Yesterday afternoon I had one of the most moving experiences in my time here as editor. It was on a conference call with readers and friends committed to helping The Nation deal with the "Great Postal Crisis of 2007."
Let me backtrack for a moment. In these last weeks, the response from thousands of people to our plea for help as we face this crisis has been nothing short of astonishing. When we turned to our loyal readers and friends, we expected your contributions to help just a little to pay the $500,000 increase in our annual postage bill. (NOTE: This blog was updated May 22, 2008, to correct an error. I originally referred to our $500,000 postage bill.) But your overwhelming response has humbled us--and it has also emboldened us in our fight to overcome this corporate-driven, Time-Warner drafted, unfair and anti-democratic rate increase.
On Wednesday afternoon, Teresa Stack, John Nichols, Bob McChesney and I "met" with 100 of you on an hour-long conference call--to discuss our thoughts and plans, hear your questions and ideas, and thank you in person. There was a powerful sense of community--of allies and supporters who understand how important it is to invest in a strong, free, independent and truth-telling media. The questions that poured in were savvy, on-target and revealed how informed all of you are about the threat facing small, independent media. Your calls flooded in from across the country--from Illinois and Florida, to California and North Carolina. (There was even a call from Nova Scotia.) A caller from Northern Georgia identified herself as "a member of an oppressed minority" --a liberal in one of the reddest of red states. "Keep sending us courage," she implored. "Tell us what to do. Not everyone wants more Time-Warner!"
McChesney outlined our legislative strategy--explaining that we hope by the Fall to have draft legislation around which we will mobilize a massive grassroots campaign. He spoke of his cautious optimism--"we can win this" with the right allies in Congress and organized people overtaking organized money. But, we also leveled with our friends and readers on the call, explaining that we will undoubtedly face a difficult transition in this next year or more--a period when it will be crucial to have the resources and stability to mount an effective challenge to overturn these rates and rules and to counter the power of high priced lobbyists and corporate power.
Teresa spoke of the coalition she has worked to put together--a transpartisan group of about two dozen political and cultural magazines, of the left and the right, religious and secular, (National Review, American Conservative, Weekly Standard, Mother Jones, Commonweal, The Progressive, Christian Science Monitor, American Prospect). She laid out how these small publications are working together to mobilize our combined readership to petition congress and the postal authorities, to get mainstream media coverage on this issue, and to work with the public interest group Free Press for legislative relief for this class of magazines.
John Nichols spoke of the importance of a vibrant print press--as one way to maintain connectedness in atomized times. One caller told us that his copy of The Nation never ever goes in the trash; instead, it is passed around from friend to friend, family member to member, neighbor to neighbor.
We spoke of the investment in quality journalism the Nation makes, week in and week out--Jeremy Scahill's investigative reporting on "Blackwater" and the blight of 21st century contractor/ mercenaries; we spoke of the importance of Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian's eight month investigation on "The Other War" Military Veterans Speak on the Record About Attacks on Iraqi Civilians"; and the impact of Joshua Kors' cover story about how the Army is discharging maimed vets with misdiagnosed "personality disorders" in order to deny them disability compensation. (On July 25th, the House Veteran Affairs Committee is holding hearings --sparked by Kors' Nation investigation. And the musician Dave Matthews has launched a massive petition drive inspired by Kor's reporting.) One caller concurred with McChesney's point that most of the original material online and most of the articles that bloggers are blogging about come from ink on paper.
At times, the call had the feel of a spirited seminar on postal policy and how it formed the underpinning of a vibrant democracy. McChesney, for example, spoke of how this radical restructuring that small publications are now facing could end up silencing the rich and diverse voices those Founding Fathers intended to foster when they created the national postal system. The names of Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson came up throughout the call! And at moments, McChesney and Nichols, co-founders of the invaluable Free Press media reform group, were so eloquent and passionate in their comments about the importance of fighting and overturning this rate increase that I will forever think of them as the Tom Paine and Paul Revere of the media & democracy movement.
This call was a first for us. We were unsure how the technology would work. We worried about all sorts of glitches--that we'd lose your calls or miss your comments. We wanted to make sure that we answered your questions, addressed your concerns and communicated the urgency and political and democratic significance of this issue. Miraculously, all went smoothly.
Yesterday, we took an important first step in building the community to fight this unfair increase. It was also a moving experience for all of us--a chance to step away from the hard slog of putting out a weekly magazine and listen to readers and friends express their dedication and affection for the magazine. It didn't hurt that all of the concerns and suggestions and support were so smart, helpful and welcome! We asked for feedback at the end of the call--and meant it. We've already received many emails. (Click here if you'd like to add your support and be involved in future calls.)
(Let me give you a snippet from one of the emails that poured in after our call--this one from Miriam Thompson of North Carolina: "Thank you for your excellent presentations on the corporate context of the struggle and thank you for taking my call. I have been a Nation reader forever....love all of your work...In the meantime, I will spread the word about the call and connect it to the efforts of big corporations in North Carolina (including Time Warner) to restrict broadband access by independent media stations. Of course these corporations have done nothing to increase access to rural areas. But we will help connect the dots: cable and postal. And I will contact my Congress member and make sure he is one of the FIRST sponsors of the legislation you are pursuing.)
I'm a great believer in what the great Chicago radio host and small "d" democrat Studs Terkel likes to say: Action engenders hope. In that spirit, the call yesterday was the first act in building a pro-democracy movement to ensure that free and independent media not only survives but thrives at a moment when it is needed more than ever.