Richmond Indymedia takes a break

The lefty-to-the-point-of-irrelevance Richmond Indymedia has announced a hiatus “until we can fix the tech problems that have plagued us”. Having posted only 8 articles in the first 5 months of the year, of which only 4 were actually about something in Richmond, they weren’t really doing much anyway. I’ve always liked the idea behind the […]

The lefty-to-the-point-of-irrelevance Richmond Indymedia has announced a hiatus “until we can fix the tech problems that have plagued us”. Having posted only 8 articles in the first 5 months of the year, of which only 4 were actually about something in Richmond, they weren’t really doing much anyway.

I’ve always liked the idea behind the Indymedia sites, as I understand it: remove the filter and report your own news. I’m thinking that the combination of just how easy it has become to publish online and the emergence of local aggregators that make it easier to find local writing have taken away many potential Indymedia writers, whether they know it or not. Back in 1999, they were ahead of the game. Now with YouTube, Flickr, Blogger, and everything else letting folks really self-publish at the click of a button, I’m not sure what Indymedia offers anyone except a built-in echo chamber.

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  1. Built-in echo chamber of absolute crazies, sure. Maybe the problem with Richmond’s Indymedia is Richmond isn’t a city that has that many people with that much time on their hands to be that paranoid of the world around them. DC, sure, their Indymedia was pretty bit (at least, it was in 2004 when I last looked in that direction). Sure, some of those folks have probably moved on to other sites or their own by now, but I’d figure there’s always plenty of people looking for attention from folks who think just like themselves that a site like that will always have someone to provide for it.

    Would Indymedia sites be counted among the first group blogs? Or are they modified forums?

  2. When the first IMC site started as a mouthpiece for WTO protesters in Seattle in 1999, it was definitely ahead of its time and it had a profound effect. Within weeks, dozens of sites were popping up regionally around the world. Indymedia sought to bring horizontalism to the media and alter the definition of journalist. Since anyone could post anything, the idea was more akin to Craigslist than a traditional news site (a handful of editors worked hard to assist new users and deleted spam, threats, and hate-speech).

    The RVA IMC site started in early 2000, probably ahead of any currently active Richmond blog. Anyone was welcome to post, but as with most IMCs, the result of invitations to openness was a pretty insular community nonetheless. Are today’s blogs and community sites so different? Regardless, the effect and readership of both precursor sites like IMC and today’s community blogs are probably somewhere between our off-hand dismissals and our overreaches at self-importance. There’s just no way to know, because data collection gives such an incomplete picture. It’s certainly not prudent to accept another media outlet’s assessment. RVA News probably isn’t (or shouldn’t be) looking for validation from the RTD, and a seven year rotating line-up of IMC volunteers probably feel the same way about detractors.

    The people who participated in Richmond Indymedia (as writers/commenters) were mostly anti-war and social justice activists who couldn’t get decent coverage in local media (surprise!) and white supremacist web-trolls (who wanted to heckle and threaten). Not nearly enough interaction with anyone in between to help the site reach its potential. A number of surprisingly competent writers shared stories on the site, but without much evidence of traction for their efforts, they moved on. The most consistent purpose that RVA IMC served during its past seven years has been as a testing ground for young radical groups publishing press releases and announcing events. In a town with a less than inspiring array of media options, Richmond Indymedia was an imperfect effort, but it staked out new ground and gave a voice to groups and issues that were often neglected.

  3. Are today’s blogs and community sites so different?

    I think so. RVA Blogs has almost 300 contributing sites. Anyone that has something to share can easily get their word out, and the format is much more flexible. The format accommodates a spectrum of voices and opinions, from Stakolee to Write Side, with news, art, opinion, sports, and everything else in between. THIS is horizontal.

    Don’t get me wrong — I love the potential of IMC, I just think that it eventually got overrun by other other publishing options and its own limitations. One of the more recent community blogs, Greater Fulton News, is built on a similar open model; it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.

  4. the biggest problem with the site was that it was always a bitch to use…

  5. matthew on said:

    RVA Foodie: “Anyone was welcome to post, but as with most IMCs, the result of invitations to openness was a pretty insular community nonetheless. Are today’s blogs and community sites so different?”

    John M: “I think so. RVA Blogs has almost 300 contributing sites. Anyone that has something to share can easily get their word out, and the format is much more flexible.”

