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A Day in the Life of CounterPunch

Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, standing before the Millennium Grizzly Bear, in Cockburn’s garden in Petrolia. January 1, 2001.

It’s six in the morning here in Oregon City. The sun won’t be up for another hour. Rain is pounding the windows, but I hear the tea kettle whistling. I make pot of Moroccan mint and settle behind the Mac, an old dog curled up at my feet and a black cat standing on the table brushing his back against the screen. There will be no breakfast. There hasn’t been any breakfast in two months. I’ve been hoodwinked into following an “intermittent fast,” which prohibits any food from 7 PM to 11 AM. I don’t recommend it.

I check the CounterPunch page to make sure all of the morning’s stories have posted, since they were edited and loaded into WordPress last night. Occasionally there are screw-ups, usually mine. All looks good so far. There are 15 new pieces today. A nice mix of stories ranging from Iran to Puerto Rico, the opioid crisis to the battle for Kirkuk.

Then I grit my teeth and download my email. There are 723 new messages in my inbox since I last checked eight hours ago. The count is a little higher than normal because of the annual fund drive. Every morning starts with a purge, wiping out the spam and the advertisements, the duplications, the bounces, the latest alerts on crisis actors in Vegas and thermite at Ground Zero. That leaves 548 messages that need my attention. First, I scan for advisories from the CounterPunch team: Joshua, Becky, Nathaniel, Deva and Nichole. Becky sent a note about yesterday’s totals from the fund drive. We’re down from last year by about 20 percent, even though the number of contributors has remained steady. The economy is harsher than anyone admits. The rising stock market only reflects how much wealth the one-percent has amassed at the expense of the rest of us. Many of our readers are living from paycheck to payday loan.

There’s a note from Nichole about books for potential review that have landed in Petrolia. I pick out four or five titles to be shipped north. Nathaniel writes to say that the debate over ANTIFA has flared up again on the CounterPunch social media platforms in response to Diana Johnstone’s most recent article. Deva says that a troublesome bug in the site’s shopping cart has been resolved. Josh sends a gloating email about the Dodgers’ domination of the Cubs and another about the four or five stories he’s editing today, before he assembles the email Blaster which will be sent off to nearly 40,000 CounterPunchers in a few hours. There are several group emails about CounterPunch business. We are all brainstorming about ways that we can make the fundraiser more effective, less annoying and end as soon as possible. None of us are professional fundraisers. None of us like asking for money or sacrificing staff hours and space on the website for this annual ordeal. But we don’t have any other options. We won’t sell ads and we don’t get big grants from liberal foundations.

Not many outlets that take our line on the Middle East or the vacuity of the Democratic Party. That’s one big reason there aren’t that many sites like CounterPunch, frankly. Another, of course, is that they don’t have our writers. We’re funded by our readers and only our readers. Live by the word, perish by the word.

Thankfully one of our longtime supporters has stepped up this week and promised to match every $100 or more donation up to $10,000 total. It is landing right on time, but will only make a dent in our modest goal if our readers pitch in.

We seem to scrape by every year, though some years are leaner than others. This has been a very lean year, partly because we’ve lost one of our largest donors, who had graciously supported CounterPunch for 15 years. He said that it’s time to see if we can swim against the current on our own. I told him we’re all taking swimming lessons and are intent on drowning as slowly as possible. But he was quite right. We now have more than two million unique visitors to the site every month. If each of them gave merely five dollars a year we wouldn’t have to run another fundraiser until 2030.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. Nearly three weeks into this annual fund drive we’ve received contributions from more than 2000 CounterPunchers. That’s a nice round number, but it represents only a tiny fraction of our readers. Even so, CounterPunch’s online edition remains a commons; it’s free to all who come and we intend to keep it that way as long as we can. If people like it, if they feel they need it, they’ll pony up the money to keep us afloat. We are compelled to survive amid the grinding swirl of the very market forces that we abhor and are seeking to undermine.

There’s also an email from our designer Tiffany sending the proofs for the next CounterPunch book, Against Charity by Julie Wark and Daniel Raventos. I’ve spent the last two weeks proofing it, rounding up blurbs from people like Mike Davis and Pankaj Mishra and finalizing the cover. It’s a terrific, ground-breaking volume and the design looks very sharp. There’s an email from Julie and Daniel saying they are working on the index from their home in Barcelona. We’re closing in. The hard work is done. It will feel good to have a new CounterPunch book out, especially one that will be more edifying and less infuriating than my book on the Sanders campaign.

