By Jim Smith
How does a newspaper with no visible means of support survive for 40 years? For most of its life, the Free Venice Beachhead has lurched along from month to month, often begging friends to come up with some last minute money in order to have the issue printed.
In addition, there is no grey-headed, benevolent publisher who has been gently guiding our enterprise. Instead, literally hundred of Venetians have served as part of the “collective” over the years. Some have stayed on for a few years, others have been shooting stars for one or two issues.
There have been some notable and influential staff, including John Haag, who came up with the idea of a community newspaper; Carol Fondiller whose tenure spans the first and latest issues (although she took some time off in between), Arnold Springer, Moe Stavnezer, Olga Palo, Linda Lucks, Diane Nickerson, Kathy and Larry Sullivan, Chuck Bloomquist, Bob Wells, Milton Takei, Rex Frankel, Elizabeth Elder, Bill Olive (who created the first Beachhead masthead), and Brice Woods (who created the current Beachhead masthead).
Even with such a stellar collective through the years, the real secret of the Beachhead’s success has been the support and contributions from the community. In this issue, like most that have gone before it, you will find articles, letters and poetry from Venetians who have rarely, or never, expressed themselves in our paper before. In this issue, the two front page articles and the photograph are from members of the community, not from the Beachhead collective. And that’s the way we like it!
Since 1968, the fortunes of the Beachhead have risen and fallen. There have been some missed issues, including a lapse of several years in the 1990s. At times, the collective has gotten down to two or three people before appealing for new talent to get involved.
These days, the Beachhead is doing surprising well. We still have no bills, except for our printer and for stamps to mail the paper to subscribers and sustainers. Lately, we’ve been relying more and more on our sustainers who kick in $100 a year to keep us going. As long as we have support from the community, there will be a Beachhead. We, the collective, value your comments and criticism. It keeps us from going off the deep end, unless the community is right behind us.
Putting out a newspaper is a lot of work. There is no expectation of financial gain to keep us going. So what does keep us going? A big part of it happens when a new issue comes out. We try to have two or three crews roaming Venice and placing it at about 125 locations. Often, we’ll find someone running up to get the latest copy. Or well pass by two or three people eagerly thumbing through the new issue. As they say on TV, it’s priceless!
In fact, for the last couple of years the Beachhead has been doing better than the mainstream press. Just about everything else has been taken over by large corporations. The L.A. Times is now owned by a billionaire speculator from Chicago by the name of Sam Zell (see http://www.tellzell.com for the lowdown). The Times has succeeded in losing about 2/5ths of its peak circulation and is forcing out many of its best reporters and editors. The L.A. Weekly is now part of the Village Voice Media/New Times Inc. The Weekly has changed from a top alternative news weekly under founder Jay Levin into a vehicle for advertising.
Pundits blame the rise of the internet for the decline of newspapers. But in our small way, the Beachhead is proving them wrong. Perhaps the problem isn’t the internet, but the lack of content that is relevant to the readers. The Times has long been criticized for its lack of coverage in the communities, particularly South Central and East L.A. Once upon a time, the Times had regional sections, including Westside, which often ran articles about Venice. Westside columnist Robert Scheer’s articles were both timely and topical. Ultimately, he was fired by a Times management that was fearful of staff who had too much popularity with the readers.
The story with the Times and the Weekly is being repeated all over the country. The most respected corporate chain, Knight-Ridder was recently eaten alive by its stockholders who wanted more dividends and less quality journalism. The pieces (newspapers) were tossed to a ravenous pack of sleazy corporations who engaged in a feeding frenzy.
And so, it may turn out that capitalism is not the best system for creating quality newspapers and relevant journalism. What if all newspapers, big and small, were run like the Beachhead? That is, what if they were really watchdogs for their readers, the non-rich, the non-elitist, the non-jet setters of the world. What if the L.A. Times was run by a consortium of its workers and its readers? What if you could by a voting share of the Times for $100? What if other newspapers were run by non-profit organizations, by unions, by consumer groups? Then, maybe there would be an explosion of newspaper readership. Then maybe we could expect to read the truth when we picked up a newspaper.
Until that happens, the Beachhead will soldier on with your support. This December, we’re planning to celebrate our 40th anniversary with some events in Venice. We’ll have a reading by Beachhead writers at Beyond Baroque on December 13. We’re discussing other events in which we can involve musicians, artists, craftspeople, local businesses, the whole spectrum of Venice. If you would like to help pull some of this off, give us a call at 310-399-8685, or send us an email at Beachhead@freevenice.org.