Not one but two very exciting things have happened. I’m honored and very grateful to announce that the Kahle/Austin Foundation, which supports the Internet Archive, has given us a tremendous new grant to support the Brick House Cooperative. This money will help us create healthier and more sustainable new publishing environments for writers and artists, and turbocharge our work to protect digital ownership rights, speech rights and press freedom. Thank you from all of us at Popula and the Brick House to Brewster Kahle, and the Kahle/Austin Foundation.
More incredible and brilliant news: Tom Scocca will be taking the wheel as Popula’s new editor in chief today, with Joe MacLeod as his creative director, and the legendary Alex Pareene, who’s writing a new Popula newsletter (sign up here!) Tom is one of the finest editors in the United States, and I can’t believe this is IRL happening even though IT IS and I am still fibrillating. I cannot wait to see what Tom, Joe and Pareene cook up for us.
So all this is beyond thrilling to me, and I want to thank everyone who’s supported the Brick House and Popula so far, whether on our original Kickstarter, as a donor, or as a contributor or subscriber, as we continue to grow and make our way.
Popula began publishing in the summer of 2018 through a grant from Civil, a blockchain-based publishing platform. We’ve published more than 1700 pieces so far, introducing fresh and vital voices and perspectives rarely considered in conventional media, on such topics as: Country music. Dictators. Luxury (and luxury real estate.) Deer. Bananas. Uniforms. Fame. Languages. Police. Transmasculinity. Endangered species. Photography. Taiwanese politics. Fast food.
The end of Civil in the spring of 2019 meant that our publishing had to be scaled way back, but I kept working toward the original goal of my work at Popula—to create a sustainable, ad-free, journalist-owned alt-global publishing platform. In subsequent years, as book bannings, newspaper closings, and attacks on libraries and educators have increased, the need to protect independent publishing has only grown more obvious, and more urgent.
In 2020, a number of Civil veterans and like-minded colleagues banded together as a cooperative, and we began publishing under the Brick House banner in December of that year. We funded our initial efforts with a Kickstarter, and in February 2022 we received a generous grant from Grant for the Web, which has enabled us to advance our work on digital ownership, having come to understand that as fully independent publishers, writers and artists with no advertisers or owners, and who own the rights to our own work, we are in a position to do a lot to protect and promote not just press independence, but broader cultural imperatives like digital ownership rights and traditional library lending.
Like everyone else I’ve been watching the global disaster unfolding in Russia with a mixture of confusion and fear. But one thing about it is as clear as day: The Russian state’s total suppression of press freedom and speech rights is a key element in creating and perpetuating the unholy mess in which that unhappy country now finds itself.
Sixteen years ago, the Russian journalists Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko were killed for trying to tell the truth to their fellow citizens. The predicament of ordinary people in Russia today, where so little reliable information is available—where you can be arrested for holding up a blank piece of paper in the street—is one the world’s journalists watched, with increasing alarm, as it developed over many years.
This danger is present in every country that accepts the corporate control and consolidation of media, aided and abetted by big tech and right-wing politicians—pernicious elements that are combining, in varying degrees, to endanger press freedom all over the world. It’s no exaggeration to say that there isn’t a nation on earth where, right now, freedom of information isn’t under threat.
Highfalutin and even quixotic as it might sound, modern democratic societies absolutely need ethical publishers who will put their responsibilities to the public first—and profits second—in order to protect freedom of information and cultural posterity. Every shot we get at advancing those goals, we must take.
I’m so proud to be part of this effort. We hope you’ll stick around for our next chapter, and contribute, if you can. Thank you for reading Popula.