This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Reflections on the May Issue
by Stonybrook SftP
At Stony Brook these days we feel excited whenever a new issue of SftP magazine arrives. We find ourselves reading the magazine very thoroughly, commenting about content, style and technical detail. Since we produced the May issue, we’re much more attuned to mistakes and innovations. We feel a part of the production of each new issue and as a result very much a part of the organization. We feel from our experience that occasional production of the magazine outside of Boston would lead to a tighter organization and a more nationally representative magazine. We would like others to share our experiences, to know what to expect and what to avoid should they decide to work on an issue, so we have summarized the major aspects of what we learned.
First of all we would like to acknowledge the criticisms we received. We agree that it is necessary not only to present facts, but to follow them up with concrete suggestions for action at the end of each article. These can be in the form of names of people and organizations with whom to get in touch. It’s also encouraging to present past actions in the body of the article, so that people are aware of what has been done to confront specific issues. This has been done to a much greater extent in recent issues. We’ve also realized that it would be quite useful for readers if the magazine cover explicitly represented the contents, listing the articles or at least the major topic.
Throughout the production process we found ourselves preoccupied with the question “Who will be reading this magazine?” In retrospect, it seems clear that we can really only construct a magazine for people like ourselves. Our ability to reach people cannot transcend our ‘experiences. As our practice expands, so too will our ability to approach different types of people.
Few people seem to be aware that we collated the May issue by hand Although we were left with indelible memories of the particular page for which we were responsible (which appear in occasional nightmares) and warm memories of good talks we had during all-night sessions, and although it did save us a considerable amount of money — next time we’ll use a machine.
We did find that our job was much easier because the issue had a focus. Our interest in prisons (particularly with respect to Attica) led us to the topic of behavior control and its role in the oppression of specific populations. This focus changed in accordance with the particular material we received and with the broadening of our own knowledge through reading. We spent a great deal of time sifting through, editing and picking our articles. The editorial was being continually rewritten as we attempted to fit our knowledge into an analytical framework.
We supposed that having a focus to our issue would also be useful in terms of collecting material. It certainly made it easier to find graphics and photos and to plan out a cover. To solicit articles, we wrote up a detailed letter explaining the focus of the issue and the type of material we needed. This was duplicated and sent out to all the .chapters. We eagerly awaited the flood of mail that would arrive. Of course, we didn’t realize at the time that chapters overwhelmingly don’t answer letters. The magazine coordinator, knowing in the ways of chapter correspondence, responded to our consternation (hysteria) by sending from Boston a list of contacts, newspaper clippings, articles and resources as well as the invaluable time schedule (what had to be done when).
The combination of our own cockiness and Boston’s protectiveness brought on a good deal of teeth-gritting. Understandably we were amazed that they could doubt our capabilities. In retrospect a lot of these problems could have been avoided. For instance, little was said concerning the printing until we decided to use a local movement printer. Then came the questions: Who were these printers? What kind of work do they do? What do they charge? Do you really want to do it this way? Now these were all very valid considerations, but they should have been resolved before the magazine was started. So a lot of the problems came from failing to work things out in advance. In this respect, the handbook being produced by the·magazine coordinating committee will be useful to future collectives as it will treat all details (layout, page counts, proof reading, etc.). We at Stony Brook feel that we had a very rewarding and valuable relationship with Margot, Riley and Keith, who printed the May issue.
A problem arose over the autonomy of the editorial collective, and how far the decision-making process should go. This problem came to a bead when we rejected an article intended for the regular science-teaching feature. As this feature was part of a move toward attaining continuity and regular input to the magazine, the coordinating committee found our move divisive. At the same time, we strongly disagreed with the premise and content of the article and felt we could not print it. This problem is part of a developing contradiction: On one hand there is a strong movement toward issue continuity in form, layout, features and political line. On the other hand there is a move to decentralize production and article input in order to create a more nationally representative magazine. Aside from the May issue, all issues have come out of Boston. Because there is really no national organizational line, decentralized issues would probably represent very different outlooks and characters. Any attempt to maintain political consistency would probably amount to superimposing Boston’s outlook on the .national organization. At the same time, the use of all chapter articles that came in would most probably result in a somewhat eclectic, inconsistent magazine. We have to decide whether we want a tight, consistent magazine or a representative national organ . If the latter is our goal, we should stop worrying about a lowering of magazine standards and establish confidence in each other. From our experience, however, there is a definite lack of chapter response. This could mean (1) Chapters don’t wish to present their views; (2) People have become accustomed to having everything done for them in Boston; (3) Chapters don’t feel part of the organization as a whole. Given a lack of chapter input and responsibility it would be fooling ourselves to think that the magazine represents the organization as a whole.
Perhaps, then, the only way to establish a national line is for chapters to take on the responsibility of magazine production. In this way dialogue could be estabished around the concrete issues of this undertaking. With chapter views represented in the magazine, lines of communication would be opened, and the magazine could become a unifying factor. As members of the first magazine collective outside of Boston, we note that our greatest asset was in fact the resources and knowledge attained through our friends in Boston. The magazine coordinating committee was invaluable in terms of supplying information, contacts, newspaper clippings, work schedules and general expertise. The only way to appreciate the work that has come out of Boston is to attempt to put together a magazine. This combination of central resources and information with chapter responsibility and input is one good basis for a strong organization. We strongly recommend that other chapters get involved in magazine production.
PROPOSAL TO RESTRUCTURE MAGAZINE PRODUCTION
The magazine coordinating committee feels that it’s time to propose a change in the way we produce Science for the People. We are having more and more trouble bringing together people to form editorial collectives; we have no credibility in soliciting articles for the magazine because we cannot promise that they will be used; we cannot plan ahead. Also we feel that the political voice of SESPA nationally should not be controlled by new members who usually work on collectives; that rotating collectives prevent political continuity and frustrate new members who often wonder why they speak for the organization.
In lieu of rotating editorial collectives the coordinating committee has suggested the division of magazine production into three tasks to be coordinated by three separate groups: an editorial board, a production group, and a distribution group.
A full time editorial board would be responsible for soliciting, editing and selecting material for each magazine, and would be able to compile a store of articles to be drawn from in the future. A production group could coordinate a larger number of people to actually design and produce the magazine. An ongoing group would be able to build up a graphics file, search out cartoons and comics, make contacts with photographers and artists. A distribution group would assume responsibility for mailing the magazine and working to increase distribution.
This is a sketch of a proposal that the coordinating committee plans to present to the Northeast Regional Conference in November. The coordinating ‘committee would appreciate response from other SESPA chapters and members. We would also like to discuss ways in which chapters outside of Boston could still participate in producing issues of the magazine. The committee would also like to hear from any members who might be interested in working on any of the magazine boards should such a plan be accepted by the organization.