Reflections on Seven Years of CLAMOR

February 17, 2007 at 6:13 pm (Announcements)

In December 2006, Clamor stopped publishing. Because I helped start this project, this was an emotionally difficult decision. But, I can say that as part of the publishing group that decided to close our doors, it was the right decision.

I’ve spent the last few months working on a reflection and analysis of my work with Clamor. This was a very important article for me to write, for myself, and I hope that it serves to offer some insight to the inner workings of a long-term project. Also, because radicals are often poor historians, I felt it important to do my part to record our history.

The article is long and tries to do many things. There are several smaller articles within that could be teased out, such as the role of independent media in movement building, the finances of independent publishing, and the importance of building institutions. One day, I hope to elaborate on these ideas and help encourage discussion on topics which I view as essential.

Clamor has been a very important project to me. Mostly, it has helped bring me into contact with individuals who amaze and inspire me, individuals who worked as staff members, contributed their work, or were featured in the magazine. I will always be thankful for the opportunities that were available to me because of the magazine. Thank you to everyone who has supported me and Clamor over the years.

You can download a PDF version of the article here. Eventually, this article will be posted on the Clamor Magazine site when we finish changing it over to reflect that the project has closed.

*** UPDATE ***

The article has been revised and greatly expanded, and is now available as a pamphlet from PM Press. You can order one here.

******

I welcome any and all comments and feedback, either here or via email.

——

(as a preview, here is the table of contents)

Seven Years of Clamor: Challenges, Successes, and Reflections

1. Introduction

2. Why Independent Media?

3. The Beginning of Clamor: What We Were Trying to Do

4. Successes
a. Entry Points: Helping New Voices be Heard
b. Content: Integrating Politics & Culture
c. Building a Foundation: Decision-Making Structures
d. Diversifying Income
e. Innovation through Adversity
f. Being a Good Community Member
g. Midwest Represent! Why Geography Matters
h. Standing our Ground: American Apparel

5. Challenges
a. Money: The Great Specter
b. Debt: Finding Money for Starting and Continuing Projects
c. Operating Outside the Niche: Marketing to Advertisers and Subscribers
d. Getting the Word Out: Models for Distribution
e. Growing Pains: Issues of Power, Diversity, and Representation
f. The Non-Profit Industrial Complex: Volunteers vs. Paid Staff

6. The End of Clamor: Why We Decided to Close

7. The Future

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14 Comments

  1. erin said,

    i’m so glad you took the time and energy to do this.. i can’t wait to read & learn from it. love-e.

  2. Alan said,

    Thanks, Jen, for writing up and posting your reflections about Clamor. I’m sure the piece will be a valuable history for others who take up like-minded projects in the future and for other alternative media activists working right now.

    As one of the people who, several year ago, encouraged you and Jason to become involved in the organizational life of the Independent Press Association, I wanted to make a couple of comments on that topic.

    I first heard news of the demise of the IPA earlier this year. It came as a surprise to me. I began to back out of my involvement with the IPA in 2003 in anticipation of moving from Chicago to Minneapolis and switching from a career in medical publishing (with a simultaneous alternative “career” as a zinester) to a new career in I-knew-not-what. I think 2003 was the last year I paid IPA dues. As I recall, I was cut off the IPA listserv in early 2004 (as normally happened when one’s membership lapsed). Thereafter, I was not able to follow whatever internal discussions occurred in that forum.

    Beth and Jackie, who I had worked most closely with on IPA-related matters, also left Illinois and became involved in other things — Beth relocated to DC, and Jackie to Milwaukee, around the same time I departed for Minneapolis. The John Anner era (as executive director of the IPA) had come to and end and the initial phase of the IPA project I had been most involved with as a volunteer coordinator — the launching of a Chicago-based IPA node — had been successfully concluded. I moved on, expecting that the IPA would continue to struggle, evolve, and grow. And so, I lost my connections to the IPA.

    A few weeks ago, I read Jeremy Smith’s organizational post mortem of the IPA in an Other Magazine blog. Based on my working relationship with Jeremy, I have a lot of respect for his abilities and integrity. The story he tells about the IPA in that essay confirmed for me that some of the trends that had, years earlier, concerned me about the organization would, eventually, turn out to be significant contributing factors to the IPA’s demise.

    One of those factors was, I think, an internal hunger to grow by means of a too broadly defined inclusiveness. A larger membership base was seen, correctly, as providing increased financial stability. The downside was a membership culture that was increasingly incoherent, ideologically. Of course, there was also externally-motivated momentum to grow, caused by small and independent media producers, who were strongly, sometimes desperately in need of the technical services the IPA did or at least sought to provide.

