12/31/2009 11:43:20 AM
Our mission is to highlight the best of the alternative press. What we have collected here is the best of the best of the alternative press. These are the stories we can't shake. We're thinking and talking about them months after they were published. These are the stories we will inevitably measure the stories of 2010 against. Enjoy!
The Revolution Will Not Be Funded
: So many months later, the bold, powerful arguments made in this excerpt from the outstanding eponymous anthology (published by South End Press in 2007) make their way into my thoughts and discussions about activism, philanthropy, and the nonprofit system—or nonprofit-industrial complex, as the members of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence prefer to call it. I’ll always be haunted by this line from Madonna Thunder Hawk: “Activism is tough; it is not for people interested in building a career.”—Danielle Maestretti
: What does one say about a story that begins with the discovery of “an alien nub on my left buttock, just inches from my exit hole on an isthmus of hair that juts into wallet territory”? John O’Connor’s uproarious Senegal-based tale of an abscess and a long-lost love is by turns tender and revolting; it surprises and delights throughout. We ran “The Boil” at five amazing (if at times pus- and blood-filled) pages in our March-April issue. I’ve never been more proud to work here.—Danielle Maestretti
Obscene Astronomy: Ah, Obscene Astronomy! This has to be one of the most cheerful and genuine pieces of writing we’ve published this year. Doug Reilly’s enthusiasm for astronomy—and sharing its curse-inspiring delights with passersby, through setting up his telescope on the street—is contagious, and the result is an essay that’s capable of reminding readers what awe and wonder feel like. Which, in my mind, makes it a perfect piece to revisit at the start of a new year. —Julie Hanus
The Lonely American: There’s been plenty written this year about loneliness, but little of it is as revealing as “The Lonely American.” In this excerpt from their book of the same name, Harvard psychiatry professors Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz get right down to illuminating the social impulses that have pushed us apart, from deep cultural myths (such as the self-reliant American) to more basic narratives that have slipped into daily life (“It’s too bad that we’ve lost touch, but that’s just the way it is”). —Julie Hanus
On Our Watch: By the time 2009 began, the word Darfur had become synonymous with violence, torture, death, and ethnic cleansing. No genocide has ever been so thoroughly documented while it was taking place, Richard Just wrote for the January-February issue. A persistent question remains: Why, in spite of the massive amounts of historical, anthropological, and narrative detail about the genocide that is available to the public could the world not put an end to it? Rather than allowing the violence to slip into the recesses of history, Just calls on people to both question the history and take action against the continuing suffering in Darfur. —Bennett Gordon
The Tao of War Photography: War correspondents are compelled far too often to share their thoughts and experiences. Sometimes it seems like every reporter who has heard a gunshot has a publishing deal to write about it. Yet we never hear from the photographers. The people with the cameras get closer and risk more than the people with the notebooks. Photographer Bruce Haley’s autobiographical “Tao of War Photography” is essential reading. It's part training manual and part memoir. It's mostly tragic and it's a little bit hilarious. And it’s like nothing you’ve ever read. —Jeff Severns Guntzel
The Mountain that Eats Men: This year The Walrus brought us one of the most exciting pieces of travel narrative from Andrew Westoll and Jason Rothe. In “The Mountain that Eats Men,” the writer-photographer team relayed their harrowing descent into the belly of La Negra mine in Bolivia and illustrated the bleak and gritty realities of life as a miner with such artful depiction you’ll feel as if you’re tucked in their rucksacks (with a headlamp and face mask on, of course).—Elizabeth Ryan
The Life and Lonely Death of Noah Pierce: from The Virginia Quarterly Review will haunt you. Ashley Gilbertson chronicles small-town soldier Noah Pierce’s struggle to overcome the posttraumatic stress disorder he faced following his deployments to Iraq. It serves as both a call to action and a constant reminder that damaged soldiers like Noah are returning home every day, and we’ve failed to provide the tools they need—and deserve—to cope with the lasting trauma.—Elizabeth Ryan
