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Want to read my writing? Check People’s Production House

In order to simplify my life and give the company that pays me the full value of my work and energy, I will now be posting to my blog on the People’s Production House website. RSS feed coming soon.

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Report from the Queens hearing of the Broadband Advisory Committee

The NYC Broadband Advisory Committee held its fourth public hearing on Monday, March 3, at LaGuardia Community College in Queens. Much thanks to New York Greater Metropolitan Area chapter of the Internet Society for documenting the hearing. His detailed summary and a full audio recording is available on the ISOC-NY website.

The highlight for me was when former Senator Larry Pressler, who authored the 1996 Telecommunications Act said, “If it is found that in New York City the spectrum and the broadband is not totally out there, that would be a tale that needs to be told.” Indeed.

Councilmember Brewer asked him a question about E-Rate, the federal program to fund Internet access in schools and libraries, and he agreed that it needs to be revisited. As it is now, the federal government tightly restricts E-Rate funds so they can’t even be used to cover access for administrators; they can’t pay for necessary hardware or training; and they can’t support public access, even though schools pay for bandwidth to be available 100% of the time while school is only in session about 15% of the time. In other words, E-Rate is easy money for the big Internet service providers.

If the BAC, or even just Brewer, is pondering reforms to federal policy, that is an extremely positive development. To date, very few municipal broadband task forces have addressed themselves to this area, even though there are many current regulations that hamstring their efforts to improve local infrastructure and expand high speed Internet access. Any worthwhile municipal broadband plan must include policy reform at the federal level.

Although I had already testified at the first hearing in the Bronx, I testified in Queens to offer new suggestions for increasing public engagement in the process, specifically among immigrants who are not aware the process is going on or who cannot attend daytime hearings.

I tried to play a couple of clips from interviews we’ve done – Arturo Mendoza, a construction worker who lives in Ridgewood, Queens, (in Spanish) and Beverly from Canarsie, Brooklyn (in English) – but we ran into technical difficulties. Ironically, that just drove home the point that we need to do more to include people like Arturo and Beverly – working people with limited access to the Internet – in the city’s broadband expansion deliberations, since they’re the ones the process is supposed to serve. (Many more clips are available on the DEI section of the PPH website.)

Councilmember Brewer responded positively to that notion and said she had just been discussing it with Andrew Friedman of Make the Road NYC. She suggested a supplemental event with that specific focus. PPH is now exploring that possibility with our partner organizations. I’m also preparing a brief to distribute to the city’s ethnic press through the New York Community Media Alliance.

I should be clear that, while some people who should be a part of the process have not been able to participate, the Broadband Advisory Committee, Brewer’s office, and Diamond Consultants (working for the NYC Economic Development Corporation) have included a vast range of perspectives. Diamond surveyed library patrons in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, and a random sampling of public housing residents from across the city. While the library survey was only in English, the NYCHA survey, which was distributed by mail, was in English, Spanish, simplified Chinese, and Russian.

Those surveys are each only one of many sources of information for Diamond’s report, which could be released anytime in the coming weeks. The report will include a presentation of findings, as well as a complete plan for expanding Internet access throughout the five boroughs. The Broadband Advisory Committee is also supposed to present a report within a year of its inception, which would be April 17 if you start the clock from their first meeting.

The BAC will be holding its Staten Island hearing in the near future. I’ll post details when I have them.

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New Threat to Small Publications

If you thought things were bad for small publications, Time Warner is working with the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) to raise postal rates for small publications.

The PRC is supposed to be an independent agency, but earlier this year they rejected a postal rate increase plan offered by the U.S. Postal Service. Instead they opted to implement a complicated plan submitted by media giant Time Warner, according to Free Press.

As Robert McChesney explains, “Under the plan, smaller periodicals will be hit with a much larger increase than the big magazines, as much as 30 percent. Some of the largest circulation magazines will face hikes of less than 10 percent.”

