= an aggregate of loosely affiliated activist media centers scattered across the planet
"Indymedia is an aggregate of loosely affiliated activist media centers scattered across the planet. Its ascension captures the confounding contradictions of modern globalization. While forces backed by the FCC centripetally consolidate media outlets into a few corporate behemoths, a countervailing current pulls some news media in the opposite direction; Independent Media Centers ("IMCs") are a prime example. A confluence of opportune events led to the creation of the first IMC in Seattle. These colliding rivulets included the success of the Seattle 1999 anti-WTO protests, accessible web and Free Software technologies, a growing public reliance on online news, and the insight and labor of activists. Internet technologies have been the basis of Indymedia's operations and growth, and in many ways the political objectives of the IMCs are reflected by their use and production of Free Software. The deployment of Free Software web publishing systems has also become integral to the IMCs' mission. This fascinating interconnection between political values and the technological context of the IMC emerges from an analysis of Indymedia's development over its first five years.
Indymedia centers are run as local collectives that manage and coordinate a news website; some also operate an affiliated media resource center for local activists. These websites give any user of the site (regardless of whether or not they are part of the collective) the ability to create, publish, and access news reports of various forms – text, photo, video, and audio. The result is a free online source for unfiltered, direct journalism by activists, sometimes uploaded in the heat of the moment during a demonstration or political action. Although individual centers are autonomous, each is connected to the others through a global infrastructure of technology and workers who share a commitment to open publishing. Where traditional journalism holds editorial policies that are hidden in the hands of a few trained experts, Indymedia provides the alternative of "open publishing," a democratic process of creating news that is transparent and accessible to all, challenging the separation between consumers and producers of news.
The emergence of the first IMC marked the beginning of a different kind of globalization, one deliberately constructed by activists as an alternative to the system of global media privateers and the neoliberal logic of free market idealism; they imagined a "globalization from below" challenging the assertions made by politicians that free markets naturally lead to economic development and democracy.
At the time of formulation, the initial organizers did not architect Indymedia as a model for export. Yet, this ingenious idea- to become the media instead of relying on or reforming the established media- has taken hold worldwide. In the first 10 months, 33 IMCs appeared in over 10 countries on four continents. In the last year Indymedia has been setting up popular media labs and training events in the West Bank, in Andean indigenous and campesino communities, in MST landless peasant camps in Brazil, in squatted banks and piquetero community centers in Argentina. Today there are more than 110 IMCs around the world, on 6 continents, in over 35 countries, and using over 22 languages. Now, just as we can point to what has been aptly coined as the "digital Wal-martization" of the "mainstream" media, we can also web-click into hundreds of distinctly textured autonomous nodes of media." (http://journal.planetwork.net/article.php?lab=coleman0704&page=1)
Indymedia's radical democratic governance
"Even casual observers will note that Indymedia puts forth a radical vision for media democracy. Indymedia’s celebrated slogan, ‘‘be the media,’’ suggests that media production and telling of stories is something to which all people should have access.
However, Indymedia’s radical democratic practice extends beyond website content and mission statements to encompass institutional practices, use of internet technology, and global network operations. To be more specific, Indymedia’s radical democratic practice entails an active renegotiation of all power relationships by democratizing the media (exemplified by an interactive web-based interface), leveling power hierarchies (exemplified by consensus-based decision-making), and countering proprietary logic (exemplified by open-source software). Inherent in these practices are significant strengths, weaknesses, and recurrent tensions, which I trace in the following case study of the Seattle Independent Media Center. I focus on how Indymedia activists, through institutional practices and the amplifying effects of internet technology, are actualizing radical democratic principles.
Aiming to empower marginalized voices, Indymedia goes beyond advocating greater voice in policymaking or a seat at the table. It seeks active re-appropriation and redistribution of space, technology, and other resources to democratize society and thus would level all hierarchies. Thus, much of the structure defining Indymedia as an institution can be described as anarchic (Epstein, 2001) or as ‘‘radical participatory democracy’’ (Polletta, 2002). My use of ‘‘radical democracy’’ indicates an expansive version of participatory democracy that seeks to equalize power hierarchies, correct structural inequities in all institutions, and counter proprietary logic. Such radical democratic practices as Indymedia’s consensus decision-making and open internet technology are invested with values of inclusiveness, diversity, openness, co-operation, transparency, and collective decisionmaking.
Recurring themes of radical participatory democracy, democratizing the media, and countering corporate power emerge from Indymedia documents linked to all IMC websites. Themes of media democracy and anti-corporate power are invoked in the mission statement on the main page: ‘‘Indymedia is a collective of independent media institutions and hundreds of journalists offering grassroots, non-corporate, non-commercial coverage of important social and political issues in Seattle and worldwide.’’ Indymedia’s anti-corporate stance is evidenced by a rare content restriction (one of several editorial controls discussed below) that under no circumstances may any advertisements or corporate promotions be posted. Community empowerment through media production is also a strong theme. For example, the FAQ page states that Indymedia is ‘‘committed to using media production and distribution as a tool for promoting social and economic justice.’’ Elsewhere on the FAQ page, IMC activists claim that Indymedia ‘‘encourages people to become the media by posting their own articles, analysis and information to the site.’’ Under ‘‘What is Indymedia’’ the IMC is defined as ‘‘a democratic media outlet for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of truth.’’" (http://www.victorpickard.com/upload/rcsm157052.pdf)
"Radical democratic values structure the technological and institutional processes of Indymedia in complex and, in some cases, unprecedented ways. Some tensions plaguing Indymedia have been present in radical politics since 17th-century England, when revolutionary groups like the Diggers and Levelers threatened the propertied class with an effusion of radically egalitarian ideas (Hill, 1972). Nonetheless, negotiating these tensions with new technologies such as the internet brings to the fore new power configurations, new strengths, and new weaknesses. Ranging from editorial decisions about open-published news stories to coordinating a vast global network, Internet operations combined with Indymedia activists’ adherence to their principles of unity have unleashed new opportunities and challenges in the push for radical democracy. These efforts reflect Indymedia’s modeling according to a vision that prefigures a more ideal society. IMC activists actively try to redefine relationships instead of replicating the power inequities, structural biases, and systemic failures that they organize against. Yet anti-democratic tendencies persist and are sometimes even exacerbated by the very processes used to counteract them. Mansbridge’s (1983) study of how consensus decision-making reproduces gender hierarchies supports the notion that some tensions remain or are even worsened.