Der Indianer: Not only is this one of my favorite Utne Reader stories of the year, it’s one of our website’s most-read articles as well, clocking in among the top ten. Apparently, folks just can’t ignore the riveting question posed by the subheadline: “Why do 40,000 Germans spend their weekends dressed as Native Americans?” The answer touches on art, spirituality, nature, and gnarly issues of cultural appropriation, but in the end the tale’s appeal is simple: It’s just one of those “who knew?” stories. —Keith Goetzman
In Search of Silence: Who could resist going on a hike to one of the quietest places in North America, deep in the mossy, majestic Hoh Rainforest in Washington’s Olympic National Park? I certainly couldn’t, so I was a sucker for this tale about the Gordon Hempton and his One Square Inch of Silence, which aims to reclaim the importance of silence in a din-filled world. A quixotic quest, to be sure, but I’m cheering Hempton on. Quietly. —Keith Goetzman
12/31/2009 11:08:22 AM
Yep, we’ve gone meta. Here’s our list of the best decade- and year-end lists (and just some plain-old-list lists) we’ve spotted in the alternative press. Enjoy!
Top Ten Astronomy Pictures of 2009
Phil Plait, who writes the Bad Astronomy blog for Discover, offers up his fourth annual round-up of breathtaking astronomy photos. Seriously: You have to go look at these. For a second helping of awesome, peruse the blog and then read one of our favorite essays of the year: “Obscene Astronomy,” which appeared in our Sept.-Oct. 2009 issue.
Top Ten Worst Christmas Gifts
Grist, which also has “The Top Green Stories of the ’00s,” recounts the second annual list of worst—as in “profligate, unnecessary,” and guilty of “tasteless energy use”—Christmas gifts, courtesy of the Jamaica Plain Green House, a rehab project chronicled on its website. Warning: There is a thong-clad butt at #9, but if you can scoot past it, a jaw-dropping cupcake car (#10) awaits you.
Greenest Colleges and Universities
OK, so this isn’t a year- or decade-end list, but Sierra’s third annual “Cool Schools” ranking, published in the magazine’s September-October 2009 issue, deserves a shout out for equipping prospective students with an environmental metric. Note the link to Sierra lifestyle editor Avital Binshtok discussing how and why they do the ranking.
50 Best Movies of the Decade and 50 Best Albums of the Decade
Cinephiles and music lovers, this couplet of comprehensive lists from Paste are just for you—complete with trailers and streaming songs. I dare you to click through them and not compulsively begin adding things to your personal “must see” and “must hear” lists.
Top 100 Singles of the Decade
More music fun than you can shake a stick at: “Lifelong pop culture junkie” Ryan McNutt lists his top 100 and top 10 singles of the decade for Maisonneuve online (also published on his blog McNutt Against the Music).
Books of the Year 2009
Canada’s Quill & Quire is celebrating the end of the year with a feast of reading lists, including overlooked books, covers of the year, and a nice twist on the best-of genre: “The 15 Books that Mattered,” subdivided into lists of fiction, nonfiction, and books for young people.
Top Ten Stories Not Reported by the Mainstream Press
A yearly classic: North Carolina’s Independent Weekly publishes a recap of Project Censored’s annual list of stories that the organization says failed to get the attention they deserved.
The Vegetarian Stories of the Decade
Considering making a dietary New Year’s resolution? VegNews chronicles the significant legislature, important books, and other milestones in a decade of significant progress for the vegetarian-vegan movement.
The Best of Columbia Journalism Review
The venerable Columbia Journalism Review’s hardworking editors and writers, including Clint Hendler, Megan Garber, and Dean Starkman, revisit their top stories of 2009.
Top Online Stories from Next American City
Next American City expanded its website this year, including adding city-specific homepages and regular columns, and to celebrate deputy editor Julia Ramey picks out some of the best urban-minded reports, interviews, slideshows. NAC online also flexes its network of urban thinkers with a three-part series “Predictions for 2010.”
