This is our annual fund drive, a nerve-wracking time of year for all of us. CounterPunch has been surviving for more than twenty years on small (even micro) donations from our readers and subscriptions to CounterPunch magazine. We have never once farmed for grants or sought out corporate or government backing. But our margins are so slim that we never quite know whether we’re going to make it to mid-October to refill our coffers for another 12 months. Asking for money is awkward and even a little degrading. We’re journalists, not Wall Street hustlers.
So I thought I’d take a few minutes to give our most devoted readers a glimpse into the inner workings of CounterPunch: What we do and why we are being so rude as to interrupt your reading habits and beg you for money. I encourage you to read it and give us feedback and, of course, make a contribution to our work at this fraught hour when, as Cockburn used to say, the wolf is at our door.
The CounterPunch website continues to be the engine that drives the entire CounterPunch train-providing sustenance for books, magazine, staff, dogs, goats and cats and other dependents. Traffic to the site grows exponentially, despite the proliferation of CounterPunch imitators across the web over the last few years. But so do the basic costs. Our business manager Becky Grant told me the yearly cost of maintaining the website has increased by 3,000 times since we the CounterPunch homepage first went online in 1997 – no that’s not a typo! Unfortunately, our contributors haven’t kept pace. The CounterPunch website is supported by fewer than 5 percent of our daily readers. This has to change for us to survive in the next few years as some of our other primary sources of funding dry up (or, to put it more harshly, die off). If each one of our online readers gave $5 a year we wouldn’t have to ask for money again for 5 years!
Over the course of the last year, we invested an enormous (for us) amount of money and time totally renovating the website, shifting it to new servers and a new format that makes it easier to read on smartphones and palm devices. Why do this, I complained to the rest of the CP staff. (I’m the oldest and grumpiest CP staffer and hostile to change.) I never read anything but baseball scores and weather forecasts on my iPhone, so I was shocked to learn from our web designer Andrew Nofsinger that nearly 40% of CounterPunch readers access the site through portable devices-I’m sure the NSA knew this well before we did. All told, we’ll probably spend more than $100,000 on this great three year transition, which also includes our new user-friendly store. Even I had to admit that the initial results have been positive. No major breakdowns or crashes. The site runs faster. It is easier to read and share stories and is much more flexible. Crucially, the archive database, though still a work-in-progress, is an immeasurable improvement over the hide-and-seek experience of the old site. Of course, some of our readers have griped about the changes, though perhaps none more shrilly than my own Luddite howls against technological innovation.
The website also now features CounterPunch Radio, the weekly podcast hosted by Eric Draitser. There have been more than 20 episodes featuring lively discussions with CounterPunch writers and others, including John Pilger, Kathy Kelly, Mike Whitney, Michael Hudson, Glen Ford, Pepe Escobar and more. Like the website, the CounterPunch podcast is offered as a free service to our readers. The audience grows each week.
We have also scored some major scoops this year and even claimed a few scalps, most prominently perhaps the scalp of the US Army following Roberto Gonzalez’s devastating exposé of extensive plagiarism from racist and bigoted sources in its latest “cultural” field manual. A few days after Roberto’s piece went up, the Army quietly withdrew the manual. The story was soon picked by the mainstream media, including a scathing piece in Stars & Stripes. Just a week earlier, Alison Weir’s essay dismantling a Washington Post piece on Israel’s nuclear arsenal was faxed to the ombudsman of the Post five minutes after it appeared on CounterPunch by Iran’s ambassador to the UN. The author of the Post article called Alison, interviewed her and wrote a follow-up correcting his “errors and omissions.” So, a few recent triumphs to feel good about.
As most of you know, all of the content on the website is edited and posted Joshua and myself. Editing CounterPunch is a 60-hour a week job-on a slow week. We run about 400 stories every month, and this rate of publication has been increasing over the last year, in part because of crises on multiple fronts and in part because the increased competition has required us to beef things up a little. I don’t know of any other website with our traffic and our international audience that operates on such a slim staff and meager budget.
CounterPunch has a truly global reach, not only in the issues and events we cover, but also in our writers. We feature regular contributors in England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Russia, Ukraine, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Chiapas, Ecuador, Bolivia, Japan, South Korea, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Australia, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, Lebanon, Israel, West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Egypt, South Africa, Eritrea, Algeria and, yes, even Iceland. This spring our contributor Barbara Aziz sent daily dispatches from the earthquake zone in Nepal. When the unexpected happens, we usually have someone on the ground to write about it that same day.
As a result, CounterPunch enjoys a global readership and our stories are now translated daily into German, Spanish, Arabic, Farsi, Italian, French, Laotian, Russian, and Portuguese – and probably languages we don’t even know about.
