APR 2001

Agenda turns 15 this month. Need birthday-present ideas? Editor Eric Lormand ranks the ...



Hundreds of area institutions share part of their shelfspace or floorspace for people to pick up copies of Agenda. Combined, this space is larger than six giant highway billboards! Without this cooperation, it’s hard to see how Agenda could function as a free paper.

For example, outdoor newspaper racks cost hundreds of dollars each. And space in those indoor racks that you see in the big chain markets costs several hundred dollars per month. If unlike Jim Morrison you have time to wallow in the Meijer (or beat around the Busch or Kroger or CVS …) suggest to the manager that they could be better corporate community citizens than by making exclusive deals with those rack rackets (invariably run by out-of-the-county publishers of little Home and Auto Shopper glossies).

So once in a while, when you grab your copy of Agenda at an establishment, take a moment to thank the staff for making space available (free) for free papers. They’re providing an important public service. When you have a choice, steer clear of places that have ample room but refuse to allow free papers. Or suggest that they do so. (They might tell you they choose not to because of the mess—see #13 below.)

Occasionally an establishment allows free papers, but refuses to allow Agenda. One example is the Jewish Community Center on Birch Hollow Dr. near Stone School Rd. A JCC staff member recently told me, "We don’t want—uhh, we don’t have any room" … while I’m staring at other magazines also of direct interest to JCC members, arranged on tables in their huge reception area. This is clearly aimed at Agenda’s defense of Palestinian rights and criticisms of Zionism. But clearly many JCC members easily combine such views with deep love for Israel. Love that seeks to make Israel better—as opposed to a crush that blinds one to its faults. If you’re an Agenda reader and JCC member, please express your disappointment to the staff that they are censoring Agenda.

A second example of an establishment that censors Agenda while allowing other free papers may be more surprising: the Barnes and Noble on Washtenaw Ave. and Huron Pkwy. The staff’s explanation seems more honest, though puzzling: they are just following orders not to allow Agenda … orders from "Corporate". Ah, well. We should all shop at small-scale independent bookstores, anyway, or in a real pinch at least in a homegrown bookstore behemoth that does give Agenda prominent display space. But it might be fun to tell the staff at B&N why you’re staying away.

And please, let us know if you have any suggestions for more places to leave off Agenda. The current list of outlets is on page 17. If you travel at least monthly from Ann Arbor into the Metro area outside the county (e.g., Detroit’s cultural center, Royal Oak, Plymouth), and could leave stacks at a strategic place or two, we’d be very grateful if you contacted us.


If your monthly travels don’t tend to bring you to an Agenda outlet (in time!), or if you know someone out of the county who might like Agenda—or even more fun, dislike it—you can help us by buying an inexpensive subscription. $1 an issue just about only pays for postage (which can be as high as 77 cents) and a little labor, but subscriptions do wonders for our inspiration. They make great holiday presents, and especially great parting gifts for students or others who are leaving the county. And if you happen to be our one millionth subscriber, we’ll throw in a free sports phone!


Each month, I can be everywhere once, but I can’t be everywhere at once. Fortunately, you the readership can. Where you work, or where you shop, or where you roam, if you see Agendas covered up by another paper, do some creative levitation. If the problem persists, let us know about it. You’d be surprised what a dog-eat-dog world surrounds those innocent-looking stacks of free papers.

The worst citizen, by far, is the magazine called "Fake Ann Arbor"—oops, I mean "Real Detroit". They hardly ever clean up after themselves, they arrogate space, their magazine is a formulaic knock-off of MetroTimes, and it’s a weekly that should be an annual. Plus I hate it. Plus their mess is probably responsible for a rash of establishments denying space to free papers. That’s why, though it’s been years since I cleaned my office or home, I always clean up and straighten up our distribution sites—not only the Agenda stacks but the surrounding stacks as well. So if pursuant to #15 above you get a "big mess" response, ask the staff not to punish Agenda for the sins of Real Detroit.

If you suspect that a whole Agenda stack is nongradually gone, in the space of minutes or hours or a day or so, please let us know, even if you’re unsure. We have ways to figure out whether thieves are censoring us, or whether managers are overzealously tidying up, or whether we need to leave more papers there.