Sources: Discover, Grist, Sierra, Paste, Maisonneuve, Quill & Quire, Independent Weekly, VegNews, Columbia Journalism Review, Next American City
12/31/2009 10:23:33 AM
As a magazine that represents the best of the alternative press, we knew we should cobble together a collection of the decade’s best and brightest as the “Aughts” come to a close. We considered locking ourselves in a room with stacks of magazines, piles of journals, lists of newsletters, and strong emotions, to create such a list from scratch... until we remembered that we do that already every year for the Utne Independent Press Awards. So, behold! A list of the best magazines of the decade, as determined by Utne Reader editors from 2000 to 2009.* Each of these magazines won the award for general excellence, and with the exception of one—The Ecologist, which now unfortunately publishes online only—all continue to do excellent work in print. And all would make excellent belated Christmas gifts for the mainstream media–fatigued in your life. Here are the winners, and what we had to say about them at the time:
2000: Mother Jones
"After raising hell with its investigative reporting for more than 30 years, San Francisco’s bimonthly Mother Jones remains a living—and lively—tribute to its rabble-rousing, union organizing namesake."
2001: The Ecologist **
"To anyone who breathes air, drinks water, eats food, and enjoys nature, the Ecologist is a reliable and long-standing British friend, covering environmental issues with dogged assurance. The 37-year-old magazine publishes gutsy activist journalism that takes on agrigiants like Monsanto; sharp and soundly argued commentaries; unvarnished green consumer advice; and revealing, deeply researched features."
2002: The Nation
"America’s oldest weekly magazine remains a vital voice in any discussion of politics or culture. Probing investigative reports, incisive international coverage, a stable of top-notch writers, and wide-ranging writing on many aspects of American society keep The Nation consistently in the forefront of the best of the alternative press."
2003: The American Prospect
"A bimonthly that lifts political writing out of the mire of Washington Gossip and scandal, The American Prospect offers a practical vision of public life and policy shaped by 'the liberal imagination.'”
"This gorgeous bimonthly journal of nature and political thought can be counted on to provide some of America’s most eloquent and impassioned essays in defense of the environment and social change."
"With the environment in grave peril, this magazine from the Natural Resources Defense Council is an invaluable antidote to despair. Casual readers will find the accessible issue briefs, strategy notes, and hard-hitting investigative reports visually compelling. Activists can turn to deeper pieces that define key battles and ground-breaking solutions."
2006: The Wilson Quarterly
"Very few magazines come close to providing the sort of surprises that routinely spice the Wilson Quarterly's pages. Smaller publications are too often catering to niche readers with a particular worldview. Larger media outlets are hesitant to feature truly bold, unorthodox thinking, lest it set off a segment of their mass audience."
"ColorLines bills itself as 'the national magazine on race and politics,' but its scope is vastly broader. From economics, education, and the environment to immigration, queer issues, fine arts, and pop culture, ColorLines examines the myriad ways race—and our ideas about race—intersect with every day. The 10-year-old publication entered 2007 with a fresh redesign and a new bimonthly format (formerly quarterly), and we couldn’t be happier to celebrate its success. Its editors and writers provide sharp critique and an essential perspective."
2009: Virginia Quarterly Review
"In 2008 every issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review found its way into our thoughts, our discussions, our issue-planning sessions, and, in the case of the salient, heartbreaking story of a soldier returning from Iraq, 'The Life and Lonely Death of Noah Pierce,' onto our pages. VQR’s stories are deeply reported, exquisitely written, and elegantly edited—the sort of articles that make readers want to become writers. The magazine’s graceful design and sumptuous photographs bring the stories and voices to life."
* Math types and hardcore indie-press nerds will note that there is no listing for 2008. It’s not that we skipped the 2008 awards, but we did shift our schedule so that what would have been the ’08 awards became the ’09 awards. In the unlikely event that you wish to hear more about this, contact Danielle Maestretti, the trusty Utne librarian, at dmaestretti [at] utne.com.
