Liberation News Service

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Liberation News Service (LNS) was a New Left, anti-war underground press news service which distributed news bulletins and photographs to hundreds of subscribing underground, alternative and radical newspapers from 1967 to 1981.

History[edit]

Liberation News Service was founded in the summer of 1967 by Ray Mungo and Marshall Bloom after they were separated from the United States Student Press Association and its College Press Service.[1] Operating out of a townhouse at 3 Thomas Circle which they shared with the Washington Free Press,[2] with support from private donors and assistance from the nearby Institute for Policy Studies,[3] they were soon joined by other young journalists, including Allen Young, Marty Jezer and photographer David Fenton, sending out packets of articles and photographs on a twice-weekly schedule to underground newspapers across the US and abroad. By February 1968 there were 150 underground papers and 90 college papers subscribing, with most subscribers paying (or at least being billed) $180 a year.

The night before the October 21, 1967 March on the Pentagon, Bloom, Mungo and the other staffers convened a chaotic meeting in a Washington loft with underground press editors from around the country who were in town to cover the march; but they failed to reach an agreement to create a democratic structure in which LNS would be owned and run by its member papers. Operating on their own with a volunteer staff of 12, Bloom and Mungo moved forward with ambitious plans for the expansion of LNS. In December they opened an international Telex line to Oxford, England; and later that winter LNS merged with the Student Communications Network (SCN), based in Berkeley, which had its own nationwide Telex network with terminals in Berkeley, Los Angeles, New York, Ann Arbor, Ames, Iowa, Chicago and Philadelphia, leased from Western Union. In February 1968 LNS took over the SCN office in New York, which had just been opened by former Columbia graduate student George Cavalletto and others in a converted Chinese restaurant on Claremont Avenue in Harlem. Walking by, Steve Diamond saw a brand new Telex machine sitting in an otherwise empty storefront and a sign seeking volunteers, and attended a meeting shortly afterward at which the New York staff was formed.[4] Two months after it opened the New York office became a central focus for LNS activity during the Columbia University student uprising in April 1968, as a continual stream of bulletins going out over the Telex kept underground papers and radio stations across country up to the minute on the latest developments in the Columbia strike. To young radicals across the country it seemed as if the revolution had come.

Recognizing that New York was where the action was and running short on funds, Bloom and Mungo decided to relocate the national headquarters from the expensive townhouse office in Washington to the large storefront space in New York, which Cavalletto was renting for only $200 a month. Bringing Allen Young, Harvey Wasserman, Verandah Porche and some of the other Washington staff with them, along with Sheila Ryan of the Washington Free Press, they moved into the New York office; but a culture clash soon developed between the headquarters staff and the already existing local staff in New York, which had been originally recruited by SCN, and who had been running their own affairs up to that point. Over the summer the staff divided into warring cliques polarized between Bloom and Mungo, who controlled the board of directors, and Cavalletto, who held the lease on the office and was paying the rent. The Bloom/Mungo group was repeatedly outvoted in staff votes by the locals, who outnumbered them; only Steve Diamond of the New York group sided with the outsiders.

In August, a successful fundraising event led to an ugly fight over control of the organization's funds, with an angry posse of LNSers trailing Bloom, Mungo and Diamond to Massachusetts where they had used the $6000 cash from the fundraiser to make the down payment on a farm which was to be the new headquarters of LNS. A tense six hour standoff at the farm ended with Bloom writing a check to Cavalletto, but after the New York group left Bloom filed kidnapping charges against 13 people, including Cavalletto, Ryan, Thorne Dreyer, and Victoria Smith. The charges were later dismissed. For the next six months[5] LNS subscribers received rival news packets from LNS-Montague and LNS-New York, but the Montague group was understaffed, underfunded, and isolated on a remote (and cold) country farm. Only the New York headquarters group survived. Bloom committed suicide the following year. A pro-Montague account of the split appears in Mungo's book Famous Long Ago: My Life and Hard Times with the Liberation News Service.

Now under the control of a collective, for several years LNS was produced from Morningside Heights in Manhattan, initially from the Claremont Avenue storefront, and later from the basement of an apartment building which at one time had been a food store.[6] The subscriber base grew to over 500 papers, and a high school underground press service, run by local high school students, was added. Allen Young estimates that something like 200 staffers worked at LNS over the years, "usually with 8-20 full-time participants or staff at any one time."

LNS garnered support from well-known journalists and activists, as documented in a letter signed by I.F. Stone, Jack Newfield, Nat Hentoff, and William M. Kunstler published in the New York Review of Books. In an appeal for funds, the signers praised the investigative work of LNS, and noted it had "grown from a mimeoed sheet distributed to ten newspapers to a printed 20-page packet of articles and graphics mailed to nearly 800 subscribers twice a week.[7] The total combined circulation of the LNS-member papers was conservatively estimated at 2 million.

In an essay published by LNS on March 1, 1969, Thorne Dreyer and Victoria Smith wrote that the news service "was an attempt at a new kind of journalism -- developing a more personalistic style of reporting, questioning bourgeois conceptions of 'objectivity' and reevaluating established notions about the nature of news..." They pointed out that LNS "provided coverage of events to which most papers would have otherwise had no access, and... put these events into a context, helping new papers in their attempts to develop a political analysis... In many places, where few radicals exist and journalistic experience is lacking, papers have been made possible primarily because LNS copy has been available to supplement scarce local material."[8]

Throughout the 1970s, with the end of the Vietnam War and decline of the New Left, LNS dwindled with the rapidly disappearing underground press. Reduced to serving only 150 newspapers, the LNS collective decided to close operations in August 1981.[9] LNS records are archived variously in the Contemporary Culture Collection of Temple University Libraries, the Archive of Social Change of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Library, and the Archives & Special Collections at Amherst College; its photographs are archived at New York University's Tamiment Library.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ McMillian, John (2011). Smoking typewriters : the Sixties underground press and the rise of alternative media in America. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-531992-3. 
  2. ^ "Leftists and War Foes Set Up Center in Capital: 'Movement' Runs Liberation News Service About Its Activities", New York Times, Feb. 16, 1968, p. 20.
  3. ^ Young, Allen, "Liberation News Service: A History"
  4. ^ Diamond, Stephen. What the trees said : life on a New Age farm. (Delacorte, 1971).
  5. ^ Slonecker, Blake. A New Dawn for the New Left: Liberation News Service, Montague Farm, and the Long Sixties, Palgrave-Macmillan, 2012, p. 47.
  6. ^ Leamer, Lawrence (1972). The paper revolutionaries : the rise of the underground press. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-21144-7. 
  7. ^ Hentoff, Nat; Kunstler, William M.; Newfield, Jack; Stone, I.F. (September 21, 1972). To the Editors: LNS 19 (4). New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2009-07-25. 
  8. ^ Dreyer, Thorne and Victoria Smith (1969), "The Movement and the New Media," Liberation News Service, published at The Rag archives.
  9. ^ Ron Sirak, "Alternative News Service Shuts Down," Associated Press, Lexington Herald-Leader, September 13, 1981, p. C10.

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