BOB GARFIELD: The media organization that may have experienced the biggest growth in the past 2 years doesn't have a budget or a full time staff of in many cases even an office. OTM's Jad Abumrad takes a look at how the upstart Independent Media Center is raising some interesting questions about the direction journalism is taking.
JAD ABUMRAD: It all started in 1999 in Seattle. [CROWD CHANTING, DRUMS] The Independent Media Center was born. But not amidst these WTO protests. Rather it happened, members say, at an internet cafe a few blocks away. A Seattle techie created a couple of lines of code that allowed anyone to post audio, video or text to a web site.
ANNA NAGERA: The concept of open publishing is fundamental to anarchist principles.
ARUN GUPTA: We don't have to rely on journalists, on these paid professionals, to tell us what's going on in the world.
JAD ABUMRAD: According to Anna Nagera [sp?] and Arun Gupta [sp?], within those few lines of code was a seed of anarchy that began to grow as hundreds of activists and journalists posted updates to the site.
ARUN GUPTA: And so you got all these different like nuggets of information -- all these different pieces -- and you could put the whole puzzle together.
JAD ABUMRAD: All that was needed to really make the thing take off, they say, was for the corporate media to completely miss the story, which happened in Seattle according to IMC member John Tarleton [sp?]. Tarleton had been in the thick of the protestors as they blocked delegates and official press from entering the WTO meetings.
JOHN TARLETON: I remember one German journalist is like -you, you must let me through your blockade, and I've got to get in there and write my story, and we were like -- look, [LAUGHS] the story is happening right in front of you! And he just turned around and left in a huff.
JAD ABUMRAD: Fast forward to now. Over a hundred independent media centers or IMC's in 60 different countries have popped up in the wake of the battle in Seattle. Some IMC's remain just web sites, but others like the New York City chapter have a permanent office.
WOMAN: Anyone have an idea with what to lead the local section? Page [...?...].
JAD ABUMRAD: Several nights a week Arun, Anna, John and a handful of believers meet in this cramped room stocked with salvaged Macs and hand-me-down video equipment. They take stock of this week's reporting, checking the web site often. When you log on to the IMC, usually the first thing you'll notice is 3 columns of text. Starting at the right -- The Newswire - an unfiltered listing of all posts. In the center, teams of IMC members will place what they feel are the most important and best-reported posts from the wire. [SEVERAL SPEAK AT ONCE]
MAN: Leave a hole there and see what else comes in.
MAN: Hopefully we'll have more good coverage. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
WOMAN: Leave a hole -- okay.
MAN: The community garden pageant this weekend is going to be a big deal--
MAN: This weekend - yeah.
MAN: --and I'm going to that, and I'd be happy to--
JAD ABUMRAD: The New York City chapter also draws on the newswire to put out a print publication. There's no budget here. Everything from time to post-it notes to printing costs are donated or paid for through small fundraisers. So it's not surprising that the internet connection in their office is not the most reliable, but each time it's up, The Newswire contains a greater number of postings! Everything from 2,000 word missives to brief updates on incremental stories to clips of audio.
ANNOUNCER: The Independent Media Center Radio News. [MUSIC] [CONTINUES SPEAKING IN ITALIAN LANGUAGE]
JAD ABUMRAD: This bit of tape is off the Italian IMC site. From July 21st, 2001 during the G-8 Summit of the world's economic superpowers, in a pre-dawn blitz Italian police stormed a school where anti-G-8 protestors were sleeping. Reports of activists being severely beaten in their sleep surfaced on the Italian IMC site within minutes.
THEDA PAVIS: The coverage of that by the Italian IMC was really, really good.
JAD ABUMRAD: Journalist Theda Pavis [sp?] has written extensively about the IMC in the On Line Journalism Review, a web site maintained by the Journalism Department of the University of Southern California.
THEDA PAVIS: If I wanted to, to really get first hand accounts of what was happening as an American media consumer, I could really get a lot of good news off that Italian IMC site, including amazing pictures.
JAD ABUMRAD: Some of the people beaten, it turned out, were IMC reporters. Although "reporter" is not a term every media watchdog would agree with.
THEDA PAVIS: We've been having this debate before -- really before IMC's started popping up. When I first started writing about this stuff, we were all debating Matt Drudge! And what did that mean? And could anybody just walk into the room and say now I'm a journalist and I can put my stuff up on the internet and there you go --I'm reporting.
JAD ABUMRAD: Though the IMC does attract its fair share of seasoned journalists, other IMC quote/unquote "reporters" prefer the term "media-makers" because they don't consider what they're doing journalism. They don't subscribe to the creed of balanced reporting; they don't necessarily even believe in objectivity. They think all media are subjective.
THEDA PAVIS: They definitely have a point of view. But I also think that there's a history in this country of journalists reporting stories that have a point of view. If you look at the work of Ida B. Wells [sp?], I mean she was an activist and a journalist, right? She spent years chronicling lynching, and she was methodical in her research. And, and I find that, you know, on certain topics some of the stories coming out of the IMC's have that same kind of exhaustive research that's going into it -- not always -but sometimes.
JAD ABUMRAD: The debate notwithstanding, the Independent Media Center credits the Italian IMC with dragging the corporate press into covering a story they would have otherwise ignored. It says the same was true more recently in Israel.
KEVIN SKAVORAK: A lot of the press was very afraid to move over there.
JAD ABUMRAD: Kevin Skavorak [sp?] spent 6 weeks in the occupied territories, splitting his time protesting and filing reports for two of the IMC's newest chapters -- the Jerusalem and Palestine sites.
KEVIN SKAVORAK: We were doing actions, and we were all marching, and we'd surround an ambulance and go marching up to the checkpoints and singing peace songs and stuff and the press would be like 200 feet back. The Israelis had shot at them a number of times; had killed a number of them. The reason we were a little bit different I think is because we didn't wear big [LAUGHS] signs on us that said "press."
JAD ABUMRAD: On April 16th, Kevin and a few other activists infiltrated the Jenin Refugee Camp just days after Israel had concluded its military operation. Two days before, mainstream press organizations were allowed in. He sent the IMC stills of stray limbs, burnt flesh, bodies covered in maggots. The images were later picked up by Reuters. [SOUNDS OF WARFARE]
WOMAN: I'm working in the IMC at the moment as a volunteer-- [SOUNDS OF WARFARE] just as I'm speaking to you some gunfights [DOGS BARKING] have just erupted.
ARUN GUPTA: We're not looking to like seize power. We're looking to re-imagine power. We went self-determination. And right now we don't have that.
JAD ABUMRAD: Arun Gupta admits that the IMC doesn't do well when the seas are calm. There aren't the resources for beat reporters. But during a crisis -- forget about it. "Activists," he says, "are willing to eat tear gas to get a story." For On the Media I'm Jad Abumrad. [MUSIC]