** No longer in print
12/31/2009 8:36:59 AM
If our most read blog posts are any indication, our 2009 was filled with fighting, farming, eating, and science. Sounds like us. Here they are, in order of how voraciously you clicked on them:
1. Longest Science Experiment Ever: The Pitch Drop Experiment is the longest running experiment that no one’s actually witnessed.
2. Dirty Sketches and Other Things Carried to the Moon: A New York City auction house auctioned off hundreds of tiny treasures from the glory days of NASA's space program. If it weren't for this damn recession, I'd have gone after one of those lunar rock box thingys.
3. The Sweet Release of Cardboard Tube Fighting: We were thrilled to catch wind of the Cardboard Tube Fighting League. Choosing the winners of the Utne Reader Independent Press Awards will never be the same.
4. Eating Meat for the Environment: Maybe we should be eating more hamburgers. The author of Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness speaks up for meat.
5. Is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Afraid of Mice?: A jab at regimes with a less-than-friendly disposition towards free expression.
6. New Pepsi Logo Looks Like a Little Fat Man: Artist Lawrence Yang responds to the much-maligned Pepsi logo redesign. Hacking corporate logos—it never gets old.
7. Are Vegetarians Living a Lie?: When an author comes out with a book called The Vegetarian Myth, as Lierre Keith has, you know she’s not treading lightly. Keith comes from an ex-vegan perspective in her takedown of vegetarianism and veganism.
8. Live, Nude Farming: Visitors to the Rising Sun Farm in River Falls, Wisconsin, are greeted by a sign stating: “Our Farm is Clothing Optional. Welcome.” Yikes.
9. Introducing the People's Portable Garden: Nobody wants to stare out their window at a neglected, decrepit, empty plot of land that might sit waiting for a developer's blueprints for months or even years.
10. The False Courage of Attacking False Courage: What is this thing called false courage and why is it under attack?
12/31/2009 8:34:05 AM
A moment of silence, please, for the magazines that left us in the last decade. Here are just a few. And, if you feel so moved, give us a eulogy for the magazine you miss most.
12/22/2009 2:08:36 PM
Ah, holiday gift crunch time. No matter how much planning you do, there’s always something of a scramble towards the finish line. Take a deep breath, Utne Reader is here to help with its 2009 Alternative Press Gift Guide. The best part of gifting one of these alternative publications? Not only will you sustain the intellect of the recipient, you’ll support the independent press. Plus: No wrapping and certainly no waiting in line at the post office!
For the brainy new mom: Aptly subtitled “the magazine for thinking mothers,” Brain, Child speaks to moms interested in lively discussions about motherhood and child-rearing, with personal—and political—stories that always expand the conversation.
For the bibliophile who’s wondering where all the book reviews have gone: The elegant, oversized pages of Bookforum are filled with reviews that consistently pack the depth, personality, and variety that most newspapers and magazines gave up on years ago.
For the budding writer: Give a bimonthly dose of inspiration and support in the form of Poets & Writers, the magazine of the eponymous literary nonprofit. Its tools for writers are invaluable, and it’s a must-read for anyone who cares deeply about the big picture of books and literature.
For the tinkerer who rarely leaves the workshop: The name IEEE Spectrum may not sound like the a great read, but the official magazine the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers consistently publishes fun, readable, and fascinating science writing. When your uncle looks at your DVD player and says, You know, I can fix that, this magazine could keep him occupied.
For that funky friend who kicks it old school:
digs between the grooves of the coolest soul, jazz, hip hop, and rap recordings on the planet. The best of the bi-monthly’s audacious visuals revolve around underground album art and priceless archival footage from the cool to the psychedelic. The swaggering prose, which focuses on the music’s roots, is unapologetically geeked out.
