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Pub-Forum, Publish-L & Free Speech

The phenomena of cross posting to both Pub-Forum & Publish-L occasionally evokes a storm of protest and principles on the Publisher Forum, the Internet discussion group (e-mail list server) for small press publishers. What follows is my take on the whole issue, along with some background information for those new to this controversy and unacquainted with the source of the dispute.

It may surprise you to learn that I am not a supporter of Free Speech. That is, the untrammeled right of anyone to say anything, anywhere, at any time, in any fashion they choose.

I believe and support and am passionate about Responsible Speech. Incidently, so is the United States Constitution as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court.

You cannot say anything you like, anywhere you like, in any manner you like, if what you say is:

Personally, I think if you have something to say, go ahead and say it. But if it falls under a category of criminal expression then you must also be prepared to accept whatever penalties and punishment the law provides for.

It should be clearly noted that for many engaged in the discussions regarding the exclusion of Al Canton from Publish-L, the issue was never one of "free speech" but of "prior restraint." These folks, on a point of principle, voluntarily opted to remove themselves from participating in Publish-L.

It should also be noted that some folks were summarily excluded from Publish-L when they posted complaints over Al's banishment from the list, and cited prior restraint and/or free speech issues as the basis for their objection.

Pub-Forum was established four months before the creation of Publish-L by Eric Anderson as a direct response to the first shut down of the PMA list. PubForum would be a list where "prior restraint" would never be employed against an e-mail list member or member applicant. Being already in place, PubForum quickly became the preferred alternative to Publish-L for those who were in disagreement with Pat Gundry's listserv policies.

Now as to the ethics, morality, and considerations of etiquette when it comes to speaking your mind:

The old PMA-L (the old Internet discussion group for small press publishers sponsored and operated by the Publishers Marketing Association) was badly handled by the PMA and proved to be a source of high contention and the kind of name-calling argumentation that breaks out in most e-mail lists from time to time and is called "flaming."

PMA really did itself and its membership a profound disservice in the abrupt and preemptory manner in which it discontinued its e-mail list -- a resource that for many neophyte publishers had proven invaluable, despite the chronic disputes.

Publish-L came into being as an attempt to salvage the value of such a discussion list for small press publishers while at the same time avoiding the chronic disputations and seemingly endless arguments that plagued the old PMA-L.

Much is made of Al Canton and others being either rejected for membership in Publish-L outright, or being ejected for challenging that decision by the new list owner, or resigning in protest (and on principle) to that decision's implementation and enforcement. That Publish-L decision was clearly to prevent and avoid the kind of contention and name-calling that we are all now so very, very familiar with.

The intent was to create and maintain a list that would deal with publisher "how to" issues, questions, and problems -- leaving politics, personalities, and social justice issues out of the mix.

A list devoid of abrasive, argumentative, disputatious, denigrating, demeaning, vituperative, discourteous commentary.

And so it remains to this day. For those wanting to know how to subscribe to Publish-L, the sign-up information can be found on the Midwest Book Review Web site in the section devoted to "Resources For Publishers."

By the way, in that same section is sign-up information on joining Pub-Forum.

Pub-Forum is a place of unmoderated restraint of expression, where discussions can be as disputatious, rancorous, discourteous, or inelegant as the discussants wish to make them.

My own clear bias is to be moderate in speech, circumspect in address, diplomatic in discussion, modest in demeanor, courteous in disagreement, and as concretely helpful as possible no matter what the question, topic, subject, or issue under discussion or dispute.

I've never flamed anyone, anywhere, for anything in my personal or professional life.

Those that do so are either so driven by the passions of their feelings, or so angry at perceived (and real) injustices, that there is simply no room for compromise -- to them morality is at stake, principle is at risk, -- or maybe it's simply the kind of intolerant mindset that back in the Vietnam era made us think we had to "burn the village to save it."

I also note that the current resurgence of PMA-L, Publisher-L, and Pub-Forum historical issues has once again resulted in some contributors feeling the need to so overwhelmingly occupy bandwidth with their message that still other list members are compelled to ask that issues of "how to" publishing be returned to as the focus of the group.

I also note that once again there is talk of litigation against libel, and that honor and the future well-being of us all depend on an absolute adherence to a point of view -- regardless (or because of) of the consequences to list members -- or because failure to proceed with further argument, or to prosecute the opposition, would result in an abandonment of fundamental principles of freedom with historically demonstrated dire results.

My problem is that all sides of the disputed issues lying at the heart of this recent brouhaha have in them seeds of truth. Alan does indeed have an acerbic tongue and is quite capable of rancorous disputation. The old PMA-L lost several good members because of their distaste for what Alan and his supporters would all-too-frequently engage in. Yet some of their points were quite valid and germane -- if abrasively promulgated.

Pat Gundry wanted none of it for Publish-L, the list she was creating from the rubble of PMA's unwise demise of PMA-L, the original online publishing discussion group. And her point of view has its own logic and merit.

Pub-Forum was formed as a direct result of the perceived (and quite real) shortcomings of PMA-L and Publish-L in the minds of its founders. Discussion in Pub-Forum is more wide-ranging and encompasses the politics as well as the mechanics of being a publisher in today's competitive and often small press-hostile marketplace.

I hold membership in both groups. The reason is that I'm honor-bound to promote small press publishing (along with literacy and library usage) as part of the Midwest Book Review mission statement.

I will not abandon any small press publisher needing whatever advice or service I have to offer them -- regardless of the politics of the list owner(s) of their particular discussion group.

For those who feel Pat was unwise or unfair in the way she set her policies governing who could be a part of her e-mail list and who would not -- consider the last week's worth of preponderant dialogue on Pub-Forum. It may be that you too would prefer less rancor and more problem solving, less passionate denouncement and more publicity ideas, less politics and more "tips, tricks & techniques" for selling more of your books, more successfully, more places.

The real world is a place best managed by enlightened self-interest, necessary compromise, and a tolerance for those of opposing views. Demonizing the opposition is, in the long run, counterproductive to a working relationship, to a working democracy, and to a successfully working publishing community.

It's also my observation that "true believers" will totally, emphatically, passionately disagree with me. To those good souls I can only say -- let us agree to disagree. Meanwhile, is there a question about some aspect of publishing I can help you with?

I'm no longer a member of PMA and haven't been for several years now. The reasons I did not renew MBR's membership in that organization are several:

  1. The PMA administrative structure is seriously flawed with no democratic input into the board of director selection process.
  2. The PMA administrative authorities have failed to perform "publisher advocacy" services in behalf of its members with respect to severe and chronic vendor problems.
  3. The PMA Web site substitute for its defunct Internet discussion group is simply inadequate for the needs of its members.

However, I would strongly suggest that new publishers join PMA for at least a year in order to receive the PMA newsletters; participate in PMA University workshops; and have access to PMA Administrator Jan Nathan -- one of the most knowledgeable women in the field of small press publishing today.

As for posting to and participating in Pub-Forum and Publish-L:

I do not send a single e-mail addressed to both lists within the same post. When responding to a question or problem cited by a particular list's member(s) I do so only to that particular list. For example, when answering a question or responding to publisher inquiry originating on Pub-Forum I only post my answer or recommendation on Pub-Forum. If the question or inquiry originates on Publisher-L, I only reply on Publisher-L.

If I've got something to say to both lists, such as the monthly "Jim Cox Report," I use two separate (and identical in all respects except the address) e-mails. This is in courteous deference to those on either list who are incensed by seeing the other list's address as part of the e-mail communication.

I recommend that my fellow e-mail list members consider doing likewise.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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