Posts Tagged ‘Indymedia’

The question whether the phenomenon of citizen journalism is an example of the power of an ordinary person to determine the news agenda or as Andrew Keen (2007) puts it, just reflects ‘the cult of the amateur’, is a bit of a complicated one. It gets especially complicated if the citizen journalism project is not founded by an independent non-profit organization such as GlobalVoices but by one of the biggest media networks in the world such as iReport, which is owned by CNN, which in turn is a part of Time Warner. CNN is attempting to profit from the phenomenon of citizen journalism that has its routes in social movements and grassroots journalism, reclaiming the communication commons to represent an alternative news source to corporate mass media.

One of the first successful projects on the internet was the Seattle Independent Media Center. Reporting on the anti-WTO protests in Seattle 1999, the IMC could overcome the limited space and distribution problems inherent in the old media. Independent journalists and amateurs successfully portrayed a different perspective on the protests and the website attracted about 1.5 million hits. Since the foundation of the indymedia network, the internet has seen many open publishing and citizen journalism projects. Many of them are non-profit, independent and offer critical reporting on issues that are overlooked, censored, deemed not newsworthy or portrayed with a political or corporate spin in the mass media.

Infinite monkeys with infinite typewriters eventually create a masterpiece.

But one problem of open-publishing processes without any editorial filtering is that they are open for the self-publishing of the ‘infinite monkey’ as Andrew Keen calls the amateur for whom every posting just another person’s version of the truth is and every fiction just another person’s version of the facts. But whereas Keen sees no value in stories produced by the amateur, CNN apparently does:

‘By submitting your material, […] you hereby grant to CNN and its affiliates a non-exclusive, perpetual, worldwide license to edit, telecast, rerun, reproduce, use, create derivative works from, syndicate, license, print, sublicense, distribute and otherwise exhibit the materials you submit, or any portion thereof in any manner and in any medium or forum, […] without payment to you or any third party’ (click here for the full Terms of Use).

In other words, CNN has created a mechanism where they receive news stories from amateurs which they can use at their disposal to generate revenues. Instead of CNN as a representative of the old media facing extinction as Keen predicts in his book, they embrace the cult of the amateur and make use of it. Question is: Who is the monkey now?

Further readings:

Keen, A 2007, The cult of the amateur, Doubleday, New York.

Kidd, D 2003, ‘Indymedia.org: a new communications commons’ in Cyberactivism: online activism in theory and practice, eds M McCaughy & MD Ayers, Routledge, New York & London, pp. 47-69.

Klein, N 2002, Fences and windows: dispatches from the front lines of the globalization debate, Flamingo, London.

As the media is currently showing great interest in the departure of the last US combat troops from Iraq after more than seven years of war, I think it’s worth revisiting the Independent Media Center’s documentary ‘In a Time of War’. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! speaks passionately about the importance of dialogue for democracy and highlights the shortcomings of the US commercial mass media in reporting on the invasion of Iraq to represent the ‘true face of war’.

Amy Goodman’s arguments about the distorted war coverage fit well with Jean Baudrillard’s theory of the simularcrum, which he developed in the early 1990s. According to Baudrillard, the simularcrum describes the transformation of an image from reflecting reality, to masking reality, to masking the absence of reality, to the point where it has no relation to any reality whatsoever. Baudrillard famously declared the first Gulf War as a non-event, a heavily mediated spectacle – a simularcrum. According to him there was no shared, collective experience, only the individual consumption of signs produced by the mass media.

The simularcrum of the Iraq War, the media spectacle, can then be seen in this documentary when Amy Goodman points to the heavy use of embedded journalists, video game like simulations of missile action, the use of high-rank military personnel as ‘experts’ and the use of military terminology in the daily news reports. This is definitely a documentary that makes you think about the power of the media to influence our perception of war.

Part 1:

Part 2:

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Part 3:

Further Readings:

Baudrillard, J 1994, ‘The precession of simularcra’, in Simulacra and simulation, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, pp. 1-14.