Friday, April 25, 2014

Alternative Media with Michael Edwards

Image Courtesy of Vancouver Media Co-op

The following is the transcript of a recent email interview I did with Michael Edwards, the co-founder of In the interview we discuss alternative media, its influence on the mainstream, and how people can get involved.

1. Tell us about yourself.

My name is Michael Edwards; I am the co-founder of My background is in editing technical manuals, magazines, non-fiction books and websites. I’m in my early 40s, married with one child.

2. How would you define alternative media?

I would primarily define alternative media as independent journalism, free of corporate or government sponsorship and direction. In terms of ideology, alternative media has a wide range of political views, but tends to be less focused on the traditional left-right political paradigm present in corporate media. I would also say that alternative media tends to promote individual activism as a core principle; learning new information is not enough in our view, it is essential to DO something with that knowledge.

3. How did you get involved with alt media generally and specifically with Activist Post?

I have been questioning the official version of events for 15 years, but 4 years ago I really wanted to contribute my own point of view to the various topics. I started a small blog and began submitting my work to the larger outlets at the time. Most of my articles were reposted, so I gained confidence that I could increase the amount of time that I devoted to writing. I met Eric Blair and he had a vision for how to widen our presence. We agreed upon the name of Activist Post and formally launched our site in June, 2010.

4. Do you think that the alt media has had an impact on MSM narratives in the past several years?

Yes, in one key way: forcing them to respond to our information. As the strength of our information populates the Internet, more people are questioning what they hear in traditional outlets. The stage of ignoring the information has passed. While the MSM narrative is always going to be one that spins information to their corporate directives, this has caused a couple of significant developments: 1) An increased desperation to shut down debate through labels like “conspiracy theorist” and/or attempted control of the internet. 2) A shift of political message toward the center (independent) by the traditionally left and right wing media.

Both reactions only make matters worse for them as it begins to more blatantly reveal very scripted agendas that are beginning to sound more uniform every day. As a result, we have seen strong mainstream media figures like Ben Swann and Amber Lyon, just to name a couple, who have entered independent alt media with their own unique voices.

5. Where do you think you personally and Activist Post fit within the general alt media scene?

From the beginning we wanted to provide a platform for not only the aggregating of information and analysis, but also a platform for debate. We often post articles with opinions that we are either unsure of, or even disagree with, specifically so that all of us together can develop better critical thinking skills. Having an open mind is essential. The topics that alt media covers are extremely serious and complex. While we do have our own strong opinions, we felt it was critical not to become a flipped version of mainstream media with blind followers who just take our word for things as the gospel truth. We heavily source our articles and ask as many questions as possible that encourage people to do their own research. Only when someone searches and finds facts for themselves are they going to be compelled to take action. Another aspect of what we have introduced is a semi-anonymous format.

We felt that it would be interesting not to have a “personality” attached to Activist Post, as we have observed that very often information is overlooked or ignored simply because a certain person is saying it. The information should be put out front for examination, not specific individuals. The power of the Internet affords everyone an equal path to the truth. Finally, we continue to promote solutions.

As we were studying alt media, both Eric and I noticed that alt media is generally criticized for being doom and gloom, only complaining, and never solving anything. Our personalities are optimistic and we wanted that to come through even as we address negative developments in the world. There is nothing wrong with highlighting problems – that is reality – but we have a choice how we react. We want to highlight the power of the individual, the power of positivity, and the power of working toward peaceful ends as core solutions to violence and injustice.

6. How can people themselves get involved in alt media?

First it is important to decide what your skills are and what you like to do. Some people love the radio and TV; others prefer the written word to communicate their message, as we do. Secondly, it is important to decide if you are happy to contribute to other sites, or do you want to start a presence of your own? We always welcome new voices, so beginning in alt media is as easy as sending us, or any other site, an e-mail with your work.

I’m firmly convinced that good work will always find a publisher; alt media is far easier to access than traditional media. Also, if radio or video is your thing, technology is so good and so inexpensive now that with a short learning curve anyone can start a YouTube channel or create a podcast to start. Now, if someone is looking to make this a full-time career, we would have to recommend finding 1 or 2 other people who share your passion and can help contribute the massive amount of time that it takes to operate a full-time presence. For example, we essentially have 4 people working 10-15 hour days on our site.

