I have always found it difficult to ask for assistance, even when I have clearly needed it. This reluctance to accept help may be an overreaction to experiences in my childhood of always having things taken out of my hands when it became apparent to others that I was handling them incompetently. On Christmas morning, I would watch my father play with the toys he had obviously bought for himself before I had a chance to break them. Other kids also sensed that I didn’t know what I was doing, and a kite that was bought for me wound up being sailed by someone else into the electrical lines. Thereafter, the mangled kite hung in my garage as a reminder why I can’t have nice things.
My abysmal self-esteem demanded that I find things to do that I could master and that nobody else wanted any part in. That brought me eventually to music and writing, and tinkering with things like pianos and typewriters. The ultimate toy that I bought for myself (on the pretext that it was a “business”) was The Syncopated Times. In fact, it is a matter of pride that I acquired something that was mine alone and that I could re-create any way I wanted. It was a real Orson Welles moment—except that I got to be Kane, also. “I think it would be fun to run a newspaper.”
For the first year or so, things went well, financially. I had blue-chip advertisers demanding full-page festival ads every month. It had been much more lucrative in the decade before I took it over, but I showed a healthy bank balance while providing good editorial content every month. For the minor criticism I did receive, all I had to do was point to my editorial chair and say, “Here—you try it!” I knew what the critic’s reaction would be, and I smiled.
Then came—what? Festivals winking out of existence like spent stars, the inroads of aging on the Greatest Generation and jazz-loving Boomers, the consolidation and decline of print media in the face of encroachment by ever-smaller glowing screens, Our Kind of Music competing with the cacophony of Every Other Kind of Music—
And then came the Pandemic. Oh, boy. Even before that I was beginning to empathize with James Thurber’s aunt, who, when trying to repair a cream separator and only making it worse, wailed, “Why doesn’t somebody take this goddamn thing away from me?” Indeed, where were the companions of my childhood days, whose horning in on my activities now evoked a certain nostalgia. After March 2020, I particularly began to miss them.
But Orson Welles/Charles Foster Kane would not be denied. Not only did I stay in print when there was no money coming in, the paper actually improved. There was a certain grim satisfaction in making something out of nothing. It was stone soup with a breath sandwich. Why phone it in when that would be the easiest thing in the world to do? The Road to Hell is the Path of Least Resistance. I might as well have been chopping down trees with a pool noodle, but I kept things warm.
I proved my point. I can do this, if not indefinitely, at least for a while. I will admit, at this late date, that I tried to give away The Syncopated Times—twice. (It was interfering with the full enjoyment of my medical problems.) The parties concerned read this paper, so let me say here: I get it. Forget being an editor. A lighthouse keeper gets out more than I do. No one but me is going to do this for the foreseeable. Hedge funders and private equity firms are not pounding on my door to buy me out. Our venerable local daily is now a husk, soon to dry out completely and blow away to oblivion—and my shoestring operation appears as robust as ever.
While gently hemorrhaging cash, I happened to read an editor’s letter in a magazine we subscribe to. She began a jeremiad of the decline of independent reportage by saying, “Advertising used to be what paid for journalism in America.” She noted how print, broadcast, and online news platforms were losing money and cutting staff just to stay afloat.
My long-overdue epiphany occurred when she revealed that her magazine had always been a nonprofit. Advertising now amounted to seven percent of the magazine’s revenue, while “74 percent of our total revenue comes from donations and another 16 percent from subscriptions.”
I have been looking at this the wrong way round for seven years. I wanted to be a Media Mogul, but it turns out that I’ve just been a Media Muggle. After 36 months of manly posturing and pretending to levitate by pulling my own bootstraps, I’ve finally reached the point at which I’m willing to ask for help.
On March 10, I launched a GoFundMe campaign to provide a war chest for going forward as a not-for-profit corporation. When we’ve achieved that status, we can begin to provide a panoply of new services to the fans and musicians who keep this music going—and the future of The Syncopated Times itself will not be subject to the whims of a sometimes-cranky sole proprietor.
When I consider the end of The Mississippi Rag, which coincided with the death of its Editor, Leslie Johnson, I realize that establishing a means for my own paper to continue beyond my ability to produce it is imperative. The Syncopated Times is way beyond being my plaything. It is—or should be—a continuing public trust over which I have temporary stewardship.
If that sounds good to you, please consider visiting www.gofundme.com/f/syncopated-times.