The Closure of Clamor Magazine

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

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22 Comments

  1. yourfriendkat said

    I just wanted to add my two cents on Clamor’s impact. As someone working in news media, it was a place that I could turn for some internal movement discussion, and the all-too-rare pieces celebrating the victories of community organizations and individuals. Not the big in the streets battles, not riot porn, but the opening of new food coops, the launch of a new microenterprise program or a video training project for Indian women. The things that, as you suggest, add up to momentum, and that are often invisible in the headlines-driven world of Google News.

  2. max said

    Nice post Josh… its truly the end of an era. I think that people dont really understand the value of independent media sometimes until its gone. I think its important though like you point out that not all projects are meant to, or should, last forever. Clamor laid a lot of important groundwork for thousands of activists from around the country. The Allied Media Conference and the online Infoshop are already two important projects that will survive and hopefully will continue to grow…

    Are you or Jen & Jason thinking about doing a longer more in depth public assessment at some point? I think it would make for an interesting piece. One of the major weaknesses of the “seattle generation” I feel like is sometimes the reluctance to really analyze the various conditions which led to the growth and decline of specific political projects.

    Great work all these years… see you soon.

  3. So sad to see Clamor go — but it’s also inspiring to see all the good work Clamor has done.

    –Sascha

  4. Sura Faraj said

    I’m very sad to hear about Clamor, one big source of inspiration to this alternative publisher. They’ve reported on and brought to light some issues that mainstream media wouldn’t touch, and they did it all without sacrificing diy ethic in the process.

    For those who want another direction to turn for their fix, Nerve House is a new, quarterly, cut and paste arts and activist publication. We welcome involvement from progressive artists and activists and will consider publishing writers, comic artists, photographers, poets, essayists, sketchers and others who are looking for a progressive venue in which to be printed. Our next theme is “Breaking” and the dealine is 1/31/07.

    Basic info can be found here http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=484537

    Submissions or questions can be sent to nervehouse@yahoo.com.

    Here’s a toast to Jason, Jen and all the Clamor Crew for their years of hard work and inspiration.

  5. […] The Closure of Clamor Magazine- This is sad. Clamor was a pretty good magazine of, by and for radical activists. They also did a lot of distrubtion of other radical publications, and hosted the yearly Allied Media Conference, which I was actually hoping to go to next year. Clamor’s “consulting editor” (I don’t know what that means) Josh Breitbart writes this article as a bit of a post-mortem. […]

  6. tish said

    wow, what sad news. my mailbox and my brain will be so much less happy month by month. clamor really was the best magazine we had. thanks for the thoughtful article josh. rip decent magazine reading.

  7. Hey Lying Media Bastards — the AMC will keep on keeping on. Hope to see you there — http://alliedmediaconference.org.
    And thanks to Clamor for so many good years. When I started waking up and learning how to be active from incredible people in Philadelphia and around the world, Clamor was one of my toolkits and one of my inspirations. As I started working at Prometheus and seeing my own writing and that of other activists I knew fill its pages, I began to value it even more.
    For those of us who wrote for Clamor while reading it year after year, the magazine offered us an opportunity to summarize, analyze, and reflect on experiences that we might not fully digest and learn from otherwise in our work. I relished those moments of reflection not just in my own writing for Clamor, but experienced solidarity-by-proxy in reading the writing of fellow travellers in Clamor’s pages.
    By structuring the issues by theme, that sense of a collective deep breath was amplified even more for me — I got a peek into the analysis and reflection of fields, of moments of opportunity in particular struggles.
    I’ll miss Clamor and the heady exhiliration and pride it made me feel, but as Josh and the Clamor publishers are saying, I know we can all find it elsewhere — we are building these new places and institutions even as we speak.

  8. In response to Max’s request, I have encouraged Jen and Jason to write about their experiences, good and bad. In the meantime, I’m planning to record an interview with them on Monday. If anyone has suggestions of what to ask or specific points in Clamor’s history to discuss, you can post it here.

    This seems to be where people are posting farewells, while people are discussing the state of left print media at NYC IMC.

  9. […] Clamor Magazine is closing shop. According to Civil Defense, subscribers will receive a letter soon announcing this decision: […]

  10. […] clamor magazine closing. clamor has been around since early 2000. it’s been a really important magazine, and i’m damn sad to see it go. a lot of folks i love and respect contribute to clamor. josh breitbart is one of them, and his latest post offers a lot of insight on how to fill the hole that will be left when clamor shuts down its presses. comments at the bottom are also worth reading. there are more farewells and good discussion at indymedia. […]

  11. omnicrisis said

    My comments on Clamor’s closing:
    http://omnicrisis.wordpress.com/2006/11/30/clamor-magazine/

  12. Very sad news about Clamor. I found them a few years ago and have written a handful of stories for them since. Their willingness to take on new writers (and specifically former editor Brian Bergen-Aurand’s wonderful support and guidance) is really what got me–and hundreds of others, I’m sure–involved in independent, participatory media.