    I think that a very large number of members who had no perceptible commitment to the “social justice” part of the IPA’s mission (a term which I interpreted, perhaps wishfully, as implying leftist or at least progressive social and political values), simply joined the IPA because there was no other comparable organization to turn to. As the membership grew and diversified, the organization seemed to begin to experience mission-drift, and then came, apparently, a leadership crisis.

    While I was an IPA member, I was concerned about the accountability of the organization’s leadership structure. You may remember that I was one of the voices badgering the IPA staff to begin listing who the organization’s board members were along with their credentials.

    You’re right that now that the IPA is gone, there is an opportunity for another coordinated attempt at media distribution and for developing an organization of mutual support among leftist, progressive, and radical/oppositional/alternative what-have-you media producers and activists. I think the IPA provides a model with both positive and negative aspects that should be studied and discussed — and improved upon.

    In closing, I should also add that although I’m sorry that Clamor as a project has come to an end, I’m glad to hear that the situation is not entirely dire with other related projects, like the Allied Media Conference. Thanks to you and Jason for your continuing energetic, effective, and admirable work!

    in friendship and solidarity,

    Alan

  3. jenangel said,

    Here are some other blogs about this article:

    Eric Zass
    Jen Angel, former co-editor of Clamor, put together a sizable 14 page reflection on the project, including some fascinating thoughts on distro and the future of independent print mags. For 7 years, she and coeditor Jason Kucsma published, edited and managed the magazine, along with its related projects, figuring out the biz as they went along, and hacking new ways of thinking about magazine creation and distro. Clamor went under for a number of reasons– financial as well as cultural and personal– but her thoughts go a long way in addressing how clamor and like-minded mags have attempted to compete in a conde nast world, and some suggestions on how things might change. [and more on distribution strategies, the IPA, and print v. web]

    Journerdism
    Clamor Magazine co-creator Jen Angel’s thoughtful piece looking back on the experience of running Clamor Magazine, the importance of independent media and the eventual closing. [I’ve been a fan of Clamor since their beginning, I also worked with Jen and Jason Kuscma (the other co-creator) on a panel about corporate control and public relations in the media at UT.]

    Anna Clark
    Jen Angel offers up a seriously in-depth analysis of her time at the helm of Clamor Magazine, which closed shop this past December after seven years of publishing. Due warning: “Seven Years of Clamor: challenges, successes, and reflections” is a pdf file. But you may very well find it to be important insight into independent media and movement building. As Angel states at the beginning: “Many organizations and movements are poor historians… ” Angel hopes to remedy that, in an article in which the table of contents (!) includes such items as “Entry Points: Helping New Voices Be Heard” and, my absolute favorite, “Midwest Represent!: Why Geography Matters.” [more, and not all of it flattering]

  4. debbie said,

    Jen — thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful, comprehensive, critical piece. Your insights, wisdom, and honesty are invaluable to the rest of us. I’ll be mourning the end of Clamor for a long time I’m sure, but you’re absolutely right that that its end doesn’t mean it wasn’t successful. You and Jason and the rest of the crew proved that a different model of publishing is possible, one that’s participatory and inclusive. I’ve always been amazed at how much you accomplished with such little resources. Over here at Bitch, we’re still struggling to deal with the many challenges and obstacles you mention, and I know first-hand that it’s because you poured your hearts into all of your projects that you went as far as you did. I look forward to many more exchanges…

  5. Kristian Williams said,

    Jen’s piece is just the sort of thoughtful self-criticism that we on the left so desperately need and so seldom see. It’s not always easy to admit mistakes, even to yourself, and it often takes actual courage to confess them publicly. But the benefits of doing so can be enormous. Not only can each of us learn from our own experiences, we can learn from each other’s experiences as well. We all become wiser as a result.
    Also, perhaps if we each got more in the habit of criticizing ourselves, it would be easier for us to offer and accept criticism from each other without entering a cycle of sectarian denunciation. At present, the left seems to excel at vicious bickering, but is largely reluctant to deal in honest critique. When criticism is offered it too often takes the form of name-calling, reprimands for deviating from some favorite doctrine, and the depiction of shortcomings as though they were part of the intended outcome. (How often have we heard a line of argument that runs: People of color are under-represented in this project; hence the organization deliberately has excluded people of color; hence, the organizers are racist? Note shortcoming, assign intention, denounce.)
    Because criticism so commonly takes this form, and because we’ve largely lost the habit of productive dialogue, even very gentle critiques are usually treated as attacks and responded to with defensiveness, denial, and an equally vicious counter-attack. (We’ve all heard this sort of argument, as well: Anyone who criticizes our anti-racist work is, ipso facto, a racist.)
    Maybe this sort of pointless sniping would seem less tempting if we were all willing to admit that we make mistakes, if we invested some time considering what those mistakes are and how we might improve, and if we made more of a practice of sharing these reflections when it is appropriate — for example, when a major project has just ended.
    Thanks, Jen, for showing us how it’s done.

