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Indymedia refuses to be co-opted by the Knight Foundation

Corporate Watch | 30.11.2008 19:35 | Indymedia | Technology | World

A $200,000 grant proposal, submitted by a group of Indymedia volunteers to the Knight News Challenge contest, has been blocked by other IMCs and subsequently dropped due to the abiding ethos that Indymedia is a counter to corporate, money-fiaxted media entities. The grant application to the Knight Foundation was to fund technical development work for Independent Media Centres (IMCs), also known as Indymedia, and has caused much controversy within the global network. The debate has encapsulated, once again, the thorny issue of how to sustain radical projects without compromising that radicalism by accepting tainted money.

A small group of Indymedia volunteers from various IMCs, but mainly from IMC Boston, USA, had hastily applied to the Knight Foundation's News Challenge contest, with the aim of developing an 'Indymedia Drupal prototype'. Drupal is an open-source Content Management System (CMS), which is a free software to manage the contents of websites more easily, that has a wide community of developers worldwide. Many Indymedia sites already run on Drupal and many Indymedia techies have been working on Drupal Indymedia sites. The CMS, however, is said to be unable to cope with high-traffic sites or provide the decentralisation that sites like Indymedia require to avoid repressive measures enacted by states when confronted by dissenting content, including confiscating the servers that host such sites.

Earlier this month, Indymedia volunteers worldwide were surprised to discover that the Knight grant proposal had been made, seemingly in the name of the whole global IMC network, and taking credit for the work of other IMCs that have nothing to do with the Drupal group. 13 IMCs across the globe, including IMC UK, were listed as 'participants' in the project, even though some of them had not seen the proposal before and others named are not even currently active collectives. The applicants say there had been a 'miscommunication' and that they did not fully understand how the 'complicated' IMC structure worked. The proposal has since been blocked by IMC Rosario, Argentina, who expressed their dismay at the handling of the matter. Other IMC's across the world have also joined the block, including IMC Netherlands and IMC London. A statement by the latter, which is part of the IMC UK network, said: "Please, never make an application like this in our name without asking us."

While some questioned why "sooo much money" was needed to do a Drupal site, many were angered by the idea of paying IMC volunteers to do work others do for free. "I think paying people to do Indy work is one of the very core problems here," one IMCer said. "Why do you think techs 'deserve' to be paid? What about all the other IMCistas? What about the people who publish to the [Indymedia] sites? What about people who do the less glamorous work of keeping the sites useful day after day? What about people who have bled in the streets to tell the stories that must be told? Why privilege some IMCistas over others? Once we begin down this road, we start saying that some people are more valuable, more important, to this work than others."

Although Indymedia's Principles of Unity do not specifically have a rule against paying people or against applying for grants, they do state that "all IMC's consider open exchange of and open access to information a prerequisite to the building of a more free and just society" and that "the IMC Network and all local IMC collectives shall be not-for-profit." In February 2003, the global IMC-Finance working group drafted so-called Principles of Funding for Indymedia and proposed them to the network. These suggested that "any group or individual that is attempting to get funding for Network-wide projects, on behalf of the entire network, must notify imc-finance in good faith, with enough time for a meaningful public commentary." Another principle stated that, "when a local IMC applies for funding, they must [make] sure [they] clarify that they are acting on behalf of only their local IMC, and should differentiate between an individual IMC [and] the Indymedia Network." The Principles of Funding have not been formally agreed by the global IMC network.

This is not the first time funding has caused controversy within Indymedia, which strives to maintain its independence and anti-corporate stance. In September 2002, the notorious Ford Foundation proposed to fund an Indymedia regional meeting. The proposal was eventually rejected as many IMC volunteers, particularly some from Argentina, were uncomfortable with accepting money from 'such a dodgy organisation', which is believed to have links to the CIA.

The Knight News Challenge is an international yearly competition that funds "innovative ideas" using digital media to "transform community news and information exchange." It was launched in autumn 2006 by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, with a $25m budget to be spent over five years. More than $11m went to 25 winners in the first year (2006). In 2007, there were 16 winners out of 3,000 applicants.

The Knight Foundation's principal work has been its Journalism Program. Since 1950, the foundation has invested nearly $400m in 1,000 'partners' to "advance quality journalism and freedom of expression worldwide." The program has in recent years focused on "leading journalism excellence into the digital age," which the Foundation define as "fair, accurate, contextual pursuit of truth."

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation describes itself as "an American private, non-profit foundation dedicated to promoting journalism and supporting the vitality of 26 communities" where the Knight Brothers owned newspapers. It began as the Knight Memorial Education Fund in 1940. In its first decade, most contributions came from the Akron Beacon Journal and Miami Herald. Following the practices of their father Charles Landon Knight, John S. Knight and James L. Knight gave small grants for "journalistic causes." In 1974, Knight Newspapers merged with Ridder Publications to create Knight-Ridder Inc., at the time the largest newspaper company in the US. Lee Hills, former president of Knight Newspapers, became Knight-Ridder chairman and CEO. Its trustees include Paul E. Steiger, the former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal and a vice president at Dow Jones & Company. Until it was bought by The McClatchy Company in June 2006, Knight-Ridder was the second-largest newspaper publisher in the US, with 32 daily newspapers. Having purchased Knight-Ridder, the McClatchy Company is today the second-largest newspaper publisher in the US after Gannett. It owns 32 daily newspapers in 29 'communities' (or markets), with a total circulation of 3.3 million, in addition to a number of less-frequent 'community papers'. At the beginning of 2007, the company had 14,000 employees and $2.34bn in assets.

The Independent Media Centre, or Indymedia, is a global network of independent, alternative media activists and groups, offering grassroots, non-corporate and non-commercial coverage of social and political struggles. The first IMC was set up in November 1999 to report on the anti-WTO protests in Seattle, directly from the streets, and correct the distorted coverage in the mainstream media. The network has grown massively over the years and remains closely associated with the anti-capitalist and global justice movements. Indymedia is most famous for its open-publishing newswire, where anyone can publish their news without any editorial or political hierarchy, as well as its open and democratic process of decision-making.

So why would a mainstream media giant like the Knight Foundation fund an independent media project like Indymedia? As one IMC volunteer put it, "how are they going to get eager, committed geeks to help them design new, participatory, Indymedia-like, websites for their 2nd-largest newspaper empire in the USA, while, at the same time, stopping the participation from getting out of control? A competition by *their* foundation, the Knight Foundation, to fund some of the *best* people developing software for grassroots, geographically based, community media sounds like part of the answer." The long-time Indymedia volunteer adds, "In my humble opinion, the Knight Foundation competition is not just *a competition* by *a foundation*; it is a competition intentionally designed by one of the biggest DEpendent media companies in the USA with the main management goal of developing 'Manufacturing of Consent 2.0'."

Suggested further reading on the issue of corporate funding of radical projects:

- Michael Barker, Who Funds the Progressive Media.

- Michael Barker, Do Capitalist Fund Revolutions? Part 1:; Part 2:

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More dodgy stuff about Knight

02.12.2008 12:53

If the above wasn't enough, here's some more for you:
The Knight Foundation apparently has a connection, through vice president of its Journalism Program Eric Newton, with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), an influential government-funded 'non-governmental' group in the US that actively promotes imperialism.
See here: