by Gilles d'Aymery
(Swans - December 31, 2007 - January 1, 2008) In a year when you are going to hear the overbearing and rehashed calls for change in the petrified US political arena -- the quadrennial charade -- Swans befittingly wishes to add to the chorus. Accordingly, be prepared to come upon a few modest adjustments in our publication, from a slight change in the modus operandi that has guided us for the past 11 years, to our bi-weekly distribution list, the insertion of links to documents found on the World Wild Web, and the publication of Letters to the Editor. Aside from these however, do expect much of the same from a publication that follows the road less traveled.
Departure from the past
We've always operated as an open, free-for-all publication, which has indeed been free for all with one small exception: us (Jan Baughman and this publisher/co-editor). We've supported this project financially from day one (May 1, 1996). We've paid for it, we've sacrificed for it, and we will keep at it as long as we can. For the past three years we have received a modicum of financial help, and at the dawn of 2008, for the first time, we have received enough money to support the operating costs of the undertaking. So, we want to give back to both our loyal writing contributors (who, while non-compensated financially stick to our rather unordinary and strident demand that they not multi-post their work) and the donors who are helping us with their hard-earned money.
For the first time ever, special collections of Adobe Acrobat PDF files of Swans articles will be available to financial donors and writing contributors; for example, Best of Swans and Special Issues have been created. In time more will be produced, including author-specific collections. The general, non-paying readership won't have access to these files -- documents easy to print and read at one's leisure -- though everybody will still be able to access the articles on the site in their original HTML format.
Some readers and friends have suggested that we consider publishing ads -- supposedly the "right" kind of ads. Others have advised us to offer Swans' coffee cups, baseball caps, T-shirts, etc. -- fundraising tools used by so many organizations. The more money one gives, the more "gifts" one receives (cf. PBS, Democracy Now!, et al.). These fundraising gimmicks would deserve more attention (and will, eventually), but suffice it to say: One cannot advocate lower consumption and berate advertising, and yet pursue consumption and advertising as long as it serves one's financial purpose.
Still, enticing readers to finance our work cannot be ignored. We do need help, now and in the future. Our tentative (and experimental) choice is to offer content, not garage-filled paraphernalia or ad gimmicks, to people who feel appreciated whether they give $25 or $1,000.
Distribution list: "Swans Release"
For years, we've sent our bi-weekly "Swans Release" to anyone who wanted to get a free subscription to Swans. This distribution list no longer makes much sense. First, anyone can receive an automatic alert to new published pieces by subscribing to our RSS, courtesy of Sean M. Burke. Second, the handling of this distribution list has become cumbersome over the years. People subscribe at a whim (hey, it's free!), then unsubscribe within a few months. Every time, it takes several steps to take care of their will. Time and again, subscribers change their e-mail addresses without having the courtesy to let us know. More often than not a bunch of subscribers let their mailboxes overflow and our Swans Release e-mails are bounced back. In each occurrence time has to be expended -- time that should be better spent on editing our work and maintaining or improving the publication. This distribution list will therefore slowly be tared down if not completely phased out as we will want to keep our financial donors, writing contributors, and loyal readers informed.
Links to external Web pages
One of the initial prospects the Web brought to the wider (if not wiser) world was the concept of linking to resources on other Web sites (hyperlinks) and the technique of hypertexts. Both floundered due to the commercialization of the medium. As pages disappear as fast as one can link to them, it makes little or no sense to keep hoping for an ideal that has long died and sticking to the painstaking habit of including hot links to ever-so-disappearing pages. We'll mention the links textually but won't link them live, except when they refer to a document on Swans or to sites we think with some measure of confidence are up to the task of storing their aggregate for a reasonable period of time.
Letters to the Editor
We've already cut down on the publication of readers' letters for some time. The main reason has to do with handling people sending comments by e-mail without providing their names and addresses. The trend, it would appear, is that people want to remain anonymous. The result of that trend, which can be found all around, is utter inconsequent idiocy (and nastiness). We won't buy into the fad and do not want to keep wasting time asking our correspondents to provide us with their first/last name and city/state of residence time and again. We also have to often deal with readers who send messages of appreciation or general comments about an article but when advised that their comments will be published they answer that they prefer to remain anonymous. That people write to a publication but don't want their words published is rather baffling. Fine, this is an inescapable reality, but time is too short to take all these people into consideration. So, expect fewer Letters to the Editors. We'll only publish those that are sent according to the guidelines (with editorial license, of course).
In the latest (and not final) analysis, handling an ever-changing e-mail database and distribution list when we have an RSS, corresponding with readers back and forth on the merit of an article, asking repeatedly that letters be signed and address provided, are not the best use of our time. Our human resources are limited and ought to be dedicated to our loyal writers -- editing them at will -- and to readers who are attracted to the notion of a job well done (craftsmanship).
Some features that won't change
When you freely access Swans Commentary you encounter an experience that is somewhat rare in the realm of small digital journals. First, you are offered original work, not published elsewhere (except after the fact, when our work is stolen by unethical bloggers and anonymous participants on mostly meaningless fora). Second, you run into a diversity of views, thoughts, and opinions by people of all walks of life, nationally (USA, where we are located) and internationally. Third, you are able to read a collective or cooperative work, not a one-person show. Fourth, you can appreciate the thorough, painstaking editing of the various essays, articles, book reviews, and poems, both for form and substance (style and facts). Fifth, you are spared the commercialization of our dumbing-down ad culture. Sixth, each individual page on the site is clean and properly formatted (HTML-wise), absent of maddening Java scripts, large graphics, and the YouTube egocentric videos, which slow the downloading of the pages to a screeching halt, especially when a reader only has a slow land-line connection to the Internet. How many Web publications entail these six characteristics?
It ought to be obvious to attentive minds and sharp eyes that our publication is neither dogmatic nor ideological, yet is firmly rooted in a social, political, and cultural environment best represented by, say, among many others, Eugene Debs in the U.S. or Jean Jaurès in France. As such, it's only natural that writers who embody these traditions are welcome on Swans and present their views according to their own sensitivities, but in a world made up of complexities and relativism, it is as natural to present differing opinions that still fall within the spirit of this environment. This approach, unnerving to some, has the merit to put forward a diversity of opinions and to keep a balance among the responses to the many challenges of our time. It also has a major weakness: It is considered too indecisive by the more militant readers. This is a matter of genuine tribulation for this editor, especially because for as long he can remember he has never wavered on his convictions. (1) A humanist who's comfortable with the notion of relativity will effortlessly identify with that tribulation. One needs not be a doctrinaire to belong to the age-old struggle for social justice and a saner, more egalitarian and peaceful world. (2)
In the long chain of life, we hope you will find in Swans a small link on that road less traveled. Thank you for your support.
1. To this editor, ever since his early days in France, the instituteur (primary school teacher) will always take precedence over the curé (priest), the laïc (secular) over the grenouilles de bénitier (believers, to put it charitably), the poor over the rich, the laissés pour compte (forgotten, wretched masses) over the pousse à jouir bien pensants (bourgeois, in short), the banlieues (hood, slum, poor districts) over the beaux quartiers (wealthy neighborhoods), and, among many others, his preferred, the chien perdu sans collier (abandoned mutt) over the pure sang (dog with pedigree). Racism, abuse, hate, authoritarianism, violence, have always been anathema to his core convictions. (back)
2. Besides, while everything is political in one form or the other, we all need respite from that beast in the here and now. Our more literary pieces fulfill that function. (back)
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