The IPA used to be the engine of response to these challenges. Fortunately, Free Press has picked up that slack:

For individuals: Send a Letter to Congress and the Postal Service

For publications: Sign the Letter to the Postal Board of Governors

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Plugging the NYC GMC

Thanks to the wonderful people at the New York City Grassroots Media Coalition, I get to moderate a really amazing panel at the NYC Grassroots Media Conference on February 24:

New York’s Wireless Future

New wireless technology provides an efficient and affordable way to deploy new broadband infrastructure. You can use it to turn your local park into a hotspot or to give affordable access to all of your neighbors. Across the country, local governments are considering whether to build – or to let corporations build – wireless networks that cover an entire city. New York City is just beginning this process. This is the best chance in a generation, if not a century, to come together as a community to decide what we want and need from our communications infrastructure. This panel will bring you up to speed on the discussion.

The people on this panel are:

Michael Lewis, founder of Wireless Harlem Initiative, a New York based non-profit, which is advocating to bring affordable wireless broadband to Harlem in order to close the digital divide;

Laura Forlano, a Board Member of NYCwireless, a community wireless group in New York, and a Ph.D. candidate in Communications at Columbia University researching the socio-economic implications of the use of mobile and wireless technology;

and Bruce Lai, the Chief of Staff to Council Member Gale A. Brewer, the Chair of the Committee on Technology in Government at the New York City Council.

This builds on the panel I moderated at the National Conference for Media Reform on “Owning Our Own Media Infrastructure,” obviously with a very local twist.
You can get a more full understanding of why I think this is so important by reading the statement from The Ethos Group: “Thoughtful Infrastructure as a Platform for Media Reform.”

One key is that “convergence” – the term used to describe the transition from a diverse array of communication media (phone calls, email, music, television, film) to a common, digital medium – means we can use a public dialogue on wi-fi as a point of departure for a comprehensive reimagining of our entire system of communication.

The point of the “New York’s Wireless Future” panel is primarily to pass information from experts to anyone who’s interested in the topic. People’s Production House plans to follow up with another event, which will be more of a town hall session where everyone will be invited to share their needs and desires for a potential public wireless network in New York City.

I’m on a different panel at the GMC called “Dead Trees: Small Magazines and Newspapers in the Digital Age” organized by Chris Anderson. The title says it all. Another important piece of that larger discussion and I’m honored to have been invited into it. (More details on this one to follow.)

If the promise of plenty of yapping from yours truly doesn’t do it for you, pre-registering for the NYC GMC saves you $10. So go ahead and do it now, or sign up to volunteer. See you there.

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The IPA and the going out of business movement

If you visit the website of the Independent Press Association, you’ll see this message:

IPA News
The latest news on the Independent Press Association.

IPA has ceased operations effective 12/27/2006. An Assignment for the Benefit of Creditors was executed on that same date.

If you have any questions, please contact Uecker & Associates at (415) 362-3440.

Thank you for all your past support!

So there it goes. See the discussion at Jeremy Smith’s blog post. This will have ripples far beyond Clamor’s closure. The IPA stopped payment on all outstanding checks, by the way, in case you’re holding one. I’m skeptical that Voices That Must Be Heard and any other programs will survive.

My friend (then at Time Out New York) once told me that two’s a fad, three’s a trend. So what’s fifty? A movement? The going out of business movement?

In New York City, Beat Street closed recently, along with Tower Records. Soundtrack, the neighborhood record store of my youth, is also gone. Coliseum Books also just closed their doors.

The meaning of this is captured in Adam Gopnick’s poignant observations about the changing sense of life of New York:

… the sense that the city’s recovery has come at the cost of a part of its identity: that New York is safer and richer but less like itself, an old lover who has gone for a face-lift and come out looking like no one in particular. The wrinkles are gone, but so is the face. This transformation is one you see on every street corner in Manhattan, and now in Brooklyn, too, where another local toy store or smoked-fish emporium disappears and another bank branch or mall store opens. For the first time in Manhattan’s history, it has no bohemian frontier. Another bookstore closes, another theatre becomes a condo, another soulful place becomes a sealed residence. These are small things, but they are the small things that the city’s soul clings to.

