Woodworking: Finding the hook that keeps them reading all about itWith long-established newspapers folding (Capitol Times in Madison) or going into chapter 13 (Star Tribune in Minneapolis), there’s lots of talk about how to save the institution that has been so important to the fostering of democracy in these United States.
By: Dave Wood, columnist, River Falls Journal
With long-established newspapers folding (Capitol Times in Madison) or going into chapter 13 (Star Tribune in Minneapolis), there’s lots of talk about how to save the institution that has been so important to the fostering of democracy in these United States.
One idea that’s been floated is to establish non-profit newspapers that are not tied to Wall Street’s rapacious demand for more and more profit, a fact of life for several years. For instance, the Star Tribune is still showing a profit, despite its bankruptcy filing.
I thought for years the non-profit idea was so much kerfuffle. But last year along came Minnpost.com, a non-profit electronic newspaper made up of retired Star Tribune employees paid on a freelance basis (no insurance, retirement or other perks).
I wrote for it last year but figured its days were numbered. I was dead wrong. Minnpost.com is alive and flourishing, depending not so much on ad revenue as on donations from people disenchanted with the product provided by conventional sources.
I should have figured this out long ago. My old employer, the Star Tribune, at one time owned the venerable old magazine, Harper’s. The Star Tribune lost millions every year keeping Harper’s afloat.
It finally gave up and sold the whole shebang for one dollar to the non-profit MacArthur Foundation, a charitable organization known for its huge financial grants to thinkers, writers and artists.
Big changes were in store. The new management trimmed back its staff. I had occasion to visit Harper’s offices in Greenwich Village after the change. More than half the offices were empty, vacated by the old overstuffed staff.
But the magazine continued to appear every month. MacArthur lowered subscription rates, held on to its popular editor Lewis Lapham, put famous writers on its editorial board and paid them only when they contributed a story.
So how do they do it with such a slender staff? They do it with reproductions heretofore unavailable to the reading public, material contributed by various agencies.
So all the slender staff need do is set the type, lay out the pages, and print and mail out, not from New York City, but Red Oak, Iowa.
One of the popular features is its “Index,” 40 items printed each month, some trivial some very revealing, a practice now being imitated all over the country. Here’s a sample from the March, 2009 issue:
“Amount Italy spent last year to bail out its Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano cheese industries: $65,000,00” (trivial, but also revealing.)
“Number of times that Caroline Kennedy said ‘you know’ during a 45-minute interview with the New York Times: 138” (trivial unless you value succinct expression).
Most East Coast magazines lean to the Left. Harper’s plays no favorites. If some agency sends it a humdinger, it gets printed, whatever the source’s political ideology.
Here’s a 1968 telephone conversation, Lyndon Johnson to Democratic presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey, in which the departing president tells HHH he should choose Daniel Inouye as his running mate because of the Hawaiian senator’s “empty sleeve.”
The conversation was released in December 2008, by the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON: If you’re not going to the South, I would really look over the West really good, because I’m telling you the people got fed up with the East. And you can do New York and Pennsylvania with what we gonna do with the Jews and what we gonna do with the Italians by being friendly? Now this would be a natural if it would work, and nobody ever mentioned it to me, but I never saw as many compliments on anybody as I did on Inouye. He answers Vietnam with that empty sleeve. He answers your problems with Nixon with that empty sleeve. He has that brown face. He answers everything in civil rights and he draws a contrast without ever even opening his mouth. I’ve never known him to make a mistake. He’s got cold clear courage. He’s as loyal as a dog as you must have observed. He’ll never undercut you. He ought to appeal to the West. He ought to appeal to the world. He’s young and new. And I think your secretary could call him and say, would you please go to Utah, South Carolina, San Francisco? And I believe he would go to all of them and never lay an egg. Lady Bird said, watching him on television, this is the best man I know of except Hubert. He’s asked nothing, he’s done nothing, but he wouldn’t be miserable in the place…the southern boys — I wouldn’t irritate them more than I had to — they all love Inouye. I don’t know why. I think one thing is that they just look at him and they can’t fuss at him and say he doesn’t love peace. In other words, the South can’t get mad at because he’s colored, and he would appeal to every other minority because he is one, I think you have to be satisfied, and I don’t want you to think you have to satisfy me. Inouye doesn’t appeal to you?
HUBERT H. HUMPHREY: Well, I just don’t believe so. He does, Mr. President, but I guess maybe it just takes it a little too far, too fast.
Old conservative Humphrey. That was all news to me.
Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Call him at 426-9554.