How things really work

A reprint from SN&R’s fifth anniversary issue in 1994

As a 10-year veteran of alternative newspapers, I’ve learned a thing or two, and in the interest of forthrightness I’d like to reveal some of the inner workings of this paper to you.

This is not a business. Because of the capitalist conspiracy that controls the country, the people who run the News & Review are forced to own stock and make a profit. They donate most of their income to orphanages, civil-rights groups and armed revolutionary cadres.

The ad salespeople operate under a philosophy of voluntary simplicity and for years have turned over their excess commissions to Tom Hayden to use as he sees fit. Others buy shares in the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op.

Because everyone here is so unconcerned with money and material acquisition, we all live communally in a refurbished paint factory in the Fruitridge area. We all belong to one big union, and all News & Review endeavors must be union jobs. This covers everything from building renovation to printing.

All employees, upon being hired, must sign statements promising to further the “libertarian-socialist propaganda machine.” Breach of this vow means immediate expulsion to the care of our parents.

There is no hierarchy here. Sometimes the “publisher” cleans the bathrooms. He designed this week’s cover. The “receptionist” handles the Tower Records account this week, and the “editor” shows up with her car on Thursday mornings to deliver papers.

The editorial department meets weekly to chant “nam myoho renge kyo, nam myoho renge kyo” for a good edition. After the chant, the reporters join hands and meditate on story ideas. Amazingly, everyone agrees most of the time, and all meetings end with warm smiles and compassionate feelings all around.

The ad salespeople also meet regularly. To help the community as much as possible, they are working on a project to lower the ad rates while providing larger-sized ads. The “publisher” rubs his hands with glee when this news is reported to him. He and his family live in a Volkswagen bus and they are looking for something smaller.

For white people who are worried about immigrants and minorities taking over, the alternative papers are the places to look. White people who stop by our offices are often uncomfortable, because when they look around, all they see are nonwhite faces. I think there’s a white person working in design, but I’m not sure. We’ve never met.

Fact-checking, you bet. Last year, our “editor” sent our copy editor on a trip to the Big Apple. Her mission: Raid the New Yorker’s vaunted fact-checking department. Despite Tina Brown’s protests, a few of the top researchers were willing to take the pay increase and jump in stature to join the News & Review. These people were (to use a phrase our “publisher” hates) a wise investment. Our articles have such long lead times and are dependent on so many dozens of sources that it takes weeks to verify each of the purported facts. The fact-checkers seldom find any errors, but our “publisher” doesn’t mind. He says, “You can never spend enough money in the editorial department. Give ’em what they want.”

It’s a glamorous business. For example, after Kurt Cobain’s unfortunate encounter with a shotgun, his widow, Courtney Love, stopped by the offices of the “arts editor” for some grief counseling. I saw her with her head on his shoulder. I related this story last week when I was in L.A. at Nicholson’s place, and he sobbed like a baby. He cooled it when Sigourney showed up.

The governor regularly consults with our “publisher” and “editor” on long-term policy for the state, and Willie Brown seldom makes a statement without running it by one of our “reporters.”

Virtually all left-wing and environmental bigwigs—none come to mind at the moment—seek our opinion before acting. The money they donate for our editorials we funnel to a fund to help recovered-memory victims.

Ego is sacrificed for the good of the reader. Anyone who’s been around newspapers for a while knows that editors and reporters, despite their air of unconcern and disdain for the world, are driven by ego. Individual reporters all secretly believe they are better writers than all the others. Not here. At the News & Review, reporters collaborate on stories. They ask each other to check their copy before it’s published. No one quibbles over spelling errors or unwieldy syntax. If one reporter happens to see an awkward paragraph in another’s copy, he or she gently points it out and the offending words are gladly changed. You walk around the office and you hear the constant refrain, “What’s best for our readers?”

Only the “best and brightest” people can make an alternative newspaper work. Personal traits include Vietnam War draft evasion, a proven track record in women’s rights, at least three months backpacking through Europe and ownership of an auto of non-American origin.

Our “editor” is bombarded with résumés from reporters and editors at publications such as Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone and the New York Times. A Pulitzer nomination is minimal criteria for an editorial slot.

Salespeople are raided from big daily papers or Madison Avenue ad agencies. We routinely turn away designers who settle for jobs with Vanity Fair, GQ and Elle.

As you can imagine, it’s a heady, stimulating atmosphere.

I hope this inner view of the News & Review answers some of your long-suppressed questions.