Media EmergenC overview and analysis

Media EmergenC, hosted by SDIMC and SD RadioActive, was held Oct 6-9, 2004 in San Diego concurrently with the National Association of Broadcasters annual radio road show. Here's an overview, images and audio of the events. Lotus at SDIMC has recently written a very cogent analysis of the event and of indymedia in general in the hope of creating critical dialogue within the indymedia movement. Please read and forward to interested folks.



Towards a Critical Analysis of Media EmergenC

Lotus (lotus at sdimc d0t org)



From October 6th-9th, as the National Association of Broadcasters was holding their annual Radio Road Show in San Diego, a group of media activists converged to try to illuminate what is wrong with the corporate media and to strengthen independent, community autonomous media. This convergence was called the Media emergenC, highlighting the two themes of emergency and emergence. With 4 days of talks, film screenings, marches, panels, forums and independent media making, the media activists, mostly composed of members of San Diego Indymedia and radioActive sanDiego, but including media makers from as far away as New York and Philadelphia, tried to confront the NAB as had been done in many other cities, but also to challenge the independent media movement and push it forward.

Independent Media Coverage

The Prometheus Radio Project, after trying out a community reporter program at the Philadelphia NAB Radio Show in 2003, was eager to take this program to San Diego in 2004. Prometheus secured local reporters in Philadelphia, as well as some community reporters who'd be coming in from the Chesapeake Bay, and others from Baltimore, NAB press passes. Community radio stations, primarily Low Power FM stations all over the country, provided the press credentials to these reporters. Then, these reporters collected audio inside the NAB
convention, which would otherwise cost between $400-$700 for entry. This audio was processed into headlines, print articles, and longer audio pieces for some of these stations.

The same stations, for the most part, provided credentials to local San Diego reporters, as well as reporters flying in from New York (!) and other exotic places. These reporters went into the NAB in San Diego, and collected a wide variety of audio for production.

What were the goals here? First, to form relationships between community reporters and community radio stations all across the country. It was originally a hope of Prometheus and some of the participating stations that these reporters and their contacts at the home stations might decide to work together in the future, and provide regional/beat reporting to the local stations even from far away. This ties in to the larger goal of networking stations to other stations more effectively, and sharing content/beats.

Second, to get representatives of independent media into workshops and forums where they almost never go. The National Association of Broadcasters is a very closed organization, and its behaviors have a great impact on community media and its ability to proliferate (ex. the
LPFM expansion). If our reporters can hear about the planned strategies of the corporate media, and bring them to the stations who might suffer the impact, or those community members who might want to fight for more accesses, then we've succeeded in really penetrating the NAB.

Third, to teach ourselves audio production, and try to bring new community producers into the larger stream (Free Speech Radio News, Critical Mass Radio, Indymedia audio). New blood!

Fourth, to form relationships between reporters. New allies and friends!

Fifth, to create finished pieces that told the story of NAB resistance, in a fashion that could be widely distributed amongst a wide variety of radio stations and communities. Mixed between resistance outside, the counter-conference, and reporting inside.

How many of these goals were met?

Were relationships between reporters and stations made? Nope, not really. We didn't turn in most of the audio, because we didn't finish producing much in SD and followup work wasn't kept up after the convergence.

Did we get representatives into the NAB? Yes. And they asked amazing questions of people who everyday community radio folks never get to engage, like head counsel of the FCC, John Cody, and John Hogan, the president of Clear Channel. And they were present as community radio stations, showing themselves to this community of commercial broadcasters, large and small. That simple visibility makes a difference when the community of the NAB is using its girth to affect regulations at the FCC. If they, even for a moment, remember the motley crew inside the NAB, asking challenging but well-thought out and responsible questions, then that might make a difference. (This is not a radical analysis, rather it is grounded in changing the NAB and its constituents from the inside... we are, however, interested in working on and discussing radical analysis)

Did we learn audio production? I think so, to a large extent. But in San Diego we hadn't prepared an editing lab that made it easy for reporters to edit their sound. We didn't even prepare enough to have the right minidisk recorders for all the community reporters -- some folks were relying on little cassette recorders. Arrgh! We didn't prep the mass production studio necessary for this kind of effort. Next time we must:

a) Pick a few local folks to prep and organize a studio. Buying/securing computers that have enough memory for editing, and can also do file transfers of finished and raw audio.

b) Prepping the reporters so they have a sound recorder that will actually transfer files cleanly to the editing machines.

c) Getting a few volunteers around the production studio at all times to help folks out.

d) Giving folks examples of good pieces to hear ahead of time, for ideas on structure.

e) Community handbooks with tips on using Audacity/minidisks/etc

f) Always having cables for transfer around.

g) Loaner/purchase of good mics.

h) Some strict deadlines/time budgeted into the schedule for production, rather than more gathering, or partying, or protesting. There's nothing like the feeling of a finished piece to encourage a reporter to produce again.

i) Good followup to encourage finishing pieces that remain undone after the end of the convergence.

