Research Question: What does the rise and fall and assimilation into mainstream press of alternative newspapers of in the 1960s tell us about the likely trajectory and diffusive capacity and ultimate legitimate cultural impact of the blogs and websites which have proliferated this decade?
Think: Rolling Stone magazine, regarded as relatively mainstream these days, it started as an alternative publication during the Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1967. It adapted its editorial mission and business model to survive and thrive.
Method: An Extended Literature Review and Annotated Bibliography to address the research question and lay the groundwork for further study in a larger work that will include a content analysis of and focus on the legacy and lessons learned from the operation of Sixties-era Houston “underground” newspaper Space City News!
My proposal will consist of a substantial extended literature and annotated bibliography that considers sources that compare and connect the cultural shifts, philosophical underpinnings and technical innovations that led to an explosion of alternative newspapers in the Sixties era and paved the way for online forums and blogs, which grew exponentially around and after the turn of the last century. The review will focus on identifying and appraising the most valid sources that locate the nexus where the egalitarian ethos — the DIY mentality and postmodernist sentiment against absolute meanings — of both eras intersect. Moreover, it will aim to address why after so many years of relative neglect, “underground” newspapers have this year become the subject of books by academics, have recently resurrected as online blogs, and whether participants in the new media blogosphere can learn anything about survival from the tale of the rise and fall of the alternative Sixties era press – and perhaps, its rebirth. Wherever possible, it will inform further research approaches on how to frame the contributions if any of Houston’s Space City News!
Interdisciplinary journal articles, book reviews, books, websites and other such works by scholars in the fields of journalism and American history as well as similar works published in the popular press in print or online will be considered including:
- Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America, published by Oxford University Press, January 2011 and written by John McMillian, an assistant professor of history at Georgia State University in Atlanta. McMillian has a Ph.D. in American history from Columbia University, and his dissertation was honored by the American Journalism Historians Association.
- From 2001-2009, he taught at Harvard University, in the Committee on Degrees in History and Literature, and in the Undergraduate Writing Program. He is a founding editor of The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture
- Reviews of Smoking Typewriters in popular press and online media and academic journals
- Academic journal articles: “The New Age of Alternative Media.” (Cover Story) Columbia Journalism Review; Sep/Oct 2003, Vol. 42 Issue 3, p20-20, and “Alternative Newspapers and Mobilizing Information.” Journalism Quarterly; Summer/Autumn87, Vol. 64 Issue 2, p604-607, 4p
- Also published 2011: Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press – Part 1. Edited by Ken Washsberger and published by Michigan State University Press, which includes “Space City! From Opposition to Organizational Collapse” by Victoria Smith Holden and includes a discussion on alternative press and today’s bloggers. Plus reviews of that book
- For historic context: Uncovering the Sixties: The Life and Times of the Underground Press by Abe Peck, Medill J faculty and former Rolling Stone contributing editor (published 1985 by Citadel Press); Howard Rheingold on the WELL community and counterculture in The Virtual Community ; Takin’ it to the streets: A Sixties Reader (1995 Oxford University Press); Rolling Stone Magazine: The Uncensored History by Robert Draper (1990 Doubleday); Liberating the Media: The New Journalism by Charles C. Flippen (1974)
- Rebirth of Sixties era Austin underground newspaper: ragblog.com and The Rag. Search archives for relevant material. Online since 2005. Founder Thorne Dreyer founded Houston’s Space City!
- Online archives of Cite magazine, published by Rice Design Alliance, including report of panel discussion at Museum of Printing History’s “Underground Papers in H-Town” exhibit: http://offcite.org/2010/05/21/underground-papers-in-h-town
- Houston Public Library online digital archives featuring interview with Thorne Dreyer: http://digital.houstonlibrary.org/oral-history/thorne-dreyer.php
Ultimately, this research will inform an ongoing project on Houston’s Montrose Counterculture that I initially began as part of my master’s report for a degree in American Studies from UT Austin in 1999, and which has remained on “my radar” ever since. Thanks to advances in archiving and digitizing documents that date back to the 1960s and 1970s, research problems regarding accessibility issues involved in doing this project have been resolved. Moreover, in recent years, after hardly any such instances, all sorts of projects related to my research interest have popped up online and elsewhere: a short broadcast on PBS on Montrose, a film on the Montrose area music hall, Anderson Fair, the longest continually running such space in Texas, rivaling even the Armadillo World Headquarters and The Rag: A Film (scroll down on right side of blog for link), the legendary Austin underground newspaper founded by some of the same folks who founded Houston’s Space City!
When I was growing up in Houston, the place to find anything hip and cool and cutting edge – if you could not leave town and move to Austin – was “The Montrose,” an area inside the “Loop,” on the edge of downtown. You’d find a 24-hour walk-in drug crisis center, Townes Van Zandt playing at Anderson Fair, A Moveable Feast health food store and food co-op, The Grass Hut head shop and the “heads” at Good Karma auto garage would give you a fair deal when they worked on your car. The area had a counterculture alternative to just about everything one might need – including “underground” media on radio and in print.
Houston was an unlikely counterculture post because the city was known for its oil industry, kickers a la Urban Cowboy, mosquitoes and dreadful humidity, not soil fertile for the roots of a progressive culture. But it is where the Ku Klux Klan blew up the city’s Pacifica radio station’s tower in May of 1970, just a few days after the National Guard killed student protesters at Kent State. It was also the site of the Moody Park Four clash with police in 1977.
This proposal will inform a larger work that will argue for a greater appreciation of the Montrose Counterculture of Houston and the sequence of related events dating back to the 1970s that may very well have led to the 2009 election of the city’s first lesbian mayor, long-time Montrose resident, Annise Parker. Back in 1970, when communal living and co-ops abounded in The Montrose, one of the first such residences was The Westmoreland World Cartel, founded by “radicalized” Rice University architecture and media students. One of the residents was Travis Morales of the Moody Park 4, who lived there when he was a pre-med student at Rice. Today, it’s Mayor Parker’s home.