Another often-overlooked aspect of these radical democratic practices is their strategic value. Traditionally, social scientists have treated these prefigurative politics as high-principled, but strategically disadvantageous (Polletta, 2002). Indymedia activists demonstrate what Polletta described: Radical democratic practice encourages innovation, solidarity, and dispersion of leadership skills. Further, maintaining a decentralized, non-hierarchical structure makes groups like Indymedia more resistant to state repression (De Armond, 2001). For example, no state can arrest the ‘‘leader’’ of Indymedia, nor can they sue or close down the entire network. This resilience was demonstrated in the fall of 2004 when, for reasons that were hidden from the public, authorities seized two IMC servers in London, taking down over a dozen IMC sites. Yet no arrests were made and within days the sites were back up online.
The leveling role of the internet is a significant new development in the evolving repertoire of radical political groups. The internet amplifies Indymedia activists’ potential for radical democracy by democratizing media production, increasing non-hierarchical communications, and redistributing power to facilitate coordinated, co-operative action. Indeed, considering that internet communications*/ranging from email lists and easily uploaded news stories to collective online documents and even a shared website architecture*/enable operation of these institutional structures, in the case of Indymedia the technology and institutional structure are mutually constitutive. Undoing one would disable the other. In other words, the radical openness of Indymedia’s technology is predicated on a radical democratic institutional structure; this structure could not exist without internet communications, especially on the global network level. Although face-to-face interaction remains crucial on the local level, the Indymedia network continues to function by consensus*/a consensus reached amongst thousands of actors who will never meet in person. Important questions remain regarding the often-passive nature of this consensus; we should interrogate whether silence on an email list can constitute participatory democracy. Nevertheless, building on notions from earlier projects for participatory democracy and pluralistic egalitarianism, today’s Indymedia activists are succeeding in actualizing radical democratic in unprecedented ways, especially as they elevate such logic to the global network level. Whether this model is sustainable remains an important question." (http://www.victorpickard.com/upload/rcsm157052.pdf)
More at: Indymedia - Governance
"On November 24, 1999 (to herald the protests against the World Trade Organization), the first Indymedia news story was posted by ‘‘Maffew & Manse’’ to the prototype IMC website:
- The resistance is global . . . . The web dramatically alters the balance between multinational and activist media. With just a bit of coding and some cheap equipment, we can setup a live automated website that rivals the corporates’. Prepare to be swamped by the tide of activist media makers on the ground in Seattle and around the world, telling the real story behind the World Trade Agreement. (http://seattle.indymedia.org/en/1999/11/2.shtml)
Created by media democracy activists who gathered in a downtown Seattle storefront during the weeks leading up to the WTO protests, the IMC was fashioned as a grassroots news organization to provide non-corporate accounts of street-level events. Over 400 journalists, many of them donning IMC press passes, joined a 50,000-person throng of global justice protestors and produced various media for the IMC website and their newspaper, The Blindspot. Indymedia journalists broke stories on police brutality and the use of rubber bullets on demonstrators at pointblank range. The site, Indymedia.org (it became seattle.indymedia.org), registered over 1 million hits by the end of the week. The open source code structuring the original IMC site made it an easily replicated model. Within the first year, 24 new IMCs emerged around the world in places like Quebec City, Prague, and Washington, DC, often in conjunction with large global justice protests against neoliberal institutions such as the IMF and World Bank or the G8. As of April 2005, Indymedia comprises a network of over 150 sites in 50 countries across six continents. Despite an overall uniformity in website architecture and political ethos across Indymedia sites, there are significant differences among individual IMCs including but not limited to cultural particulars regarding editorial policy, membership criteria, and the size and location of the IMC." (http://www.victorpickard.com/upload/rcsm157052.pdf)
- Assessing the Radical Democracy of Indymedia: Discursive, Technical, and Institutional Constructions. Victor W. Pickard. Critical Studies in Media Communication. Vol. 23, No. 1, March 2006, pp. 19-38 
- Article: Indymedia's Independence: From Activist Media to Free Software. By Biella Coleman : The global, decentralized, grassroots network applies open source principles to reporting the news.
- http://yukidoke.org/~mako/writing/mute-indymedia_software.html. This piece provides an extensive and excellent examination of the different web platforms used and coded by the IMC-Tech Collective and the different political objectives encoded in different pieces of IMC software.
- http://docs.indymedia.org/view/Devel/WebHome for a list of the different "code bases" and what they offer. Each prospective IMC looks over these code bases to learn the features provided by each (usability, presentation, portability, ease of administration, larger support network) and whether they match with their local requirements.