This edition of The Bloomington Alternative closes the first year of publication for this experiment in online media. I published the first official issue - committed to progressive social change and independent journalism - on Sept. 1, 2002. Today seems an appropriate time for reflection.
It's also an opportune time for rumination because interest in the Alternative has taken a great leap forward of late. Weekly traffic to the Web site nearly quadrupled in the past two weeks. It's grown roughly 1,500 percent since that first issue a year ago.
The Alternative was inspired by what I sensed was widespread outrage at the direction local "leaders" were taking our community and the blatant pro-developer, anti-environmentalist bias at the Bloomington Herald-Times, a/k/a Hoosier-Times, a/k/a Howard-Times, depending on the day. I laid out the rationale for the Alternative experiment in a July 10 e-mail to a select group of long-time readers:
"It seems to me that recent events have highlighted - in 72-point, bold, deep-green type - the need for an independent media voice in Bloomington."
"The debate over this community's future is going to reach a fevered pitch in the weeks and months leading up the November election, and alternative voices to the pro-development status quo must be heard."
In particular, I knew the H-T could not be trusted to tell the truth about Interstate 69 or the vicious assaults on County Councilman Scott Wells for his political crusade to expose "economic development" schemes for the taxpayer frauds and environmental disasters they really are. (Wells' political enemies had only libeled him at that point. They wouldn't set him up for an arrest and beating by the Indiana State Police for another few weeks.)
I worked at the H-T for 11 years and know a little something about its editors' agenda. I knew they wouldn't do it. I decided to give it a shot.
I'd be less than honest if I didn't acknowledge selfishness as a primary impetus for the Alternative. In various incarnations as graduate student, H-T reporter, IDEM propagandist, and alternative newsweekly columnist, I'd written continuously about Bloomington and the Indiana environment for two decades. A half year had passed since the Bloomington Independent's demise, a populist uprising was in full bloom, and I needed a venue to write about it all in - with editors who wouldn't stifle.
But it was far from being all about me. There was a strong communitarian component, as well. I envisioned the Alternative as an outlet for Hoosier writers and thinkers whose views are ignored or marginalized in mainstream media like the H-T. Such journalistic and literary vehicles have played a vital role in Bloomington's political and cultural life since the late 1960s. One was desperately needed.
Against that historic backdrop, writing in the age of the Internet, I described two basic Alternative optons in the July 10 e-mail:
"Options could range from a simple, inexpensive web page where progressive Bloomington writers/thinkers can self-publish to a full-blown commercial venture a la the Independent, albeit one built on a Bloomington model of sustainability rather than the empire-building Carmel model that has left us voiceless."
While there has been some interest in the latter, the Alternative has moved toward the former. It's evolved into a reader-supported, online forum through which literally dozens of writers, thinkers, and activists from Southern and Central Indiana have shared their work and visions with a growing and important online audience.
One reader recently called the Alternative a "Sunday morning box of unopened surprises."
Those surprises have come from a small core of talented and experienced writers - Gregory Travis, Thomas P. Healy, and Fran Quigley - who write eloquently, intelligently, and professionally on issues of social, environmental, and economic justice. (Quigley's work appears in the Alternative under an arrangement with NUVO.)
Those surprises can also be found in Alternative archives of more than three dozen other writers and activists, including John Blair, Cathy Crosson, Linda Greene, Jim Jontz, Elsa F. Kramer, Andy Mahler, Joshua Martin, Jeanne Melchior, Jeff Melton, Jack and Stefanie Miller, Don Moore, and Jeffrey St. Clair - current and former Hoosiers all, with Bloomington connections.
In addition to weekly news and commentary on local and state issues, the Alternative has published in-depth series and investigations of wasteful public policy debacles like I-69 and exposes of questionable dealings in local economic development projects, as well as eyewitness accounts of horrific injustices in places like Iraq, Palestine, and the Federal Prison Camp for women at Pekin, Ill.
I can't tell you how pleased I am to be able to help these folks share their viewpoints and experiences. I hope to update this column this time next year.
With the exception of the initial three-month trial, during which I charged a subscription fee to raise development funds, the Alternative has all been all about free.
The Web page and e-mail services are provided without charge. (The Alternative also publishes a daily list of headlines and links to local, state, and national stories of interest to readers, as well as announcements of events and developments.)
The writers have all contributed their writing for free, some asking that I accept their work in lieu of financial contributions as support for the cause of independent media in Bloomington and Indiana.
The Alternative is as low-budget as a professional media source can be. But it's not a no-budget operation. It consumes a huge amount of time, inflicts significant wear and tear on electronic equipment (I had to buy a new multifunction printer just yesterday), and requires some cash flow to maintain.
As part of its commitment to editorial independence, The Bloomington Alternative does not charge a subscription fee or accept advertising. It is reader-supported, and the list of those who have contributed is as impressive as the contributors' list.
But it's a new year now, in Alternative time, that is. Whether you've been reading us from the beginning, or just signing on, if you support what we're trying to do here, please help. Information on how to financially support the Alternative is available at the bottom of this Web page.
Steven Higgs is editor of The Bloomington Alternative.