It’s not just indpendent media and it’s not just New York. The same could be said about the country as a whole as we lose our farmers in Iowa, our fishers in Gloucester, and our jazz musicians in New Orleans.

So much of Bloomberg’s Manhattanization Project is about increasing the whiteness of New York. Thinking about this made me recall a quote which it seems comes from David Roedinger. He described “Whiteness” as “not a culture but precisely the absence of culture. It is the empty and therefore terrifying attempt to build an identity on what one isn’t and on whom one can hold back.” One might add “… or commodify,” as we see with hipsters.

We need to do more than just support independent media – though we certainly need to do that, especially now. We need to come up with new business models and support structures because it’s a different world. Abby Scher might be right in putting the blame on Richard Landry, the capitalist who ran the IPA into the ground, but any organization devoted to sustaining independent print projects via newsstand sales is destined for the dustbin.

This shake-out of weak or flawed institutions will – and probably should – continue. Right now, corporate media is on its heels, too, understanding that everything is changing but not sure how or how to make money off of it. Those of us who care about independent culture, then, have a brief window of time in which to act first and make up for what seems right now like a lot of lost ground.

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Fwd: Emergency Message from Clamor Magazine

Anyone who reads this blog is likely able to offer the cliché, “I gave at the office.” I’m sure many of you also donate funds to worthy projects.

But in light of this message below from Clamor Magazine and for all of the hard battles of the past year, I hope we can go even further in this particular season of giving.

I’ve donated to many of these groups in the past. This year, I’m trying to multiply my usual amount by 5 in recognition of increasing need and importance. (I’m also fortunate enough to have been employed about five times as much this year as in the past, so I can do that.) If ever there was a situation where every bit would help, this is it:

Subject: Fwd: Emergency Message from Clamor Magazine
From: <clamornews@clamormagazine.org>
To: joshua@clamormagazine.org
Date: Tue, 19 Dec 2006 09:01:43 -0600

First, we’d like to thank everyone for the well-wishes and concern you’ve shared with us following the announcement that Clamor would be ceasing publication.

Today we are writing to ask you to help us protect and sustain Clamor’s closest allies:

Just Seeds, Left Turn Magazine, Spread Magazine, Critical Moment, Alternative Press Review, Infoshop.org, Faesthetic, Vegan Freak, and Left Out all use the online infoshop we’ve built over the last few years.

On Friday December 15, we received word that Sky Bank, one of the banks to which Clamor owes money, froze our bank account and intends to block the transfer of the infoshop to the crew that was going to take it over. This move runs counter to what we (our lawyer included) thought would happen, and it has profound repercussions for the people and projects that were depending on us to continue providing distribution and making regular payments.

The sense of loss we have felt in closing Clamor is completely overshadowed by the knowledge that we have jeopardized these otherwise growing and healthy projects. Without the money Clamor owes them, some of these projects will not survive.

WE NEED YOUR HELP to ensure that these valuable independent media projects do not go down along with Clamor. You are probably receiving many requests at this time of year. These are all incredible projects that you should support on a regular basis, but it is urgent that you offer that support right now.

Your direct donations will not affect our debt to them, but given the bank’s the strength and aggressiveness at pursuing our limited business and personal resources, this is only way we can see to repay them.

There are thousands of active Clamor supporters out there. Please stay active: use the following links to make donations directly to one or more of these projects or contact us to make tax-deductible donations of $500 or more.

———-
justseeds has been the only spot to find socially conscious street art, anarchist literature and political printmaking all in one place online. Please donate to help Josh MacPhee continue this important work. The future of justseeds depends on you.

