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A Conversation with Andy Mulkerin

A junior majoring in non-fiction writing at Pitt, Andy Mulkerin is a founding member of Pittsburgh's Independent Media Center. Like IMCs in other cities, the Pittsburgh IMC is made up of volunteers who distrust the bias and agenda of the "corporate press.

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You guys are independent of the mainstream, but you send out press releases to us in the corporate press. Why?
Well, you have to play the game to some extent. People who aren't already involved in your world aren't going to hear about it unless you go through their means of communication.

One of my favorite e-mails was [from] one of the local news editors at the Post-Gazette. I sent a press release -- this is the movement and it's in Pittsburgh finally -- and he e-mails me back: "Thanks for the press release. What do you want us to do with it?" I don't know if he was trying to provoke me or what. I basically beat him to the punch and said, "If what you're trying to get at is that we say the corporate media sucks, then why are we going to you -- well, we need to reach a bigger audience. And yeah, we're trying to put you out of business, but you should be nice and give us coverage anyway."

What's a story the local media screwed up?
The best example is the TV coverage of the March 20 [anti-war] protest. The nature of TV is to try to get as much friction and fighting on tape as possible, and make things out to be a really big deal that aren't necessarily a big deal. And on March 20, there were hundreds of people Downtown and they marched around -- nothing happened and the cops just sort of followed them. Then dark fell and the cops just decided to arrest everybody who was left. And instead of saying that's what happened, [TV reporters] said the protestors had thrown the definition of peace out the window. They played up that there were windows broken and spray paint and things like that, when the only incident like that that I heard of -- either from protestors or the police radio -- was that one guy's license plate was ripped off because he hit somebody with his car.

So you weren't actually at the march?
I was in the house on Neville Street that we'd been using as the IMC space. And I was taking phone calls from several people who were at different points on the march, and listening to the police scanner. And I was putting updates onto the Web site the whole time. It was an exciting place to be -- and there was very little chance of me getting arrested, which was good.

So if I were a cop -- and who's to say I'm not? --
I've suspected it for a long time.

-- it seems like the site would be a good place to keep tabs on you.
At any given time there are people from the Pitt police and the city of Pittsburgh government on it. And in the past, photos that were posted to Indy Media of protests have been brought up in court.

Do you worry someone will post false things on your site because they have a personal vendetta or something?
It's something you always worry about. ...[We] try to at least point out when someone is obviously posing. After the Swissvale anti-war march, somebody posted as three or four different names, and from different perspectives. He would be an old lady who lives in Swissvale, and then a person who was at the march and saw batteries being thrown. It's sort of a COINTELPRO-type thing. If he has five "people" claiming to have seen batteries thrown at anti-war marches, then people who aren't in favor of that -- which most people aren't -- would not want to be part of the battery-throwing crowd.

What will you do when you graduate?
Beats the hell out of me. I knew when I was 15: I was going to be a newspaper reporter. That went to hell. If I became a newspaper reporter now, my friends would stab me in the head or something.

I was the editor of the high-school newspaper. We wanted to write an editorial about the new field turf they wanted to buy. We were like, there are a lot of things they could buy, computers and things like that. But our principal -- I went to Penn-Trafford -- was the president of WPIAL at the time. I actually wrote the piece, but he wouldn't let us run it. But I got it published in the Post-Gazette, and they wrote this big story, and I had this very suave picture of me standing in front of the goal post.

Doesn't that prove the ability of mainstream journalism to effect change?
Yeah, well, they did a good job with it. But the school still got the turf.

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