by Sascha D. Meinrath and the public i staff
This inaugural issue of the public i represents the birth of the only news-focused, collectively-run, non-profit newspaper in Urbana-Champaign. The paper is a project of the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center (U-C IMC) and is organized and edited entirely by volunteer citizen-journalists. Our articles are written as much as possible by community members, who are telling the stories that affect their lives.
This newspaper’s first issue is modest in size, but broad in scope and ambition. While the July issue is eight pages in length and has a circulation of roughly 5,000, we anticipate that the public i will grow as it becomes more established.
We envision seven distinct but not exclusive focus areas, as follows:
- Government and Politics: will cover city and county government proceedings and officials; boards of education and educational issues; legislation and governance issues
- Human Rights: will focus on international and local human rights issues of all kinds; health care, child care, and elder care concerns; and the criminal ‘justice’ system
- Environment: will scrutinize sprawl and sustainability; the power industry; issues of environmental degradation and pollution; genetically modified organisms; and relevant legislation
- Labor and Economics: will concentrate on unions and workers of all types, and on economic policy, including globalization and fair trade, sweatshops, and the living wage
- Media: will spotlight local media and its ownership and biases; media concentration and conglomerates; advertising and consumerism; the Independent Media Center movement; and low-power/micro-power radio
- Arts: will encompass both news about art and art itself, including prose, poetry and graphic art; discussions of performances, books, music, and other projects and shows
- Community Forum: will serve as a venue for responses to our paper’s articles and to community issues, with opinions, columns, cartoons, and letters to the community written by members of the community.
We invite community members to submit article or story ideas in any of these seven areas. We invite you, in other words, to help create the news that states your views.
Why call it the public i?
The name of the paper evolved from a democratic, consensus-oriented brainstorming process conducted by the volunteers who constitute the founding members. The name public i was eventually chosen because of the many interpretations and meanings it conjures up. The ‘public’ part of the name derives from the fact that we see this paper as a true community venture, reliant on public interaction and participation. The small letter ‘i’ stands for ‘independent’, and has come to symbolize the global Independent Media Center movement. Taken as a whole, the title public i also suggests a “public eye,” expressive of our desire to bring vital news, information, and opinion into the public arena¾that is, into the public eye.
These are not the only possible interpretations of the name, but it is our hope that the public i will come to represent a source of reliable, interesting, and challenging news for our community.
What is an Independent Media Center?
The Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center (U-C IMC) is a small but significant part of a global movement to create accurate, high-quality, grassroots news, independent of the corporately-owned media. A number of activists and independent media organizations created the first Independent Media Center in Seattle, to provide grassroots coverage of the World Trade Organization protests in November 1999. Several members of the Urbana-Champaign IMC were instrumental in that effort.
Since that time, Independent Media Centers have been established in dozens of countries on every continent except Antarctica. The United States currently has over 25 Independent Media Centers, with new ones being established every month. The Urbana-Champaign IMC is at the forefront of the Indymedia movement, and is the first to obtain federal 501(c)(3) non-profit status as an educational, charitable organization.
What does the Urbana-Champaign IMC do?
The first mission of the U-C IMC is to support the creation of media by ordinary people-from video and radio to Internet and print. We do this by providing the training, the resources, and the assistance necessary for the production of videos, radio shows, newspaper articles, or web pages. In particular, the U-C IMC emphasizes news, programs, art, and narratives by community members whose perspectives are underrepresented in the dominant media. Our goal is to make media production less intimidating, thereby taking it out of the exclusive domain of “media professionals” and putting the skills into the hands of everyday people.
Radio shows, videos, and articles are useful only when there’s an audience. That’s why the second mission of the U-C IMC is to publish and distribute grassroots media productions. To do this we have created our own channels, like our web site and this newspaper, and we tap into existing media outlets like the community radio station WEFT, to help give local voices access to our community. (Our weekly public affairs radio show currently airs Mondays at 6 pm on WEFT 90.1 FM.) In addition, through the growing global network of Independent Media Centers, the U-C IMC is able to reach a national and worldwide audience that previously only the largest of mainstream media networks could access.
The U-C IMC does this work in order to promote individual and community empowerment. We aspire to assist people in contributing to the welfare of their communities by asserting ownership of the messages and images that so profoundly influencethe lives of all of us. We seek to increase the diversity of perspectives and experiences represented in the news, and to stimulate political interest and participation by people who are not members of the political and media elite.
The U-C IMC is actively working to build collaborative relationships with diverse groups and organizations-the people who live and labor in our communities. Thus the U-C IMC is rapidly becoming a hotbed of community organizing and empowerment.
We’re striving to break down the artificial wall between “media producers” and “media consumers”. Our interactive news web site (http://urbana.indymedia.org) is a forum for anyone to post news or commentary for all to see. In turn, anyone can respond to a posting, creating an on-line dialogue among reader-journalists. Unlike other on-line discussion boards, posts to the U-C IMC web site are treated as real news. Our volunteer journalists turn to the web site to learn what’s going on, using news postings as leads for future radio news programs or newspaper articles, and we may ask posters to follow up themselves on their own stories for use in larger projects.
Outside cyberspace, the U-C IMC is also a real physical space, located at 218 West Main Street in downtown Urbana. The Center contains video and audio production facilities, free public Internet-accessible computers, a reading room, a circulating library and media archive, and space for meetings, debates, poetry slams, and other community events. We also have monthly art shows and put on informative talks, lectures, topical discussions, and regular music concerts.
How can you utilize and support the U-C IMC?
There are many ways to get involved and support the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center and the public i. All U-C IMC activities are open for participation by anyone. There are volunteer groups dedicated to maintaining and improving the U-C IMC’s technology and its progressive library. Some of our most active groups collaborate on news production, including our radio news-hour and the public i. We encourage new people to join us, and we can provide any needed training and equipment. You can write for the paper, produce audio for the radio show, photograph or videotape events around town, or simply post the news you see and hear to the U-C IMC web site. The possibilities are limited only by your willingness to act.
One of the best and easiest ways to begin getting involved in independent media is to become a member of the U-C IMC. Membership is open to all, and the modest membership fee gives you access to the U-C IMC’s technological resources in addition to providing fundamental financial support for the U-C IMC. The U-C IMC continues to operate largely through donations from the community. To assist infunding the operations of the U-C IMC or the publication of the public I, you can send your tax-deductible contributions to the U-C IMC, 218 W. Main St., Suite 110, Urbana, IL 61801.
But your time and energy are at least as important as your financial assistance. The U-C IMC is also looking for new volunteers who can give a few hours a week to staff the Center and expand the hours we are open to the public.
Most importantly, we urge you to be a critical consumer of the news you read, hear, and see. The Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center exists as an alternative avenue for accessing and producing news, but it is only as strong as each community member’s will to examine, to investigate, and ultimately to report on the stories and events that are vital to us all.