Did we form relationships between reporters who weren't previously working together on projects? Hells yeah!

Did we create finished pieces? Again, no. Any future convergence, as I've already mentioned, should include more of a focus on production and the importance and pride of completed production/training of new volunteers. We did, however, half-finish one audio piece that can be found here.

There were a few finished pieces produced by members of Free Radio Santa Cruz, and one of these was broadcast on Free Speech Radio News. The Free Radio Santa Cruz members did not have press passes to get into the official NAB event though. Their pieces were entirely about the Media emergenC events.

One success of the independent coverage of the Media emergenC was the live radio production. Throughout all 4 days of the conference, radioActive sanDiego did interviews with people around the country on the topic of media consolidation and independent media. These interviews ranged from Michael Albert to Conglomco to the Arab-American Anti Discrimination Committee. In addition, the conference itself was broadcast live on radioActive sanDiego and was picked up and rebroadcast by a local pirate radio station, 106.9fm. In addition, people at the street actions were able to call in their live reports and share their experiences with listeners.

Street Actions

There was one main street action. This was a march from the NBC building downtown to the steps of the awards ceremony for the NAB. On the lawn in front of the NAB awards ceremony, we deployed a sound system and staged a mock awards ceremony. The march and theatre went well, with over 100 people in attendance who were all very enthusiastic. Nevertheless, in the end, the Media emergenC received little corporate media coverage. This could've been helped by having more direct action.

Here it seems like one of the major problems was just a lack of serious dedicated people towards getting our message out in the media. Three organizers worked on press releases a lot, but only Hannah from Prometheus did any follow up work. I think that what has to be done to really get the story in the media is to have a whole media team of a few people on the phone with the corporate media all the time. It^Ys a traditional attitude of indymedia folks to not want to work with the corporate media at all. It's often decried as counter-revolutionary by some folks. But I think that its just another part of the resistance. As long as we have this huge system around us, we have to work within it to fight it, like buying PVC for lock-downs. But PVC can be stolen, some might say, but we have not done any serious work on the issue of how to steal the audience of the corporate media. I've heard of some people claiming to do mini pirate broadcasts that take over corporate frequencies, but never heard of it materializing.


Were there too many traditional critiques and not enough anarchist, or more radical critiques?

We did not have enough discussion of anarchist critiques; subverting the media hierarchy should have been a more prominent focus. It seems like here, we were just running up against some of the limitations of indymedia being unassociated with any explicit politics. While it could be an opportunity to move beyond more traditional theories of revolutionary change, in fact it seems more like a bunch of people who have their own theories (communist, marxist, anarchist, etc) who simply don't agree. There are lots of widely varying political philosophies in our own imc, so to say "lets make this more anti-authoritarian" might not work. Is the indymedia principle of "organizing using anti-authoritarian methods" enough? Do we ever use the space of indymedia to consciously move beyond traditional political organizing strategies?

Did we show that there's a growing indymedia movement and did we move that forward?

Again this seems like a problem created by our scheme of bringing big name speakers instead of bringing kick ass media activists. We said many times "the problem with finding speakers is that in indymedia, no one is supposed to be more important". That seems like the problem with our method was right in front of our face.

One possible problem was that there was lots of intro content, not much discussion on moving indymedia forward, very little work done on the issues around oppression and difference and very few people of color in attendance at all. These issues are obviously very difficult ones. Did we do enough outreach in communities of color and in Spanish? We tried to have a pre-event in a neighborhood of people of color, but only two of us worked on it and it was not done very well.

But again I think this gets back to the issue of inherent limitations in the "Indymedia" model. Does the phrase "independent media" mean anything to people who are not in the movement? Are we effectively communicating to people the fact that we're trying to get people of color's voices into the media? Does "media" mean anything to people?

Also, a number of people have told me that the theme we used "media emergency" was hard to understand and doesn't mean much to people. i don't know what would be clearer, but something like "books not bars" is undeniable.

