The Indypendent is the newspaper of the New York City Independent Media Center, a local branch of the worldwide Indymedia network. Founded in the fall of 2000, it has won numerous awards and has broken several local stories; with over 500 journalists participating in the project thus far. The Indypendent is distributed throughout New York City as well as nationally, and currently prints 15,000-20,000 copies per issue. An online version is also available. Hundreds of archived stories are available there as well. Online readership was at approximately 50,000 unique hits per month in April 2007.
Building on the explosive growth of the Indymedia network and anti-globalization movement following the WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999, New York City activists Heather Haddon and Ana Nogueira launched a 4-page newspaper (The Unst8ed) in advance of the Sept. 8, 2000 U.N. Millennium Summit. Coinciding with the founding of a local Indymedia chapter in New York, the paper focused on rising global opposition to unchecked corporate power. By its second issue the paper was renamed The Indypendent, and sought to bring the journalism of Indymedia "offline" to those without internet access, to bridge the gap between local and global issues, and to inform members of both the activist and non-activist community.
Prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks The Indypendent focused largely, though not entirely, on local issues, examining the corporatization of New York public schools, the decimation of public space, and the placing of power-plants in overwhelmingly poor areas of NYC. Following 9/11, the paper—in addition to absorbing a surge of volunteers and producing two special issues within days of the attacks—increasingly covered international and national affairs, in addition to local issues. The paper increasingly grew in the physical sense, as well, reaching 24 pages in the days leading up to the 2002 World Economic Forum meetings in New York. In first days of the Iraq War, the paper increased its publishing frequency and decreased its size in order to better deal with the surge of content. In the month before the 2004 Republican National Convention, the paper went color.
Organization and structure
The Indypendent is one of the most radically decentralized and volunteer-driven print projects existing in the world today. It has two staff, a number of core volunteers and dozens of contributors per issue. It does not pay for any written content or artwork. It has no formal executive editor or editorial staff. All decisions are made, at least in theory, by consensus (though the degree to which this decision-making operates in practice has been disputed [see Controversies, below]). Its content is usually free for reprint, without charge. It has committed to training new writers, designers, and editors, and has conducted numerous journalism-training workshops.
A short documentary about the paper was created by Amy Wolf and is viewable online at http://www.amywolf.org under the video section.
Political coverage and scoops
Over the first six years of its existence, The Indypendent covered many of the most dramatic political events of the early 21st century, including the disputed 2000 Presidential Election, the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Argentine economic crisis, the collapse of WTO trade negotiations in 2003 in Cancun, Mexico, and 2004 Republican National Convention protest activity. The paper came out in opposition to the Iraq War in October 2002 (a full 5 months before the war began) and has maintained a consistently anti-war position for the duration of the conflict.
While consistently at the forefront of political coverage and commentary, the paper has fallen somewhat short in terms of its production of journalistic "scoops" and its ability to drive news coverage. Much of this can be attributed to the papers location in a saturated New York City media market, as well as to its unusual editorial structure. Even so, The Indypendent has broken news on the growth of Iraqi militias as well numerous stories on New York City housing-tenant controversies, as well as the story of homeless Iraq War veteran Harold Noel.
Awards and alumni activities
The Indypendent has won numerous awards from the New York City Independent Press Association ("Ippies"), including 11 in 2005. The paper has served as something of a "farm team" for other progressive media organizations: 2 of the paper's founders, Mike Burke and Ana Nogueira, have worked as producers at the highly regarded Democracy Now!, while Heather Haddon has gone on to provide award winning coverage of the Bronx for the Norwood News. Writer Sarah Stuteville won a 2004 James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism for her work with the Indypendent and has since founded the Common Language Project. Most of its volunteers are active within various elements of the New York City social justice community.
While regarded by many as one of the most consistent, accurate, and well-edited Indymedia projects, The Indypendent has also become something of a lightning rod for criticism over the course of its six-year history. Many of these criticisms have come from within the Indymedia network itself. The Indypendent′s June 2002 decision to expel one of its longtime members for disruptive behavior caused great consternation in the network, though similar personality clashes have since become rather common within Indymedia. The paper was one of the first Indymedia projects to accept paid advertising, and it was also one of the first projects to formally pay its volunteers for their labor. The paper has also been criticized for its alleged "aloof," "go-it-alone" attitude towards the rest of Indymedia. The paper's wide-ranging acceptance of left-wing ideologies (including more traditionally leftist and Maoist viewpoints) has also been criticized by many anarchists. Some former volunteers have argued that The Indypendent falls short of its explicitly egalitarian ethos and is dominated by one or two long-time members. Finally, the paper's editorial process has been criticized as non-transparent and authoritarian, and some journalists have complained that their work has been "over-edited" by paper editors.
In response, many Indypendent volunteers have pointed to the tension between the needs of a print project (with correspondingly high expenses and printing costs) and Indymedia ideals, and have also pointed to the natural tensions that arise when a long running media project with a fairly stable core of talented volunteers grows within an anti-authoritarian model. Indypendent volunteers have also disputed the charge of aloofness, noting that they were instrumental in organizing many of the early meetings of the Indymedia network and in starting multiple IMC newspaper projects, as well as facilitating multiple activist convergences (like the RNC and WEF). Finally, other aspiring journalists have praised the Indypendent′s nurturing of new writers. In short, the controversies surrounding The Indypendent can be seen as broader tensions within the Indymedia model.
- Mule Newspaper, Manchester-based independent media project