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Indy Power International: Independent Journalism Reborn? An Essay (in Embryo) and Participatory Experiment 

If you are on this Egypt email list the chances are you share to a greater or lesser extent my own dissatisfaction/disgust with the media in general, and specifically with the kind of coverage (or lack of coverage) it accords subjects we regard as significant. The reasons for this are many, complex, not generally understood (even by people who should understand) yet easily understandable. If the 'experiment' part of this exercise proves successful, I'll discuss those reasons in a subsequent substantive essay. For my purposes now, let me just state an extremely complex situation as simply as possible.  

Independent news journalism is dead. It's impossible to specify an exact date and hour of demise ... it was a process extending over the last three decades or so ... as corporate conglomerates metastasized, gradually swallowing up practically all the newspapers big and small. The feisty, fractious, idiosyncratic voices that characterized much of pre-corporate journalism went through a process of progressive Disneyfication and McDonaldization. and today are heard no more.  

Apart from this overall dumbing-down of the mainstream there is (and there always was) a built-in prejudice against such popular subjects as the wisdom of the ancients, the physical quest for lost civilizations, environmental and ecological concerns, alternative therapies, paranormal phenomena, 'free' energy, UFOs, anti-Darwinism, paradigm-challenging science and, above all, anything that suggests there might be some higher meaning to human life, individually and collectively. These subjects are routinely, deliberately misrepresented or given short (or no) shrift at all, particularly by the print media. (Television and Hollywood take a different tack but that's for an expanded version of this essay.) This bias is unavoidable.  

At bottom, whether 'responsible' like The New York Times or sensationalist like The New York Post, mainstream journalism is inalterably, genetically committed to defending and proselytizing our reigning Church of Progress and the moronic materialistic doctrine that is its Credo. There is little time or sympathy for anything that does not directly or tangentially support this Church. It is not going to change. Yet with all that, the situation is not as dire as it may appear.  

A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a copy of Mt. Shasta Magazine (with his own painting as its cover illustration). Mt. Shasta (www.mtshastamagazine.com) is a 'freebie', an independent journal funded by local advertising and distributed widely in the northwest in health food stores, yoga centers, coffee shops, all those places frequented by people who take an interest in the alternative topics shunned or derided by the mainstream press. I put it on my desk; as it happened, on top of the most recent Chronogram, an upscale Hudson Valley Mt. Shasta equivalent, and the most remarkable of the genre that I know -- elegantly produced, graphically gorgeous, intelligently and fearlessly written ... and FREE. (www.chronogram.com)  

And now, suddenly, it all clicked into place (why hadn't it clicked long ago? Given all the travelling that I do? But that's how revelations are --after all, it took 150 years of Egyptology before Schwaller de Lubicz noticed the Sphinx had been very obviously weathered by water and that all ancient history was therefore wrong). Chronogram and Mt. Shasta were not brave, isolated singularities; meaningless candles in the engulfing London fog of American mainstream journalism. No, they were not alone. Far from it. The phenomenon was national, even global, in scope. I'd seen dozens of Indy's in my travels to lectures and seminars, but had never connected the dots. 

Now, upon reflection, it would not surprise me, not a bit, if I ventured where Orpheus himself would never dare go; deep into the sub-literate backwoods of Jeff Foxworthy country; the living hell of the American Bible Belt, and even there found (struggling to survive; no doubt under Klan surveillance) a health food shop or local arts center or Tai Kwan Do dojo with a stack of local free Indy journals on a shelf --the content catering to typical alternative interests, typically attracting readers by listing/reviewing local arts and cultural events, surviving through local advertising and of course distributed free. Think about it a minute! With the possible exception of Washington DC, there is probably no area in the country so out-of-touch with the public, so rigid, backward, parochial, low-brow and anti-intellectual that it does not have its Chronogram/Mt. Shasta equivalent.  

So how many Indy's can there be? I don't know. Hundreds; maybe over a thousand. What is the collective readership? Millions! Without a doubt. Indy Power is real, growing, potentially far more powerful than it already is, and next to impossible to control, corporatize or otherwise dumb down and subvert. It may be even less susceptible to government intrusion than the 'net'.... we'll soon see.  