    The magazine I work on, Social Policy, a quarterly journal on community and labor organizing, is printing an interview with Jen Angel on the American Apparel conflict in our next issue, which comes out next week (Kat and Hannah’s work was featured last issue as well). Check us out online at http://www.socialpolicy.org to read it, or email me for more information: mngeditor@socialpolicy.org.

    Thank you Clamor, for keeping it up for five good years.

  13. I met Jen at the IPA conference this year, and we hit it off, comiserating about the financial woes of independent media. And so I’m really sorry to hear about Clamor closing down.

    If you know of any writers looking to cover economics from a left perspective, send them over to Dollars & Sense (www.dollarsandsense.org)

  14. melodiva said

    hey, josh~

    thanks so much for writing this fitting tribute to clamor. it’s quite sad that we are losing such a passionate voice in the indie press struggle.

    if I might offer some criticism though…. I really don’t see why a post that bemoans the hardships of independent publishing and extols the efforts of one group of rabble-rousing writers should take a random cheap shot at another. your offhand smack in the face to LiP magazine was a little, well, mean! and unnecessary.

    just sayin.

  15. Suzzie Q said

    I think if Josh was not such a good guy and did not want to get into a larger public discussion then he would have explained why he might have made that comment towards the main editor of LiP. There are reasons for everything, and just to say that in fact LiP went under for very different reasons then Clamor did, much of it having to do again with some internal behavior of one of its main producers. But that is not important in the end, just a small sidenote in history.

  16. Brian Awehali said

    Up front, I want to thank Josh B. for his activism and for his hard work with Clamor over the years. However: LiP went on hiatus (not under), as the sign-off letter said, because of money, and because I didn’t want to get editorially burned out. It’s true that without me, the editor of LiP, LiP couldn’t happen, but I suspect the same could have been said if, say, Jen A. or Jason K. had needed to step away from Clamor, especially in its first few years. LiP did not go on hiatus because of the “internal behavior” of anyone, whatever that phrasing means. And LiP, the magazine, may not have involved as many people as Clamor (certainly we never organized annual conferences or incorporated as a non-profit so we could fiscally sponsor other good projects, or set up and managed an online store), BUT our circulation was comparable, we published just about as many new writers as Clamor did (and for the most part gave them far more active editorial assistance with their work than Clamor did), and had a more cohesive political focus and analysis than Clamor (by design — the editors of Clamor wanted to publish a multitude of voices, whereas LiP wanted to produce a coherent structural understanding of power and politics.) This was no small editorial feat, given the all-volunteer nature of LiP. (This is probably why Clamor gave LiP a Soapbox award in 2005). We always published with only worker- or union-owned (and local) printers, and always on 100% PCW recycled paper stock — since the vast majority of money in any publication goes to printers and to paper companies, that just made sense for a publication espousing progressive-to-radical politics. The same cannot be said of Clamor, in all fairness. The annoying thing about an aspersion like “vanity project” is that it completely sidesteps the actual quality, content, or influence of the actual magazine and resorts to pettiness. BOTH projects were valuable — Clamor provided many new writers and activists with an opportunity to engage their community. That’s extremely valuable, and the efforts of Clamor’s organizers to build the institutional side of Clamor are admirable. I applaud them for that; for us, it’s been hard enough to produce just the magazine. Clamor always had better publishing savvy than LiP. LiP was more intensely edited and editorially-driven; we usually knew the topics and angles we wanted for most stories before we ever started approaching writers. That’s a very different thing than Clamor, but that difference does not merit the charge of LiP being a vanity project.

    Dozens of people volunteered for each and every issue that was produced, just as folks did for Clamor; they shared their time, intelligence, and passion because it was meaningful and important for them to do so. Along the way, LiP was recognized with 2 Utne nominations, 2 Project Censored awards, a South by Southwest award, and a host of other bits of nice recognition from people who basically always regarded LiP and Clamor to be in the same general category.

    Clamor itself gave LiP a “Best Magazine” Soapbox award nod last year. Clamor’s editorial staff considered LiP the best magazine they could recommend to their readers.

    So now Josh B. apparently thinks the editorial staff of Clamor didn’t even know what they were talking about when they recognized us with a Soapbox award. Or maybe Clamor was saying the Best Magazine they could nominate was a vanity project?

    No, this was just a silly, largely meaningless comment from Josh B. — lots of other good stuff in this post, though. I applaud Clamor for surviving for this long, for publishing so many new activist writers, and for doing the hard work I mentioned above, of trying to create a sustainable institution. I hope the InfoSHOP persists, and I hope the various members of Clamor’s community find meaningful work in the magazine’s wake. I hope a dozen new magazines bloom from it, and I hope even more that a few of them are good and have a coherent idea of what they’re doing, editorially speaking.

  17. As a former contributor to and editor of LiP, I felt pretty slighted by your comment, Josh, not only by the straight-up diss of a project I’ve worked very hard on, but because of your reasons for it. I strongly suspect that there’s nothing in your dig at LiP that is actually directed at the publication in its entirety; as Suzzie Q commented, your venom was really directed towards a single person who worked on the magazine.

    Please – If you have a problem with a person working at a publication, take it up with them personally. Don’t insult the end result of their work, and don’t insult everyone else who put their energy into the project as well. Personal attacks on public forums are inappropriate to begin with, I think…

    If you honestly do think that LiP was a “vanity project,” I’d love to hear what that actually means to you, and why you feel that way.