  6. Max said,

    Hi Jen,

    Thanks so much for including me on the list to get your article on ‘Seven Years of Clamor’ and thanks even more for doing such an excellent piece. I learned a great deal from reading it. I think it’s a great contribution that lots of folks will find very useful in future projects, and not just media projects either.

    Two thoughts in the way of feedback.

    First, I think you ought to pat yourselves on the back for coming up with such a great name for the magazine. Clamor was/is a great name in general, and especially perfect for the specific combination of politics/culture etc. you were trying to provide and I suspect a real plus on the ‘branding’ front. I would love to know how you came up with it, and if you are going to do something with the name from here.

    Second, I think the point you made about the culture of ‘tithing’ and its absence in your main audience is a crucial one and I would have liked to see more discussion of it and its implications. Your comments and analysis about financial matters after that point mostly focused on decisions and efforts ‘within” Clamor, and you offered many insights and lessons. Tackling the question of the overall culture and attitudes toward money within your audience may have been beyond the scope of this particular article. But it seems to me this question as well is vital to address if future media (and other) efforts in this community are to have maximum chances to succeed. For instance, it is my experience that the culture of tithing that as you note exists in other sectors (and I’d add political ones as well as religious and cultural) does not just ‘happen’, it requires constant work and attention to develop and maintain; and when done well, it adds a political/ideological & “buy-in” dimension to those institutions that is a major plus even beyond the financial support. Are there efforts that you know of to take on a long range task of transforming the attitudes in the ‘young social justice activist’ sector in that direction? It seems to me there is both necessity and potential here – you note in the article the generosity that exists in this community in terms of the heartening response to that loyal supporters appeal. So it’s not a question of folks being ‘selfish’, it is a question of institutionalizing that generosity so that a different and more sustainable culture takes hold. I realize this is a very knotty and difficult issue, but it still seems to me that, given the inevitable inter-play between media (and other) institutions and their prime audiences/bases, without a changed culture about money within the community at-large, even efforts that learn everything possible from the successes and mistakes of Clamor would have a very hard time. If you do decide to explore that area some time, please keep me on the distribution list for anything you write!

    peace,

    Max Elbaum

  7. mediageek » Distributor Death Takes Down Another Indie Mag said,

    […] The bankruptcy of major distributors is a problem that’s hit the independent magazine world like a plague, contributing to the closing of such great publications as Clamor and LiP. This is a topic I discussed in depth with Syndicate Product’s Aj Michel on the March 16 edition of the radioshow (thanks to Aj for alerting me to the sad news on PP). And Clamor co-founder Jen Angel has written an excellent analysis and reflection on her experience, entitled “Seven Years of Clamor: Challenges, Successes, and Reflections.” […]

  8. Will Sullivan's Journerdism » Follow the stats, or follow the ideals; The World’s Best Designed newspapers; How to do audio like NPR said,

    […] Reflections on Seven Years of CLAMOR Clamor Magazine co-creator Jen Angel’s thoughtful piece looking back on the experience of running Clamor Magazine, the importance of independent media and the eventual closing. [I’ve been a fan of Clamor since their beginning, I also worked with Jen and Jason Kuscma (the other co-creator) on a panel about corporate control and public relations in the media at UT.] […]

  9. Feministe » Whither Independent Print Media? said,

    […] with the recent rash of magazine foldings , distro troubles in the book and magazine worlds, and more trouble on […]

  10. Clamor Article as a Pamphlet, and Speaking events « Aid & Abet said,

    […] So, my friend Ramsey has just launched PM Press – and encouraged me to revise and expand the article I wrote on Clamor Magazine. So, it will be coming out in a month or two as a pamphlet, and of course  I will let you know […]

  11. red said,

    Hi, when i followed the link to the pdf the doc wasn’t there. would really love to read this, would it be possible to email the file to me?

    much wishes,
    redx
    http://www.redchidgey.net

  12. Jen Angel said,

    OK, i fixed the link. It should world now. Also, the article has been revised and will be coming out as a pamphlet in March 2008 on PM Press, called “Become the Media: A Critical History of Clamor Magazine.”

  13. Marti said,

    One day Clamor was gone. I thought it was just my independent bookstore (now closed) that had stopped carrying it and knew not to look around for it elsewhere. (In my city, Ms. Magazine is considered too controversial.) I saw a thing praising Clamor online and noting what a loss its ceasing publication remains. Couldn’t agree more. I think I was happier when I just thought I was doing without Clamor because I assumed everyone else was still enjoying it. Thanks to Jen Angel and everyone for all their great work. The last issue I have is the seventh anniversary issue. It’s usually on my coffee table and is always being picked up and flipped through.

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