And now an old idea was moved from the back burner where it had long been simmering. It's always seemed to me that my combination of metaphysical, scholarly and literary interests, confrontational style, unwavering commitment to making as much trouble as possible for a variety of Church of Progress Departments (I like to call the program Systematic Constructive Destruction) and pretty substantial name recognition might lend itself to some sort of regular column or essay -- given the chance I could be the 'Sly Man's' Art Buchwald, for example, or the Metaphysician's Dave Barry ... (See the Sekhmet Speaks entries under Free Rein JAW on my website ... I'm thinking of something along those lines) The problem, apart from the considerable effort required to write such columns or essays, was getting paid enough to make them worth writing. (Those of you who know me personally will know I'm living proof that fame and fortune do not necessarily go together -- an old, clich├ęd assumption I would much preferred to have left intact and unchallenged)  

This problem seemed insoluble. I've written book reviews, an Op-Ed piece and other things for The New York Time, published articles and stories in other high end mainstream media in the past, but none of them would ever print Sekhmet Speaks, or anything remotely like it. That is a foregone conclusion. Alternative journals that might have welcomed the idea could never pay enough to make the columns worth writing. Adios column! Check and Mate...Or so it seemed... 

But no. Where did these two White Knights (towering Shasta, timeless Chronogram) come from? Perhaps they are but the vanguard of a veritable Indy cavalry? Like the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan, it appears to have no discipline. But this is misleading.. It may have no infrastructure yet it has emotional and intellectual coherence: a determination to promote a spectrum of alternative ideas and values. The global Indy phenomenon draws its strength from its independence, individuality, its unreliance on outside funding or influence. Individual magazines print and design as they please. Further research may prove the contrary, but judging from preliminary research it would appear that while no one gets rich out of an Indy, enough money must come in to pay a modest staff a living. They are replete with ads so advertisers must be happy. Focus and content vary widely -- from warm/fuzzy/touchy/feely to health-oriented to paranormal/occult to ecological/environmental to cutting edge new science to anti-establishment political or any combination thereof. Quality varies widely -- from well-meaning unpolished to highly professional deeply knowledgeable. Poets get published in the Indy's! That's something to celebrate! Fiction writers, too.  

What the Indy's do not have in general are original articles by the actual originators of the work they report on and value. When they do carry directly authored articles, they are usually recycled from somewhere else or excerpted from already published books. The Indy's can't afford original work and in general do not have the individual clout that would attract established names in their respective fields.  

But original work syndicated in the Indy's might be another matter. Twenty or fifty (or more) Indy's signing on for modest sums each would mean substantial payment and large audiences for the authors, useful name recognition for the Indy's to promote their journals and the bait to attract still more advertisers -- potentially a win/win situation for all involved  

So that, briefly is the idea. Syndicate! At this stage I'm thinking of using my Sekhmet Speaks format as the template, or in some recognizable version, but this may change as I get feedback in.  

To test the idea in principle, I need a basic database of Indy's to put the idea to, and that is where you, my Eg-update readers, can help. Wherever you live, there will be one or several Indy's readily available. If you have these to hand, or remember to pick them up when you're out next please send me their contact information (telephone number, email or URL - any one or combination thereof) it would be much appreciated. If you live in a place where the Indy's are competing with each other, I'd appreciate an opinion as to which might be most suitable for a Sekhmet Speaks (or similar) regular feature idea..  

Yes, but who will do the organizing?  

Many of you know me personally, and those who do will already be expressing doubts. And I don't blame you! I am one of those rare people born with two Achilles' heels, and both of them are Organization. Left to my own devices I would find a way to prevent this potentially powerful idea from happening. But as it happens, I have a good friend with just the organizing skills necessary to put the database in order once we have our basic contacts; and subsequently --if the idea looks like it will succeed-- do the arduous research needed to establish a database nationwide and then manage the ongoing project.  

She is Lori Misura, who has an M.A. in Arts Administration and she's been working since 1986 as research librarian for the Museum of British Art at Yale University. If you are participating in the experiment please email your Indy contact info to me and cc Lori at lorimisura@cs.com. 

Indy contact info from outside the U.S. is also welcome; foreign language Indy's too. The phenomenon is global; if they're interested they can translate.  

So, over to you. I look forward to your responses. I am off to Egypt with a small group (10) on February 1st, the return scheduled for Feb. 18th but I may have to stay on for a few days more. So if you decide to help build our database, I'll say thank you here in advance, but won't be able to otherwise respond till I return.  

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  J.A.W. Credentials   © John Anthony West 2002