MEDIA PROFILE: Disinfo.com welcomes the mainstream to its subculture slant

Disinformation has grown from subculture source to an outlet merging nonconformity with mainstream news - a point the website emphasizes in hopes of making PR pitches much less of a rarity.

Disinformation has grown from subculture source to an outlet merging nonconformity with mainstream news - a point the website emphasizes in hopes of making PR pitches much less of a rarity.

In 1996, with the X-Files craze just beginning, Disinfo.com was a just-launched web directory of news of the weird. It has since evolved into a multi-faceted company that runs the largest and most popular alternative news and underground culture destination on the internet, reaching about 18,000 new users a day. Its turf is the subculture of conspiracy theories, psychedelic drugs, the paranormal, and cults. Yet, despite its growth, which came while the dot-com universe collapsed around it, Disinformation hasn't made a splash in the PR world and, according to its editors, PR pros rarely approach them. "We're open to being approached by publicists, but our brand is a venerable old man on the internet, and we really don't get pitches that often," says founder and creative director Richard Metzger. "We wish there were more. Anyone with any hipster books, films, or DVDs is welcome to try." By this, Metzger is referring to movies like The Matrix Reloaded, the new Radiohead album, or political books. "We're not going to write about Legally Blonde 2, so people shouldn't waste their postage," he says. What would become Disinformation began in the early 1990s as an idea for a TV show. Metzger began pitching his hard-hitting, graphics-intensive television concept as a counter-cultural 60 Minutes. He was met with a unified response that his ideas were too controversial. Ironically, he eventually received funding from one of the world's largest media companies, TeleCommunications Inc. (TCI), now a part of AT&T. TCI paid $1.2 million for Disinformation's launch, as well as for placement on Netscape's then-hugely influential search page. Within three weeks of the site's launch, however, TCI's chief executive learned of Disinformation, and ordered that the site be closed and the funding be cut off. Razorfish, a global digital-solutions provider, eventually stepped in and acquired Disinformation, but Razorfish was destined for bankruptcy. Metzger and his business partner, Gary Baddeley, pulled out just before the collapse, and now fund the company on the strength of TV, home-video, and publishing ventures. "The site was originally a large link farm to all the weirdness we could find," says Metzger. "The original idea was to say 'If there are two sides to every story, then here are 30.' I was an info-maniac, and spent all my time scouring different media to find enough information to make people truly informed. We used a large range of sources from conservative to liberal, and gave it all an X-Files candy-coating. People would come to our site looking for UFOs and would find Noam Chomsky. It was as if we were illuminating a light bulb in total darkness." Disinformation's basic mission has always been to provide information on current affairs, politics, science, and covert issues that aren't covered by mainstream media outlets. But the site has undergone several changes since 1996. It began as a specialized web search directory, then turned into an original content site, and now it posts several original content stories, along with the most important daily news and information links that have been carefully selected from various media. "We're looking for solid political analysis and exposes," says editor-at-large Alex Burns. "A lot of the books we've done and the material we cover is about emerging social groups, the anti-globalization movement, and counter-culture icons. Our role is to take our underground, subculture ideas and bring them to the fore. We're really focused on people becoming the media and not being passive. We're trying to give people the ability to critique news sources." "Publicists should really understand who our audience is," says Metzger. "It's not the traditional audience that is looking at Loaded or FHM or Maxim. We have an audience that's interested in the non-conformist point of view." Still, Disinformation's area of interest isn't limited to muckraking. "There may be misperceptions about the range of topics we cover, which is actually quite broad," says Baddeley. "We're also interested in what is mainstream. If the folks who were promoting Radiohead's new album had pitched us, it would have worked well. We did a story on it anyway. We're not going to review 2 Fast 2 Furious or any type of cookbook. Although, if there happened to be an anarchist cookbook, that would be great." ----- Contact list Disinformation Address 207 W. 25th St., 4th floor, New York, NY 10001 Tel/Fax (212) 691-1605; 473-8096 LA Tel (818) 986-9817 Website www.disinfo.com Creative director Richard Metzger Publisher Gary Baddeley Editor Russ Kick Editor-at-large Alex Burns

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