For the silent soldiers of the bicycle army: That’s what Boneshaker: A Bicycling Almanac calls daily bike commuters, and this pocket-size pub targets its pedal-pumping demographic with literary-minded essays, poems, and interviews—a distinct and welcome change from the product-pushing focus of mainstream bike mags. On a more practical tip, Bicycle Times does the gear thing but keeps it real with actual rubber-on-road testing instead of high-touch photo spreads. This upstart publication from the makers of longtime mountain bike mag Dirt Rag also delivers news and features on the bicycling lifestyle.
For the cousin who doesn’t not believe in God, but just can’t get with the dogma: Geez magazine, which prides itself on making “holy mischief in an age of fast faith,” takes aim at the pious and the politically-motivated moneychangers and says “Amen” to community, contemplation, and big, open-ended questions about the meaning of it all. True believers, agnostics, and wary atheists are all welcome—as long as they don’t take themselves or their belief systems too seriously.
For those who revel in the esoteric: From the Pitch Drop Experiment to the workout machines of the 1800s, Cabinet digs up some of the most esoteric, hyper-intelligent, and strangely compelling ephemera in the independent press.
For the foodie who already has enough recipes: Gastronomica is a quarterly journal of food and culture that is sure to sate the appetite of the culinary-inclined person in your life. Each issue serves up an eclectic array of food-related musings on everything from edible cockscombs in Italy to eating with your hands—all with a healthy side of literary panache.
For Your Arty friend: Esopus, published by the non-profit Esopus Foundation Ltd., is a visual playground for anyone more interested in images than words. This twice-yearly art journal provides a free-form space for a wide variety of visual artists to display their work. Esopus is a work of art in itself, experimenting with paper stock, pullout posters, booklets tucked away in a sleeve on the page, and a CD glued to the back page. In the latest issue, a button in a bag is glued to a photo of a box full of buttons in bags.
12/18/2009 11:13:43 AM
Ethnic media saw their audience grow by 16% between 2005 and 2009, according to a poll released earlier this year by New America Media, an association representing thousands of ethnic news organizations. A subsequent piece in Global Journalist (PDF) quotes Garry Pierre Pierre, a former New York Times reporter who now runs the Haitian Times in New York City: "We are not in the same predicament as the New York Times or Boston Globe because we never had what they had."
Over at the Online Journalism Review, Sandra Ordonez writes about ethnic media's four-step model for the news industry's future. It's a refreshing recognition that the future of news is a conversation that ought to reach (and reach out to) all corners of the media landscape, rather than fixate on mainstream media and its boosters—a conspicuously homogenous bunch.
Here is the outline of the four-step model:
1. Forget the numbers. Who is your audience?
Historically, ethnic newspapers have been less concerned with numbers than thoroughly reaching a specific audience, whether it be a Colombian community in Queens, or a growing Asian population in Central Florida. They have been successful in becoming both liaisons and voices for their targeted population, so much so that they are regularly targeted by both national and international entities seeking to interact with their specific community.
2. Become the nexus of your community
It is not uncommon to see newspaper representatives establishing strong relationships with a gamut of local business owners and community leaders, while at the same time serving as 'networking' facilitators and community knowledge purveyors.
3. Understand your community's interest
Journalists and editors actively interact with their community and find out what stories are 'in demand.' Additionally, there seems to be more flexibility in regard to format and types of content that are published. Most importantly, however, they provide opportunities for citizens from different socioeconomic strata to voice their opinions and engage the community.
4. Think local
While ethnic newspapers may habitually publish news about their community's homeland or region, most newspapers focus solely on community news. They may not be as exciting or as sophisticated as newspapers such as the New York Times, but this ensures that published news is extremely relevant to the majority of their readership. In other words, the main focus is the community itself.
Ordonez gets a bit deeper into each of these in her piece, including a discussion of why mainstream models should follow suit. Thoughts?
