by MARK GABRISH CONLAN, Editor
Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
In April 1994 I realized a long-standing dream of mine and published the first issue of my very own newsmagazine. After a long apprenticeship in community journalism I thought I was ready to create a publication that would not only tell the stories, both within and outside the Queer community, I felt weren’t being told and should be, but that I would be able to make it pay for itself and even earn a living from it. That part of the dream never materialized — Zenger’s was always a money-loser, kept in business by the generous love and support of private sponsors and subscribers and out of my own pocket — but for the past 16 years I have lived a dream of being able to say whatever I wanted, write about whomever I pleased, and give space to other writers of a similarly independent bent, subject only to the rules of libel and journalistic ethics generally.
Zenger’s has been a wild ride for 16 years. In a way I see myself as a pioneer of a new kind of journalism that’s become all the rage now with the rise of the Internet (something I’d never even heard of when the first issue of Zenger’s was published), which allows people to put their information and opinions before the world without the heavy expense of printing a paper publication. In the later years of Zenger’s I sometimes described it as “a blog in print,” and in 2006 I bowed to the inevitable and launched the Zenger’s blog, http://zengersmag.blogspot.com, thereby being able to put before the public important stories I didn’t have room for in the print edition as well as longer versions of the stories that did make it to paper.
It’s been a pretty wild ride. I’ll remember the deadlines that sometimes kept me up until 3, 4 or 5 in the morning, anxiously getting the publication ready and in final form for the printer. Sometimes I could get pretty nasty to those around me — notably my long-suffering husband, Charles Nelson, who has put up with Zenger’s and its competing demands on my time and money since 1995, almost as long as Zenger’s itself has existed. I can remember on more than one occasion issuing a shame-faced apology, telling whoever I’d been less than kind, cordial or even basically polite to, “Wait until my deadline is over. Then I can be a human being again.”
So it is with a heavy heart that I am hereby announcing the indefinite suspension of the print edition of Zenger’s Newsmagazine. I intend to keep contributing to the Zenger’s blog and to invite others to do so. I will also continue to publish a special newsletter edition of Zenger’s on paper to fulfill currently outstanding subscriptions and sponsorships. I will not be accepting new sponsorships or subscriptions.
Why am I bowing out? A recent health crisis led me to this decision, though it wasn’t the only reason. I recently had the third hernia operation of my life, following ones in 1977 and 1997. In surgery, re-dos are always more complicated than original operations, and this one forced me to stop working my basic job as a home care aide for six weeks. I twice had to delay the operation — which was originally scheduled for late January, then early February, and finally took place in early April — and though I got out what turned out to be the final print version of Zenger’s during that time, the delays nonetheless unsettled me and forced me to re-evaluate whether continuing what increasingly seemed like a vanity project was worth the time, energy and money I’d been putting into it for 16 years.
Also, Zenger’s has become increasingly difficult to sustain at the level of quality and commitment I wanted to maintain. Subscriptions and sponsorships had fallen off. The expenses of publication have continued to increase while the income has steadily declined. At least partly due to the economic crisis, it’s become harder and harder even to find places both willing and able to allow Zenger’s to be distributed — and the harder it is to find a copy of a paper, the harder it will be to read it. And, as the saying goes, I’m not getting any younger: anxieties about my own employment future and my likely need for more health care, in a society that doggedly continues to regard health care as a luxury item rather than a basic human right, means I have to husband my money a lot better than I’ve been doing and that’s not consistent with continuing my dream of putting my name and thoughts before the public in print form.
People often asked me if I did Zenger’s all by myself — as if I could possibly have sustained it this long without help. I have a lot of people to acknowledge as having assisted me over the years, without whom either there would never have been a Zenger’s or it would have been a considerably inferior product. Foremost on my honor roll is Charles Nelson, my husband and partner of 15 years, who has always been there for me and I am sure will continue to be in my future endeavors. Whether it’s been driving to a printer at 3 a.m. with the layout boards of an issue, putting up with my deadline moods or just being there with moral support, Charles has been invaluable not only to maintaining Zenger’s but keeping me on whatever fragile hold of sanity I still have.
Next I would like to thank Leo E. Laurence, who for most of Zenger’s existence has been my associate editor and who has written more of Zenger’s than anyone except myself. Leo is a living legend, present at the creation of the Queer liberation movement in San Francisco in March 1969 — over three months before the Stonewall Inn riots in New York City where it supposedly all began — and he is now what he was then: fiercely independent, energetic and totally committed to alternative journalism and the rights of a community he — in one of the few disagreements we’ve had on an ongoing basis — still feels uncomfortable calling “Queer.” I regard Leo as a close friend and admire his commitment, dedication and drive. I’ve strived to make Zenger’s worthy of his association with it.
Also I would like to thank John Timothy Gallagher, whom I was dating at the time Zenger’s launched and whose knowledge and interest in graphic design was instrumental in starting the paper off with a bang. I would like to thank all my long-term sponsors and subscribers for their ongoing support in maintaining the publication — I couldn’t have done it this long without you — and also all the local business owners who have allowed Zenger’s to be distributed in their locations.
I’m proud of what I accomplished. I feel I created a publication that had its roots in two communities of great importance to me — the Queer community (a word I made the standard reference in Zenger’s largely because I can’t stand the acronym “LGBT” and I wanted a term that conveyed both inclusiveness and boldness) and the progressive political community — but that transcended both and brought insights about one to the other. I’ll be proud of the wide variety of people I featured in interviews and cover stories, many of whom I genuinely consider to be heroes. I’m particularly proud of having offered alternative information challenging the conventional wisdom about HIV and AIDS and giving space to scientists who argue that AIDS is a long-term breakdown of the immune system from various toxins and other causes, not an infectious disease caused by a single agent.
Zenger’s Newsmagazine has lasted longer than all but two other Queer publications in San Diego’s history, the late, lamented Update and the current Gay & Lesbian Times. It’s been a great run, and for those who are worried about the loss of the print version I assure you I will continue to publish my stories to the Zenger’s blog and look for other media outlets with which to share what I’ve learned and discovered to be important. I remember a 1976 political rally and concert in San Francisco at which I heard a singer named Betty Kaplowitz, who when she broke her string in the middle of a song just started an a cappella chant with only one line of lyric — “Nothing is lost but it changes” — and got the audience to sing it without her to give her time to re-string her guitar.
That’s how I feel about the Zenger’s transition: nothing is lost, but it changes. I’m proud of having taken this journey and I want to thank all of you for taking it with me.