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Three years later, the process remains the purpose / by Liz Pelly

Photo by Eli Dvorkin.

Time did not feel real last week. This was largely because of the 24 Hour Show, which took place at the Silent Barn from May 21 at noon until May 22 at noon. The 24 Hour Show is my favorite thing that happens at Silent Barn, mostly because it feels like a full realization of our potential as a community, or at least one way to manifest it. It is an endurance challenge, an emotional rollercoaster. Something simultaneously super meaningful and super ridiculous, which kind of speaks to the nature of DIY organizing and creative space-making in general. The 24 Hour Show is a tradition that pushes our attention spans in a culture where so much time is wasted.

Amid the highs and lows of this year’s installment, between sweaty early evening pop bands and 3AM noise sets performed to nine people sitting on the floor, between mini sets of theatre and comedy and sporadic readings of internet poetry, between a pop-up academic pop music conference and the late-night minimal techno block ... We also decided to start a newspaper.

The Soft Times launched at noon on Saturday, published four issues over the course of 24 hours, and then folded. We made a new issue every six hours. There were editorial meetings, copy deadlines, production meetings, and issue release parties. When one issue was printed out on a borrowed laser-ink printer, we distributed 20 copies, made a champagne toast to everyone’s hard work, hung one copy up on the wall, and set a time for the next issue’s planning to begin — 30 minutes later. Those two-page printouts contained words I will re-read forever. “Breaking news” stories and op-ed columns, haiku reviews that folks submitted via text message, poetic essays about Silent Barn written in the hallways, five-minute interviews conducted in my bedroom. There were missed connections and gossip columns and personal ads. Around 3 a.m., we realized we needed to hire an Editorial Fellow to help with all of this work, hung an ad in the hall, and promptly received an application.

However laughable it may seem, The Soft Times was my favorite part of this year’s 24 Hour Show. It gave everyone a chance to process what was happening around them and to think about it and to remember it. It felt like the ephemeral excitement in the walls was finding its way into words, on a page, before our eyes. It was my favorite part of the show because it encouraged everyone to feel like an active participant, which should always be the case at any DIY event. I jokingly alluded to the project a few days before on Twitter, writing, “I'm launching a new publication on Saturday. Stay tuned for details!” and then “There is truly nothing more exciting than carving out the independent cultural spaces you want to see in the world.” I was clearly making fun of myself, but with muted sincerity. It felt powerful to make this exist, even if only for a day.

Making The Soft Times did not feel unfamiliar. It felt like making The Media. The rhythm, the traditions, the language of it. The way it was sort of a real publication, but no one was actually sure. The way its existence was somehow conceptual. The way it was sort of a paper, but also sort of a performative art meditation on the media. (“This is great, I used to love playing newspaper when I was kid!” at least one person said.) The way it all felt like an obvious commentary on the ceaseless, cyclical nature of media in 2016, an experiment that reached no clear conclusions. The way it did not make any sense at all but also made so much sense. The way it was all sort of absurd—but isn’t everything about the construction of media absurd?

When you’ve been awake for so long in a situation like an experimental 24 Hour variety show, time and space start feeling pretty blurry. Everything happens so slowly and then so quickly and then so slowly again. You start noticing things around the space you’ve never noticed before, interactions feel more real and then more surreal and then real again. It kind of puts everything under a microscope. You question why you are even still doing this, but you committed, so you follow through. It’s kind of a rush, maybe like being on drugs or in love or on the brink of something huge. But I guess that’s open to interpretation.

As The Media turns three years old, there is still so much to be said about how a project this small can feel so huge. A lot has changed over three years, about our goals and our intentions. As we’ve embraced our place as something that largely exists on The Internet, we’ve become more tuned in to conversations about the state of digital media and digital labor versus the death of alt-weeklies. We’ve learned and grown from all of our influences and inspirations into something that, to me, feels truly unique. Every issue is a small gesture that still feels like a radical act, a re-commitment to carving out non-corporate digital space on our own terms. A feeling that is rare in 2016.

Three years in, The Media feels like a media literacy project to me just as much as a serial music and culture focused DIY webpaper. I hope when people come to this site, they see it as much for what it is as for what it isn’t. For what they do find here, but also for what they don’t find here. Three years in, what we mean when we say “ad free” really mean so much more than that: no sponsored content, no listicles, no branded events. No paywalls, no clickbait slideshows. No data mining. No analytics. No hate-filled comments sections.

Last week I read an editorial published by Bitch Media about their strategy for remaining independent and reader-supported in 2016, and their editors’ words about resisting advertising opportunities by Coca Cola and other corporations, despite their struggles to stay afloat, were truly inspiring. Independent, community-focused media outlets don’t get enough credit for what we all say NO to. I encourage you to read their story. I also encourage you to read the interview with Grace Ambrose of Maximum Rocknroll in this week’s issue, another publication pushing against the odds to make non-corporate punk media happen continuously.

These outlets inspire us, but we are not any of them. What are we doing here exactly? Three years later, the process remains the purpose. That is an attitude we committed to upon launching in 2013: to never cease learning, listening, growing, experimenting, and figuring it out as we go along. To maintain an inherent open-endedness, and allow ourselves to keep asking questions and keep pushing back. To create a space that feels like it actually reflects our politics.

Starting any independent publication is a disorienting task. There are no clear paths; no right answers, no ways to reasonably predict what could happen. The thing could end in a year; it could end in a month; it could end in 24 hours… But by centering the very process of making the platform you want to see exist in the world, it continues to feels purposeful.

When The 24 Hour Show was over, everyone got to go home and sleep, but my roommates and I just stood there. Exhausted, laughing. Surrounded by trash and more trash and piles of confetti, shriveling balloons, and empty bottles. Mountain of other people’s dishes. It took us a week to clean up, but felt worth it. To make something that felt meaningful, that felt fun, despite these hilarious self-imposed limitations. Because we created something that we wanted to see happen around us. Because some space was pushed open where it didn’t exist before.

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