The Stars My Destination! (Can You Spot Me a Fiver for Gas?) Fund Drive for The Planet



Cartoon by Jerry Wallace

V I E W P O I N T S

When I was a starry-eyed kid smitten with science fiction, I had this notion I could build myself a spaceship. Of course, I didn't have the engineering know-how to build a tree fort, much less something that flew through space (the final frontier), and on some level I knew this could be a problem. Still, I thought chirpily, if a girl just kept plugging away, problems could be overcome and sooner or later she would be soaring boldly where no girl had gone before!

Then I grew up and reality commenced its garbage-compactor process on me. You try being a writer! Rejection is the pond you swim in and the air you breathe. You get so used to being crushed like an eggshell, it gets to be a habit and you can't go to sleep at night until you've been kicked in the teeth seven times. Find yourself in bed at midnight with an intact ego, you have to get up and weigh yourself or something. And as time takes away your looks, your resilience, even eventually the people you love, it gets harder and harder to keep the stars in your eyes.

Still, I must have somehow retained a certain jaded optimism. Like I always wear earrings shaped like stars on the principle that if I no longer have starry eyes I can anyway cram some in my ears. And more to the point, if I haven't built a spaceship, I did anyway have the nerve this year to think I could build me a damn newspaper!

It's true I started with something that wouldn't fly. Unable to afford a print publication, I aimed instead for a brilliant cyberspace newspaper that would streak through the galaxy like a comet! But I don't reckon the original Dade Planet website, which debuted in February, would ever have made it much past the I-59/24 split.

I was still thinking in terms of a print newspaper, see, and had killed a month learning the basics of In-Design to lay mine out, only to realize the resulting PDF blocks were barely legible online and anyway couldn't be picked up by Google. So I switched to the site's simpler web-based program, but that was so wooden that every time I wrote another article I had to rebuild the whole newspaper.

Frustration with that process, BTW, indirectly engendered The Dear Abby Appeals Board, which has since become one of The Planet's signature features. I had worked all one day building a new front page when I pressed the wrong button and the whole thing disappeared as irrevocably as if I'd forgotten to turn my phaser to Stun.

No amount of pressing Undo would restore it, and with soaring blood pressure I gave up and allowed my husband to pack me into the car for a restorative hike around the Canyon. But no sooner had we set foot on the trail than we ran into our friend Sardo who said: KNOW WHAT YOU OUGHTA DO WITH THE PLANET? And I tore him to pieces with my fingernails.

Not really! What I did instead was, since he had so many opinions, suborn his name and image to create the advice columnist Sardo, Who Knows All, Tells All (Whether You Ask Him or Not) --I'm still worried he'll sue me for that one--and when I added him to the advisers I already had (Hitler and my dog Rosie), I realized I had the beginnings of an advice panel that could solve any human difficulty.

Anyway! I kept plugging away with the old site until April when, thanks to the cyber smarts of designer Katie Kasch Bien and a new platform subsidized by an anonymous donor I'm pretty sure was my beloved late friend Mary Petruska, The Planet got a new website. This one is more fluid and I've been able to spend more of my time chasing stories and writing them and less of it shouting words that can't be published in the newspaper, not even a forward-looking rag like The Planet!

So I like to think The Dade Planet is off the ground now, but the truth is it hasn't exactly gone into warp drive yet! There are still technical problems--Kirk had Scottie in the engine room, I've got sundry Justins and Jessicas in Tech Support--and there are logistical and design difficulties: What to do when the board of education meets the same night as the city commission? Where to stash special features so they won't obscure the bigger headlines but readers can still find them?

But the biggest problem, the booger, the bear, the Romulans, Klingons and Gorn all rolled into one episode is--brace yourself; I'm sure this will come as a shock--revenues.

Print newspapers have historically relied on subscriptions and advertising to pay the bills. Subscriptions don't work for online publications, or at least startup rags like The Planet, whose chief aim is increasing readership as opposed to whittling it down to paying customers. As for advertising, online rates are lower than print rates, and longtime publications can charge more than newcomers, but The Planet's stock in trade is unvarnished truth so I am willing to admit the biggest prob in this area is: Operator Error.

I pride myself there's no better person in Dade County than your narrator to write the local news but I don't reckon there's anyone worse at selling ads! I'm always finding myself explaining to hot prospects why a great place like theirs doesn't need to advertise in the first place, or asking them to cough up for an ad after I've recently infuriated them with an article, or just kicking over their potted plants and spraying them with spit in sheer social malaise. I'm probably better at starship engineering than salesmanship!

Despite all this, The Planet has managed to garner a few prized advertisers and will continue to recruit more. The hope is that one day The Planet should have, if not a profit margin, a positive rather than negative cash flow.

"...the newspaper industry is collapsing just as the always weird and nervous-making relationship between business and government grows weirder and nervouser, and could seriously use a watchdog."

Meanwhile, though, I had the idea, why not ask the readers, in lieu of subscriptions, to chip in what they're willing to? Designer Katie had put in a donation button when she put the site together, and a couple of readers have surprised me with donations unsolicited. (Thanks again, Em and Gary!) That gave me the nerve to try this fund drive. After all, like public radio and television, The Planet offers for free services that are not only valuable but simply unavailable anywhere else; why not, like public radio and television, drive you nuts asking for handouts?

I've carried on here a little too long about history to spend much time making a case for the value of local news, and anyway if you are a regular reader you have probably already decided whether The Planet is worth it or not. But I must say this:

Newspapers are historically the guardians of democracy not just at the national but at the grassroots level. Now the newspaper industry is collapsing just as the always weird and nervous-making relationship between business and government grows weirder and nervouser, and could seriously use a watchdog.

We have a nice lot of business and gummint leaders in our friendly little microcosm here at the center of the universe, and I like almost all of them and I ain't accusin' anybody of anything. But I often go into meetings where local governments and quasi-governmental bodies are cheerfully turning over hundreds of thousands of public dollars to private companies and I'm the only press in the room. So yes, I think The Planet has a useful function, over and above the Dear Abby Appeals Board!

And I'm out of room here or I'd remind you The Planet is the only publication in town that does "people-story" type features, to me one of the most interesting parts of a newspaper.

Anyway, donate if you can! You can press the donation button at the bottom of any Planet page, or click the display ad with the bell-ringin', tennis-shoe-wearin' Planet figure depicted in this article, or send checks to P.O. Box 173, Trenton, GA 30752. One caveat: Unlike public radio or TV, The Planet is not a nonprofit; it is just not profitable yet, which is a different kettle o'. Your donation is not tax-deductible. It is a blow for democracy, but will not cut any ice with Sam.

If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do, and if you haven't got a ha'penny, thank you for reading!

Now I had better STFU and plug away at that damn spaceship. As the saying goes, per aspera ad astra! Which I am pretty sure translates to:

From Tech Support to the stars!


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