Moreover, we remain committed to covering cultural issues that are avoided by many “political” websites: book reviews, film and music reviews, travelogues, interviews, historical reflections, longer “think pieces,” poetry and even a little fiction.
In the last year we have attracted some gifted new writers to CounterPunch, including Henry Giroux, Heidi Morrison, Susan Babbitt, ecologist Louisa Willcox and Michael Welton, a philosophy professor from Vancouver, whose initial piece for us, “The Problem of Israel in the Modern World,” received more than a million hits.
Joshua and I also remain committed to having CounterPunch be a home for younger and “non-traditional writers.” Some of our favorite new and young writers to keep an eye on are: Jason Hirthler, Eoin Higgins, Michelle Matissons, Andy Smolski, Danielle Follette, Ben Debney and Alyssa Rochricht. Keep an eye on all of their work. We’ve also run excellent pieces by long-haul truckers, train engineers, fire-fighters and public school teachers.
One of the challenges of publishing a print magazine in an era when print seems to be dying is how to make the magazine feel like something different than you get on the tidal wave of the web. We have an ace in our deck in the genius of Nick Roney, who designs the cover art. Nick’s covers are truly exceptional and give the magazine a real identity. People are always raving about the cover, even when they have gripes about the contentious nature of the content. So, kudos to Nick!
The other challenge, and this has been a stiffer one, has been to make the content of the magazine a little different that what people find daily in the online edition. In general, this has meant that the magazine articles have been a little longer and more prone to “think pieces” than the website.
The long-term question is whether to keep publishing a print edition or move totally to an electronic edition sent by email and/or available to subscribers online. This transition, though, may be forced upon us soon. One of our major donors has reminded us that the expiration date on his exceptional financial commitment to CounterPunch is fast approaching. So we are bracing for some Shock Therapy in the near future. One of the austerity measures that we will certainly have to consider imposing is jettisoning the print edition, even though it is one of the things that distinguishes CounterPunch from our competitors (friendly and otherwise.) So, input on this from our readers in the next few months will be greatly appreciated by all of us.
By the way, I asked my wife Kimberly earlier in the week to use her librarian skills to track the number of citations of CounterPunch articles in academic publications. She was able to conduct a few searches in Google Scholar, Web Science, the MLA and other citation indexes. The number was stunning to me: more than 45,000 citations and that’s only from peer-reviewed publications!
Why publish books? We hear this over and over again. We publish books because we all like books. We like to read. We like the permanence of books and because there are few publishers left who publish books on radical politics, economics and culture. That said, it’s a challenge.
For the past two years we have been trying a new model for CounterPunch. It’s the same basic model advanced by O/R Press, run by Verso’s old boss Colin Robinson and John Oakes, formerly of Thunder’s Mouth and NationBooks. The idea is that books are sold outside the traditional monopolistic distribution network by using print on-demand and electronic publishing formats for e-readers like the Kindle.
We’ve now published three books in this basic format: Saul Landau’s detective novel, Stark in the Bronx, produced in a mad rush so that Saul, afflicted with a vicious form of cancer, could see a copy before he died; Michael Arria’s Medium Blue: the Politics of MSNBC and last fall the definitive book on racist police violence, Killing Trayvons.
In the spring, we published Ron Jacobs’ fine book on the cultural politics of the 70s: Daydream Sunset. Josh’s wife, Chelsea Mosher, designed a fantastic cover and donated her work to us.
We spent large portions of my time this spring editing our summer and fall books: Paris historian Diana Johnstone’s scathing assessment of the foreign policy misadventures of Hillary Clinton, titled Queen of Chaos, and the economist Michael Hudson’s ground-breaking book on the financial crisis, Killing the Host. Both of these books are reaching wide audiences.
Other projects we’re gearing up for in the near future include a collection of pieces that Alex Cockburn and I wrote over the years on the rise of neoliberalism, titled An Orgy of Thieves. We are also going to publish Zen Economics, a collection of Rob Urie’s essays, a short book called The Trouble with Charity by the feisty Barcelona duo of Julie Wark and Daniel Raventos, A Red Guide to Washington State and a book on the environment titled Heatstroke: Dispatches from a Dying Planet that Josh and I have been working on for several years.
Over 21 years, I think we’ve proved our worth. We’ve built CounterPunch into an intelligent, vital and radical presence around the world. But we can only move forward with your financial support. There’s no safety net for us. CounterPunch is run by a dedicated skeleton crew. We’re a lean operation with no waste to prune. Every dollar you can manage is crucial to our survival.
All donations are tax-deductible. So, please, help as much as you can.
Jeffrey St. Clair
PO Box 228
Petrolia, CA 95558