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July 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.

Robot Frank

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.

Jason Calacanis

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.

Michael Moore

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 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.

Panel Discussions

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


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