Michigan underground newspapers fueled political activism before the Internet and social media

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Capital News Service
LANSING – The Vietnam War, the drive for civil rights and demands on college campuses for student power all fueled a 1960s media revolution in which Michigan played a major role.
Student unrest and dissent were beginning to spread across America, not only in liberal-leaning Detroit but even at politically conservative Michigan State University, according to a new memoir by underground press activist Michael Kindman.
For example, that movement sparked East Lansing’s first underground newspaper, The Paper, in 1965. The Paper was born because of a philosophical split within the State News—at the time MSU’s official rather than independent student daily–as Kindman tells it in his posthumously published book, My Odyssey through the Underground Press (MSU Press, $39.95).
After Kindman failed to become editor-in-chief of the Michigan State News, he devoted most of his time to working on The Paper. It addressed such issues as university curfews for female students, housing bias in East Lansing and MSU’s support of CIA’s secret operations in Vietnam
Another of Michigan’s early underground press pioneers was the Detroit-based Fifth Estate.

"My Odyssey through the Underground Press" by Michael Kindman

A decade later, Michael Moore founded the Flint Voice, which called itself “Genesee County’s independent alternative newspaper.” The newspaper later became the Michigan Voice, and Moore became one of the country’s best-known and most controversial documentary film-makers.
Kindman’s engagement with The Paper put him in a position to co-found the Underground Press Syndicate, the first nationwide coalition of alternative—counterculture and anti-war—papers with the Fifth Estate, New York’s East Village Other, and California’s Berkeley Barb and Los Angeles Free Press.
In many ways, the underground press of the 1960s and 1970s served as a model for 21st century political activists who use the media to express a wide range of viewpoints, some of them controversial, about societal issues, according to Ann Arbor writer-editor Ken Wachsberger.
Social media and alternative newspapers provide a counterweight to mainstream media, although not always an evenly balanced counterweight, said Wachsberger, the editor of a series of MSU Press books about underground newspapers in America.
“The underground papers were the vehicle for the liberation movements of the day to get their word out when no one else was listening,” he said. “Those movements—the ethnic and gender, in particular—have continued to evolve but they found a base then when they were weaker and facing violent opposition that helped move them forward.”
He said, “The papers were our vehicle to raise questions about the Vietnam War when the mainstream media were parroting the government line. The underground press was the focal point for an entire countercultural community as they gained comfort with their differences from the mainstream community and found others who shared their differences.”
But Wachsberger sees differences between alternative newspapers of the 1960s and 1970s and the increasingly popular and rapidly changing social and new media of today.
“Social media can get the word out in ways we could barely dream of back then. One thing you can’t do with it, though, is hand a copy to someone you are trying to recruit to your cause,” he said.
And while most blogs are individual efforts, underground newspapers usually were produced from staff meetings that combined “marathon political education sessions, trial and error, consensus building, and other forms of political organizing that most social media do not utilize,” he said.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.

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