  18. Erin – I’m sorry. I realized after I published that comment that it was off base. I should have said that LiP never overcame the publisher’s vanity, which is very different from what I said. Even if someone didn’t know anything about any “internal behavior,” just the comment above is so smug that it would make anyone wonder. But that shouldn’t take away from the solid work done by the rest of the crew and I’m truly sorry that it did in my statement.

    I would not have mentioned anything if Brian’s “finale” letter didn’t contain so many self-righteous swipes at other magazines:

    “I find most ‘left’ independent media in the US today intellectually and aesthetically mediocre. I believe it’s intellectually mediocre on one side because the internal logic of liberalism is bankrupt and refuses by design to examine core reasons for current problems (see In These Times, The Progressive, The Nation, Mother Jones, et al, for
    examples of this particular stripe of intellectual/political cowardice); on the other, more radical side of US media, I think quite a lot of mushy-headed postmodern echo (read: hyperindividualistic radical chic and “everyday revolution”) masquerades as something more than what it actually is: self-important subculture, cliquing.”

    I truly did not mean to disrespect the accomplishments of LiP’s editorial staff, but I do think that all of your brilliance and devotion would never have overcome Brian’s superciliousness or other peccadilloes.

    The soapbox award, which I had nothing to do with, was in appreciation for all of the work that you and the other LiP editors did, in spite of all the rest. I think Clamor got some shit for it from people who didn’t want to make that distinction.

    I too wanted to believe that LiP could be great, paying for a subscription at the last AMC. Maybe it still could be. It would be really exciting to see what LiP could do if it were to relaunch with a similar staff but a different publisher, but that seems unlikely.

    I really admire Jen and Jason for their ability to be both proud and generous while going through this process. They definitely bear some of the burden for not being able to transfer the project to new leadership. And Clamor surely would have failed without them, especially in the early going, as Brian suggests. But they never mistook Clamor’s reliance on them for the movement or the publishing world relying on them. Ironically, that’s probably why Clamor’s closure has inspired the soul-seeking that it has in some parts of the independent publishing world.

  19. Brian Awehali said

    Thanks for the admission that your comment was off-base in the first place, Josh, and thanks for apologizing for it. I don’t assume that means you’ll be altering it or amending it, correct? 🙂 Perhaps you just wanted to bait me into commenting… The “finale” letter you quoted went out to a private email list, not as something I published, (which makes it irresponsible for you to publish here) but if it really was the impetus for your statement, then OK. I believe what I wrote in that letter, even if I said it bluntly because yeah, I was (and remain) frustrated overall with the state of independent media today, which I’ve devoted about a decade of my life to (without drawing a dime for my work). I *do* think the intellectual underpinnings of liberalism are as moribund as they can be, and that publications which either knowingly or unknowingly traffic in liberal ideology and thinking are dead-on-arrival if you’re interested in social change. And on the other side of what I said, yeah: I think a lot of indie media still isn’t very good, mostly for the reasons I gave. Too interested in subculture, too disinterested in relevance. I guess I *don’t* feel invested enough in “the movement” to sacrifice my own intellectual honesty IN A PRIVATE EMAIL. I didn’t write an article about this, or make a campaign of it. I never publicly criticized Clamor or its contributors.

    This is your blog, Josh, and it’s reasonable to assume that lots of folks reading it are fans of Clamor. So let me be clear: I think Clamor has been valuable. Certainly not “revolutionary” in any sense, which is why I referenced the Clamor tagline in what I wrote in a private email. I think it’s better not to call something what it isn’t, especially when you’re talking about revolution. Whatever you think of me personally, I’ve been as serious as I can be about working with dozens of writers and dozens of other contributors to create the best and most useful magazine I could. I’ve never thought the publishing world relied on me, or on LiP, to save it. That really does just seem like a silly comment to me.

    I’m sorry if my comments hurt your feelings, Josh, but that’s no reason to turn your otherwise useful blog into a subcultural squabble by making a personalized non-useful swipe at me that impunes and insults every other person who worked on the project. Insulting me further in the comments doesn’t really serve a useful purpose either, as far as I can tell. I hope you keep doing your good work. I’m going to do the same.

  20. Reginald said

    Without getting into this debate between Brian and Josh, I just want to point out to Brian that Left Turn magazine does do exactly what your lamenting “does not exist” in terms of making a politically coherent, radical, left, grassroots, movement based publication that has quite a broad base of supporters in the US & Canada. Although I liked lip, I never found it very politically coherent, just a good left publication with good politics and well produced. I think, from a different political perspective, even the International Socialist Review was more coherent then LIP.

    Anyway enough arguing, we need to figure out ways to support each other. So support the existing print projects out there!!!

  21. […] But in light of this message below from Clamor Magazine and for all of the hard battles of the past year, I hope we can go even further in this particular season of giving. […]

  22. […] with Jen and Jason, founders and publishers of Clamor Magazine. We did the interview after they decided to close the magazine but before Sky Bank seized the remaining parts of the […]

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