The Inner Workings of Alternative Media: Part 3
By Kirsten Anderberg (This article is part 3, 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 last part of this 3-part article, (for parts 1 and 2, visit http://resist.ca/~kirstena/pagealtpress.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. What are your three favorite alternative media sources in general?:
Bradley (SC IMC): "Free Radio Santa Cruz, Portland Indymedia, CorporateSwine.net"
Lance (ETS!): "Again, it's hard to pick favorites. I like Yes! magazine, Utne Reader, Mother Jones, Adbusters, and a magazine I more recently discovered called Clamor. But there's lots more that could contend for favorites depending on the day & my mood."
Christa (Ladyfriend): "I like Bust and Venus a lot. I don't know how "alternative" those are anymore, but I also love zines like the East Village Inky, Low Hug, Found, the Visible Woman, and a whole lot of independent comics."
Tim (Adbusters): Tim said his favorite alternative media was Indy Media.
Chuck (Infoshop.org): "1. The Internet. 2. My international network of comrades and newshounds. 3. AK Press."
2. What is your favorite alternative PRINT publication?:
Bradley (SC IMC): "Fault Lines, a publication from the SF Bay Area Indymedia"
Christa (Ladyfriend): "The East Village Inky"
Prisoner Publication: "Anthony Rayson's Thought Bombs rocks."
Chuck (Infoshop.org): "Although I haven't read it in years, The Match! remains one of my favorite anarchist and alternative publications. Fred Woodworth, the editor, has adopted some strange ideas of later, but The Match! was always one of those magazines that I would read from cover to cover in one sitting. I think that's the best measure of what is really excellent. Fred puts a lot of love into his publishing and it shows. The Match! is always a good source for new ideas and I've always characterized it as the embodiment of "pure" anarchism. Honorable mentions would go to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Anarchy: AJODA, Punk Planet, Fifth Estate, Fish Piss, Bitch, the Skeptical Inquirer, and The Baffler. The alternative magazine that I miss the most is Gray Areas."
3. If you could wave a magic wand and get what you needed for your work in alternative media, what would you ask for?:
Bradley (SC IMC): "More dedicated media makers that are willing to volunteer on projects and do lots of 'behind the scenes' tasks such as getting up early to download alternative media to be played on FRSC, working to make sure all the technical hardware and software are working correctly, doing serious outreach, etc... "
Lance (ETS!): "I guess a living wage, health benefits, & a retirement plan would be a good start..."
Christa (Ladyfriend): "I'd get a yearly grant to pay contributors, pay for printing, office space, computer stuff, and distribution/marketing. I'd also wish for a small, dedicated staff of one or two cool people who could help me with database stuff, mailings, web updates, and layout issues. Ahhh, that'd be nice."
Tim (Adbusters): Tim said he would like to be able to pay journalists better and for more in-depth work, and he would also like access to more international correspondence. He said it was hard to fund the labor intensive work, and the Indy movement makes no money, so those working in it have to work outside Indy media to pay for it.
Chuck (Infoshop.org): "While it's tempting to answer this with an answer about money, after thinking about this question I have to say that my magic wish involves running that big story on Infoshop News that gets international attention. In other words, a big scoop. Of course, it takes lots of work to put together a big story. Sometimes they fall into your lap, but a smaller media outlet like Infoshop News doesn't exactly attract whistleblowers of contemporary "Deep Throats.""
4. What do you think the public needs to know about alternative media and press?:
Bradley (SC IMC): "That alternative media is a way for people to express themselves. Corporations have control over most of what is heard on the radio, seen on the television, advertised in our communities, etc... Alternative media needs the support of the community. People need to take the time to give something back to their communities. Alternative media will only reflect the diversity of our communities when more people get involved to tell their own stories."
Lance (ETS!): "That it's here & oftentimes way better than the crap they're already reading & watching... Also that, due to lack of corporate sponsors, it depends on their support to survive."
Christa (Ladyfriend): "That it exists! And that it's an amazing, supportive and diverse community that can motivate kids to read/write, inform us about everything that's missing from mainstream media, and lots more."
Chuck (Infoshop.org): "I think the general public needs more access to alternatives, just because the capitalist media monopoly has so much control over what people think. The public needs to take the red pill being offered by Morpheus, who represents alternative media. People can't develop good anti-authoritarian critical thinking skills if they don't have access to alternatives. If people had better access to alternative media, we wouldn't have situations like where the New York Times lied to people about the reasons for the Iraq War and got away with it even after they apologized! My work as a media activist extends beyond my activities as a publisher. I'm active on these issues in the American Library Association and last month was elected chair of the Alternatives in Publication Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table."
