Baltimore’s Indypendent Reader is a print paper that is circulated freely. Last December, when I was in town, I helped out with the layout of issue #13, themed around the media. It’s filled with amazing articles, the most curious of which are about various radical papers of the 1960s. The counterculture was fascinating. You can download the entire thing for free, if you’re not in Baltimore to pick up a copy. Anyhow, I was invited to write the introduction to the issue, which I’ve pasted below:
No matter what your political or ideological orientation might be, it’s become increasingly difficult to ignore the “crisis” in the world of media. Newspapers are downsizing, magazines are going bust or ceasing print production in favor of a cheaper, but much less substantive online format, and every day there’s yet another casualty in the bookstore world. You can’t read an op-ed section any more without running into somebody waxing poetic about the “death of print,” or lamenting the “end of journalism.” Yeah, we’re just going to go ahead and call bullshit on that. Welcome to the Indypendent Reader, one of the many sources for independent journalism that’s doing just fine.
There’s this thing that happens where people refer to “The Media” as a single, monolithic entity. I’ve fallen for that myself. And certainly, the past few decades have seen more than their share of media consolidation and mega-mergers. The world braced itself for a time when all the news came to us from a single source. That source would claim objectivity, obviously, but of course we would know better.
But then a funny thing happened: “The Media,” as we know it, fell apart. Returns on advertisements fell as newspaper readership dropped, so the newspapers lost their money. More and more people started getting their news online, forgoing even television, and suddenly publishers and journalists alike began to lose their jobs.
But as the illusory monolith of The Media fades away, independent media grows. The rise of Indymedia, then blogs, and now Twitter are letting us tell our own stories as soon as they happen.
The myth of objectivity seems fallen by the wayside, as well: now, when you’re reading an article, you know the author’s biases, because as often as not they just come out and say them. And that’s not a bad thing; so-called “objectivity” has given way to a new journalistic ethics, one that doesn’t tell us we have to hide our politics, our opinions, our experiences behind an all-too-thin veneer of disengagement from the world around us.
Print, and journalism in general, aren’t dying. They never will. What’s happening is that they’re changing. And not very comfortably or incrementally. We’re in the midst of a revolution, it turns out. There are going to be a lot of false starts, of promising projects that just don’t hold up in the modern world, but there are also going to be a lot of models that do work.
And if we’re lucky, we’re not going to settle on just one idea of what “The Media” ought to be. We’re going to have thousands of ideas. Diversity is strength because a diverse system is more robust: when one component fails, it doesn’t drag the entire system down.
What happened is that one element of modern journalism—the sale of advertisements—began to fail, and it brought down pretty much the entire thing. Whatever replaces the twentieth century model will be, by necessity, significantly more flexible.
But as long as there are printing presses, there will be print.
This issue of the Indyreader explores the history of the underground press in Baltimore and beyond, shedding light on the forerunners of the media revolution. We talk to Baltimore Brew, contemporary pioneers who are exploring how best to develop web-based journalism.
This issue also speaks to the ways in which the media we consume shapes our desires and our assumptions about the world. Because it does: by choosing what to include and what not to include (a decision necessary in any editorial process), journalists speak as definitively about what isn’t news as much as what is. And this is what independent media has always sought to rectify: we’ve always explored other points of view than those pushed by the mainstream press. Every time we publish a paper—or a blog post, for that matter—we’re able to say that, for example, sex workers and drug dealers and violent protesters are actually people. We’re able to challenge some of the basic premises that the mainstream world tries to slip past us, and we’re able to show ourselves and others that we can and should challenge our system at its most fundamental level. That work has always been revolutionary.
And now, at last, we find ourselves free of the shadow of that impenetrable monolith, “The Media.” And we’ve all got work to do.