Eyezine is dead: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

Eyezine is officially shutting down today, almost five years since it began in the winter of 2013.

We started in a small room in Calcutta, with the willingness to pursue truth-telling of hyperlocal issues being ignored by mainstream media, the same media now exposed for accepting bribes to peddle the government’s agenda. We grew to a team of 30 in a year, telling stories on feminist counterculture to mass civil disobedience. We wanted to hold powers to account, specifically as feminists in India reporting on gender violence in our own capacities through citizen journalism, relying on crowdfunding and the goodwill of our readers.

Along the way, we’ve broken the story on hokkolorob, where the West Bengal police denied sending riot police to detain 80 students, hospitalise 37, and sexually assault women at a peaceful protest against sexual assault; a story which gave us 100,000 readers in a month. We used the momentum to raise funds to organise India’s first of its kind national feminist convention Hysteria, at the Goethe-Institut in Kolkata.

Amidst death and rape threats from the far-right, sedition charges and server attacks, we’d extensively reported on human rights abuses in Kashmir, from the white papers to mass graves; followed the conflict in Bastar; interviewed people like Nobel Peace Prize nominee Parveena Ahangar and A Softer World; and broken the story on illegal land grabs in Kanha National Park.

Over time, we’ve been lucky to accumulate a fantastic and tireless group of staff journalists conducting breaking news reporting on Indian student movements amidst extreme violence, as well as columnists offering commentary on topics ranging from antifascism in the era of Trump and Modi, to acid attacks on Soni Sori. We’ve lost one of our most talented reporters to mental illness when the world became too difficult to continue in, with the rest of us tortured by the trauma of reporting on gender violence as a mostly female team entirely composed of sexual violence survivors.

Eyezine started out as an experiment in collaborative models of journalism, with the formation of Eye Art Collective, a feminist artivist group. We wanted to overhaul the accepted norms of reporting, where official accounts gain precedence over citizen or eyewitness or survivor accounts, where stories of sexual violence and acid attacks are pushed down the news agenda due to its commonplace-ness. And in that, we hope we have perhaps succeeded, by creating a first draft of beginnings of dissent and solidarity in Modi’s India, articulating difficult problems with nuance while offering hope.

But, as one of the first generation indie zines in India, Eyezine failed in many ways: it could not hold out against the advertising model of the digital economy.

Since 2016, our revenue had been declining while our writers have been burning out. I left the country and my editorial role in Eyezine at the end of that year, along with some of our best writers, to find funds elsewhere. This slowly signalled the end of this project. For those looking to embark on similar journeys, here is a brief summary of lessons learnt:

The first: find articulate, driven storytellers, and give them the tools and confidence to tell the truths around them. We set up a website, outlined our audience, called out for good writers and trained ourselves in reporting ethics, web management/CMS, and social media strategy. It worked.

The second is to contextualise the present: by finding stories of cultural value and political significance that urgently needed telling or hide in plain sight, and communicate them effectively. We started looking in our own backyard to bear witness to the times, in the hopes of reducing the cognitive dissonance caused by the echo-chamber of mainstream media.

The third was to come together as a women majority and women-led team, to report on the stories that personally and politically affected us. It is possible to be objective about facts without being neutral, because the truths of structural oppression through gender, class, and caste in India are not neutral, but have very clear boundaries of oppressor and oppressed; and it is naive to pretend otherwise.

We started out as grassroots activists, using journalism as a vehicle of social change, and ended up as journalists, bringing perspective into activism.

We are 650 articles strong, solely due to the support from our reader-base and subscribers.

The website will remain up as an archive to discuss the past. It is now time to end this story and pursue different ones.

So long, and thanks for all the fish!

Manisha Ganguly, executive editor and founder, Eyezine.

Update, May 30:
A day after this post went up, allegations of sexual assault were made public against Aranya Gupta, one of the designers associated with Eyezine. Due to the seriousness of the matter, the gravity of the allegations, and our politics as a feminist collective, we have severed ties with him.

It is important to not let feminist efforts such as Eyezine be eclipsed by those who seek to subvert its politics, nor shrink away from the reality of sexual harassment and its prevalence. As Eyezine is no longer operational, we will not be commenting further.

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