If you’re involved with organizing a local public event, make sure Agenda gets an email (preferably) or a mailmail or a fax notice. If you really want sainthood, you can save us lots of time and increase accuracy by following our calendar format where feasible.


A wise friend who was discussing activist organizing recently told me "I love alternative media, but word of mouth is the thing." Of course it’s not a competition—the more alternative media, the more words can reach brains which engage mouths. And word of mouth is a great way to spread alternative media. Put an Agenda on the coffee table, or better, the bathroom. Send people Agenda postcards (see pp. 12-13). Link to our web site, www.agenda2.org. Do your best schoolyard knowier-than-thou "ooooh" if someone says they don’t read the paper.


We’ll be experiencing some turbulence enroute to this one, so strap in.

Pick up an ordinary newspaper or magazine—such as the Ann Arbor News or the Observer—and you can’t find the content because of the ads. By contrast, pick up Agenda and you can’t find the content because of the microscopic font sizes.

FAQs: Why don’t you print in bigger type? Why don’t you have more cartoons? Why don’t you send a reporter to our event? Why do you do combined two-month issues? Why can’t I find an Agenda this time of the month? Why don’t you distribute in Detroit?

Answer: Guess.

Next topic: Media that is dependent on advertising is a sitting duck for both overt pressure from advertisers and a don’t-endanger-the-ad-sales self-censorship. You see it directly in the A2 News when they fill the front page with a pro-sprawl article on the Sunday two days before an election in which sprawl is prominent on the ballot (1999, most blatantly). Conveniently too late for anti-sprawl responses to be run before the vote. Flip to the classified section and tally the number of ads from real estate sellers versus the number of ads from food growers and air breathers, and follow the money. You also see it indirectly in the A2 News, which lifts most of its stories from the national media, and so inherits the pressures advertisers and government put on them—www.fair.org is a steady source of examples.)

Media that is dependent on advertising also makes its audience sitting ducks for deceptive or irrationally manipulative huckstering. You see the man-pull-ation every time "sex" (the going euphemism for a woman’s body) is used to sell something (even "sex" itself). Once you start to notice, you see the lure is almost always either sex or outdoorscapes. And that doesn’t even include the outright deceptions, about cancer or sweatshops or hidden fees …

Agenda has always been extremely fortunate to attract advertisers who are genuinely committed to the flourishing of the paper, and who we suspect would advertise even if it wasn’t in their narrow self interest. This means three things:

(i) Readers can use Agenda as a way of telling which businesses are run by people who share many of their moral ideals and social projects. When you eat out or shop, do you know what they do with the profits they make off you? Often as not, they spend it on something that hurts you and yours. But if they’re supporting a paper like Agenda, and indirectly all the causes Agenda supports, you can feel better about what else they do with your cash. That’s a valuable service that can’t be provided by avoiding ads altogether. (And meanwhile, even if a paper does without ads, as is common for newsletters of membership organizations, you can be sitting ducks for pressure from donors.)

(ii) These advertisers are unlikely to deceive or manipulate. They mostly prefer matter-of-fact, this is what we do, Yellow-Pages-type ads. Agenda has refused multiple lucrative campaigns from big unaccountable corporations dangling attractive bait for hooks made of tobacco and alcohol. My fond guess is that they keep trying because they want to kill off our readers. But it’s possible to have advertising without huckstering if the advertisers are local and accountable, and it’s likely if in their very act of advertising they are partly demonstrating their commitment to justice.

(iii) These advertisers are unlikely to apply editorial pressure, and unlikely to walk away if things don’t go their way. I have never heard a discouraging word from an existing advertiser, and I believe the same is true of Ted and Laurie, Agenda’s founding editors.

So the main leftover concern is editorial self-censorship, and since I’m the editor, to discuss this I’ll have to ask your forgiveness for my failing to censor what might otherwise seem some pretty self-involved detail.

Agenda runs on donated labor and donated cash, and though it’s probably not good business to say this, and though you probably won’t hear it said elsewhere even in the "independent" or "alternative" media that accepts ads: I would still run Agenda even if we did not ever have a single ad.

