If you are a subscriber to Clamor Magazine, you will receive a letter this week announcing that it is going out of business. The letter says, in part:
We’re writing to you today because we’ve decided to stop publishing Clamor. We set out to create an independent magazine that would bulldoze borders, defy dogma, and inspire instigation. We wanted to create a magazine that extended the vibrancy of the underground zine community to a larger general audience and share the enthusiasm and energy we saw in our fellow do-it-yourselfers. We intended to redefine the progressive magazine. And while we feel like we accomplished those goals at various stages, one goal we never fully realized is that of making Clamor economically sustainable.
… The obstacle of servicing old debt on an otherwise sustainable project while also negotiating major shifts in the magazine industry have proven too burdensome for us to continue publishing. But effective movement media doesn’t need to last indefinitely to be successful. We’re confident that many people have been inspired to do great things after reading about others doing the same in Clamor. We know this because we’ve been consistently inspired by the stories of struggle and triumph in Clamor. And while we’ll miss that, we’re also confident that there are independent media projects being born at this very moment with even greater promise.
Always respectful of the people who have made the enterprise possible, the publishers – Jen Angel, Jason Kucsma, Nomy Lamm, and Mandy Van Deven – told the editors, then the current writers, then the subscribers, before offering a statement to the public on the website, which should come next week. The next step is to start talking to their creditors.
The possibility of closing the magazine was discussed back even before I became a consulting editor in late 2001. Jen and Jason would have had to close up shop after just the first few issues had they not gotten the line of credit from Sky Bank (which is still Clamor’s biggest creditor besides the founders themselves).
It was one of those next few issues that I saw on the rack outside the entrance to the Clovis Press, a bookshop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that no longer exists (replaced by a cheese shop). I was so taken with it that the first thing I did when I moved to the midwest a couple of months later was call Clamor HQ and ask if I could help.
Michael Simmons, in telling The Nation in 2001 about his favorite media sources, called it “the best periodical to come out of the antiauthoritarian Battle of Seattle generation.” That sounds like a good way to start describing Clamor’s place in the annals of independent publishing.
Clamor Magazine was also a fine, collective accomplishments of the zine world and, more generally, of those who believe in participatory media. Clamor published over 1000 writers and artists in its 7-year, 38-issue run. Some historian should check to see if that’s some kind of record.
Clamor spread the word about a lot of important stories and to a lot of people who wouldn’t have otherwise heard those stories. The Internet notwithstanding, chain store newsstands and those one or two channels on satellite TV are pretty much the only way to broadcast challenging political ideas into unfriendly territory.
In my view, the challenge of serving as a point of entry for both new writers and new readers while also speaking to a devoted base of supporters proved too much for the project.
That is not to detract at all from the business challenges described in the letter to subscribers. Publishing a magazine is an expensive operation and almost impossible to sustain without an external funding source. For Clamor, whose publishers never had personal wealth or ready access to rich folks like many on the coasts do, the only external funding source they could find were small business loans and credit cards.
Independent publishing gets even harder when your primary advocate, the Independent Press Association, is failing to pay you what it owes and failing to keep your magazine on the newsstand. Clamor’s closure is a black eye for the IPA.
(I don’t think it really compares to the recent closure of the irreverent LiP magazine since that publication never got past being a vanity project, Jenn Whitney’s article on Indymedia notwithstanding. The NewStandard, which is also facing major financial challenges, is an online outlet with a completely different business model.)
My hope is that emerging media projects, as the letter suggests, will step up to take on more of the three very important tasks Clamor took on: providing an outlet for new writers; politicizing new readers; serving as a forum for established activists.
Wiretap, for example, is an ideal place for new writers. As it grows increasingly independent from Alternet, I think it is becoming a great place for anyone to publish. It’s online and not in print, but the world wide web is probably the right place for first-time writers. And it pays.
From my admittedly limited perspective, Left Turn is currently the premier printed forum for inter-activist reporting. Reborn for the global justice movement (the rebranded and renewed antiglobalization movement), it has a more specific politic than Clamor did and cultivates writers more intentionally. That makes it more limited in some ways, more focused in others.
The editors of Left Turn maintain strong and principled alliances with the people, organizations, and campaigns reported in its pages. It’s less likely than Clamor has been, however, to have those stories of small or unsung victories. It’s those stories, the ones that seem random until you get them all on a page together, that gave Clamor its voice-in-the-wilderness quality for so many people – that, the consistent DIY-you-can-do-it tone, and the serious midwest pride.
That’s the thing we’ll be losing most dramatically with the closure of Clamor: the ability to reach new people with an honest, accessible voice. As far as I know, no one is really doing that for young potential activists now that Clamor is gone. (I sometimes call this the NCOR problem: what to do with the thousands of eager, young, and – in the NCOR case – white folks now that you can’t just tell them to go to the next big protest.)
Clamor didn’t do it perfectly, but that’s a critical task that someone needs to do. Maybe The Ave, assuming it’s still going, could do more of that, or Punk Planet – it’s useful in some ways to divide the task into hip hop and punk, though that combination may have been what gave Clamor some of its threat potential. Still, giving people information in a palatable format is different from plugging them into ways to take action.
In an organized movement, entry point organizations like Indyvoter, Movement Strategy Center, and Students for a Democratic Society would take responsibility for publishing a magazine to attract new people. They might not see it that way and publishing is resource-intensive no matter who does it, so I don’t expect they’ll be taking it up anytime soon. But without some coordination and a shared sense of obligation, no one will be able to sustain such a project.
Movement media rarely emerges from such a process, of course. Indymedia is the rare exception. Usually, a small group starts a publication, people take to it or don’t, it lives for a while, then dies when the money runs out (which usually happens in the first year), or when the political situation changes, or when the publishers’ life situations change.
All three of those things seemed to happen to Clamor at the same time. It’s sad, but fine. It was a good run. The Allied Media Conference and the online infoSHOP direct, two projects born from Clamor that actively support other media projects, will continue.
So when the letter to subscribers says, “there are independent media projects being born at this very moment with even greater promise,” that is in no small way thanks to the infrastructure, inspiration, and advice Clamor’s publishers have provided us over the last seven years.
Please see this Emergency Message from Clamor Magazine.