Next, I scan in the inbox for any threatening legal letters. We’ve been sued in the past by a former CIA officer, a Saudi sheikh, two US senators and the nation of Qatar. To name a few. We’ve never lost, knock on wood. Still, the last time we were sued, the legal fees cost us $30,000 and the case didn’t even reach the deposition phase. Since the Gawker ruling, the situation for the independent press has become ever more perilous. Any aggrieved billionaire who sues over the slightest critique and litigates against cash-strapped media sites can force these outlets into bankruptcy. Trump, of course, is eager to lend presidential authority to this assault on the first amendment.

Fortunately, there are no demand letters this morning. But there was a torrent of hate mail, which is always more instructive to read than the rare herogram. “Why are you so soft on Putin?” “Why are you in Putin’s pocket?” “Your blind support of Assad is outrageous.” “Why did CounterPunch turn its back on the Syrian regime?” “ANTIFA are fascist scum.” “ANTIFA is the last line of defense against fascists.” “You guys are climate deniers.” “Why did CounterPunch abandon Cockburn’s critique of global warming science?” “You Bernie Bros are responsible for Trump!” “I’ve donated for many years, but not after St. Clair’s vile attacks on Bernie Sanders.”

I sympathize with the confusion. Unlike many political sites, CounterPunch doesn’t a have company line. The online edition of CounterPunch has always been a venue where different voices, on what can loosely be described as the “left,” can freely engage in fierce debates about politics, economics, war, racism, music and political movements. We’ve tried to make CounterPunch free from dogma and cant, but to keep it open for writers with fresh points of view and vivid writing styles. The experience can perplex readers who are used to grazing in the usual media feedlots of processed prose and artificially-colored opinions.

The phone rings at 7:30 AM. It’s the first call of the day. There will be dozens more before it finally goes silent. As usual, those early morning calls remind me of Cockburn. We talked every day at 7 AM for nearly 20 years. I miss his friendship and his political voice. Alex would have had rich sport carving up Trump, his deranged adherents and his banal Democratic pursuers. This call, however, is for a radio interview on the California fires. I’ll do another interview at 11 am on the fate of the Iran nuke deal and one at 3 pm on the Vegas shooting.

At 8:30 AM I got a message from one of our writers who’d received a very personal and detailed death threat mailed in a letter to her house over a piece she’d written on the NFL protests. We get similar threats every day, but this one had a chilling specificity to it. I encouraged her to report it to the police, knowing they’ll do nothing.

It’s Thursday, the busiest day of the week for Josh and me. This is the day we begin preparing Weekend Edition, which generally runs a slate of 45 stories. We’ve been collecting potential pieces over the week. Now the essays must be edited, the links inserted, photos selected, captions, headlines and sub-headlines written. We have to order the stories, write blurbs and load them all into WordPress. I usually edit about 20 stories on Thursday another batch early on Friday morning, waiting on some of our late-arriving regular contributors, such as the usually tardy but indispensable David Yearsley. Each story takes about 20 minutes to edit and load. That’s nine hours of steady work at the Mac. If nothing goes awry and something usually does.

After my first interview, I plunge in. Michael Hudson has sent a penetrating essay that he meant to deliver as a speech in Beijing at a conference marking the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. But his flight fell through. Beijing’s loss will be CounterPunch’s gain. From his home base in the Palestinian town of Nazareth in northern Israel, Jonathan Cook has sent a searing story on Harvey Weinstein and the politics of Hollywood. It’s sure to unnerve some timid readers. The anthropologist and journalist Barbara Nimri Aziz sends a note asking me to hold a spot for her. She’s been on the phone all week with acquaintances inside Kirkuk who have given her first-hand accounts of the Iraqi military’s takeover of the town. It should prove to be another rich palette of stories.

At noon, I take a break for lunch. The first protein of the day is a chunk of sockeye salmon I made for dinner last night. It’s even better cold. I wash it down with a can of Tecate and skim the headlines of the New York Times, the Independent, London Review of Books and Ha’aretz. I take the dog for a walk in the rain. We return soaked and cold. I write a few emails to writers reminding them of the deadline for the next print issue of the magazine and write some thank you notes for contributors to the fund-drive.

