Looking Back and Looking Forward

Let us begin with a brief look back, and end with a concise look forward. It’s the only way we can imagine making the middle—the present—tolerable.

We are approaching the quarter-century mark for our appearance in this format: a fortnightly tabloid, broadly distributed for free, and available for subscription by First Class mail. We hope to continue in this form… well, basically forever. It works so well for us that a casual observer might think it was arrived at by design. Such was not entirely the case; we found our path mostly by stumbling in the dark.

We acquired the legal rights to this newspaper in 1989, thanks to inattention in the offices of the Portsmouth Herald, then owned by the world’s biggest press baron, a Canadian, Kenneth Thomson, 2nd Baron Thomson of Fleet. The daily Herald and the weekly Gazette had been published in tandem since the turn of the 20th century. Such arrangements have been common in newspapering since the 19th century.

Early in 1960, the same year as the Nixon-Kennedy debates, the management of the Herald made an inexplicable decision: change the name of the Saturday Gazette to the Herald Weekend Edition. That would have been the end, had they not also added a line to the Herald’s masthead: “Continuing the New Hampshire Gazette – America’s Oldest Newspaper.” Again, an old tradition: newspapers have been absorbing and continuing other newspapers since the beginning.

By 1989, though, the Baron’s local minions had grown careless. They allowed the registration of the tradename to lapse. A $40 check to the Secretary of State, and it was ours—with a cherry on top. The certificate bearing Bill Gardner’s official seal was signed on May Day.

We saw two potential paths forward: present some ginned-up business plan to some theoretical group of investors, or simply blunder ahead, bankrolled by pocket lint, and get back into print. By framing that moment in this way, we disingenuously imply that a thought process was involved and a decision was made. That’s not actually true. No notion of surrendering an iota of independence ever entered our editorial head. Not that anyone would have staked a dollar on us anyway.

So, for a decade, we published in several short-run formats, from a few locations, on an unscheduled, episodical basis, mailing the paper to subscribers.

Then, in 1999, here in Portsmouth, we managed to get the required pieces in place. We went from short runs on a sheet-fed press to runs in the thousands, on newsprint, from a big web press.

We had no idea how the reading public might respond. Would they public accept the paper? Or laugh us out of town? Well, there has been a certain amount of laughter—but we are still here. We met, not just acceptance, but welcome. Long known as the City of Open Doors, Portsmouth has certainly lived up to its reputation in our case.

A small contingent of allies quickly appeared—and pitched in. More people joined in. We all learned, together, that putting out a newspaper can be a lot of fun.

It’s paradoxical, we’ll admit. Especially in a world where the news can be like this:


Bloodbath, Schmudbath

A fake billionaire and would-be despot who recently locked up the Republican presidential nomination said in Dayton, Ohio last weekend, “…if I don’t get elected, it’s going to be a bloodbath, for the whole—that’s going to be the least of it. It’s going to be a bloodbath for the country.”

Cult followers attempted to minimize the unprecedented attempt to pitch a civil war as a campaign promise, citing the chronic blowhard’s use of a “pig-in-a-blanket” propaganda technique. When your rhetorical style consists of rambling incoherence, violent code phrases wrapped in bullshit are more easily dismissed.

Even such allegedly august institutions as the Annenberg Public Policy Center still fall for this trick. FactCheck.org’s Robert Farley tackled the issue on Monday. Well, maybe “tackled” is too strong a word. “Bent the knee” is more like it.

Writing about a Washington Post story in which the “Biden campaign characterized the comment as a promise of political violence,” Farley turned to Steven Cheung for another perspective:

“‘If you actually watch and listen to the section, he was talking about the auto industry and tariffs,’ he wrote in an email, adding that ‘Biden’s policies will create an economic bloodbath for the auto industry and autoworkers.’”

Farley’s ruling? “That explanation seems the most plausible, given the context of [the candidate’s] comments.”

TPM’s Josh Marshall summed up the “controversy” best: “If a mob boss says someone is going to go sleep with the fishes I’m not going to get into an argument about whether that person has a big aquarium in his bedroom. Because he’s a mob boss and I’m not a chump and murdering people is what he does.”

In other news from Dayton, the Republican candidate for president—who, according to his first wife, kept a book of Adolf Hitler’s speeches in a cabinet by his bed—also called immigrants “animals” who “are not people.”

Intel Briefings for Fake Billionaire?

Lawyers for the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential nominee recently informed a New York judge that their client—alleged by many former business associates to be a notorious deadbeat—cannot find a financial institution willing to risk half a billion dollars on a guy who’s run six companies into bankruptcy.

On Monday, the New York Times reported that Paul Manafort “is in discussions to return to help with the Republican National Convention… Mr. Manafort’s potential role at the party’s convention in Milwaukee has not been decided.”

Let’s see… what job experience does he have? Money laundering? Check. Tax fraud? Check. Bank fraud? Check. Witness tampering? Check. Conspiracy to defraud? Check. “Grave counterintelligence threat due to opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump campaign”? Check—according to a Republican-controlled Senate committee.

Still no word on any cancellation of the routine intelligence briefings normally given to presidential candidates.

In local news, Governor Sununu and would-be Senator Kelly Ayotte are still on record backing the GOP nominee.

Is Failure an Option? Of Course It Is!

This rant began by reminiscing about reaquainting readers in Portsmouth and its environs with a paper it hadn’t seen since in print since Eisenhower was president. Our odds were probably better than we’d guessed; we are still here, so we must have succeeded, but that outcome was certainly not a given.

A certain idiotic catchphrase* notwithstanding, failure has always been an option, and forever will be. In the long run it’s a certainty. In five billion years the Sun will run out of hydrogen and begin burning helium. It will then expand until Earth—or whatever’s left of it after the Anthropocene—burns to a crisp.

To be afraid to fail is to be afraid to live. Having liberated our minds, what shall we risk next?

Let’s risk looking like fools by redoubling our efforts to expand our system of distribution by volunteers.

That is the point behind the map shown here, which is now live on our website.

Our aim is to increase our readership, by increasing the number of our distribution locations. For that, we will need assistance from two types of volunteers.

We will need couriers—people who regularly commute, and are willing to carry a bundle or two of papers.

We will also need local distributors—people willing to receive those bundles, and distribute them to locations near where they live.

There may be some people who are willing to do both these things, but the default plan is to divide up the tasks, so as to minimize the disruption from peoples’ daily routines.

If you regularly travel a certain route in this general area, and you like the paper well enough to consider being part of our team, drop us a line at editors@nhgazette.com. Putting “Distribution” in the subject line will help.

Organizing this system will take some time—if it works at all. There will be a lot of moving parts, particularly coordinating between couriers and distributors. But as our long-time volunteers can tell you, it’s actually fun. Kind of like painting a fence in Hannibal, Mo.

* Terminally tired of this fatuous trope, we tracked it backwards in the vain hope we might kill it. We expected to find John Wayne in its first instance, cosplaying a Marine in the Pacific, circa 1943. What we found was even better. Google Books’ Ngram Viewer says “failure is not an option” appeared first in 1970—just about the time that even “realists” were admitting that success was not an option in Vietnam. It disappeared, statistically speaking, in 1972, only to be resurrected in 1979—the time of the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Another blip came in 1986, about the time the Sandinistas shot down Eugene Hasenfus’ C-123. It achieved liftoff during the Clinton administration, and has been annoying the hell out us ever since.

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