Alternative Media

Why Progressives Should Care
–Carla J. Magnuson and John Slade, Twin Cities-Independent Media Center

With media mergers spurred on by the deregulating 1996 Telecommunications Act, newspapers, TV stations and radio stations are increasingly owned by a few media moguls. Public television and radio (PBS & NPR) are regularly turning to commercial interests to underwrite their programming. The management of the highly respected, progressively oriented Pacifica stations “professionalized” their programming by firing programming staff. Fair and accurate rendering of progressive and environmental issues by media will not occur at stations that are: owned by Westinghouse and General Electric; airing documentaries underwritten by Chevron and BP Amoco and busy removing and or censoring formerly honored radical voices. To counter this de facto, media “black-out,” activists concerned about getting their message heard have recently turned to alternative media.

Media can be broken down into three groups: commercial, primarily owned by large corporations, non-commercial or publicly held and “alternative” media. According to British media analyst, Gillian McIver’s essay, “Media and the Spectacular Society”, alternative media as a do-it-yourself (DIY) media in which individuals or small independent groups take responsibility for creating and disseminating their work. Examples of this type of media include “fan-zines,” independent film and video projects, low-power community radio and non-commercial web-based sites on the Internet.

An article called “What Makes Alternative Media Alternative?” (M. Albert, Z Magazine), goes one step farther and suggests that truly alternative media is generated in ways far different from mainstream media. For instance, this media could be organized in a non-hierarchical way, with values emphasizing people and the environment being promoted over the maximizing of profit. Since exchanging information over the World Wide Web requires less capital than running a printing press, producing a film or operating a broadcast station, many progressive activists have turned to web-based organizing.

The web has been important both in connecting activists and reporting their stories. The organizing of web-based activists reached a watershed with the coverage of the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in November of 1999. Independent journalists and media-oriented activists prepared for months prior to the protests by designing a web site called the Indy Media Center (IMC). The site was set up specifically so that anyone who had access to the Internet could post or publish a story. Additionally, photo or audio journalists could post streams of any news they captured during the events of the week. Since the protests, the Seattle IMC has organized over 50 sites worldwide, most springing up to support and report news surrounding a major event or protest.

Locally, the Twin Cities Indy Media Center (TC-IMC) came into being in the summer of 2000, when two groups of activists worked in conjunction with the protests surrounding the International Society of Animal Genetics (ISAG). Coming from the micro-radio movement and the Nader campaign, they had seen the power of the IMCs after the Seattle WTO protests. One group started organizing people, while the other got a web-site going with help from the Global (Seattle) IMC.

A sub-group of TC-IMC was formed for folks interested in expanding non-web elements of the IMC. A screening of This is What Democracy Looks Like an IMC-produced documentary was shown on the anniversary of the Seattle protests (November, 2000). Proceeds went towards funding a newspaper version of the IMC.

Shortly after the screening, we decided to put this paper out on Inauguration Day 2001. The Twin Cities Free Press collective, took the idea of providing access to the TC-IMC web site, to those without computers and turned it into an 8-page newspaper in 6 weeks. Most of the work done on the Free Press was handled collectively with time and skills donated. Two thousand Free Press copies were distributed to low-income neighborhoods for free, while the other papers were sold to the activist community. The individuals of the collective come with many interests including labor rights, police brutality, alternative politics and the globalization struggle. The Free Press collective actively seeks new contributors reflecting diverse interests for future issues, or post on our web site!

What You Can Do* Expand your knowledge and appreciation of alternative media

* Support local alternative media resources including

* Submit news stories, opinions and meeting announcements

* Monitor mainstream media for accuracy