Ambrose Bierce fans rejoice!
FOUNDER OF MAJOR JOURNALISM ARCHIVE ON HOW IT ALL BEGAN
by Tom Streissguth
Well, it was like this.
It was the long cold winter of 2014. I was reading The Gumshoe and the Shrink, a book about Nixon and Kennedy and the election of 1960 when I came across the name of Westwood Pegler, a famous, hard-core right-wing newspaper columnist of the 1940s and 1950s whom I'd never heard of. I was curious to read him, and so I went to Wikipedia and Google to find some links. In the great big beautiful world of Internet research, I found nothing at all. Not a line. This prompted me to keep digging for historic journalism from writers I already knew well, including Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain. I knew they wrote for newspapers, either at the start of their careers or throughout their lives.
It was not easy. Except for Mark Twain, there were no comprehensive collections of historic journalism, organized by author, by theme, or any other way. There were unindexed scans of newspapers, which are just about useless for research, and there were excerpts on academic databases. The articles were truncated, turned into snippets or otherwise mutilated. There were a few author websites, created by enthusiasts who just kind of set up the page and forgot about it. There were no bibliographies online. And of course there were a lot of pop-up ads, and banners, and interruptions, and requests for my money for subscriptions, and constant requests for my e-mail address.
It occurred to me that the entire Internet has been turned into an advertisement or a demand for money, attention, clicks and loyalty. Information and historic documents have been monetized. There were a few sites such as UNZ.org and Hathitrust that were useful, but to do the research, I really had to go to the library and pull books off the shelves. I found the amazing bibliographies compiled by S. T. Joshi for Mencken and Bierce--I still have no idea how he did them. I found an older bibliography of Jack London's works, and collections of the writings of Stephen Crane, out of print collections of Hemingway and Henry Stanley, and so on. So I made the decision to start a private journalism collection.
I collected every article I could cut-and-paste, scan or type, as needed, and put them in massive Word files. If the articles were not online, I fished them out of books and old periodicals, or copied from microfilm. Then I converted them individually to PDFs. There were hundreds, thousands of pieces by the likes of Twain and London that were completely buried. They have never seen the light of day since they were originally published. Good writing, important writing, some mediocre pieces but many really good ones, as good as any of their fiction writing that you've seen in dozens of editions. And nowhere to be found on the multtrillion-dollar, multibillion-user research medium of the Internet. Not on Wikipedia, not on Gutenberg, not on Google. Nowhere. All public domain material, at least until 1923.
Why is all this important writing by great writers being ignored? It's weird! I decided to collect the articles into books and established a for-profit LLC, meaning of course--you need a website. I then went to a few Internet web designers, who quoted me large amounts to design a website that would basically consist of lists of articles, by title and date, and links to individual PDF files. They didn't quite get what I wanted, so I signed up with GoDaddy and built my own. I went to a few publishers I knew and suggested a reference book series. Collections of historic journalism that would make the research process much easier for students, writers, and teachers, a series of books that would never go out of date, could be issued in an almost endless series, and that would appeal to academic and public libraries in the US, Britain, any English-speaking country. I went to Kickstarter and raised about $80. I went to the Knight Foundation and got turned down twice for grants. I had a few lunch meetings, no offers or deals. So I just decided the hell with it, I'll do it for fun, because I just love finding this stuff, reading it, setting it up and posting it. I'm not good at business and marketing, so it's still just a crazy hobby. I don't have ads, I don't have subscriptions, nothing but the journalism. I just have a donation button which hasn't been clicked by a soul.
So the project is still ongoing, I have a lot of work yet to do, years and years. I have a gentleman in India who is working with me, typing from scans when the scans won't convert to text. I have about 3,500 pieces by Bierce to get, about the same from Mencken's newspaper and magazine writing, and so on. Just a huge amount of material. I also want to do thematic volumes, which will be collections of newspaper articles organized around a single event or theme, such as the Titanic or the Black Sox scandal. You won't have to dig and search in the library or on the Web anymore--you need primary sources for your research paper, or your history book, you simply take my book off the shelf and go through the table of contents. Eventually, when I can get a distributor, and some professional book people, this will all turn into a good solid reference publishing enterprise, but I've been putting it off because I know it will mean problems, decisions, paperwork, meetings, and the whole bit. Right now, I'm just enjoying it.
I'm in Woodbury, MN, just outside St. Paul. I'm using an cheap Epson printer/scanner and a Lenovo laptop with Word. For the books I'm setting up cover and interior files in Adobe InDesign, and printing them through Ingram Spark, a print on demand service. I'm presently converting the PDF files, which are created in Acrobat, to WordPress pages and I'm using GoDaddy as the host for the website. --Tom Streissguth
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