We have been very fortunate to have built a loyal base that continues to grow, but it certainly was not easy. Luckily, we enjoy what we do, which keeps us from ever considering this to be actual work, but people do need to be aware of the time it takes. Above all, we would stress that anyone can contribute something. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Revolutionary Potential of Social Media

Image Courtesy of

Social media is used 24/7, 365. From desktop computers and laptops to apps for Iphones, we are constantly inundated with information about the lives of our friends and associates and the lives of celebrities. Generally speaking, it seems that social media is mainly used to engage in and promote self-aggrandizing activity. Unfortunately, due to this saturation of navel gazing, it ignores how social media can and is being used in a revolutionary fashion.

Due to the lack of minorities and women in the mainstream media, in terms of both ownership[1] and representation[2], marginalized groups have often had to use the internet as a way to get out their message, to get out their version of events.  Social media is often been the place to do this. The use of social media to create safe spaces and create a dialogue among marginalized people can be seen in such pages as Black Girl Dangerous (BGD). BGD, according to their website, “seeks to, in as many ways possible, amplify the voices, experiences and expressions of queer and trans* people of color.”[3] They have featured numerous articles from LGBT+ people of color, a group that is consistently ignored by the mainstream media. Simply by having BGD exist, it allows for a marginalized groups voice to be greatly amplified and bring the spotlight on the unique issues that they face.

Social media has also allowed people to organize and become aware of actions, demonstrations, and protests that they would otherwise not know about. For example, I recently went to a Newark public school walk out demonstration to stand in solidarity with the students who were protesting budgets and the implementation of charter schools. The only reason that I knew of this was due to the fact that the Anarchist Memes page on Facebook had created a post about it, linking to relevant information.

The promotion of radical politics is another use of social media, such as with the Facebook page Black Autonomy Federation. The organization wants to “[promote] class based grassroots anti-authoritarian struggle, Self Determination for The Black Community & Autonomy and Liberation for the oppressed worldwide.”[4] This promotion of radical politics allows people to learn about alternatives to the conservative-liberal political dichotomy and lets them see that there are other ways of organizing society, that there are political views and ideas that are much more compatible with their current situation.

The use of social media has also allowed for people to create a dialogue with formerly untouchable individuals. A most recent example of this is when Colbert Report Twitter sent out the joke: "I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever."[5] While the joke was sent out of its specific context, it still greatly angered a number of Asian-Americans. Suey Park, a writer, started up the hashtag #CancelColbert in response to the offensive joke. This hashtag gained massive coverage and a number of articles were written about it, even resulting in Park co-writing an opinion piece for Time.[6] No matter what one thinks of the situation, they cannot deny that social media had a major impact in allowing people such as Suey Park to talk back.

Yet, among all of this usage of social media to organize, talk back, and create safe spaces, there have been troubles. Earlier this year Facebook shut down the Anarchist Memes page on the grounds that it had been flagged too many times for violating the company’s Community Standards and its Statements of Rights and Responsibilities. A number of incidents had occurred, from posting “a picture of a Klansman who had accidentally set himself, instead of a large wooden cross, on fire, accompanied by the words ‘IRONY, it strikes at the best of times’” to posting a pro-transgender graphic, with the picture simply reading ‘Some Women Have Penises. Get Over it.”[7] These and other incidents led to the page being banned, however Facebook pages encouraging rape and racism, are consistently reported, but rarely is action taken against them.

Now, while this is quite important for the aforementioned reasons, we also have to realize that even though social media activism has its uses, it is not enough. Social media activism “doesn’t require that you confront socially entrenched norms and practices. In fact, it’s the kind of commitment that will bring only social acknowledgment and praise.”[8] At the end of the day, while social media is great for getting information and having discussions, it still does not require one to put anything on the line, it does not require someone to get out in the streets and march or organize.

