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My History With Alexander Cockburn and the Financial Future of CounterPunch

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CounterPunch Business Office Staff, From Left to Right: Nichole Stephens, Becky Grant, Deva Wheeler.

I started working for Alexander Cockburn 20 years ago. The main point of my position was to convert his hunt-and-pecked type-written articles into a digital format. It was a complicated exchange involving a range of technologies, as archaic as a fountain pen, lots of whiteout and typing paper and a MacPro 2700–a suit-cased sized beast that could send emails and upload to servers. Occasionally the articles were for CounterPunch, so when he told me he was moving the office to Petrolia and asked me to be his bookkeeper about a year after I started working for him, was only slightly familiar with the newsletter he and Ken Silverstein started a few years earlier. He said the job would take a couple of hours a week. It wasn’t long, and I was working closer to 20 hours a week in an office we shared in his little library. It was there that I introduced him to the all-new lollipop colored iMac, Microsoft Word, and got him set up with his first email account. It goes without saying that he was a quick study, and before long, he was teaching me quick-keys and shortcuts.

Little did I know that a decade later I’d be taking over the tradition of writing an annual “begging letter”. Five years on, he’s missed as much as ever, especially at fund drive time, when he was always wild with excitement of phone calls and letters from our “jolly” and “feisty” readers as he called all of you. Early on, Alex said to me that the main point of CounterPunch was to have fun. His idea of fun was punching out scathing and smart pieces on the evils of Washington and beyond, rallying like minds to a purpose, and impromptu board meetings where the wine flowed freely and he and his cohorts would exchange ideas and formulate editorial tactics that went way above my head. Those nights felt more like a turn-of-the-century (20th that is!) salon- you could have expected Gertrude and Hem to walk in at any moment. When he answered the phone for an incoming donation, and somebody would say, “Put me down for $10,” he’d say “don’t be a chiseler” and get them to pony up another $5. And it was all in good fun!

Still waxing sentimental, some of our charter members will remember CounterPunch’s humble beginning as a six-page, photocopied bi-weekly newsletter. Five years ago, we moved to our current magazine format, now 6 times bigger than our original newsletter, but still 99% ad-free. When most of our readers still didn’t own home computers, Jeffrey St. Clair boldly dove headfirst into the world of website building. No easy task in the mid-90s. Now, in the amount of time he spent painstakingly wading through the dial-up internet connection to post a half dozen articles with the old torturous software, he and Joshua easily post 2-3 times that a day and more than any sane person can read in a week for each weekend edition. These are all original articles you won’t find anywhere else. And, though there are some small holes in our vast archive due to the inevitable glitches from conversions between old and new set-ups, you can easily search all the pieces posted over the years – an incredible resource we encourage you to utilize. Jeffrey’s early commitment to the website has grown CounterPunch into the biggest radical left website on the internet today, averaging two million unique visitors a month.

You might think that means we’re rolling in it. But nothing could be further from the truth. While we’ve made it through some rough seas, our tiny ship cannot survive without the support and generosity of our readers.

Unfortunately, less than a half percent of our readers donate. Most media outlets have staff just for grant farming – not CounterPunch. We refuse to court big foundations, hobnob with the 1% and big corporations. We refuse to have others tell us how to operate. With our readership as large as it is, we could be funding our efforts with interest-based advertising, and every time you’d visit the CounterPunch site, you’d be stalked by creepy advertisements selling products you’ve only thought about ordering and your browsing info would be usurped by the sinister info stealers that hover in the background of many news sites. Hopefully, it won’t come to that. We prefer to use our “white space” to let you know about the books we’ve published and those by the writers that are featured on our site every week.

The reality is, the cost of putting a website has increased thousands of times since our homepage first went online in 1997! We first purchased our URL (counterpunch.org) for $9.99 and, besides Jeffrey’s endless labor, that was the cost of putting up the site. Now, to make the user experience on our website accommodating, we have to purchase endless new plug-ins, pay monthly fees for licenses and memberships and annual fees for every little bell and whistle. And all our readers take up loads of bandwidth. Take for example the new and improved search engine or author’s pages – each of these features represents hundreds of hours of labor maintenance costs.

This is the time of the year that we put out begging bowl and ask everybody to contribute what they can, in the form of the box at the top of our homepage and what some have called “rude, ugly, obtrusive, lame, f*d up.” But, we can’t take it down until we’ve raised the funds to cover another year of operations. Please chip in fast and hopefully, we’ll all be back to business as usual very soon.

CounterPunch survives on a lean budget with a small, intensely dedicated staff.  We don’t have retirement plans or paid vacations or six-figure salaries. Jeff and Josh work tirelessly to put up the vast array of articles you read every day. Josh puts together our free News Updates, where you get a quick view of what’s new on our site a few times a week. Nat disseminates our stories across social media, informing a new generation of readers that CounterPunch is where they can turn to read what the mainstream media won’t touch. Here in the business office, Deva, Nichole and I are making sure your orders are fulfilled, your receipts mailed, customer service is offered, the phone is answered, the bills are paid and the bureaucracies are dealt with. We hope to continue to produce the magazine and publish new books that few other publishers will even consider printing. We hope to continue publishing dozens of original articles daily on our website for millions around the globe for another year, but unless we reach our fundraising goals we simply won’t be able to stay afloat.

If you don’t like to donate online, please call our business office or mail in your donation today!

(800) 840-3683 or 707-629-3683 (please note- some calls are not reaching our office due to damaged caused by the Northern California wildfires. Voicemail is also not working correctly)

CounterPunch
PO Box 228
Petrolia, CA 95558

Sincerely,

Becky Grant

Business Manager

More articles by:

Becky Grant is CounterPunch’s longtime business manager.

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