Last week I spoke at a local bookstore, King’s Books, about independent media.
I would say the most important point I was making is that media is dominated by class, and perpetuated by the idea that only one class can tell our story for the rest of society (not to mention the permits and the badges and the capital.) One example of the class-based system I brought up was Josh Wolf, the video-blogger from San Fransisco who spent 6 months in jail to protect sources that the FBI wanted from him.
Josh Wolf is much more vulnerable than any other journalist simply because he is not affiliated with any major news media corporation. The video he took is his, and he does not need to reveal any of his sources because that would make him – and his profession – ipso facto investigators for the government. The government has all kinds of ways of getting information about its citizens, including wiretapping nowadays, and all the journalist has are the same tools everyone else as citizens in society have. They can agree to a confidentiality. If you take that away, you take investigative or original journalism away, and you’re left with only the government as a means of getting information about your society. The government has become more devilish lately and has tried to push professional journalists in that direction, as we saw with the Valerie Plame case.
At any rate, through illustrations from independent work, essays, and history, my point was that the “Freedom of the Press” applies to the new conditions of production, where anyone with the ability to publish – and it doesn’t need to be an acknowledged publisher – has the freedom of the press. There are literally hardly any barriers to entry. Anyone with a laptop or a cell phone can be reporter – so journalists aren’t the only ones with a license to film. Anyone can perform an act of journalism. I think it’s a big mistake to define journalism by the person who does it. Anyone can do journalism. The badge and other emblems of professional journalism are really just a symbol of the class system, seeing as badges are not legal documents. One of the many independent media models that I appreciate is Kuro5hin‘s (“Corrosion”), where the voting application allows users to increase the visibility of each article. There is also a set of standards that contributors are expected to follow, and users can also comment on the advertisements on the site.
Technology is empowering the user, hence the “Age of the User” (web 2.0), and with that class-barriers are breaking down. The standards debate is basically pointless at this point since if users wish to abide by a set of standards, they can. And if they’d like to publish whatever they’d like–articles on ideology and taxonomy one day, for example, and obscure poems the next–they are permitted that as well. That is what Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech mean in an open society.