    RVA blogs is not a community site or blog, it’s an aggregator for others’ blogs. I state this obvious point to say that the intention behind IMC was to create a forum for those who did not have their own blogs (which in 2000 was pretty much all of us) to post their thoughts. The beauty was the opportunity created for anyone in the community who did not have access to media to speak their mind publicaly.

    Has it outlived this purpose? I’d say yes. Media access has become more democratized. I can think of at least 3 of us who were active contributors to IMC who’ve moved on to creating our own blog. There may be some out there who still appreciate the format, however, as it is more flexible than blogging and authors don’t require editorial approval as publishing at sites like RVA News surely requires. To get attention on a blog requires building your name in the blogging community. How many RVA bloggers get few hits from RVA blogs? I know many who complain about that. So the benefit of IMC is that the site builds the name, while the occasional reporter can trade off that name for publicity for her cause.

  6. Jim on said:

    As one of the volunteers, I can say it’s been tough to get decent content on the site recently. I can’t understate the tech issues – the guy who developed the code a lot of IMCs use dropped off the face of the planet a couple of years ago, and there have been no updates to the code since then. It was nasty to work with even when it was being maintained.

    Outlived its usefulness? I’d not make that call just yet. Granted, as any webdork can tell you, maintaining a website with public comments is a lot of work. Boring work, primarily. We’re looking to replace the site code in the near future, but our site was completely overrun with spammers. Shutting down the publishing was the only way we could start to get a handle on the spam/neo-Nazi crap that’s been building up over time.

    But, providing a place for people to post news without the overhead of maintaining a blog is still a relevant pursuit, and having a place to do it anonymously is still important. We do hope to get functional again, but we had to turn off the torrent of crap before we could realistically do anything.

    So, we hope to have a shiny-new site soon – if there are enough people who care enough to keep it vibrant and fresh.

  7. matthew on said:

    The “lefty-to-the-point-of-irrelevance” comment has been bothering me all day.

    IMC was one of the only local on-line hubs of the anti-war movement back during the invasion of Iraq- when 90% of the american public polled as supporting the war. Surely, being in the 10% minority opposing a military option was seen at that time as “lefty-to-the-point-of-irrelevance.” Now that public sentiment has turned, those sentiments are irrelevant no longer.

    Other issues aired on IMC before they hit mainstream were the opposition to the baseball stadium in Shockoe (backed eventually by Church Hill Assn.), calls for preserving the “burial ground for negroes” (written about years ago, now backed by Bill Pantele, Dwight Jones, and ACORN), opposition to a second nuclear power plant at Lake Anna, and coverage of local participants in the School of the Americas protests organized by that most radical group of folks: Roman Catholics.

    Of course, when you have an open publishing format, unlike the community blogs which utilize gatekeepers/editors, you’ll have some folks writing who aren’t in the mainstream. But that’s part of the usefulness of the site- airing of opinions which aren’t “mainstream” enough for the news to pick up on. And sometimes, public opinion switches to embrace formerly irrelevant ideas. History’s full of that change: votes for folks other than white landowning men, abolition, integration, anti-war sentiments…

  8. The “lefty-to-the-point-of-irrelevance” comment has been bothering me all day.

    What prompted that was was the prevalence of articles like this — so very lefty, and having nothing to do with Richmond. Therein lies the irrelevance.

  9. matthew on said:

    So is it the leftiness or the lack of Richmond content that makes the article about the School of the Americas protest irrelevant to you? Your phrase “lefty-to-the-point-of-irrelevance” indicates that it’s the political position that creates the irrelevance, but your last comment makes it sound like the lack of local content is as much a factor in the site’s irrelevance.

    In point of fact, you are wrong on both counts. The School of the Americas protest is coordinated by the Jesuit order of the Roman Catholic Church every year. Martin Sheen and Susan Sarandon were both present. Over 15,000 people protest annually, and the gathering garners national news coverage including CNN and AP wire reports. That hardly has the marks of an irrelevant lefty gathering to me. But the problem with the irrelevant lefty label is that it’s all in your perception.

    And as for local interest, the SOA protesters pictured in the article are the folks at Little Flower Catholic Worker farm who live in Louisa County and participate in the Richmond activist scene. Casual readers of IMC and folks who don’t travel in activist circles wouldn’t know that. Louisa doesn’t have an IMC, so they post stories at their closest regional site- Richmond.

    Now- the flaw with that article is that it speaks to insiders like me who know the back story of the SOA protest and the people involved without explaining it to folks like you who don’t. But I still bristle at the “lefty-to-the-point-of-irrelevance” label.

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