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January 14, 2008

OpEdNews.com: An interview with Rob Kall

By Hans Bennett

Frustrated with the corporate media, Rob Kall started OpEdNews.com in 2003, "about two weeks before the Iraq War's shock and awe was started," It has grown into a prominent news website, which provides a valuable news service, and a powerful medium for independent journalists to publish their work.


--View entire Photo-essay documenting resistance to the war in Philadelphia in the weeks leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

OpEdNews.com: An interview with Rob Kall

By Hans Bennett

Frustrated with the corporate media, Rob Kall started OpEdNews.com in 2003, “about two weeks before the Iraq War's shock and awe was started,”  It has grown into a prominent news website, which provides a valuable news service, and a powerful medium for independent journalists to publish their work.

With OpEdNews, Kall creatively works to connect the growing media democracy movement to the latest internet resources like Google and Yahoo News, as well as social networks like MySpace.  This provides an important platform for independent journalists and activists to self-publish and reach a larger readership, and Kall is actively recruiting new writers for the website.  Check it out!

Hans Bennett:     How do you think independent media can best be used as a tool for socio/political/economic change?

Rob Kall:     1) Getting out messages that the “lamestream” media won't publish, 2) Enabling the everyday citizen to have a voice, and 3) Providing media tools and online tools that enable discussion, debate, action

HB:     How does your website put this into action?

RK:     Anyone can submit articles, diaries, comments. We're one of the 4500 sites that Google and Yahoo News have approved as a legitimate media site, so when an article is accepted (usually by one of our 25 volunteer editors) it gets a very wide circulation. Some of our articles have made the top of the front page of Google News.

In terms of action, we enable any writer to create a customized action page for any article or diary which makes it easy for readers to actually take action, contacting their federal legislators or local daily paper.

We also support groups, so an organization or just a group of people with similar interests can start a group and post articles so they show on the group page. This adds capabilities that most non profit organizations don't have.

HB:     Sort of a cross between a strictly controlled website and IMC open publishing, how does OpEdNews.com decide which articles to publish?

RK:     To qualify as a legitimate media site, we must moderate articles. So if you submit an article, it will go into our article queue, to be evaluated by one of our volunteer editors. We see an average of 40 to 60 a day. But we also offer diaries, and there is no moderation on diaries.  I think we're one of only a very few sites that do both.

Reasons not to publish include:  Bad writing, nothing new said, old news, or commentary on a no longer fresh issue, and self promotion. Often, when readers send comments or news tips, we'll encourage them to turn their comments, observations or tips into articles. Also, part of our editorial policy is to consider every article submission as a diary submission too, so if a submission doesn't cut it as an article, it may well make it as a diary, where the criteria are not as strict.

We will soon be adding a third level of content-- OpEdNews Journal-- which will have higher criteria-- including peer review, requirement that it be more than just commentary, and should have data derived from investigative research. We hope to pull six or ten articles a week from the 300-400 we publish that meet the higher criteria. Our goal is "modest": to produce articles of the same or higher quality than the NY Times or Wall Street Journal.

HB:     What other independent news organizations have most influenced your work?

RK:     Commondreams accepted the first article I sent them, then ignored the next ten. As a reasonably successful freelance writer in the print world, I was accustomed to at least getting rejection letters. But online, being ignored is the usual. I made sure that when we built opednews.com, we designed it so all article submitters DO get responses-- rejections or acceptances, even notification if an article is promoted to headline or top of column status.

Other sites that have inspired  opednews.com include: dailykos.com, mydd.com , counterpunch.com, thenation.com , tompaine.com, buzzflash.com, consortiumnews.com , Josh Marshall's talkingpointsmemo.com , truthout.org, rawstory.comwhatreallyhappened.com , myspace.com, facebook.com

Unlike most progressive sites, we're working to build our site to tap many of the web 2.0 functions you see on social networking sites.

HB:     What else is OpEdNews doing?

RK:     OpEdNews is a non-profit organization designed to support local and international news. We have "inside pages" for every county in the US, every country in the world, every province in Canada, and we can add locales easily. We regularly have articles dealing with Waziristan,  Pakistan, the Congo, Yemen, Bangladesh, Nepal, Ramallah, and many other locations. Our goal is to support alternative media everywhere, with local specificity and pages.

We also have an exceptional system for organizing our content, with unique cloud tag control panels for all levels of our directory and for every article. 

This year we were funded to build what we call Congress pages. These provide a page for every member of congress, so articles, diaries and comments can be posted to those pages.

We're always happy to welcome new writers, diarists and commenters to our community. You don't have to be famous, but you do have to write well and bring up new ideas or angles on contemporary issues.

HB:     “Commenters”?

RK:     In the new media, people who comment on articles in the space below the article are an essential, integral part of the journalistic process. I will often publish a writer who I disagree with, who I may even doubt some claims because I believe that on OpEdNews, the community will fill in the gaps, dispute claims, and correct inaccuracies. WE are the media. That is a huge difference between media that are top-down, and who present a product that cannot be commented upon.

Getting legitimate criticism is part of the new media. You have to deal with it. I think, overall, it's great for journalism and getting to the truth and all the nuances of issues and stories. My philosophy is that a story doesn't have to be complete, doesn't have to cover all the bases, because we have thousands of members who can fill them in. After a lot of discussions, I've come to the conclusion that OpEdNews is, among high traffic sites, the most open and least censored site, in terms of the wide range of issues allowed to be discussed on the web.

We are seeking grant funding from foundations for general support and for several projects involving building an extremely high quality media that is peer reviewed, and also a social networking media site for students.

Submitters Website: www.insubordination.blogspot.com

Submitters Bio:

Hans Bennett is a multi-media journalist mostly focusing on the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal and all political prisoners. An archive of his work is available at insubordination.blogspot.com and he is also co-founder of "Journalists for Mumia," created to challenge the long history of corporate media bias, whose website is: Abu-Jamal-News.com