On resurrecting Just World News

Well, here I am again, back at Just World News. It’s been a long , fairly roundabout journey since I first launched this blog, back on February 6, 2003. That was in the lead-up-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. I fell in love with blogging straight off. It thrummed with immediacy and my head was soon spinning with the connectedness of it all. Just going back and reading my first 12 days of posts brings on waves of nostalgia. We were part of a massive, globe-girdling antiwar movement. But we were unable to stop the war.

(By the way, you’ll see that we have now put those blog posts– and indeed, all the pre-2019 content from the blog– into a special container called “vintage.justworldnews.org.”)

I continued to blog prolifically at JWN until sometime in 2009. I was doing a lot of other writing, too. For the first few years there, I was still doing my regular column for The Christian Science Monitor. I wrote several long pieces for Boston Review. In 2006 I published a large, serious book on transitional justice issues. In 2008 I published a smaller one on, okay, world-order issues. I wrote in numerous other places. But I always came back to the blog.

After the Israeli military unleashed its ferocious war against Gaza in late 2008– and with Pres.-elect Obama saying publicly that “if my daughters lived in Sderot, I’d completely understand why the Israelis did that”– something snapped for me. In late February 2009 I made yet another reporting trip to Palestine/Israel. I don’t think I got into Gaza then, though I did later in the year. But the sheer scale and cruelty of the destruction the Israelis had wrought there was clear to everyone who wanted to look.

In the course of 2009, I decided I wanted to do something different. I wanted to help build an institution in the United States that could help give the Palestinians the fair hearing in the U.S. political system that had so long, and so viciously, been denied to them. This would be, I know, different from “just” being a journalist. I hoped it could be more effective?

Toward the end of 2009, I took up an invitation to become Executive Director of a small, DC-based non-profit called the “Council for the National Interest.” Yes, I wrestled inwardly with the concept of any form of a “national interest”, but I reformulated it in my own mind as being “the best interests of the American people”, as opposed to corporate or bureaucratic-government interests. CNI seemed to be doing good work to help empower Palestinian interests in Washington, and thus to right (to some degree) the imbalance of power that for so long had been systematically, often viciously, stacked against them.

Well, I guess I should have known that small non-profits are often extremely dysfunctional. Back in the early 1990s, I co-directed the Middle East program at a small, DC-based non-profit called Search for Common Ground that was riven with internal conflicts and dysfunctionalities. (Strange, because the “services” it offered were in the realm of “conflict resolution.”) Thereby hangs, of course, another long tale…

Long story short: There were in both those decades and doubtless still are today, numerous sad, older white guys who could not get their heads around the idea of a smart woman in a leadership position.

Onward. I lasted around four months at CNI. But upon quitting their dank and mold-laden premises I still wanted to build an institution rather than “just” be a writer. Having had my fill of dysfunctional non-profits, I decided to found a for-profit book-publishing company. What could possibly go wrong?

I incorporated Just World Books in March or so of 2010 and by the end of that year had published my first four titles. Let me just say that in the nine-plus years since then, I have learned a lot about the book-publishing business. The first thing I’ve learned is that, despite the apparently attractive options provided by modern technology, being a serious book publisher is still an extremely expensive business. Yes, you can produce and sell both print volumes and e-books fairly affordably via Amazon and its book-production subsidiaries. But as of around 2015 I concluded that getting your fine books marketed and distributed effectively in the United States requires working with one of the pillars of the massive book-trade edifice in this country. Otherwise your books remain invisible. And let’s face it, why should a small indie bookstore in, say, Bridgton, Maine have any desire at all to order in copies of a book that is printed and distributed by Amazon?

So I entered into a distribution arrangement with the Independent Publishers Group which put JWB into the mainstream of the U.S. book trade. Which is great. Our books are available, and efficiently distributed, to bookstores (including both bricks-and-mortar and electronic bookstores) and libraries nationwide. That’s great. But it ain’t cheap; and it required sinking a lot more investment into inventory than I had before.