However, there are ways to change this and to get people out in the streets. What needs to occur is a combination of online and traditional activism. Black Girl Dangerous is doing this to great effect. BGD is organizing a summer program for queer and trans people of color in which the goal is to, through “writing, dreaming, screaming, owning up, and facing who we are, who we have been, and who we might become,” create “an emotional revolution that will reverberate throughout our lives and our communities.”[9] By giving queer and trans people of color a physical space to connect and learn to about themselves, it is empowering people.

If we want a social and political revolution to occur, we need to utilize all of the tools at our disposal, but we must know how to use those tools in the most effective manner with the end goal of organizing people to get out into the streets and protest and to create alternatives to the current system.


1: Free Press, Diversity in Media Ownership,

2: Riva Gold, “Newsroom Diversity: A Casualty of Journalism's Financial Crisis,” The Atlantic, July 9, 2013 (

3: Black Girl Dangerous, About BGD,

4: Black Autonomy Federation, About,

5: Meredith Blake, “#CancelColbert: Stephen Colbert accused of racism over Asian tweet,” LA Times, March 28, 2014 (,0,3484421.story#axzz2ytCNiUTG)

6: Eunsong Kim, Suey Park, “Anti-Racism Activists on Colbert: We Will Protest This Until It Ends,” Time, April 10, 2014 (

7: Ben Norton, “Fascist Facebook?” Counterpunch, January 10, 2014 (

8: Jared Keller, “This Hashtag Kills Fascists: Does Social Media Activism Actually Work?” Al Jazeera America, April 2, 2014 (

9: Black Girl Dangerous, Get Free: A Summer Program For Queer and Trans Youth of Color,

Monday, April 7, 2014

‘Shield’ing the People from Independent Journalism

Image Courtesy of

Currently being debated by the Senate, but rarely discussed on mainstream television, is the Shield Law. While on the surface it may seem to be rather innocuous, some of the language in it and its implications are quite problematic for journalists.

A Shield Law is a law which “provides statutory protection for the ‘reporters’ privilege’— legal rules which protect journalists against the government requiring them to reveal confidential sources or other information.”[1] Generally, this is a positive occurrence as journalists are much more able to conduct their work and bring information to public light if they do not need to worry about having to reveal their sources. While Shield Laws have occurred in the past, they have only been on the state level. This currently proposed Shield Law is the first one to reach the federal level and the main goal is to protect journalists from having to reveal confidential sources in federal cases.[2]

However, there are certain instances in which journalists will have to reveal sources, such as “(1) The party seeking disclosure has exhausted all reasonable alternative sources of the information; (2) The requested information is essential to resolving the matter; (3) Disclosure of the requested information would not be contrary to the public interest; and (4) In criminal cases, if the requesting party is the federal government, the government must show that there are reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has occurred.”[3]

While overall it may seem like a good bill, there are a number of problems with this Shield Law, officially known as the Free Flow of Information Act of 2013. For starters, this law would “allow the government to seize reporters’ records without notifying them for 45 days – a period of time that could be renewed by a judge 45 additional days – if investigators convince a judge pre-notification ‘would pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of a criminal investigation.’”[4] This power of seizing records without notifying reporters was used most recently in regards to the Associated Press, when the federal government seized their phone records in May of last year, with the government only saying that “they were needed for investigation of an unspecified criminal matter.”[5] Oh yes! What transparency and accountability! Infringing upon the First Amendment rights of reporters and then only giving what is essentially a BS, purposefully vague explanation.

In addition to this, the government can force journalists to give up information in the name of national security.[6] This is quite worrying as the US government has time and time again been involved in operations of entrapment.[7,8] Due to this, they could potentially have a scenario where they create a case of entrapment, label it terrorism, and then force all journalists to give up information on any and all sources as well as seize their records under the guise of national security.

Yet in this current bill, not only can the government continue to engage in the above behavior, but they are also defining who is and who is not a journalist. Initially, the bill defined a journalist as “a person who has a ‘primary intent to investigate events and procure material’ in order to inform the public by regularly gathering information through interviews and observations” and added the stipulation that “The person also must intend to report on the news at the start of obtaining any protected information and must plan to publish that news.”[9] This seems to be rather fine as it would include mainstream and independent journalists. However, the situation became problematic when in September 2013, an amendment to the bill was proposed that- let’s just say- ‘more clearly’ defined who and who was not a journalist.

