The other night my brother-in-law, my daughter, my wife and I delivered the new issue of the Grand Street News to several thousand apartments on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It's back breaking labor. Your body is in a perpetual crooked bowing posture, with a heavy bag on your left shoulder, not unlike the images of wetbacks seeding the fields somewhere in Agro-Land. Except that instead of fistfuls of seeds you dig out heaps of newspapers to flip at people's doorsteps, floor after floor after floor.
My 12 year-old daughter and I also worked some of the stores on Grand Street. She'd pick a sheaf of papers and walk up to the nearest store and recite the text I invented for her: "My daddy published this newspaper and he's asking that you put it on your counter for your customers." Who can refuse such a line from such a cute girl?
For years I was a journalist. Wrote personal columns here and there, edited online magazines. Used to write on Jewish issues. Global stuff. The historic perspective stuff. Wasn't bad. Paid the rent. But none of it was heroic, even when I wrote stuff that irritated my bosses so much, they let me go. It wasn't heroic because it was a kind of mild psychotherapy. Some people tell their shrink about their homicidal fantasies, I told 50 thousand readers. It felt nice afterwards. Nothing wrong with that. Thousands of journalists from Osaka to Oshkosh are making a nice living doing just that.
What I'm doing today is as different from that as can be imagined. Unlike my columns, this work is an attempt to take the pulse of a community, to be a facilitator. The facts my paper is pointing at are the everyday realities of my readers. If I print a blatant lie, 10 thousand people will know I'm lying. They don't need research, they open a window.
My readers need information about the neighborhood: what's the hot political thing, how much are the apartments going for these days, who renovated their place nice, how do you like the new cafe opened near Citibank, and did you know about the blood drive they ran over at the community room by the river?
For the first time in many years I have nothing to say about Bush or Sharon or Arafat. But the last meeting of Community Board 3 is as crucial in my universe as any summit meeting in any European city. More so, because if, as the late Tip O'Neal put it, all politics is local, then local politics' gotta' be hotter than hot.
From now on our community has its own media tool, and we don't have to be fed with some Big Brother's selective information and opinions. Unlike the major papers, we don't cover stuff just because it's there, we cover it because it's connected in some meaningful way to our general mission, which is to promote civilized life in the neighborhood. We have taken a big step on the road to freedom for our community and its members.
We found a sponsor for our paper, a local real-estate man who's noted by many for putting his money back into the neighborhood. He's getting a good deal: his company name is right above our own, and when we deliver our paper door to door, we're delivering his good will and value to so many thousands. And we're getting a good deal too: we get to survive and continue publishing. We both found the way for empowering our community, through partnership of small businesses with creative professionals and dedicated members of the community.
So I write and solicit content from countless others in the neighborhood, and edit, and communicate with our graphic artist who's sitting in Jaffa, Israel, and haggle with the printing plant, and drive the papers back and deliver. So doing local journalism is about changing the landscape. Not only because a moment ago there was an empty hallway and now there's a little spot of newsprint at every doorstep, although that's good too. It's because our medium is most certainly the message: Lookie here, goes the message, used to be the people on Grand Street didn't have their own community voice, expressing their real community life, and now they do.
Yori Yanover, 11/March/2004
HopeWays holds that civil solidarity and the community spirit are the key to a better future for our society. More community activities can be found in our 'Community Action' section.