Between 2010 and early 2018 JWB published some 38 titles– most of which would not even have existed if I hadn’t worked with their authors to bring them to fruition. I am super-proud of what we did and deeply value the relationships I built with the authors and their fans throughout that period.

These books remain in print. Some of them continue to sell very nicely– though always with razor-thin margins for the publisher. Some of them helped authors like Laila El-Haddad, Leila Abdelrazaq, Miko Peled, or Mohammad Sabaaneh mount to the next stage of their (generally, very non-traditional) careers. I am always thrilled to think that these volumes may lie on library shelves for centuries– long after some quite probable electronic mega-event has wiped out the whole internet and large chunks of “civilization as we know it.”

But as I said, book publishing is an expensive project. My husband and I could not continue pouring money into the company. We never found external investors. I had the brilliant idea of transforming the company into a non-profit and then trying to raise money for the publishing from foundations. To that end, I worked with a group of colleagues to found the non-profit (Just World Educational) that would be the recipient of the book-publishing project (JWB) that Bill the spouse and I would generously donate to it. But the IRS was having none of it. Like numerous other publishing companies that were trying to do the same thing (McSweeney’s among them), we found ourselves blocked by the IRS’s insistence that it wanted to allow no new non-profit publishing institutions. Though hundreds of long-existing publishing houses are non-profits.  Go figure.

So we had a non-profit whose main original mission (book publishing) was now denied to it, and an LLC (JWB) that lacked the funds needed to produce new titles– and with some pretty massive bank loans to pay off. Toward the end of last year, the idea of resuming my writing career became increasingly attractive. There was definitely a strong pull factor! So long as I was primarily a book publisher, it did not seem appropriate to seek also to get my own voice out there: my main role was to support the voices of others, which is what I did. But heck, I still had a huge amount that I wanted to say!

Intermittently between 2010 and the end of 2018 I would write something on JWN. (I also wrote a bunch of things on Twitter and quite a lot of semi-corporate-ish but sometimes pretty interesting things on the blog we built into the Just World Ed website.) But the internal nuts and bolts of JWN had degraded to some extent. We’d lost a lot of the text-styling, which made reading the longer posts a bit hard.

So at the beginning of this year, I made a commitment to resuming my own writing/opining career. I started off by writing 13 mid-length analytical  pieces for Mondoweiss, as part of a hybrid project, with the other part being a linked series of episodes on the Just World podcast platform. (I was also trying out getting back to doing audio… I guess ramping up a podcasting career could still be an option, though on balance I think I prefer text.)

Then, I started writing for Lobelog, which gave me the chance to write about a broader range of subjects. (Lobelog is about to be folded into the soon-to–properly-launch Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft… QI’s interim website is here.)

But I also became intrigued with the idea of compiling all my writings, fro all sources, on Medium, so I started an account there. However, that never provided such a comfortable, familiar home for me as the old JWN used to, so I worked a bit with the always excellent web designer Luke Finsaas to figure how to revive JWN… and here we are!

I have a few more commitments to fulfill for the other parts of the “Just World empire” in the weeks ahead. That is, JWB and JWE. But I am super-excited that I’ll have the chance to come back to this ur-part of the empire and settle back into the kind of free-ish-form blogging that I used to do here back in the day. Back then, it was a great complement, and incubator for, to the more structured, and more “published” work I did elsewhere, while also acting as a way of archiving both the links to my “published” work and my thoughts along the way. I foresee it being that in its new incarnation.

As you can see if you read the sidebar, I’m not opening it up to comments at this point. Moderating those was always such a pain. I am, however, inviting people to comment on the posts here on social media. Plus, we found a really good way to let people make decent printouts of the content here. Details here.

So, put JWN back onto your RSS feed and sit back to await upcoming thoughts about Gaza, about Bolivia, about empires and imperialism… or about anything else I may choose to write about.

(Did I tell you that over the past eleven years I’ve accrued no fewer than six grandchildren? I might even write some pieces here about them– and about the phenomena/experiences of grandparenting and of being a working grandma… Stay tuned.)