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The Life and Death of a Newspaper with High Ideals

In 1970 I was drawn to San Miguel to stay with Jules Chaussabel, a retired advertising executive from New York. He knew I was a happy journalist turned frustrated novelist and felt the town and all its art and beauty could serve as a muse. Each day for nearly three months after breakfast somewhere around the Jardin, I would go into a writer's shack on the property and labor at a typewriter. A completed book never materialized.

What did materialize was a knowledge of San Miguel's intriguing ex-pat inhabitants whom I had the pleasure to meet at just about every meal. I met many folks who were blacklisted back in the US, victims of the Red Scare, exiled from academia, arts and entertainment circles. This became the start of a research project. I walked and talked all over town, around the Instituto, past Dickinson's orchids, with artists and screenwriters and professors who were now reinventing themselves in this glorious mountain oasis of about 15,000 people.

When I finally got home to Cambridge, MA, I teamed up with a group of local filmmakers and we produced a feature-length documentary, HOLLYWOOD ON TRIAL. It garnered a 1977 Oscar nomination for Best Documentary. It started me on my filmmaking career.

When I next returned to San Miguel, it was 2014 and the population must have grown tenfold. It was still a cultural oasis, full of ex-pats. But it had grown up and now harbored a different kind of artist - the one you seek to find within when you retire to a paradise filled with muses.

Arnie

The Life and Death of a Newspaper with High Ideals

Arnie Reisman

Back in the day, I worked for a  paper that promoted and showcased good writing. It was the Boston Phoenix, which ceased publication in 2013 after 47 years of operation.

When I assumed the role of editor of that “alternative” paper in 1968, it was a 16-page weekly called Boston After Dark and featured reviews and listings in the local arts and entertainment scene. By the time I left that job at the end of 1971, it was functioning smoothly as a 156-page honest-to-goodness newsweekly. I was proud and exhausted.

Why did it die? In a perverse way, you could say it died of natural causes. Actually, it was killed by as many adversaries as Caesar had — cable TV, the internet, a bad economy, dwindling advertising, limited attention spans and decreasing desires for what really can be called news. Its demise, however, on another level, can best be summed up by a quote from our late U.S. Congressman Gerry Studds, something I heard him say at a Vineyard gathering. When asked why he quit politics, Studds said, “I went to Congress because I wanted to save the world. After 24 years in Washington, I came to the conclusion the world did not want to be saved.”

The Phoenix wanted to save journalism. It saw itself as a challenger to the accepted world of newsgathering, both in fact and opinion, at least in Boston. The paper was called “alternative” and “counter-cultural.” Both terms were used by some as badges of honor, by others as dismissive swipes. The paper was anti-establishment at a time when there actually was an easy-to-define establishment to rail against.

It pointed out that the emperors were naked. It pierced the halls of secrecy, popped the balloons of misinformation and tilted at some windmills. It served a purpose. For a time, it kept traditional journalism’s feet to the fire. It represented a change. Changes in modern communication have been roiling the waters since Samuel Morse sent the first message on his brand new telegraph: “What hath God wrought?”

In the beginning we never used editorials. You knew with the phrasing and positioning of each article where the paper stood. This was called advocacy journalism. For a Boston-situated endeavor about to become an institution, the paper was seen as “very Cambridge.” Its attitude was in line with that hell-raiser and case-lowerer, the Cambridge poet e. e. cummings who once wrote a whole poem that went, “a politician is an arse upon which everyone has sat except a man.”

The financial backbone of the Phoenix proved to be the endless supply of college students getting educated in Massachusetts. Bundles of each issue were delivered free to campuses everywhere. To a potential advertiser, especially one wishing to attract youthful buyers, this meant a captive audience. For several decades this theory held water. As the advertising dollar shrunk however, a leak appeared. Also, students became too busy texting to be concerned with things contextual. And people found it more entertaining (if less educational)  reading fake news online in a fact-free zone. 

And so it goes. Eventually, all historic events are reduced to footnotes. Where once perched the Phoenix now sits a pile of ashes. What hath God wrought — indeed.

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Arnie Reisman's talk on February 22, the first talk in the Lifelong Learning Program's Invited Lecture Series is
SOLD OUT
.

Other upcoming Lifelong Learning programs include:

Two Tragedies by Sophocles: Oedipus the King and Antigone the Rebel. This course will cover what we know of Sophocles’ life, the role of the tragic hero/heroine, and how the Greek gods model the reality of life.
Geoff Hargreaves. Thursdays and Mondays, March 2, 6, 9, and 13. Class 1:00 – 3:00; social hour 3:00 – 4:00. 525 pesos.

Physics for Poets: And You Thought Science Was Boring? From classical physics all the way to relativity and quantum mechanics and more -- taught historically and conceptually, not mathematically, this course is a great intellectual adventure for the non-scientist.
Tony Fainberg. Wednesdays and Fridays, March 8, 10, 15, and 17, 525 pesos.

The Myth of the Returning Hero in Homer’s Odyssey. The story of the returning hero recurs in many cultures. Homer’s Odyssey is still one of the most exciting adventure stories ever told.
Terry Fitzpatrick. Tuesdays and Thursdays, March 14, 16, 21, and 23. Class 1:00 – 3:00; social hour 3:00 – 4:00. 525 pesos.

The Dining Table: Life’s Centerpiece Through History. Explore how formal dinners and banquets have strengthened alliances in politics, business and marriage from the time of the Romans to today, reflecting their cultures and eras.
Eva Eliscu. Tuesday, March 28.. Class 10:00 – 12:00; served lunch; class 1:00 – 3:00. 410 pesos

For more, see
http://instituto-allende.edu.mx/en/lifelong-learning-program/.

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Arnie Reisman is a journalist, playwright, filmmaker, poet, and radio performer.  His career has encompassed news and entertainment in many  media formats: television, radio, film, theater, newspapers, books, periodicals, and Internet podcasts. 

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