My wife Kimberly calls and reports that she’s been diagnosed with severe bronchitis. We’ve both been battling a flu that has persisted for two weeks. Not good news. We’re damn lucky we have health care through her work at the university. So few American journalists enjoy this privilege, which should be a right for all. There are no sick days or mental heath days (though god knows we could use them) at CounterPunch. The website must go up.

At 1:30 PM, I dive back into the editing and work steady until my interview at 3. Victor Grossman has sent a piece from Berlin, informative as ever. Murray Dobbin has written an easily digestible article on tax policy from his home in Powell River, BC. The Irish painter and essayist Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin has sent a scalding story on the exploitation of violent imagery in Hollywood films. I sigh. It is accompanied by four photos. Each must be extracted, resaved in jpeg format, resized, cropped and captioned. Time-consuming, but worth it to drive home Caoimhghin’s argument.

The radio interview on the Vegas shooting turns contentious. I didn’t say what the host expected me to say. We argued over the power of the NRA and the futility of new gun laws in a nation with more guns than citizens. The callers were even worse, arm-chair liberals who live in a fantasy land and think that a ban on bumpstocks will somehow quell mass shootings. Frustrated, the host demanded: “Just what is your political philosophy, anyway?” “I’m anti-war and pro-grizzly bear,” I replied, flippantly. The experience was sour and deflating.

After the show, I work on a few more stories and then I am seized in panic. Damn. It’s 5 PM on Thursday and I haven’t written a word for my own column. I didn’t even have a topic. What the hell I am going to do? Becky temporarily distracts me with an update on the daily totals from the fund drive. Not awful, but not great, either. We’ve got to pick up the pace or confront a crisis. I quickly check the website traffic. It looks pretty robust. Diana Johnstone’s incendiary piece on ANTIFA and Richard Wolff’s revealing essay on the Obama/Trump economy are still buzzing, being read and debated from Oakland to Catalonia.

Around 6 PM I finish editing the last of the pieces for Weekend Edition and begin cooking dinner. I select an eccentric but delicious recipe from Alice Waters called “Chicken Under a Brick.” As I debone the chicken thighs, I continue searching for an idea for a column. Kimberly rings to say she’s snarled in traffic. I gripe about my predicament. She comes to the rescue by suggesting that I write about a typical day at CounterPunch. Would that be cheating, I wonder? Nah. I scribble some notes as the chicken sizzles and the rice steams.

After dinner, I retreat to my office with my Macbook and a bottle of Cote du Rhone and start pounding out this journal entry while listening to Kamasi Washington’s dazzling new record “Harmony of Difference. “Not wanting this to be a fact-free column, I do a little research. In the last year, CounterPunch has published 5432 articles by 3175 different writers. On average, we add 12 new writers to the site every week. This year we published writers on every continent, including Antarctica, and from every state, including Mississippi and North Dakota. The articles were read, posted, tweeted, re-tweeted millions of times by nearly 16 million individual readers. Those numbers are impressive, considering CounterPunch’s origins 24 years ago as a six-page newsletter published fortnightly for a few thousand subscribers. Many of those original subscribers stay with us to this day.

Over 24 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. After all these years, against all odds we’re still here. We’re still a lean operation with no waste to prune. Every dollar you can manage is crucial to our survival.

It’s 10 PM when I finish this column-cum-plea for money. I download my email for the last time and shutter the Macbook. It’s been an exhausting but productive day. The rain continues to lash at the window. The dog, curled once more at my feet, looks up at me, showing no inclination toward venturing outside into the torrent again. But we must, Boomer, we simply must go on.

***

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***

My memory is muddy. what’s this river that I’m in?

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

Spirit in the Rock: The Fierce Battle for Modoc Homelands by Jim Compton

The New Poverty by Stephen Armstrong

City of Nets: a Portrait of Hollywood in 40s by Otto Friedrich

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

Masseducation by St. Vincent

Hotel Voodoo by Chris Thomas King

Sonder Son by Brent Faiyaz

Subway Stories by Ilana Katz Katz

Live at Ronnie Scott’s by John McLaughlin & the Fourth Dimension

The American Dump

F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Isn’t Hollywood a dump — in the human sense of the word? A hideous town, pointed up by the insulting gardens of its rich, full of the human spirit at a new low of debasement.”

More articles by:

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter  @JSCCounterPunch

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