The Manifesto

08.24.2005 | Harry Siegel | Media Affairs

From New York Press, on the occasion of New Partisan’s staff taking editorial control of the newspaper

 

As you may have heard, there’s a new editorial team aboard at New York Press. Mostly, we hope our work will speak for itself, but what’s the point in putting out a paper, let alone an alt weekly, if you can’t run an introductory manifesto? Here it is, then:

It’s the damndest thing. Everyone agrees not only that the city has changed immensely since 1988, when New York Press was founded, but also that something has been lost. Only fools and charlatans, though, wish it were 1988 again, when the city was crime-ridden and madman-strewn, on the cusp of bankruptcy and the verge of race riots. A different group of fools and charlatans are ecstatic about Gotham’s brave new existence as a place for college grads to drink, screw, and so forth for a few years before growing up and settling down elsewhere and for tourists to shop and gawk; a mixture of circus, campus and strip mall.

These need not be the only alternatives, but it’s where we now are. Gotham is fast becoming Mayor Bloomberg’s vision of a luxury city, where the wealthy subsidize the poor and everyone in between scrambles to make it. Or leaves. And that’s not to mention the vision—we use the word generously—of the Democratic candidates.

That part of New York that belongs to those who make it their home, rather than those who are passing through, is slowly dying. The cost of living is driving out the middle classes who have always grounded it and the artists who have given it a particular vitality. Plutocrats, poseurs, dilettantes and space pirates of all sorts are multiplying. Opaque writing and thinking and genteel corruption have drained our political culture of its blood. Our press has been emasculated by ideology and worship of a specious ideal of neutrality. The city remains in a state of war and a large part of our thinking class still refuses to admit this is so, while others refuse to concede any difficulties in the execution of this war.

What’s more, the city is an anachronism. There was a time when it was necessary for wealth, power and knowledge to be physically concentrated; in an age when technology allows financiers, diplomats and scholars to do their work just as well from Jersey City, Chicago or Omaha as from Midtown, this is no longer true. The fact that this is a tiny and barely habitable strip of rock-strewn land jutting deep into the waters of an ocean, unbearably hot in the summer and brutally cold in the winter, will catch up with us.

On, then, to our first principles:

The first of these first principles is openness. We care about good writing and intelligent ideas, not ideology. Just as you do, we have our own prejudices—towards fiscal conservatism and social liberalism, against abstraction and obscurity in the arts—but a good newspaper does more than express the tastes of its editors, and there will be many ideas and arguments in New York Press with which we furiously disagree. The Press has a fine tradition of vigorous disagreement within its pages, and this will continue. The one thing we never want to hear about this paper is that you agree with every word in it.

The second principle is that to cover New York, you have to go past the five boroughs. There is nothing that goes on in national or international politics or in writing, art or music that does not directly express or affect some particular facet of New York life. When bombs go off in Gaza, New York feels them. When great films are made in Denmark and Iran, they find their audiences here. When great novels are written about the lower Midwest or Constantinople, they seem to New Yorkers to be about their own lives. You’ll read about the world in these pages.

You will never mistake New York Press for any other paper. Other papers don’t run fiction and poetry and travelogues—we will. Other papers condescend to hip-hop as a sociological phenomenon offering insight into The Other and outright dismiss jazz as a museum art; we’ll treat both as lively arts to be held to the same standards as any other. Other papers think comics like Tom Tomorrow and Mallard Fillmore are worth the ink and paper it takes to run them; New York Press will run the best practitioners of one of the great democratic arts. Other papers run solemn discourses on partisan politics and the issues of the moment; we have no interest in civics as pro wrestling, nor in devoting our pages to words better left to blogs and drive-time blowhards.

Other papers think you don’t have the attention span to read anything longer than 800 words. We disagree.

Our editorial team consists of Harry Siegel, our editor-in-chief, and Jonathan Leaf, senior editor. Tim Marchman will be joining the paper in October as managing editor. Among us we have a broad range of experience in publishing. We’ve filed on local and national politics, music, theater, fiction and sports for publications ranging from the Weekly Standard and the New York Post to The New Yorker and The New Republic; had plays produced and written novels; edited for the New York Sun and for our own Web site, NewPartisan.com. It was in running this site that we tested out many of the ideas that will drive New York Press going forward, and met many of the writers whose work you’ll be reading in these pages in the weeks and months to come.

Years ago two among us, then in our late teens, drank far too much Jim Beam and decided to take over New York Press. We donned fake fur coats we’d found disposed of on 8th Street, woke up people we vaguely knew at about 5 a.m. on a Sunday, and wrote up a typo-laden manifesto on why the paper should be ours on an old Underhill. A bit too drunk to find The Press’ offices, we took it over to the Voice, where the secretary was quite confused by our demand to speak with The Press honchos, but did take our screed and promise to deliver it to them.

By some stroke of fortune, we have managed to end up precisely where we wanted to be then. For those among you to whom The Press has meant something, know that it has meant something to us too, and that we intend to carry on in the paper’s best tradition, and add a few of our own.

We’ve long said, with tongue half in cheek, that New Partisan was our experiment in figuring out what the old Partisan Review might have been like in the age of digital media. It’s worth remembering, as many seem not to, that far from a neo-conservative bible, Partisan Review was a socialist magazine, the lasting achievement of which was to foster the early careers of Flannery O’Connor, James Agee, Anatole Broyard and Ralph Ellison, among many others. If our experiment in figuring out what it might have been like as a free weekly is a fifth as successful as the real thing was fifty years ago, we’ll be very proud.

Our final principle is that it is not enough merely to give space to interesting ideas and good writing. A newspaper must serve an ideal of justice. We believe that everyone has a right to affordable housing in a clean, decent neighborhood, the right to have their children educated by competent, dedicated teachers in safe schools, the right to quality healthcare, and the right and obligation to hold a useful job, and that good policy is needed to extend these rights to all New Yorkers. We believe that government is not fully democratic when it is not transparent and open, and that a government that is not fully democratic is in important ways not legitimate. These beliefs will guide what we run and what we write.

Onward, then…

—Harry Siegel and Tim Marchman 



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