July 22, 2001
an evening at webzine

I went to Webzine NY yesterday. Here are some fun quotes.

"I can't write salacious shit anymore, I've got advertisers." - Jason Calacanis, explaining why his Silicon Alley Reporter can't operate the same way as sites like Urban Expose, Fucked Company, or Dot Com Scoop, i.e. fast, irreverant, and often inaccurate.

"I get email 20 different times from 20 different people saying 'my boss just spent $10,000 of company money on hookers and crack', but I don't post it, though it would be a lot of fun if I did." -Phil Kaplan, of Fucked Company, explaining that he doesn't post stories that are explicitly personal.

"I ate that big mac because I wanted people to know that I was a flawed person." - Michael Moore, on why he ate at McDonald's in one of his films.

I ended up chatting with Cam and Marco, and I met/talked to a bunch of others, whose names I won't bother dropping. Some notes from the panels:

The Print vs. Web folks seemed to agree that print was much more engaging than the web, at least for longer or less time-sensitive content. Ok, that's obvious, I guess.

The "Investigative Zines" panel was the liveliest that I saw, but it was more a 'you had to be there' thing. It was interesting that almost everyone there agreed that the corporate media were about as far from "objective" as they could possibly be. Most of them had been misquoted repeatedly. They also agreed that journalists are generally lazy, so PR has a huge influence on what is reported. No suprises there, but it's good to hear that people other than left wing wackos like myself know that the media is Really Quite Messed. Cease and Desist letters were also mentioned. Ways of dealing with pissed off corporations ranged from deleting the offending page and asking them to prove it ever existed, to posting the cease and desist letters and linking them from the offending comments, to making factual corrections.

Lori Berenson's dad showed up and talked about the vile misrepresentation of his daughter's trial in Peru. She's been sentenced to 20 years in prison for doing what a human rights activist does, it seems.

The Free Speech panel was chock full of near-free speech absolutists, but there was some interesting (if familiar) talk of how corporations (or people with lots of money) can shut down speech by suing someone with little money who say things that they don't like. Even if the 'offender' in question wins the case, they end up being bankrupted by legal fees.

Michael Moore started out kind of mumbly and said "um" a lot, but soon found his groove, and gave an inspiring series of digressions, all somehow related to the theme of doing good work (in independent media) without losing your moral bearings and ideals. He talked about being published/broadcast by the folks who work for Rupert Murdoch, and how at some point, he would ask for outrageous things from the corporate types, like spending $250k on free screenings of movies in poor communities, and people would just say "ok". Compromising to get ahead, on the other hand, just builds the expectation that you can bend more. He also talked about/digressed into the idea that we're taught as soon as we get into school to fear failure, that it's punished, that it's bad, etc.. What we forget is that one person can make a big difference, if s/he doesn't feel the need to rely on a system or others to get there. If you want to make a zine/film/whatever, don't wait for a grant, or funding, or whatever, just make it happen, and go into debt if you have to, and learn from your mistakes. Another theme was how powerful the internet is as an organizing tool. Examples include organizing a nation-wide protest at Fox affiliates in a short amount of time, whereas before the net, organizing a nation-wide movement would take a year of hard work.

Jason Calacanis had some interesting things to say about the whole indy vs. commercial dichotomy. He said that cultural movements like internet publishing start out as labours of love, which generate lots of interesting stuff, but then people get greedy, and try to make money. Nothing I haven't heard before, but more interestingly, he argued that zines like Inside.com, and even Feed and Suck failed, and brought the content business down with them, because they tried to turn themselves into multi million dollar businesses, instead of regular old magazines. The harder they fall, I guess. He also stressed the need for alternatives to banner ads, including truly disruptive (to the extent that they are analagous to TV and Radio) interstitial ads. The porn industry, he noted, didn't have the option of advertising from day one, so they developed an industry wide way of paying for access to thousands of sites, which I guess is worth looking into. Keenspot is working on a similar "pay once, get access to a whole bunch of sites" model, though they do it by hosting all of the sites.

Somehow, I didn't mention Netslaves. Oh yeah, and Boycott Adobe, or better yet, boycott Congress until they start making laws that take into account more than corporate interests.

posted by dru in culture