by Gilles d'Aymery
(Swans - February 14, 2005) Here's how I concluded my plug on November 15, 2004 on behalf of Bruce Anderson's new weekly paper: "I can't assure you that the world would be better off if it had legions of Bruce Andersons scattered all over the planet, but without hesitation I can guarantee you America would; and so will you when you read him."
Well, you aren't going to read him anymore, at least not in the AVA Oregon!. The paper has headed for the chopping block. Bruce pulled the plug precisely three months after he launched it, when he warned that he had just about that much time to make the paper self-supporting "before [drowning] in Visa-Master's frigid seas." He wrote then, "This paper will either pay its bills fast, or it'll die fast."
It took 14 issues. The bills accumulated. In a small mourning box on the front page of the February 3 edition, Bruce launched this laconic bombshell:
This is the final edition of AVA Oregon. I'm out of money, and out of business. I could borrow but I have no way of paying it back. Start-up costs were quadruple what I'd expected. I think the paper would have caught on in a year or so if I'd had the capital to hold out. I didn't. AVA Oregon had a cadre of writers as good as any in the country. Circulation was slow and steady, but too slow to sustain the enterprise until it became self-supporting. Recent subscribers will get a refund when I've cleared away the accrued financial wreckage. I will remain in Eugene from where I will continue to contribute to and help edit my former paper in California. I will also be working on some writing projects independent of journalism.
He had on three or four occasions indirectly mentioned his financial struggle; the last time two issues ago, on January 20, 2005, when he wrote, "If I weren't in the newspaper biz, and I probably won't be in a few weeks given the ever larger gap between expenditures and income..." before going on with one of his genial hyperbolic rants against the Internet. ("A global swamp of misinformation, with literally every techno-savvy outpatient in the world weighing in on all the subjects, especially current events, that most agitate the mentally fragile. Unless you think the scroll is a major step forward, reading writing on the net is, objectively, a huge steps backwards, and give me papyrus over a machine every time.")
Now, who could have thought that a few weeks meant two...? And how tough these few weeks must have been for Bruce and Ling Anderson -- to come to the realization of the inevitable and throw in the towel...
The cause for pulling the plug is given by Alexander Cockburn, the old friend of the fallen (but not buried). Bruce needed $12,000 dollars to get the paper through to November 2005. Twelve thousand dollars, that's what Antiwar.com raised on the dreaded Internet in three days this past week. CounterPunch may have raised twice as much in their December 2004 fund raising drive... I understand that Bruce got a line of credit somehow but he felt that either the interest was exorbitant or that he could not repay the capital, or both.
What I do not understand is:
a) Why his nephew, Robert Mailer Anderson, who's swimming in tons and tons of money, did not advance him this relatively modest sum, (presuming Bruce ever asked) and,
b) Why he pulled the plug so suddenly without calling upon his readers and friends to help him out, and/or look for partners in his endeavor?
I know for a fact that Jan Baughman and I would have done everything humanly and financially possible to help him, as we did by repetitively recommending his paper to Swans' readers and contributors, and by sending him articles -- no strings attached and certainly no money exchanged (but for a free six-month subscription and another yearly one that we paid in full) -- from the very first issue on; some of them he published; others he didn't.
In hindsight, I should have put two and two together. He was no longer acknowledging the pieces I sent (even when he published them) or answering simple queries about how things were going (hey, he loathes e-mail, too!). But I'm not a great reader of tealeaves... However, I was a great fan of his paper; would not miss an issue; read it entirely from front to back. He had assembled in short order a pool of excellent writers who wrote about stuff one can't find in the main (and local) media, from George Beres, to Nicholas von Hoffman, the inimitable Bruce Patterson, good ol' Fred Gardner, and of course, among many others, Zack Anderson... That's what a paper is all about -- a friendly companion inhabited by many varied voices that only a first-class editor can pull together.
Damn, it hurts!
Sure, Bruce will contribute more often than not to the Anderson Valley Advertiser; and, if I hear Monsieur le Muckraker himself (Alex Cockburn) correctly, he'll become "a regular columnist for the CounterPunch website" -- talk about irony for someone who can't bear the Internet and the Web! (That said, we have a couple of openings on Swans!) So, he'll be around, but not his paper; and that's a world of difference.
Look around you. We are drowned into conformism, surrounded by the blandest of the bland so-called "news," mostly infomercials, held hostage by commercial interests -- the tyranny of the purse. Local papers in small-town America are practically all corporate owned, often by out of state interests. Open one and you've opened them all, from Bangor, Maine, to San Diego, California; from Key West, Florida, to Bellingham, Washington -- same insipid news, same ads, same pr, same bromide... Journalists have become politically correct robotic bureaucrats regurgitating the party line, the most persistent falsehood of our times, that all you need is money (and profits). As Progressive Review's Sam Smith, one of the few remaining iconoclasts and truly independent journalists, puts it, "Gone is the ground rule that once required social and political change to be covered -- even if the publisher didn't approve of it. Gone is the notion that if you made news, they would come. In an age of corporatist journalism, in which Peter Jennings has become the professional colleague of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, it no longer matters. News is just another item in the multinational product line with little value outside of its contribution to market share and other corporate objectives." (Why Bother? Feral House, 2001.)
Bruce Anderson brought a social conscience to his function, that of a journalist in the mold of an I.F. Stone. He covered the local news, and he commented on the affairs of our age. He kept denouncing the institutional corruption embedded in our governmental agencies (county, state), the pettiness of Chamber of Commerce diktats, the sanctimonious, holier-than-thou Lib-labs, the prison and education scams, and all the tin pot tyrants that build careers bleeding the polity like the leeches they are. Genial, friendly, humorous and generous on a personal level; once he donned his journalistic hat, he emulated Joseph Pulitzer's adage, "A newspaper should have no friends." Evidently, he was an irritant to the powers that be and collected enemies like other do stamps, which translated to fizzling advertising revenue, thus allowing him to be both truly independent...and poor!
I've often thought of an observation by Max Horkheimer that Louis Proyect once sent me: "A revolutionary career does not lead to banquets and honorary titles, interesting research and professorial wages. It leads to misery, disgrace, ingratitude, prison and a voyage into the unknown, illuminated by only an almost superhuman belief."
Bruce was not much into big "isms" but he certainly had an almost superhuman belief in the goodness of the people. His newspapers, both the Anderson Valley Advertiser and the AVA Oregon! reflected this belief. That he was unable to pull off his Oregonian venture is a sad testimony to the age in which we live.
But I am sure he'll be back one way or another; so from one idiot to another I say to him, Bruce, "know that my hands shall greet you when they might."
To conclude on a lighter note... Hey, in a few years I may e-bay one complete set of our 14 issues. Who knows, it may fetch as high as $12,000. Then Mr. Muckraker will be able to write a story about the "Greatest, Shortest-Run Weekly in the USA." When it happens, I promise, Bruce: I'll share the proceeds!
Peace to the cottages!
War on the palaces!