23, 2001 |
On Saturday July 21, 2001 New York City witnessed the birth of a
new geek festival. Webzine NYC 2001 was the first annual webzine
convention on the East Coast, after three years in San Francisco.
In a year that has seen the spectacular death of the Internet as
a tool of big business, the independent publisher scene proved itself
to be alive and well.
A year ago, when Madison Avenue was riding high on banner ads and
clickthru's and the venue might have been different, with glitz
and glam and a location like Ellis Island, site of the much maligned
Urban Box Office launch party. Instead, true to independent publisher
form, the location was the basement of CB's Gallery on the Bowery
in Manhattan. A venue accustomed to the likes of the Ramones, Talking
Heads, and Blondie making it apropos for a gathering of over a hundred
and fifty independent publishers.
Upon entry, each visitor was asked to create their own laminated
nametag, replete with name, URL and cutout images from old magazines.
At an event where everybody is a self publisher, the concept of
a press pass becomes strangely redundant and self ironic. The create
your own press pass was a big hit, and people actually used the
passes to identify one another in conversations.
The highlight of the event was the speakers. Robot
Frank, a man dressed in a silver cardboard costume, emulating
a robot, spoke at length about how little he liked or understood
people, and used charts and graphs to drive his point home. Robot
Frank could have been the symbol of this event - the outside self
published artist with something to say and no traditional avenue
to say it. The sometimes humorous but often not charts and graphs
Later, an impassioned Mark Berenson
implored that the audience members take advantage of the voices
that they have developed for themselves. Berenson's website is dedicated
to the release of his daughter from a Peruvian prison, where she
is serving a twenty-year sentence for collaborating with a revolutionary
group. Through the use of the medium, the Berenson's have been able
to mobilize petitions, achieve recognition in both the House and
the Senate, and were gratified with a personal plea by president
George W. Bush to the outgoing president of Peru, asking for a pardon
for Ms. Berenson. The audience, meanwhile, sat in rapt attention
as Mr. Berenson spoke, some in awe and others moved to action, as
they realized the true power of the web as a medium.
Keynote speaker Michael
Moore took the stage to audience applause and a packed viewing
area. After a brief set of introductory remarks, he opened the floor
to questions and answers, and was peppered with questions about
using the medium to affect change. Moore's message was consistent
and forceful, that the little guy can affect change if he simply
works at it. Moore regaled the audience with anecdotes of his affect
on major corporations, mixed with explanations on how zine publishers
can utilize mailing lists and their websites to affect change.
There were also several panels, including one about Investigative
Zines featuring panelists from Netslaves, Fuckedcompany, Urbanexpose,
The smoking gun and Dotcomscoop. Panelists related methods of finding
public information to investigate the dealings of companies, and
made clear the most important rule of investigative journalism --if
it's true, you can't be sued for libel.
Other panelists and speakers included a group on Creative zines,
such as personal weblogs and art galleries, a conversation with
an game developer about the development of Shockwave games, and
Jason Calacanis of the Silicon Alley Reporter, speaking on the history
and the future of the content industry.
Following the panels were several bands, and the crowd stayed on
late into the night. The venue was exactly right for a gathering
of indie publishers, there was inexpensive liquor and pizza available,
and the space still retains the feelings of the revolutionary East
Village of years ago. Sitting in the basement of CBGB's was the
cutting edge of new journalism - small, passionate groups who have
seized control of the means of press production. As panelist Eric
R of yankthechain.com pointed out, a readership of 20,000 online
costs twenty dollars a month, while a print run of 1000 for a paper
magazine will run hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
While the hundreds of millions of dollars spent trying to develop
a profitable content delivery online will never return, this group
of zine publishers will see to it that content doesn't disappear
from the web entirely. Many of them do what they do out of passion,
substituting the no longer possible payoffs with the satisfaction
of telling the truth. This event was a demonstration of raw journalism.
The unspoken theme of the event was that the little guy, the small
publisher and the person with something to say all now have a voice
that can effect change in the world. Many of the attendees and panelists
were ordinary people who decided to thrust themselves either into
the public spotlight, or into the political fray. The point repeated
time and again by the panelists and speakers was - you can make
a difference. As Michael Moore reminded the audience, the president
of GM has exactly the same number of votes as any one of the audience
members. The same one as any of the small publishers at the event.
Jonathan Swerdloff is an attorney in New York City. His hobbies
include wireless networks, the web that has emerged from the ashes
of the dot com failure, and the arts. He chronicles his life and
developments in the law at swerdloff.com