Kevin Gostolza of Firedoglake discussed this amendment last year and it would be appropriate to quote him now at some length:

A “covered journalist,” under the amendment, would be the following: an employee, independent contractor, or agent of an entity or service that disseminates news or information by means of newspaper; nonfiction book; wire service; news agency; news website, mobile application or other news or information service (whether distributed digitally or other wise); news program; magazine or other periodical, whether in print, electronic, or other format; or through television or radio broadcast, multichannel video programming distributor (as such term is defined in section 602(13) of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 522(13)), or motion picture for public showing…
That person must also have the “primary intent to investigate events and procure material in order to disseminate to the public news or information concerning local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest.” Or, that person should be engaged in the “regular gathering, preparation, collection, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting or publishing on such matters.”

A person would also qualify as a “covered journalist” if they had experience in journalism and had “substantially contributed, as an author, editor, photographer, or producer, to a significant number of articles, stories, programs, or publications” in the past twenty years. As Feinstein said, it would “cover a legitimate journalist such as a Dan Rather who leaves his media entity and takes to publishing freelance stories on the web.”[10] (emphasis added)

Now, let’s begin to take those paragraphs apart and analyze them, bit by bit.

In the first paragraph, the law defines a journalist as “an employee, independent contractor, or agent of an entity or service that disseminates news or information” and then goes on to define the many mediums by which the news can be disseminated. Some of this language seems to be problematic. What exactly do they mean by “independent contractor?” Do they mean a freelancer? Do they mean someone like myself who researches and writes independently?

In the next paragraph, it adds a caveat to the definition of journalist, stating that the individual in question must also “have the ‘primary intent to investigate events and procure material in order to disseminate to the public news or information concerning local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest.’” Well, how do you prove that this is one’s primary intent? Do you just have to state as such? And what do they even mean by the term “primary intent?” Isn’t the main goal of most if not all journalists to disseminate news to the public?

The final paragraph offers an alternative if one is not with a mainstream source by stating that they are covered if “they had experience in journalism and had ‘substantially contributed, as an author, editor, photographer, or producer, to a significant number of articles, stories, programs, or publications’ in the past twenty years.” Does this mean that contributing to sites such as Truthout and Alternet could qualify one as a journalist under this law?

Apparently, in an earlier version of the bill, the law defined “journalists so narrowly that it excludes bloggers, citizen reporters and even some freelancers,”[11] and thus the amendment was added. However, this amendment seems to leave more questions than answers.

In addition to this, many supporters of this bill have been using some rather bellicose language. For example, Senator Dianne Feinstein has been quoted as saying that “real journalists draw salaries”[12] and stating that the First Amendment is “a privilege,”[13] which is rather worrying.

On top of all these other problems, former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, has written that this bill would “give judges too much power to decide on their own whether the disclosure of the information would be contrary to the public interest and thus not protected.”[14] This means the issue of deciding whether or not information that is being withheld by journalists, say, sources for example, violates the public interest in the form of national security would be decided by judges. If the judges do decide that the information being withheld does violate the public interest, then the journalist would be forced to hand over that information.

While judges do from time to time uphold the rights of the people, they seem to have often sided with the national security state as of recent. For example in 2010, a federal appeals court “ruled that former prisoners of the C.I.A. could not sue over their alleged torture in overseas prisons because such a lawsuit might expose secret government information,”[15] last year, the US Supreme Court decided to “allow the National Security Agency's surveillance of domestic telephone communication records to continue.”[16]

This year it was reported that the US Supreme Court “rejected [the Center for Constitutional Rights] lawsuit against Bush-era warrantless surveillance, which “guarantees that the federal courts will never address a fundamental question: Was the warrantless surveillance program the NSA carried out on President Bush’s orders legal?”[17] Thus, it seems that the situation of on whose side the courts would rule in a case regarding national security is rather iffy. This is made all the more strenuous by the fact that if a case were to make it up all the way to the Supreme Court and they ruled in favor of the US government, it has the potential to set a precedent which could only be overturned by an entirely new Supreme Court case.

