Why Publish?

Chris Neklason

I’ve always been more interested in the process and practice of publishing and less in the creation of something to publish. By which I mean how the duplication and distribution of information works.

That’s what led me to buy an old Gestetner ink printer and supplies back in the 80’s and spend many happy hours in the garage printing up guerrila posters and flyers for tacking onto local bulletin boards and telephone poles. 

This was back before the Internet and laser printers and office copiers existed, so if you wanted to make copies of something you needed to get messy. You took the image you wanted to duplicate and put it in a machine that burned a negative into a thin sheet of rubber much like a silk screen, then you put the rubber screen on the drum of the Gestetner printer, loaded up the ink and paper, and turned it on and and the drum would rotate and feed in a sheet of paper and print the image onto the paper with wet ink. 

When I started working for a software company in the mid eighties, I had access to an office paper copier which did image enlargements and reductions, and for reasons lost to the mists of time fixated on the smiling face of Tonight Show sidekick Ed McMahon who was shilling as part of the Publishers Clearinghouse direct mail marketing program and whose beaming visage was printed on the envelope of materials delivered to millions of American homes back then.

Ed McMahon’s beaming viz was ripe for appropriation, and his heavily pixelated face was soon printed and stapled to bulletin boards and telephone poles around town and then later, with fabric paint, on tee shirts. We still own a one-of-a-kind Ed McMahon pillow case.  I called the campaign “I’m With Ed.”

Good times.

Back then I was so interested in the practice of publishing because mass media was messy and expensive and labor intensive, and controlled by the gatekeepers of the newspaper, book, music, radio and television corporations.

It was the increasing shift of the economy to office work and then the increasing availailability of office copiers and then office computers and then the Apple Lisa and Macintosh which opened the floodgates of the ‘zine movement and brought publishing closer to the masses. 

My heroes in those years were the anarchists who slaved by day as office temps in the San Francisco financial district and by night leveraged pilfered office supplies and time on the office computers and copiers to put out Processed World, and Mike Gunderloy of Factsheet Five who sometimes would include a guest fellow ‘zineist to contribute thoughts to his “Why Publish?” column.

But the thing which most excited me, from the moment I started work in June of 1984 at a software company called the Santa Cruz Operation was email, email lists and newsgroups.

Holy cow! With email and mailing lists, you could write something and distribute it to multiple different people! With newsgroups, distributed discussion forums (old timey versions of subreddits) connected people from all accross the planet on the pre-Internet called USENET. If you worked at the right place such as a university, software company or the military, and you had access to this network, you could publish!

What’s more, it was a new kind of publishing. Before the advent of the network, publishing was broadcasting, in that a single entity (the newspaper, the radio station, the tv station) broadcast their stuff to consumers following a unidirection one-to-many formula. Information flowed one way and was consumed by an audience.  If you wanted to get your stuff out millions of people, you had to do it through them.

The network made it possible for you to get your stuff out to everyone directly over the telephone network pipes which linked every home. And the network made it possible for everyone to get their stuff directly to you. It made it possible for broadcast to become a conversation, and for the audience to become a community.

Fast forward to today and the Internet has become more or less ubiquitos and has become the primary means by which information is distributed.  Sadly, the dream of a new kind of online conversation and a new kind of community were hijacked by social media, which designed itself to become as addictive as cigarettes.  

Truth has become a casualty of the cynical manipulation of information into disinformation and conspiracy by the Steve Bannons of the world.

So why publish? And why publish journalism?

Because the truth matters. Belief doesn’t make airplanes fly.  Magical thinking won’t make COVID “just disappear.

We’re focused on using publishing and journalism to provide a tue account of our communities as a basis for people to work together to make things better.

A true account of the community requires as many voices as possible.

A true community requires as many connections as possible.

The truth of our common humanity is what connects us.

So we publish.