A Day in the Life of CounterPunch

Alexander Cockburn’s old Valiant parked outside of the CounterPunch business office in the Mattole Valley on California’s Lost Coast. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Yes, I hear you: we’re all getting more than a bit bored with the fundraiser. It’s tedious, intrusive and annoying. A necessary evil. But some of you are getting downright sadistic about the experience. For example, I got an email yesterday from “Chuck in Chillicothe”: 

Hey, St. Clair. I’ve had it with this shit. The least you could do is re-run that piece you wrote about your daily routine, the fasting, the excessive drinking, the legal demand letters, the threats from Sandernistas, you spending fruitless hours culling your inbox of hundreds of emails, though none, surely, so amusing as mine. Your pain gives me pleasure. 

Signed,
Chuck is in the Mail, from Chillicothe. 

Okay, Chuck, here it is, as it was written six years ago, before COVID, before Biden, before J-6, before Ukraine, before 420 PPM, before Gaza, before the end of the CounterPunch magazine, before turning 60, before the death of our Aussie, Boomer. Much has changed, but little for the better, as far as I can tell, except for the work of dozens of new writers who’ve joined our collective endeavor to describe what it’s like to live in a world ruled by an elite that seems intent on destroying for their own profit not only the fabric of human civilization but life on earth itself and, more importantly, to chronicle the global forces of resistance that have gathered together to stop them.

Don’t forget, my Gaza War Diary, appears every Saturday in CP +.

– JSC

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 a 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 p.m. to 11 a.m. I don’t recommend it.

I check the CounterPunch homepage to make sure all of the morning’s stories have been 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: Josh, 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’ victory over the Cubs and another about the four or five stories he’s editing today. 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 do. 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.

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 two of our largest donors. One of these donors, who had generously supported CounterPunch for 15 years, said that it’s time to see if we can swim against the current on our own. I told him we were all taking swimming lessons and were 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 a 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 page proofs for the next CounterPunch book, Against Charity by Julie Wark and Daniel Raventos. I’ve spent the last two weeks editing 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 feels 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 sheik, two US senators and the nation of Qatar. To name a few. We’ve never lost, knock 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 now thinks they sue over the slightest critique and litigate cash-strapped media 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 wave 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 prose styles. The experience can perplex readers who are used to grazing in the usual media feedlots of processed prose and artificially-colored opinions.

An issue of the old print edition CounterPunch magazine rolling off the presses in Arcata, California. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The phone rings at 7:30 a.m. 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 a.m. for nearly 20 years. I miss his friendship and his political voice. Alex would have had rich sport carving up Trump and his Democratic pursuers. This call, however, is for a radio interview on the California fires. I’ll do another interview at 11 a.m. on the fate of the Iran nuke deal and one at 3 p.m. on the Vegas shooting.

At 8:30 I got a call 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 encourage her to report it to the police, knowing they’ll do nothing.

It’s Thursday, the busiest day of the week for Josh and I. 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 to 25 stories on Thursday another 10 or so 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 plunged 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, which 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 and Haaretz. 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 desk, spruced up a bit, to get its picture taken. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

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 health days (though god knows we could use them) at CounterPunch. The website must go up.

At 1:30, I dive back into the editing and work steadily until my interview at 3. Victor Grossman has sent a piece from Berlin, as informative as ever. Murray Dobbin has written an easily digestible article on tax policy from his home in Powell River in 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 bump stocks will somehow quell mass shootings. 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 checked 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 six, I finish editing the last of the pieces for Weekend Edition and begin cooking dinner. I selected an odd 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 Côte 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 p.m. when I finish this column-cum-plea for money. I download my email for the last time and shutter the Macbook. It’s been a long, tedious day. The rain continues to lash at the window. The dog, still curled 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.

Boomer the Aussie, awaiting the end of the CounterPunch day, so he can take his final circuit around the block to ensure our canyon neighborhood is free for the night from ICE patrols,  real estate developers and Proud Boys. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

 

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3