So, these problems seem to stem from the lack of inclusion of people of color in the organizing process, based on a lack of dedication on our part to include them (ours as in the organization). We had our events at locations focused on communities of color, but those folks didn't come to our events. How could we have included our hosts better?

Critiques of content, structure and Indymedia

Some people felt that not enough people came to the conference part. This issue taps at the fundamental type of media we are making. Are we trying to convert others (media as propaganda) or trying to educate ourselves more (media as self-critical)? When one of the speakers at our conference asked about who owned NBC, almost everyone in the audience replied ^\GE!^] How do we move beyond the choir? Should we? In other words, does the structure of indymedia facilitate the possibility of media that is a) not parasitic on the corporate model, b) not propaganda, c) self-critical, d) educational, e) empowering, and f) challenging.

In her essay The Language of Tactical Media, Joanne Richardson discusses the parasitic limitations of indymedia:
"Indymedia critiques the pretensions of mass media to be a true, genuine, democratic form of representation; it opposes the false media shell with counter-statements made from a counter-perspective -- a perspective that is not questioned because it is assumed as natural. My Italian friends who work with Indymedia showed me a video they co-produced about the anti-globalization demonstrations in Prague and asked what I thought. I replied that it was a good piece of propaganda, but as propaganda it never examined its own position. In this video you see a lot of activists who came to Prague from America, UK, Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, etc; occasionally you even get ossified Leninist bullshit from members of communist parties. What you really don't get is any reflection of the local Czech context -- many locals denounced what they saw as an attempt to playact a revolution by foreigners who invoked slogans from an ideology the Czechs themselves considered long obsolete. The confrontation of these different perspectives is absent from the video, since it is meant to promote Indymedia's own anarcho-communist position, raised to the level of a universal truth. And in this sense it was as strategic and dogmatic as mainstream media; it was only the content of its message that differed."
But is it just propaganda? What does it mean to be tactical? How can we have a self-inflected politics that includes and contests the ideas of Power and Representation? Is the goal to educate others or ourselves? How do you go beyond the parasitic, binary dependance on corporate media (i.e., counterconference, counterinauguration, anti-x, counter-y) How do you become more creative, politically? How can we expand our political imagination?

We don't believe that Media EmergenC was just propaganda with different content. The local music, local spaces, local radio and local networks involved in the organizing and actualization of the event represented a broad range of methods, forms, and analyses of media, the NAB, and radio. Our main purpose with Media EmergenC, and perhaps with Indymedia too, is to produce a safe and autonomous space to rethink and remake our own political imaginations. We hope to construct spaces within the airwaves, the streets and cyberspace that allow such imaginations to flourish.

The structure was very much like a traditional conference: audience vs. speaker. We tried to subvert that with the workshops. But how do we go beyond the "conference" model. Should we? Maybe it should have been set up more like a media lab, where every participant could come in and make media. what if we transformed the World Beat Center into a huge media lab with different mediums in different corners? That would've radically changed the whole dynamic of "presenter" and "listener" What would a media lab look like? Could it be: Media Hobbyism, Biomedia, Cybermedia, Robotic Media, Gendered Media, Ethnic Media, Indigenous media, Insurgent Media, Foreign media. Perhaps we should learn from the FreeCooperation conference that took place on a campus of the State University of New York, late April 2004. This conference seemed to extend beyond the stale politics of panelism and the traditional conference model.

And then there's Radio, that beautiful device of political polyphony that precipitated the entire conference. Since the enemy was a radio lobby, should we have focused everything on radio? Yes: it would have been more specific, effective, technical, creative. No: perhaps, less interest, and we should work on broadening the debate. Perhaps the radio kids who got inside the NAB should have had a report back on Saturday at the conference.


We've written this self-critical document in the hope of creating more critical dialogue within the Indymedia community and the independent media movement. It is our hope that people will read this, give us feedback and make more documents like this critiquing their own events and actions and circulate those for discussion as well. We hope that this can be read and discussed at the upcoming Indyconference in Texas this month. Above all, we hope that people can think hard about the questions and challenges that we've posed here, which are constantly manifesting themselves in the work of creating our own media structures, and come up with new methods and ideas which are more inclusive and more effective and incorporate those methods and ideas into their work.

By any media necessary, San Diego Indymedia - Prometheus Radio Project -radioActive radio and all the others who participated in Media EmergenC.

Links and stories about "Media EmergenC"