters. Their shit rocks."
Tim (Adbusters): Tim said he likes Democracy Now, on the radio, and also their website.
Chuck (Infoshop.org): "Despite its many flaws and annoyances, Indymedia has to be the best alternative media project of all time. Nothing else compares with Indymedia's influence and impact. Nothing else exploded like Indymedia in such a short span of years. Nothing else has embodied the ideas of the alternative media movement or the ideas of anarchism. Indymedia is going through some tough times right now, partly as a result of a few individuals who have lost sight of the bigger picture and partly because the Indymedia network organization hasn't coped well with the growth. I've heard that an Indymedia convention is being planned next year for Austin, Texas, which I hope happens."
4. What are your three favorite alternative media NEWS sources?:
Bradley (SC IMC): "Free Radio Santa Cruz, Portland Indymedia, CorporateSwine.net"
Lance (ETS!): "I seem to get a lot of my news sort of by osmosis from lots of sources. Democracy Now! is a favorite. I like the websites TomPaine.com & CommonDreams.org a lot, though I confess I don't actually visit them all that often. Although uneven in quality & content, sometimes various indymedia.org sites are irreplaceable. I read almost all the local free publications I can get my hands on to keep up on local events."
Christa (Ladyfriend): "I get most of my news from NPR... I have a hard time making time to keep up with news otherwise."
Prisoner Publication: "Infoshop, ainfos, indymedia to a lesser extent."
Tim (Adbusters): Tim said he likes Alternet.org a lot.
Chuck (Infoshop.org): "Counterpunch, for its excellent articles covering current events and for its muckraking journalism. Alternative Press Review (www.altpr.org), because my friend Dean Thomas has an excellent nose for finding important stories that aren't making the front pages. The Indymedia network for its open publishing, it's creativeness, and the fact that it has it's ear to the ground. Democracy Now for sheer educational value."