I have the great good luck to have been hired by you, the folks of Michigan, to corrupt local youth as a philosophy professor. So to be able to look at myself in the mirror, I return pretty much all that salary to its rightful owners through Agenda and other attempts to make the world worse slower. I recognize the absurdity of giving sedate professors tenure, and a more-than-living wage, when the people who really deserve good pay are those with the least empowering work, and the people who really deserve tenure are those whose work improves in proportion to the power of their enemies—I think of reporters and organizers and activists here, especially. So the minimally decent thing for a prof to do is to turn that absurd security into muckraking and ruckusmaking, to hammer the white picket fence into colorful picket signs. Otherwise, tenure functions mainly as a way of buying silence from many of the very people who have the resources and time and knowledge and platform to push for radical social change.

Point is, the antidote to self-censorship is self-financing. Because my university salary comes no matter what goes in Agenda, what goes in Agenda is easily independent of pressures from that source of funding. If I were not willing largely, and potentially entirely, to self-finance Agenda, I would worry about self-censorship.

Still, notoriously, philosophy isn’t exactly what you’d call "lucrative" even if you could stow away every penny. And publishing is expensive. Even setting aside the immense costs in time and labor, which are mainly donated, each "free" copy of Agenda costs a dime just to print—so 15,000 issues costs $1500—plus another few cents in equipment and expenses involved in news gathering and design production and distribution. And working on Agenda puts me in constant contact with further good social causes that need financial support, often on an emergency basis, so my salary quickly gets redistributed and so do the ad receipts. Ends never really meet, but to keep the ship afloat I’ve often had to reduce the (font) size and coverage and distribution of the paper.

Ships go further with sails; this ship goes further with sales. But ad selling takes an enormous amount of time and mental energy, and is especially difficult in the absence of "leads". And that (finally!) is the point of this #10 way you can help Agenda.

Do you know of businesses or nonprofits that you think should or might advertise in Agenda? Put in a good word for us, or call our anonymous tip line and we can take it from there. We can give you a many-splendored rate card to drop off, if appropriate—though the basic rates are simple (see #6 below).


So I hope you are filled with goodwill toward our advertisers for their civic-mindedness. And even the most proficient dumpster divers among us sometimes buy stuff. Okay, then, there’s another big way to help us. Our job is so much easier and our paper so much better to the extent that the advertisers see a self-interested benefit from your reader goodwill. So please, when you have a choice, visit our supporters and tell them why you choose them. (No purchase necessary, but it helps—you can simply thank someone for their involvement with Agenda.) It might feel weird to mention at first, but that goes away, and I suspect you do at least three weirder things each day, before diving into breakfast.


Our writers volunteer a lot of their time each month, and love to get feedback, whether PRO or con. Me, too. You can write anyone involved with the paper care of editor@agenda2.org, or ask to be put in touch directly. And you don’t have to write any big-deal "Letter to the Editor" for publication if you don’t have the time. It also makes our day, I mean our season, to hear plain old reactions from you.

Sometimes people wonder whether we print letters to the editor. Most of the letters I receive that are intended for publication turn out to be seeds for whole articles, rather than limited reactions to published material. But it’s true that I wish for more such discussion, and look for ideas on how to achieve it. I suspect that the time gap between issues is largely responsible. But it’s never too late for a good idea. There is always a "next time" to impact.


Here are some of the skills that it obviously takes to run a paper: reporting, photography, editing, graphic design, layout, counterfeiting, sales, distribution, and mailing. Here are some of the less obvious skills: webmastering, carpentry (building racks), art (painting racks), cartooning and illustration, research and sleuthing and analysis (e.g., filing FOIA requests, surfing, library diving), conducting interviews, cooking (popcorn goes only so far on those long deadline overnights), community or campus radio and tv production and performance (for ads or even a regular show), office organization (sick joke for those who’ve seen mine), typing or transcription (e.g., for speeches).

Can you do any of this or are you willing to learn? Great!

Are you unable to do any of this and incapable of learning? That hasn’t stopped us!