———-
Left Turn is an international network of activists committed to exposing and fighting the consequences of global capitalism and imperialism. Through Left Turn magazine, and face-to-face forums, we amplify voices of those on the frontlines of radical struggles for social justice, and provide resources for strategy-building and reflection. We are on the brink of survival financially and the seizure of funds owed to us has been a major blow. We hope you will contribute and/or subscribe as a testament to the importance of supporting radical independent media.

———-
$pread Magazine is a quarterly, glossy magazine by and for sex workers and those who support their rights. This current situation may have grave effects on their future ability to continue publishing. Please step up and donate using their link.

———-
Critical Moment is an independent community newspaper serving Southeast Michigan. For the past three years, we have featured hundreds of authors, provided critical analysis of issues facing local communities, and championed various forms of resistance taking place in our area. But the future of Critical Moment is in jeopardy due in part to the recent collapse of infoSHOP direct. Please help us reach our modest goal of $1000 so that we can print our 20th issue and continue to provide a critical voice to Southeast Michigan. Go to www.criticalmoment.org to make a donation or subscribe.

———-
Infoshop.org & Practical Anarchy are the online resource for radical news, opinion, and information as well as the occasional zine focusing on practical aspects of anarchism. Please help them weather this storm by donating.

———-
Faesthetic is a yearly graphic design & art magazine printed in small quantities with submissions from talented creatives from around the world. Please donate via paypal to his account info (at) faesthetic.com

———-
If you would like to donate to Jen and Jason’s legal support, please donate via paypal to our account at jason (at) clamormagazine.org.

In frustration and solidarity,
Jason and Jen

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The Closure of Clamor Magazine

If you are a subscriber to Clamor Magazine, you will receive a letter this week announcing that it is going out of business. The letter says, in part:

We’re writing to you today because we’ve decided to stop publishing Clamor. We set out to create an independent magazine that would bulldoze borders, defy dogma, and inspire instigation. We wanted to create a magazine that extended the vibrancy of the underground zine community to a larger general audience and share the enthusiasm and energy we saw in our fellow do-it-yourselfers. We intended to redefine the progressive magazine. And while we feel like we accomplished those goals at various stages, one goal we never fully realized is that of making Clamor economically sustainable.

… The obstacle of servicing old debt on an otherwise sustainable project while also negotiating major shifts in the magazine industry have proven too burdensome for us to continue publishing. But effective movement media doesn’t need to last indefinitely to be successful. We’re confident that many people have been inspired to do great things after reading about others doing the same in Clamor. We know this because we’ve been consistently inspired by the stories of struggle and triumph in Clamor. And while we’ll miss that, we’re also confident that there are independent media projects being born at this very moment with even greater promise.

Always respectful of the people who have made the enterprise possible, the publishers – Jen Angel, Jason Kucsma, Nomy Lamm, and Mandy Van Deven – told the editors, then the current writers, then the subscribers, before offering a statement to the public on the website, which should come next week. The next step is to start talking to their creditors.

The possibility of closing the magazine was discussed back even before I became a consulting editor in late 2001. Jen and Jason would have had to close up shop after just the first few issues had they not gotten the line of credit from Sky Bank (which is still Clamor’s biggest creditor besides the founders themselves).

It was one of those next few issues that I saw on the rack outside the entrance to the Clovis Press, a bookshop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that no longer exists (replaced by a cheese shop). I was so taken with it that the first thing I did when I moved to the midwest a couple of months later was call Clamor HQ and ask if I could help.

Michael Simmons, in telling The Nation in 2001 about his favorite media sources, called it “the best periodical to come out of the antiauthoritarian Battle of Seattle generation.” That sounds like a good way to start describing Clamor’s place in the annals of independent publishing.

Clamor Magazine was also a fine, collective accomplishments of the zine world and, more generally, of those who believe in participatory media. Clamor published over 1000 writers and artists in its 7-year, 38-issue run. Some historian should check to see if that’s some kind of record.

