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Editor’s Note: It Takes Everyone to Build a Newspaper

John Tarleton Oct 8

To publish a newspaper is to live a circular existence. Over the course of a month, there are writers to be contacted, story budgets to be updated, fundraisers to be organized, edits to be completed. Then there’s the final stretch of all-nighters with our production team as the pages are designed and proofed, headlines and captions written, final changes made and then — with the press of a computer key — the whole month’s work is sent to the printer.

It’s exhausting and exhilarating. And as one cycle ends, another beckons. But before diving back into all that, one of my favorite tasks is to go out for at least one day with our delivery truck and help drop off papers.

It’s eight hours of loping in and out of the archipelago of libraries and laundromats, bookstores, cafes and community centers that carry The Indypendent. Unplugged from the computer and traveling from one New York City neighborhood to the next, it’s a chance for me to see first-hand how well the previous issue moved, chat with the people who carry our paper and with readers who approach asking for a copy before I have even opened the bundle tucked under my arm. 

Each time I go out, I feel like I’m participating in a small miracle. Quite simply, a newspaper like this — with high editorial and design standards but unabashedly leftist, perpetually underfunded and volunteer-based — is not supposed to exist, at least not for very long.

Yet, here we are celebrating our 15th anniversary.

Since its inception, The Indypendent has told the stories of grassroots social movements and the causes they fight for. We’ve done so on a budget that has never exceeded $100,000 per year. With this issue, we thought we would take a moment to share our own story, reflect on what we’ve learned from our experiences and look to the future.

The 15th anniversary special section that runs from page 9 to 16 features highlights of our best coverage over the years. There are also personal stories from seven people who have worked on the paper, plus a recounting of some lessons learned along the way that may be of use to other organizations and activists as well.

Looking back over the past decade and a half, what stands out to me is that in a society where success is almost always defined in individual terms, the Indy’s ability to survive and thrive is a success story collectively authored by the hundreds of people who have worked on the paper as well as the hundreds more who have supported it financially.

What accounts for the fierce devotion of so many Indy volunteers and readers over the years? I think the answer lies in the larger media landscape, in which a handful of enormous media corporations dominate public life. In such a setting, this paper stands out as a rare media institution that belongs to “us” and can speak the truth in a way the corporate media never could.

As the best-selling author Naomi Klein said at a 2008 benefit on our behalf, “the Indy reminds us that we exist.” 

Seen from afar, the Indy has appeared with clockwork consistency every month, year after year. Nonetheless, the paper has been in a financially precarious condition for most of its history.

As we begin our 15th anniversary year, the Indy is at a crucial juncture. Our most basic need is to increase reader support by an average of $5,000 per month. This ask is detailed on page 16. It is the difference between us having to constantly divert our time and energy into shoring up our finances and being able to give our full attention to the work we really ought to be doing.

But we aspire to more than mere financial stability.

Thinking Big

Let us dream together for a moment about what a financially flush and fully turbo-charged Indypendent could mean for the New York left and the life of this city. With a budget of $400,000 a year, we could increase our paid staff, go biweekly, set up outdoor boxes and be at key subway stations, tripling our current 20,000 print run while dramatically increasing our online presence at indypendent.org. With $800,000 a year, we could go weekly.

This is both a lot of money and very little compared to the wealth sloshing around this city.

But what difference does a newspaper make? In New York, the answer is still quite a lot. Think of how the tabloids demonized the homeless this summer, manufactured the Times Square topless “scandal” and assisted the police unions in flipping the mayor — who is the father of a Black teenage son — from a cautious sympathizer with last fall’s Black Lives Matter protests into the bleating captive of the worst elements in the NYPD.  

Two years from now, the tabloids will move in for the kill, along with legions of 1 percenters, the police unions, the public education privatizers and others who want a Bloomberg/Giuliani-style restoration.

Now imagine having a thoughtful, fearless newspaper in New York that could offer a powerful riposte to the phony right-wing populism of the Post and the Daily News as well as the smug, out-of-touch liberalism of the Times. That paper could do some agenda-setting itself while reflecting and fostering the culture of hope and resistance that progressive social movements flourish in.

The Indy will always be the underdog. But, we’ve beaten the odds for 15 years and still have so much more room to grow. If you want to help us make something big happen, let’s be in touch. Meanwhile, we need to address the more immediate challenge of stabilizing this paper financially once and for all.

Enjoy reading the special section. If you feel inspired like we do, please heed the call on page 16 and become a sustaining member at whatever level works for you. There’s much more the Indy can achieve and whatever we do, it will be a success collectively shared by many.


RELATED COVERAGE:

Indy at 15: How to Build a Radical NYC Newspaper, in 15 Steps
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Indy at 15: The Highlight Reel of Our Best Coverage
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Indy at 15: Covering 9/11
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Indy at 15: ‘I Had Zero Experience’
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Indy at 15: Creating Space for Artists
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Indy at 15: A Photojournalist Finds Her Calling
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