Because Agenda is volunteer-driven and not run for profiteering, we can keep our rates very low for commercial ads. You can buy enough Agenda space to cover 15 giant highway billboards for under $40, while that would cost over $55 in Current or Observer (while you have to compete for reader attention with all the other ads in those magazines). Also, since Agenda readers tend to be wary and selective about their media, Agenda may be your most efficient option for supplementing advertising elsewhere, either simultaneously or in alternation. We also extend unheard-of discounts to noncommercial advertisers--40% off rather than the normal 10%--while bringing their message to the readers most likely to care. Here are our quite simple rates, in cost per square inch of a single ad (a full page is 128 square inches, for a total space equivalent of 242 billboards):

$3 Nonprofit Noncommercial (e.g., announcements, volunteer ops)

$4 Nonprofit Commercial (e.g., performance and co-op sales)

$5 For-Profit Commercial (e.g., businesses selling Very Useful Things)

Please call Cecelia at 734-330-4175 for further details and space reservations.


Maybe with all your activities you don’t have any time or talent to lend (otherwise see #7 above). Maybe you have nothing at the moment to advertise (otherwise see #6 above). Or maybe you wish you could do something further to help Agenda, though you’re not quite ready yet to set yourself on fire so we won’t be cold in the Michigan winters. Well you may be in luck!

When you apply some of that time and talent elsewhere instead of Agenda—or maybe instead of working for social justice in other ways—do people come up to you and hand you greenish portraits of dead presidents or small metal tokens, or coupons redeemable for those things? Strange, isn’t it? Lift your sofa cushions and see whether you have any that you’re not using down there. We have a device for turning those portraits and tokens and coupons into the social justice you wish you had more time for. And we will gladly acknowledge your gift and thereby make you a famous philanthropist. Unless you’re modest, or don’t want others to come asking about your sofa.


You’re deputized. We’re painfully aware of all the important stuff that goes on in the county, or elsewhere impinging on the county, that goes uncovered each month. Or more precisely, we’re painfully unaware of it. Agenda has always been a community newspaper. If we’re leaving you or yours out, let us know. If you’re about to do something really cool, invite us to be there; we will keep it secret from the bad guys and gals. If you want to see improvements, we’re all ears. (Note to self: must acquire brains, muscles, and a skeletal frame next.) If Agenda used to have something you now miss, we can provide back issues help us reconsider our errant ways.


We don’t have enough people to be everywhere, and sometimes we don’t have enough people to be anywhere. If you’re going to an interesting talk or rally or, umm, crime scene, and you think it might be suitable for inclusion in Agenda, check with us then tape-record or film it for later transcription, or take photos. (Sometimes we can lend recorders.) When was the last time you invited a great speaker to town and 15,000 people showed up? Well, at the risk of having an Agenda issue that rehashes what the n people who did show up already know, you can reach another 15,000-n people who didn’t! Another variation is to ask the visitor to do an interview with you for Agenda. Visitors often eat that up. And for you it’s a fun way to get them away from the crowd (of n) for a while and draw out their human side, and a great motivation to study up on their work.


Agenda is always looking for writers and more writers on topics related to politics and service—with anything people do to make the world morally better or worse. Our regular columnists mainly write about entertainment and culture—with anything people do to make the world taste better or worse. I feel very grateful to be able to publish a handful of entertainment writers each of whom ranges widely and eclectically over the relevant terrain, and each of whom takes advantage of the alternative nature of the publication. They provide a stability and interest that brings a beyond-the-choir readership to … to what? To whatever varying themes you investigate, think through, live through, and write up.

Agenda lets you air your views at length or at shorth, as you see fit. These days we’re incubating a zine-within-a-zine, the Armchair Activist. In the last year we have hosted entire newsletters for the Tenants Union and for VINE (Vegetarian Information Network and Exchange), complete with their own cover (the back cover of a flipped-over Agenda issue)—in effect giving them free their own six giant highway billboards for a month. But we’re also happy to publish your masterpiece investigative paragraph (hey, it works for USA Today).



Agenda’s reason to be is to spread reasons to do. Do be do be do.



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