Clamor spread the word about a lot of important stories and to a lot of people who wouldn’t have otherwise heard those stories. The Internet notwithstanding, chain store newsstands and those one or two channels on satellite TV are pretty much the only way to broadcast challenging political ideas into unfriendly territory.

In my view, the challenge of serving as a point of entry for both new writers and new readers while also speaking to a devoted base of supporters proved too much for the project.

That is not to detract at all from the business challenges described in the letter to subscribers. Publishing a magazine is an expensive operation and almost impossible to sustain without an external funding source. For Clamor, whose publishers never had personal wealth or ready access to rich folks like many on the coasts do, the only external funding source they could find were small business loans and credit cards.

Independent publishing gets even harder when your primary advocate, the Independent Press Association, is failing to pay you what it owes and failing to keep your magazine on the newsstand. Clamor’s closure is a black eye for the IPA.

(I don’t think it really compares to the recent closure of the irreverent LiP magazine since that publication never got past being a vanity project, Jenn Whitney’s article on Indymedia notwithstanding. The NewStandard, which is also facing major financial challenges, is an online outlet with a completely different business model.)

My hope is that emerging media projects, as the letter suggests, will step up to take on more of the three very important tasks Clamor took on: providing an outlet for new writers; politicizing new readers; serving as a forum for established activists.

Wiretap, for example, is an ideal place for new writers. As it grows increasingly independent from Alternet, I think it is becoming a great place for anyone to publish. It’s online and not in print, but the world wide web is probably the right place for first-time writers. And it pays.

From my admittedly limited perspective, Left Turn is currently the premier printed forum for inter-activist reporting. Reborn for the global justice movement (the rebranded and renewed antiglobalization movement), it has a more specific politic than Clamor did and cultivates writers more intentionally. That makes it more limited in some ways, more focused in others.

The editors of Left Turn maintain strong and principled alliances with the people, organizations, and campaigns reported in its pages. It’s less likely than Clamor has been, however, to have those stories of small or unsung victories. It’s those stories, the ones that seem random until you get them all on a page together, that gave Clamor its voice-in-the-wilderness quality for so many people – that, the consistent DIY-you-can-do-it tone, and the serious midwest pride.

That’s the thing we’ll be losing most dramatically with the closure of Clamor: the ability to reach new people with an honest, accessible voice. As far as I know, no one is really doing that for young potential activists now that Clamor is gone. (I sometimes call this the NCOR problem: what to do with the thousands of eager, young, and – in the NCOR case – white folks now that you can’t just tell them to go to the next big protest.)

Clamor didn’t do it perfectly, but that’s a critical task that someone needs to do. Maybe The Ave, assuming it’s still going, could do more of that, or Punk Planet – it’s useful in some ways to divide the task into hip hop and punk, though that combination may have been what gave Clamor some of its threat potential. Still, giving people information in a palatable format is different from plugging them into ways to take action.

In an organized movement, entry point organizations like Indyvoter, Movement Strategy Center, and Students for a Democratic Society would take responsibility for publishing a magazine to attract new people. They might not see it that way and publishing is resource-intensive no matter who does it, so I don’t expect they’ll be taking it up anytime soon. But without some coordination and a shared sense of obligation, no one will be able to sustain such a project.

Movement media rarely emerges from such a process, of course. Indymedia is the rare exception. Usually, a small group starts a publication, people take to it or don’t, it lives for a while, then dies when the money runs out (which usually happens in the first year), or when the political situation changes, or when the publishers’ life situations change.

All three of those things seemed to happen to Clamor at the same time. It’s sad, but fine. It was a good run. The Allied Media Conference and the online infoSHOP direct, two projects born from Clamor that actively support other media projects, will continue.

So when the letter to subscribers says, “there are independent media projects being born at this very moment with even greater promise,” that is in no small way thanks to the infrastructure, inspiration, and advice Clamor’s publishers have provided us over the last seven years.

Please see this Emergency Message from Clamor Magazine

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