5. Why should people send alternative press money when we are already offering the services for free?:
Bradley (SC IMC): "It takes resources to put out alternative media. Websites, newsprint, radio stations, outdoor film screenings, video documentaries all require time, money, and a lot of dedicated people."
Lance (ETS!): "It's the only way we survive. If they want to read it tomorrow, they need to subscribe or donate today."
Chuck (Infoshop.org): "Why should people give money to a band when you can stand outside and listen to their music for free? Because you want to support these people and what they are doing. If you aren't doing it for a political goal like challenging corporate media, you should at least do it because people are doing good work. Artists and creative people are so under-appreciated and devalued in our society."
6. What do you see lacking in the alternative media and press itself?:
Bradley (SC IMC): "We need to see more practical solutions for improving the conditions of our communities and communities around the world."
Lance (ETS!): "Good news."
Christa (Ladyfriend): "Some of the more political alt media seems to take for granted that it still has to win over new audiences. I think that the importance of good design/layout (to make it seem less intimidating) and the use of accessible language (not dumbed-down, just using clear, informative phrasing) are often fine and good if you're only preaching to the converted, but otherwise it sucks. Also, I'd like to see a website geared towards teenagers that'd serve as a sort of gateway to independent media... with links and ordering info to more "tame" stuff that wouldn't make their parents censor it, but which might lead them toward more thorough understanding of the media and how to make their own."
Prisoner Publication: "Diversity, accessibility would be my to biggest complaints."
Tim (Adbusters): Tim said he wished there was more credibility in open publishing and also that we need to appreciate the form of communication and esthetic of how people learn and read. He said in a society full of slick images and with kids brought up on high quality video games, it is hard to get that look without proper funding. He said greasy rags are not irresistible and we need to attract readers with appealing formats consistent with what they are used to. He said it was hard for a plain listserve text to compete with high quality graphic eye candy.
Chuck (Infoshop.org): "Ambition. People want to read, hear, see, and listen to our ideas. After 9/11 and the start of the Iraq War, more and more Americans turned to the Internet to seek out alternative ideas. Many of them flocked to the BBC website and the foreign press. Many of them started visiting Infoshop News and other alternative websites. For many reasons, the alternative media has been subjected to the low expectations cultivated by the American Left. We've wallowed in our own self-imposed marginality for too long. Michael Moore's new movie is close to breaking the $100 million mark in ticket sales. Left and radical books sell well. AK Press carries hundreds of titles. Alternative Press Review and other magazines do well on the newsstands. I think we've gotten comfortable complaining about the media monopoly when we should be doing more to create an alternative to that media."
7. What do you see lacking regarding community support, financial support, etc?:
Bradley (SC IMC): "Media activists need better access to the education system. There should be demonstrations inside the classroom about alternative media and providing people of all ages the education and resources to make their own media."
Lance (ETS!): "As mentioned above, support from progressive foundations & philanthropists."
Christa (Ladyfriend): "Community-wise, I feel very supported. But it'd be great to know about granting organizations that would fund indie media creators who aren't part of a 501C3 nonprofit..."
Chuck (Infoshop.org): "I just think that there are many people who should be supporting alternative media but who aren't. I don't know of many people who couldn't afford a small donation to a publication, or at least a subscription. Many people take alternative media for granted. They look at it with an attitude of "it looks free, thus it must cost nothing to produce." Pretty much any American who knows about alternative media can afford to contribute something to the alternative media movement. And if you've donated already, or are so impoverished that you can't spare five dollars, at least introduce new people to alternative media."
8. How can people help strengthen alternative media in the world, in the US, in local areas?:
Bradley (SC IMC): "People can help by doing more. People should try to become comfortable speaking with one another about issues of importance. People should learn to write articles, take photos, record interviews, and put together video documentaries. People should speak out against the corporate media. People should challenge authority. We need to be proud of ourselves and confident that our voices are important. We need to speak out and support other people when they speak out."
Lance (ETS!): "Produce it, consume it, support it, quote it, and tell your friends."
Prisoner Publication: "Hmmmm don't know about world or US but local it helps for us to try to always have something local. Its more likely to appeal to folks in your own community then."
Tim (Adbusters): Tim said what would help strengthen alternative media would be better credibility and a more professional and appealing format, as information on its own is not powerful enough in these times.
Chuck (Infoshop.org): "Support what exists. Learn how to get involved. Do-it-yourself. And tell other people!"