July 2002
volume 1, issue 1


Radical Realities, LA-IMC Members Interviewed

Marc Herbst interviewed Los Angeles Independent Media Center (LA-IMC) collective members Cayce Calloway and John Kawakami. The LA Indymedia Center is a part of the worldwide decentralized, IMC news network that is based on anarchist organizing principals. The IMCs strive to actualize the statement- "don’t hate the media, be the media."Both John and Cayce create stories for the website’s "central column", the area on the website where local IMCs inject their identity to the open forum. In addition, Cayce gathers audio for a joint IMC/KPFK radio project known as "community voices." John does much of the LA-IMC’s computer programming. The LA-IMC’s website address is www.la.indymedia.org.

This interview took place in a café in Los Angeles' Echo Park neighborhood.

M: When your making media, what is your relationship to our audience? Whoare you reporting for?

C: When I first started doing IMC work, I was fairly didactic. I was a little preachy and had this notion that I was going to convert people by what I was writing. Then someone pointed out to me "you know the people who read Indymedia Maybe don’t need converting, maybe they’re there to find out what’s going on."I looked at that, and when the IMC radio project came along, it shifted. I started not to care so much about who was hearing the work but started caring more about who was getting a voice. My voice became a lot less important to me when I started doing audio. The voices that I was recording became more important.

Because of the IMC/KPFK community voices project, I am thinking a lot about this idea of giving voice; giving venue to voices that don’t get out there very often. It reduces my participation to almost holding the mic and letting people talk. Maybe because I have a metaphysical view on the world, it’s like "If we hold the mic, maybe those voices will be heard." I don’t really know who is going to hear them. But what has become increasingly clear to me is that as a person of privilege, my voice can get heard wherever and therefore it’s not as important.

M: How do you decide whom you will hold the mic up in front of?

C: Right now its kind of gut. I hear a story that interests me and I go, "I don’t know anything about that.". If something makes me uncomfortable that I read or I hear, I take a little time, I look at it and I try to figure out why it makes me uncomfortable- it may not be in my belief system, something in there will often challenge a habitual notion that I’ve had in my past. And I go find the people to interview.

M: That’s an interesting journalistic process. That method puts your personalprocess into the center of a community forum.

C: I guess I don’t know how we could take ourselves out of what we do. We could say we were doing otherwise; but we are the people we take out along with the microphone.

M: John, your overall view of IMC seems to be more distant, less personalthan Cayce. Your focus seems to be more on creating online communities.

J: Yeah, I guess I think of Indymedia more as webs, or in online terms rather then in terms of being a newspaper or magazine. The big thing with online programmers is that programmers want to make online spaces that people will use in away that forces users to be responsive to a wider constituency; and that allows the users to meet the other people that they want to meet. Indymedia seems to be something between this social space and news.

M: Do you imagine that you’re building an individual relationship witheveryone who’s reading the web site?

J: Not exactly an individual relationship, but sort ofThere’s that idea of community consciousness, of the self-aware community, of the activist community. I think we contribute to that in a big way. Just thewhole Indymedia style- its more personal then the "news style" of thenewspaper. I don’t think of the IMC as the news, I think of it as something in between news and gossip. I think that is a legitimate space because there are a lot of small papers that are like that. Sometimes you look at old issues of the LA Free Press, the issues are more like Indymedia then the LA Weekly. They were professional, they had the big ideas of journalism. They also had the real neighborhood thing going on too, parties and gossip. Everybody patting each other on the back. Self-congratulations.

C: The thing that I was saying earlier about holding the mic; something John just said just triggered something in me. I also think of us less as news now. I’m starting to really look at our dependence on the idea of the value of news. I do think there’s a place for news. I pick up the paper and I look on line and I try to figure out what’s happening in Israel and Palestine. Its nice to have somebody write it out for me. On the other hand, there’s the notion of the IMC going out to give other people a space to tell us what their life is about. In that process you get information about the world. But then there’s that "legitimacy thing ", that information about the world can only be news therefore it can only be filtered through a journalist. I’m increasingly coming to think that we get our information in all kinds of other ways. These other ways of news- community, grassroots personal accounts, are just as legitimate a form of information gathering as "journalism". And just as important.

M: So the IMC doesn’t exactly gather news. Its not always breakingNews either. What is it doing? I have a difficulty finding words for it? Does it work by presenting the multiple opportunities that the online space has?

J: Maybe. I think its sort of like news. Yeah, its news, it’s the kind of news that you would make if you had a small press and a few small advertisers- though we don’t have advertisers- and your entire budget was very tiny and you did it on the side.

C: I am always coming back to the notion of information dissemination; which is broader then the idea of news. The way we shift and grow is by gathering information, looking at it, turning it over. If we limit ourselves to the idea of what’s "news" then we filter out a bunch of information that could inform us in some way. I think we provide more information then other news sources. Look for instance at the FACTS (Families Against California’s Three Strikes law) march that happened some weeks ago. You could go onto our site, you could see pictures of the march, you could read about how many people were there, you could read about the issues; you saw things that you wouldn’t see otherwise. You could go in and see activists communicating with other activists; you can go in and see things.

J: I think right now the IMC is trying to become a place where global issuesmerge and mix together. There isn’t any place that does that besides maybe the Metro Section of the LA Times or even the business pages of the LA Times; those places where public policy and the people it affects communicate. I’m not saying that we’re the only space. But in a way this is my bias, because I’m not so much into the national news or the international news, I’m into local news. We are concerned with global issues, we are concerned with large-scale environmental issues, but at the same time we’re concerned with individuals and small communities.

M: What communities do you think actively participate in the IMC?

J: Oh, I think it’s a mix. There are some people who are hard-core newsjunkies who just like to read the news; and we provide a lot of news. It’sa venue for them to put their things up and share. The newswire isn’tjust original stories; it’s also a sharing space. And I think that sharingis really really important. There are also the people who pass e-mails around asshared news and that helps to create some kind of cohesion for peopleslives. We’ve also got activists who check us out just to see what other peopleare up to. I think we help the activists feel good about themselves and help them feel like there’s a thing going on, a larger thing that they’re involved in. Maybe they get a window on other things that are happening around town. And then there are a bunch of people who are into progressive politics that just like to check us out because we are a local news source. We have the quality of being like a national source but with stuff happening locally.

1 | 2 | next >