On the U.S. Left (III)

Julio Huato juliohuato at hotmail.com
Fri Nov 14 16:39:24 MST 2003

Eli and Tom warn about the difficulties of building a national daily

I'm fully aware that we, as individuals, may not have now the political
credibility and financial credit to pull it off.  My point is to urge us all
to move seriously, swiftly in that direction -- to think bigger.  There's a
lot of talent among us.  We need to move ahead.

A daily, national newspaper will be a weapon in the battle of ideas, an
organizational tool, and a hub to ensure unity in action.  Each of us
individually needs to make more contacts.  This medium is a superb,
economical way to communicate with one another.  There's no precedent in
history.  Let's use the power of this medium to unite.

Can we make sure that the editorial line remains committed to the workers'
interests and not the agenda of some rich donor(s) or group?  We can't
beforehand.  Risks and compromises are inherent to every meaningful human
endeavor.  As we go, we'll have to balance risks, set the editorial
parameters of the newspaper, and stick to them.

Action jump-starts the thought-action feedback cycle.  The fear of
deviations is an obstacle to action.  Slapping people around for their
daring to respond to the practical demands of the struggle is like the
obsessive behavior of parents so afraid their toddlers may get hurt that
they restrain them and end up crippling them.  We need to have a sense of
proportion and charge against the enemy, not against each other.  Under
today's conditions in the U.S., self-marginalized "radical" bitching is the
worst, most useless, most pathetic political deviation.

Building a robust economic basis is pre- and co-requisite to sustain the
struggle.  It's a process that runs parallel to the political movement.  At
no point there's a vaccine against deviations on the editorial or political
line.  That's the proverbial car ahead of the horse problem.  No guarantees,
but action, commitment to goals, and more action.

True, a newspaper is a business operating in a "competitive" environment.
It'll have to strive to limit outlays and expand revenues.  On top of that,
our environment is not sheer economic competition, which is nasty enough,
but economic competition turbocharged by class struggle.  This is an
environment many times more vicious than that facing mainstream newspapers.
Yet it is clear to me that there are people among us with financial talent
and political wits to take up the challenge.

The biggest challenge is to persuade ourselves.  If we're not hot, how can
we warm up other people to the idea?

The economics of a daily, national newspaper is obviously very complicated.
But, it's not intractable.  I see a large number of small-circulation, local
tabloid newspapers.  Almost every town has one.  They are reasonably fancy
in their format, have several sections, thick Sunday issues, etc.  Their
revenues must come mostly from their meager local readership and local
advertising, and they must be enough to justify themselves financially.  How
did they fund their initial investment if their readership was expected to
be small?  How do they keep their operations?  Do they farm out their
printing and distribution?

It's people on board that we lack.  That's why it's so important to reach
out, to broaden our network, to unite.  Even if we are to have mere replicas
of the local-newspaper model cloned in every big city in the U.S., we'll
make it!  Offer good advertising deals to small businesses, align a strong
team of sales arm twisters and political fundraisers, advertise the paper,
hook people up, and deliver high quality since the first issue.  Some cities
would need to be subsidized, say, Houston or Dallas.  With a numerous
readership in San Francisco, New York City, and Boston, we can handle that.

We'll need to break through both in the market and in the political front.
We need to advance in both fronts, which as far as we're concerned are one
and the same.  We need -- as Lenin liked to say -- to "learn how to do
business."  And we need strategic and tactical discipline.

Let me re-state it once again: We need a workers' daily national newspaper
that can compete with the New York Times or the Washington Post in quality
but with appeal to a broad range of workers.  A high quality newspaper
committed to high standards of journalistic objectivity.  The technical,
journalistic quality of the newspaper needs to be at the center.  That's a
necessary, not sufficient, condition for the paper to succeed.  Ultimately,
its success will be measured by its ability to advance the interests of
workers in the long haul.  I see every morning in Brooklyn (where I live),
workers reading avidly the Daily News, El Diario, and some piece of garbage
published by R. Murdoch.  They crave for reliable information.  The reason
why our business model will work is because it's about their lives.

The ways in which the project can fail are too many to count.  Let's
brainstorm about how to make it happen: How will it work?  How will we
minimize the risks of political derailment while carrying the project
forward?  What kind of financial model will make it happen?  How will we
approach/persuade other groups, individuals, and forces to participate in
its inception and operation?


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