Sources: New America Media, News21, Global Journalist, Online Journalism Review
, licensed under
12/17/2009 1:18:12 PM
Every year, newspapers make blatant, embarrassing, egregious errors, and every year, Craig Silverman is there to catch them. In the latest edition of the Year in Media Errors and Corrections, Silverman collects plenty of gaffes, including the headline from the DeKalb News (left), some of which are hilarious and some just sad. Here are a few favorites:
From The Justice (Brandeis University):
The original article provided the incorrect location of New York University’s new institution. It is in Abu Dhabi, not Abu Ghraib.
From The Guardian (U.K.):
This article was amended on Tuesday 20 January 2009. In our entry on Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Days, we referred to a Prairie Ho Companion; we meant a Prairie Home Companion. This has been corrected.
From the Los Angeles Times:
Bear sighting: An item in the National Briefing in Sunday’s Section A said a bear wandered into a grocery story in Hayward, Wis., on Friday and headed for the beer cooler. It was Thursday.
And the correction of the year, from the Washington Post:
A Nov. 26 article in the District edition of Local Living incorrectly said a Public Enemy song declared 9/11 a joke. The song refers to 911, the emergency phone number.
Regret the Error
12/14/2009 2:36:24 PM
Even when masked by the anonymity of the internet, a male-sounding name can help turn people into successful bloggers. “Taking a man’s name opened up a new world,” according to a blogger who writes under the name James Chartrand. “It helped me earn double and triple the income of my true name, with the same work and service.” Far from an activist parable, Chartrand writes that she would have been perfectly happy keeping her real identity and gender a secret. Eventually, however, someone talked. And though she feared for her business and her livelihood, Chartrand writes:
Truth be told, if just a name and perception of gender creates such different levels of respect and income for a person, it says a lot more about the world than it does about me.
George Eliot would be proud.
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12/11/2009 3:17:34 PM
Listen now (7:10)
UtneCast interview with Howard Zinn
On Sunday, December 13, the History Channel will air The People Speak, a documentary based on historian Howard Zinn’s book Voices of a People’s History, a collection of 200 documents and speeches that serve as the raw material to Zinn’s classic book A People’s History of the United States.
The People Speak features dramatic and musical performances by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Danny Glover, Josh Brolin, Marisa Tomei, Sandrah Oh, Matt Damon and more.
I asked Zinn to pick a speech he’d like to have performed for President Obama and who he’d pick to read it. He picked a piece read by David Strathairn and we’ve included a recording of the Strathairn reading here.
Music by the Bombay Sweets. Enjoy!
Image by Greg Federman.
12/4/2009 5:40:37 PM
Libraries are now piggybacking on the success of social networking platforms by unleashing their own shelf-inspired hub, BiblioCommons, which aims to create communities of patrons who help connect one another to new books to read by allowing users to log recommendations of books in the library system’s catalogues. So far, The Walrus reports, BiblioCommons has rolled out in several cities across Canada, with plans to launch in California and Australia as well.
The brains behind the book system, Beth Jefferson, believes we’re on the verge of “a cultural shift toward ‘object-centric’ networking, centered on common interests as the novelty of Facebook-style ‘egocentric’ social networking, based on friends of friends, wanes.” Let’s hope she’s right.
Source: The Walrus
12/2/2009 1:44:44 PM
The paltry pay and job losses that plague the media industry aren’t just hurting current journalists, they’re killing the next generation of professional scribes who will never have the chance to work inside a newsroom. Looking at the industry today, young people can be forgiven for not wanting to work as journalists. Even if they wanted to, available jobs are few and far between. “If nothing changes,” Allan D. Mutter writes for his blog, “the next generation of journalists will give up and move on to entirely different pursuits.”
That would be a tragedy for society, according to Mutter. He writes, “The loss will deprive citizens in the future with the insights that only can be delivered by dedicated professionals with the time, skills and motivation to dig deeply into difficult stories.”
Source: Reflections of a Newsosaur
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