Indymedia, Journalism, and Digital Culture (part 1)

Sunday May 30th I will be presenting a paper at the ICA 2004 conference in New Orleans, USA. Over the coming days, I will post (parts of) this paper chronologically - that is, in linear mode - on this blog. Its a 6.000+ words paper, so please bear with me as I experiment with this mode of publishing online. The title of the presentation is: "Indymedia, Journalism, and Digital Culture". Below is the introduction and opening comments.

start ICA paper, #1

In this presentation I aim to connect the proliferation of Independent Media Centres (IMC, or: Indymedia) around the world since the 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle to the emergence of a global digital culture, and to the rise and establishment of new forms of participatory journalism. In doing so, I assume Indymedia to be a journalistic platform, as its main functions can be considered to be to serve as a platform for the production and dissemination of (alternative) news and information. Yet it is also a form of participatory user-generated content or we media, as it allows anyone to post and upload files, information, and news generally without an editorial moderation or filtering process (Platon & Deuze, 2003; Bowman & Willis, 2003). In the context of this essay I define digital culture as an emerging set of values, practices and beliefs regarding the way people act and interact within digital and networked media environments in contemporary society. As all media are or soon will be digital, and these electronic media can be considered to be omnipresent or even embedded in everyday life, culture can be seen as both digital, and mediated. In the context of these considerations, I treat Indymedia, journalism and digital culture as social practices of particular wired peoples emerging in societies all over the world, which practices should be seen as mutually constituent.

Leah Lievrouw (2002) urges us to look at our new media surroundings in terms of: [t]he artifacts or devices that enable and extend our abilities to communicate; the communication activities or practices we engage in to develop and use these devices, and the social arrangements or organizations that form around the devices and practices. It is in this recombinant context that my argument for the articulations of digital culture, Indymedia, and journalism can be read. Indymedia should be seen as a loosely organized set of social arrangements developing around the practices and ideals of open publishing and collective non-hierarchical storytelling (Platon & Deuze, 2003). Yet its praxis is also tied into the roles and functions of journalism and alternative news (Hyde, 2002). As a form of alternative journalism it has its roots in radical and oppositional media pre-dating the Web, both in the United States and elsewhere across the globe (Downing, 2001; Atton, 2002). In terms of the open publishing model of Indymedia online where anyone can post messages, news and information to the site without (formal) editorial filtering or intervention, and IMC site functions as a so-called group weblog. According to a much-linked to and IMHO comprehensive definition by Jill Walker (University of Bergen, Norway), a weblog is a frequently updated website consisting of dated entries arranged in reverse chronological order so the most recent post appears first <> though weblogs are primarily textual, experimentation with sound, images, and videos has resulted in related genres such as photoblogs, videoblogs, and audioblogs <> Most weblogs use links generously <> Many weblogs allow readers to enter their own comments to individual posts (2003). Interestingly, weblogs and more specifically group weblogs have been considered to be quite similar to pirate radio stations of the 1970s and 1980s in that they broadcast unfiltered perspectives legitimized by their existence outside of, or in opposition to, mainstream media corporations (Katz, 1999). Beyond similarities and roots in online and offline genres and structures, Indymedia must also be seen as a phenomenon particular to internet. The 100+ Indymedia sites all over the world are enabled and maintained by the particularities of the World Wide Web and its users/ producers, at once connecting local communities and issues with global ones, manifesting itself both as a particular community tied in to local interests (as different countries, regions or cities each have their own version and interpretation of Indymedia up and running), and as a general brand, easily recognizable as such through its logo and the freely downloadable IMC source code (determining the look and feel of the site all over the world). Jim Hall (2001) places news and journalism online in the social context of a changing information society, where he particularly emphasizes the reciprocal links between news providers and readers (p.25), as one of the features of this new media environment the journalistic profession finds itself in. Using examples such as the role of online information in reporting the Columbina high school killings and the Kosovo crisis in 1999, Hall goes on to suggest that online journalism is both more tied to (small) localities, and has a more global reach than ever before. In doing so, Hall closes the gap between Indymedia and journalism by implicitly referencing to an emerging digital culture within which global/local and producer/consumer distinctions are gradually fading (see for a similar argument Pavlik, 2001).

In this essay I discuss the building blocks of digital culture on the basis of contemporary discussions about journalism, (the politics of) globalization, and alternative media as these pertain to specific internet phenomena such as online journalism, (group) weblogs, and Indymedia. As the basis of this argument I use a by no means exhaustive literature review (see the bibliography of this essay), a series of interviews with online journalists and Indymedia activists across Europe, Australia and the United States between 1999 and 2002 (see: Deuze & Yeshua, 2001; Platon & Deuze, 2003; Deuze, Neuberger & Paulussen, 2004), and my ongoing cross-national research among journalists in general, and about Web-based journalisms in particular (see: Deuze, 2002a, 2002b and 2003). In doing so, I assume that digital culture has emergent properties with roots both in online and offline phenomena, with links to trends and developments pre-dating the World Wide Web, yet at the same having an immediate impact felt all over the world, particularly changing the ways in which we use and giving meaning to the omnipresent media in our daily lives.

[to be continued...]