As of now, there are conflicting reports about whether or not Chuck Shumer (D.-N.Y.) has the votes to pass the bill in the Senate, with Schumer saying he does and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) saying he doesn’t.[19] However, if it does pass, there is no doubt about it going into law as Obama has already voiced his support for it.[20]

By essentially giving the government the power to define what a journalist is, it has the potential to hurt independent media when it is needed now more than ever. The mainstream media consistently sits on stories to please the US government. It was reported in 2006 that the New York Times made a decision to “[withhold] a story about the Bush administration’s program of illegal domestic spying until after the 2004 election.”[21] More recently, the US media reported again and again that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons in Ghouta and that the UN report confirmed it[22], when in reality, the question is still up in the air as new information has come to light that puts the official narrative in doubt.[23]

We need independent alternatives to the mainstream media like Corbett Report, Citizen Radio, and Black Agenda Report to allow people to get a glimpse behind the wall of misinformation that permeates much of the mainstream and get an idea of what is truly going on in the world. If this law gives the government the power to define who a journalist is, we may just lose that.


 1: Society of Professional Journalists, Shield Law 101: Frequently Asked Questions,

2: Rem Reider, “Media Shield Law Moves Forward,” USA Today, (September 12, 2013)

3: Chris Palmer, Josh Stearns, “The Journalism Shield Law: How We Got Here,” Free Press, (August 6, 2013

4: Steven Nelson, “Holes in Media Shield Law Worry Opponents, and Even Some Supporters,” US News, (September 18, 2013)

5: Roger Yu, “Feds Seize AP Phone Records For Criminal Probe,” USA Today, (May 13, 2013)

6: ZoĆ« Carpenter, “Flawed Media Shield Law Goes to the Senate Floor,” The Nation, (September 13, 2013)

7: Alex Newman, “FBI Celebrates Foiling Its Own Terrorist Plot, Again,” The New American, (October 18, 2012)

8: Glenn Greenwald, ”The FBI Again Thwarts Its Own Terror Plot,” Salon, (September 29, 2011)

9: Tim Cushing, “Sen. Feinstein During 'Shield' Law Debate: 'Real' Journalists Draw Salaries,” Techdirt, (August 8, 2013)

10: Kevin Gosztola, “Media Shield Law, Which Aims to Protect Only ‘Real Reporters,’ Moves Onward to the Senate,” Firedoglake, (September 12, 2013)

11: Free Press, (August 6, 2013)

12: Morgan Weiland, “Why Sen. Feinstein Is Wrong About Who’s a ‘Real Reporter,’” Electronic Frontier Foundation, (August 9, 2013)

13: Mark Whitney, “Dianne Feinstein First Amendment Is A Special Privilege,”

14: Jacob Gershman, “Mukasey: Beware the Proposed Media-Shield Law,” Wall Street Journal, (December 2, 2013)

15: Charlie Savage, “Court Dismisses a Case Asserting Torture by C.I.A.,” New York Times, (September 8, 2010)

16: Bill Mears, “Supreme Court allows NSA to continue looking at telephone records for now,” CNN, (November 8, 2013)

17: Kevin Gosztola, “Supreme Court Declines to Hear Case That Would Have Challenged NSA Warrantless Surveillance of Lawyers,” Firedoglake, (March 4, 2014)

18: Fox News, Schumer: Senate Has Votes for Media Shield Law, (March 21, 2014)

19: Hadas Gold, “Cornyn: Schumer Doesn't Have Votes for Shield Law,” Politico, (March 27, 2014)

20: David Jackson, “Obama backs 'Shield Law' for Reporters,” USA Today, (May 15, 2013)

21: Barry Grey, David Walsh, “A Damning Admission: New York Times Concealed NSA Spying Until After 2004 Election,” World Socialist Web Site, (August 22, 2006)

22: Bill Chapel, “U.N. Report Confirms Chemical Weapons Were Used In Syria,” NPR, (December 12, 2013)

23: Matthew Schofield, “New Analysis of Rocket Used In Syria Chemical Attack Undercuts U.S. Claims,” McClatchy, (January 15, 2014)