The Internet came about at a time when I was trying to develop a column for the Berkshire Eagle, unaware that the local paper, once respected and beloved, had already peaked and would soon become the disreputable, widely hated property of a media conglomerate based in Denver, CO.
When I began discussing my ideas for a column with them in 1995, the paper had a hierarchy of editors, so that I was sent from managing editor, to editorial page editor and finally to the editor of the op-ed page, where two articles were printed early in 1996.
By the time of my final meeting at the Eagle, they were down to one editor who’s response to my latest effort was “Why should I pay you $45 for one column when I can get three William Safire’s for $8?” (I guess that was a reference to the paper’s subscription fee to an editorial features syndicate.)
Why indeed, I thought. The economics of it already was a joke from my perspective, because by the time a piece was in the paper, I had spent thirty or forty hours writing and rewriting. But I was in it for literary glory, drawn to the Muse, not Mammon, which made me a sucker for the then-emerging World Wide Web and its’ promise to writers that they could become their own publisher!
My introduction to publishing online was in the company of people who were on the same side of the Muse v. Mammon divide as my previous publishing benefactors, inspiring in me a binge worthy of the most disillusioned ink-stained wretch. But by February of 1997, I’d taken the cure, registered my own domain name, and set about to become the witty chronicler of our time that I knew the Muse wanted me to become.
What a joke that was! In those days, it would take all day just to cobble together enough hypertext markup language (HTML) to create a “page” and then figure out the intricacies of file-transfer protocol (FTP) so that it was indeed online, which only meant that approximately 0.02 % of your friends and neighbors may be able to feast on your delicious prose!
Somehow, I was able to tap into a reservoir of stick-to-itiveness and by the dawn of the new millennium, my initial online property, NewBerkshire.com was good enough to merit press credentials from cultural organizations throughout the Berkshires. It’s early legitimacy was due largely to the work of Frances Benn Hall, who mastered the computer and email in order to send us reviews of practically every play produced in the area until her death, at age 96, in 2014. Franny Hall’s reviews were so timely and well-regarded that they would be referenced in the various theatre festivals’ paid advertising and marketing efforts.
My own “feather-in-the-cap’ moment resulted from an article I’d written about Bob Dylan bringing his Rolling Thunder Revue to the Berkshires in Oct. 1975 for an all-day party at Mama Frasca’s Dream Away Lodge in Becket. My article was excerpted in “Maximum Bob” a single-issue collector’s edition published October 2000 in England by Q Magazine. It also helped me land all-access credentials for the 2002 Newport Folk Festival, which was the toughest ticket of the year because it was Dylan’s first appearance since upsetting the apple cart there with an electric guitar in 1965.
Today, the editorial we refers only to me, and NewBerkshire.com has been succeeded by BerkshireLinks.com, where I publish reviews from Tanglewood on a website that otherwise serves as a little almanac of the Berkshires, along with Google ads and an embedded lodging tool. None of the greedy people who dominated the local internet scene when I got started are around anymore. Fortunes have been made and squandered.
The last editor I dealt with at the Berkshire Eagle in the 1990s exhibited behavior worthy of a degree in ethics from Trump University. Ownership now extends no farther west than Buffalo, which didn’t make them any wiser on the management of Pittsfield’s prized cultural assets last fall than the previous regime had been about management of the Housatonic River.
During its long reign in Pittsfield, GE had converted the river into a corporate asset that allowed them to undercut their competition by dumping untreated PCBs. Since leaving town some years ago, GE continues to manage its assets by way of 1Berkshire, who’s deceptive founding was soon uncovered, but found acceptable by Mammon’s local adherents, who prefer their lies to be left unsettled, like PCBs in the riverbed.
To be continued…