Weekend Gallimaufry - The Underground Press - a CBC documentary on the Underground Press in North America and how it grew as an alternative to the mainstream media, that was sadly lacking in substance . . .in 1971
October 9, 2010

The 60's and 70's version of the blog.

With the advent and growth of blogs over the past few years, I kept thinking just how much this was reminiscent of that now-archaic form of alternative media; The Underground Press. In what started as a counter-culture movement, spreading word about the arts, music and protest to the Vietnam War, quickly morphed into a full-fledged alternative to what was becoming an irrelevant mainstream media. Even in the 1960's, getting factual information and true pictures of events was somewhat hard to come across. Although by comparison, mainstream media in the 1960's could be considered far from irrelevant to what it is now. In the 1960's news departments were massive and documentaries and News specials were a staple of the TV and Radio diet, with many hours a day spent on delivering useful information to the public (let's don't forget the Fairness Doctrine and broadcasting In The Public Interest, two extinct forms of broadcasting now) and stimulating at least an access to if not an interest in, information about world and national events.

But at the time, the mainstream media was perceived as detached and out of touch and so the Underground Press came into existence, at least for a little while.

Here is a documentary produced by CBC Radio in Canada in 1971 about the growth of the Underground Press in North America. The focus is primarily on the Underground Press in Canada but the parallels between there and here are almost identical.

David Kiebold (CBC): “Dissatisfaction with the politics and style of the mass media is a North American tradition and is common to both right and left. That dissatisfaction has found a new outlet in recent years in the development of an alternative, sometimes underground, press. It’s growth has been rapid and widespread to the point where no city of any size is without at least one existing underground paper and a history of others that failed. It’s hard to tell how many there are in North America at any given time, but a conservative estimate would be three hundred, with a total circulation of 2 million.”

It's very easy to draw comparisons of the blogs of today with the underground press of the 60's. They have both been ridiculed over the years by mainstream media as the products of malcontents, amateurs, chaos merchants and wanna-be writers. Yet they have both, in their time, made indelible impressions on our culture to which mainstream media was forced to acknowledge and eventually come to embrace as serious journalism (remember, Rolling Stone initially started as an underground paper as did The Village Voice). The fact that putting together a blog takes no effort, little or no money and has potential access in the millions is a far cry from the days of the underground newspaper which relied on infusions of cash on a regular basis in order to pay staff, typesetting, ad sales, reporters/writers, editors, distribution and printing costs which usually demanded upfront payment, you can see the advantages the blogger has over his bearded and craggy predecessor.

Ironically, many of the former Underground papers of 30-40 years ago, such as Rolling Stone and Village Voice have become very much part of the mainstream press either by design or change of ownership. The underground paper of the 60's has become, in many instances, a slick info-tainment compendium with ad revenue driven primarily from the adult entertainment business or by corporate media. In what started as a small independent movement has been supplanted and morphed into the mainstream over the years and with it, the inevitable mediocrity.

What goes around, comes around. And it can surely happen again - as it is now if you've been noticing.

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