Editorial 13.5, May/June/July 2011, by Deirdre Helfferich
Hit by a Truck
I have been publishing The Ester Republic for a good twelve and a half years now, and it has been great. With this issue, that’s 145 editions of a mostly-monthly paper since January 1999. Literally hundreds of writers, photographers, poets, cartoonists, and illustrators have contributed articles, limericks, riddles, quotes, images, letters, opinions, reviews, and so on. The content they have provided has made the Republic the quirky and entertaining rag that it is. Volunteer editors (Carla, Jackie, Lisa, Trey) have helped make it all happen, along with a couple of interns and very part-time and very occasional office staffers (marketing maven, office assistant). I’ve had a few ad salespeople over the years, too, and a stand-in publisher once or twice (thank you, Monique!). And of course, the inimitable Delivery Dude has been a bulwark to keep the Publisher standing, and has served as chauffer, caterer, and Defender of the Faith for the entire time. Without these behind-the-scenes people, the Republic (and its Publisher) could never have survived over the years.
But I’m tired. It’s hard to maintain an office, coordinate the work of numerous contributors, keep track of sales and royalites, get the mail out, pay the bills, and remember to water the plants when I am the only one in the office. I have Tom Snapp’s* desk here to inspire me, but even he had staff, and got paychecks for his work on a semi-regular basis. I have neither.
Brace yourselves, dear readers: I’m thinking of retiring the Republic.
What I’d really love, of course, is to leave it in the hands of a capable editorial board and manager, a dedicated band of reporters and ad salespeople, and other essential staff like the office assistant and the marketing maven. Alas, none of these people are here. I worry: what would happen if I got hit by a truck? Well, the Republic would go belly up, pretty dang quick, that’s what.
The Ester Republic has been my labor of love for more than a decade. It has helped good authors get published, new writers and photographers get noticed, and it has managed to scoop the nearby daily on several occasions. It even gets cited occasionally! And it was one of the reasons that we got to keep our local post office, and didn’t have to get stuck with a Fairbanks contract station. It is the only newspaper that Ester has ever had in its 108-year history.
The Republic is, however, fragile, because its continued production rests on the shoulders of one person. Were I to meet that proverbial truck in a close encounter of the squashing kind, it is very unlikely that the Republic would continue on without me. So I aim to fix that potential problem.
I can avoid being flattened, or at least reduce the risk of it, by looking both ways when I cross the street, but I can’t reduce the risk of the Republic being archived unless I have a structure and a group of people to help keep the newspaper going. So here’s what I’d like to do:
On August 21st, Sunday, at 3 pm at the Republic office (Studio #2, the Annex, 2922 Parks Highway), I will be holding a reorganization meeting for the paper. Journalists (both amateur and professional), financial backers, nonprofit organizers, and other interested parties are invited to attend. I’ll have beverages and edibles, and will present a history of the Republic, a description of its current status and prospects, and a proposal for its possible future. If you’d like a hand in a locally owned, locally oriented, obstreperous rag of a newspaper, then please come. If you represent a newspaper chain or media conglomerate, don’t bother to attend unless you’ve decided to defect from the corporate for-profit world. I will be looking for feedback, suggestions and/or alternate proposals, and—most important—committed volunteers to help set up the new Republic.
My vision (to be refined at this meeting) of the future Republic is along the nonprofit model of the Green Bay Packers: a fan-owned, community-backed institution that supports and serves a specific geographic locale and community in nontraditional ways (for either sports teams or newspapers!). I also see it functioning somewhat like ProPublica, “an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.” Other examples that come to mind are Anchorage’s Insurgent49, the All-Alaska Weekly, and Jessen’s Weekly.
I will post my proposal on line before the meeting (see the Republic’s main page), so that the prospective participants will have something to review beforehand. If you are interested in seeing The Ester Republic live on past the publisher’s demise (potential or actual) and transform into a viable nonprofit news organization that is not your typical newspaper, please contact Deirdre Helfferich, publisher, at email@example.com, or call and leave a message at 451-0636. Or, just come to the meeting on August 21.
* Tom Snapp was the editor of the Tundra Times and publisher of the Alaska Weekly, and broke several important stories in Alaska's history, including exposure of Project Chariot. See his obituary in the Seattle Times, here.
Green Bay Packers: www.packers.com/community/ (See also Wikipedia entry on their structure, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Bay_Packers#Public_company.)
See also this list of nonprofit news organizations, compiled by William Baker of the Hauser Center at Harvard University, www.hks.harvard.edu/hauser/engage/artsculturemedia/nonprofit-news-organizations/, and his article in The Nation, “How to Save the News,” on line at www.thenation.com/article/how-save-news.