By: Dave Astor
What do an ex-politician in Connecticut, a populist from Texas, a cartoonist in California, and a columnist of Iowa fame have in common? They’re among the people offering progressive content to newspapers via Minuteman Media.
“We’re making a little dent on Op-Ed pages,” said syndicate founder/director Bill Collins, the former mayor of Norwalk, Conn.
If the Minuteman Media name doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because the Norwalk-based syndicate deliberately kept a low profile until recently. When Collins launched Minuteman in 1998, he thought well-funded conservative think tanks might distribute even more free material to muscle out the new syndicate. So Collins kept Minuteman under the radar by asking newspapers not to label where they were getting the progressive content. Now that Minuteman is more entrenched, newspapers are being asked to credit the syndicate.
Minuteman certainly hasn’t been under the radar at nearly 1,700 newspapers, in all 50 states, that receive the syndicate’s weekly package of six columns and one editorial cartoon. The cartoon is by California-based Khalil Bendib, one of the six columns is by Texas populist Jim Hightower (whose many credits include authoring the best-selling “Thieves in High Places”), another is by former Des Moines Register/Tribune Media Services commentator Donald Kaul, and the four remaining columns are provided by a rotating group of more than 30 other progressive individuals and groups. The organizations include Amnesty International, the Center for Defense Information, the Children’s Defense Fund, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Greenpeace, the National Women’s Law Center, the National Family Farm Coalition, the National Urban League, and Project Censored.
Of the nearly 1,700 clients, roughly half are dailies (many in the 10,000-circulation range) and half are community weeklies. These papers — many of which hadn’t run much liberal commentary until Minuteman came along — aren’t charged for content. “Publishers in smaller places might accept some progressive material for free, but many won’t pay for it,” said Collins.
Minuteman is funded by foundation grants. Collins said these grants are difficult to obtain, but the syndicate has managed to raise about $170,000 a year. The money is used to pay Collins, a part-time grant writer, and others (including some writers); maintain the MinutemanMedia.org Web site; pay mailing costs; and for other purposes. About 100 of the nearly 1,700 clients still receive the weekly package via postal mail, while the rest are e-mailed.
These clients were found the old-fashioned way — by phone. Collins methodically called more than a thousand dailies, and hired another person to call thousands of weeklies. “Editors are busier than ever before, but many appreciate the personal contact,” said Collins. “I learned from my political background that personal contact makes a huge difference.”
The U.S. Army veteran’s career as an elected official included stints as a Norwalk councilman and Connecticut state legislator before he served four terms as Norwalk’s mayor between 1977 and 1987. After that, Collins began writing an opinion column — first solely for a Connecticut weekly, then for various papers around the state. He also started a national column, but, when submitting it to several major syndicates, found they were looking for more conservative fare to sign. That sowed the seed for his decision to start Minuteman.
Collins, who has a master’s in business administration from Stanford University, still writes a column on Connecticut issues that’s distributed exclusively in that state via Minuteman. The syndicate also just started offering a column for Ohio newspapers, and would like to provide more columns for other states if it can find the grant money. (Minuteman had a Michigan-oriented feature before funding was lost.) “There seems to be a gap in opinion writing,” said Collins. “Newspapers run Op-Eds off the wire on national issues, and they have their own people writing abut local issues, but many don’t have good access to columns about state issues.”
Minuteman, which has some Web sites among its clientele, might also syndicate to college papers if it can obtain grant money for that purpose.
How is Minuteman faring during a time when the power of conservatives is growing in the U.S. government and media? Collins said some conservative publishers have dropped the syndicate’s package, but that has been balanced out by editors who want to maintain some balance on their Op-Ed pages.
Collins said: “Editors around the country tell us, ‘We do need to have you as a voice.'”