Words from the Grass Roots

In praise of the little newsletter

| November / December 2005

What is 16 pages, folded in the middle, published four times a year, and thrown away unread? According to stereotype, it's the lowly newsletter -- the dandelion of the media world. Though newsletters increasingly are published on the Web, many still make their way through the mail. Hundreds come to the Utne library, an array extending far beyond the world of nonprofits and nongovernment organizations.

In spite of their dowdy reputation, newsletters are a fascinating window on a thousand odd proclivities. If you're a twin, a collector of hatpin holders, a fan of The Andy Griffith Show, or an Abraham Lincoln impersonator, I have just the publication for you. Same goes if you're interested in getting a job as a caretaker, learning about alternatives to marriage or trends in sexuality research, or 'promoting the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl.'

Sure, newsletters often look staid and their prose may bump along prosaically, but many focus on overlooked topics, from rail passenger advocacy to your family's genealogy. To give the humble newsletter due respect, here's a compendium of some of the best. All represent grassroots organizations and individuals, a category apart from industry newsletters that often cost a hundred dollars or more for subscriptions.

The Compendium Newsletter ('Your Guide to the World's Environmental Crisis'), now in its 33rd year, features news, book reviews, and resource listings on topics from land use to forest conservation. Perhaps the quintessential newsletter and a good model for others, it's small, packed with info, and simply designed. $20/yr. (6 issues) from Box 351419, Los Angeles, CA 90035; www.ecoprojects.org.

The Funeral Consumers Alliance newsletter provides information from a nonprofit dedicated to 'protecting the public's right to choose meaningful, dignified, and affordable funeral arrangements.' Sooner or later we all need to know about these things. $10 donation/yr. from Box 10, Hinesburg, VT 05461; www.funerals.org.

The Ram's Horn ('A Monthly Newsletter of Food System Analysis'), Brewster and Cathleen Kneen's long-standing watchdog report on the agribusiness industry, was one of the first publications to report terminator seeds, bovine encephalopathy, and the dubious practices of Cargill, ADM, and other worldwide commodities controllers. $25 ($24 Canadian)/yr. (10 issues) from S-6, C-27, RR 1, Sorrento, BC, V0E 2W0, Canada; www.ramshorn.ca.

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