Underground Newspapers

Food conspiracies, bust trusts, people’s clinics and demonstrations are all part of the new Nation, but if asked to name the most important institution in our lives, one would have to say the underground newspaper. It keeps tuned in on what’s going on in the community and around the world. Values, myths, symbols, and all the trappings of our culture are determined to a large extent by the underground press. Each office serves as a welcome mat for strangers, a meeting place for community organizers and a rallying force to fight pig repression. There are probably over 500 regularly publishing with readerships running from a few hundred to over 500,000. Most were started in the last three years. If your scene doesn’t have a paper, you probably don’t have a scene together. A firmly established paper can be started on about $2,500. Plan to begin with eight pages in black and white with a 5,000 copy run. Each such issue will cost about $300 to print. You should have six issues covered when you start. Another $700 will do for equipment. Offset printing is what you’ll want to get from a commercial printing establishment.

You need some space to start, but don’t rush into setting up a storefront office until you feel the paper’s going to be successful. A garage, barn or spare apartment room will do just fine. Good overhead fluorescent lighting, a few long tables, a bookcase, desk, chairs, possibly a phone and you are ready to start.

Any typewriter will work, but you can rent an IBM Selectric typewriter with a deposit of $120.00 and payments of $20.00 per month. Leasing costs twice as much, but you’ll own the machine when the payments are finished. The Selectric has interchangeable type that works on a ball system rather than the old-fashion keys. Each ball costs $18.00, so by getting a few you can vary the type the way a printer does.

A light-table can make things a lot easier when it comes to layout. Simply build a box (3′ x 4′ is a good size, but the larger the better) out of ½” plywood. The back should be higher than the front to provide a sloping effect. The top should consist of a shelf of frosted glass. Get one strong enough to lean on. Inside the box, attach two fluorescent light fixtures to the walls or base. The whole light table should cost less than $25.00. That really is about all you need, except someone with a camera, a few good writers who will serve as reporters, an artistic person to take care of layout, and someone to hassle printing deals, advertising and distribution. Most people start by having everyone do everything.


A tabloid size paper is 9 7/8″ x 14 5/8″ with an inch left over on each side for margins. Columns typically are 3 1/4″ allowing for three per page. Experience has found that this size is easy to lay out and more importantly, easy to read. There is an indirect ratio between readability and academic snobbishness. Avoid the textbook look. Remember, the New York Times in its low form represents the Death Kulture.

Start off with a huge collection of old magazines and newspapers. You can cut up all sorts of letters, borders, designs and sketches and paste them together to make eye-catching headlines. Sheets of headline type are available in different styles from art stores for $1.25 a sheet. Buy one of each type and then photograph several copies of each, bringing the price way down. The basic content in the prescribed column size should be banged out on the IBM. The columns can be clipped together with a clothespin to avoid confusion. Use a good heavy bond white opaque paper.

All black and white photographs from newspapers and magazines can be used directly. Color pictures can also be used but it’s tricky and you’ll have to experiment a little to get an understanding of what colors photograph poorly. Glossy black and white photographs must be shot in half tones to keep the grey areas. You can have them processed at any photo lab. You might also need the photo lab for enlargements or reductions, so make contact and establish a good working relationship.

An Exacto knife is available for 29¢ and you can get a package of 100 blades for $10.00. A few metal rulers, a good pair of scissors, some spray adhesive or rubber cement and you’re ready to paste the pages that will make up the “dummy” that goes to the printer. Each page is laid out on special layout sheets with faint blue guide lines that don’t photograph. Any large art supply store sells these sheets and all the other supplies.

By working over a light-table, the paste-up can be done more professionally. Experiment with many different layouts for each page before finally pasting up the paper. Don’t have a picture in the corner and the rest solid columns. Print can be run over pictures and sketches by preparing two sheets for that page and shooting background in half-tones. The columns don’t have to be run straight up and down, but can run at different angles. The most newsworthy articles should be towards the front of the paper. The centerfold can be treated in an exciting manner. A good idea is to do the centerfold so that it can be used as a poster to put on a wall after the paper is read. If you have ads, they should be kept near the back. The masthead, which gives the staff, mailing address, and similar info, goes near the front. Your focus should be the local activities. A section should be reserved for a directly of local services and events. People giving things away should have a section. The rest really depends on the life style and politics of the staff.

National stories can be supplied by one or more of the news services. Nothing in the underground press is copyrighted, so you can reprint an interesting article from another paper. It’s customary to indicate what paper printed it first, or news service it was sent out by. Any underground paper has permission to reprint hunks of this book.


Most papers find it necessary to get some advertising to help defray the production costs. Some rely totally on subscription; some are outgrowths of organizations and still others are printed up and just handed out free. The ones with ads seem to have the longest life. Make up an ad rate before you put out the first issue. Ads are measured in inches of length. The width is understood by everyone to be the width of the column. If you use the 3¼” column, however, you’ll want to let potential advertisers know you have wide columns.

The way to arrive at a reasonable rate is to estimate the total budget for each issue (adding some for overhead and labor), then each page and finally each column inch. After a little arithmetic you can get a good estimate of your printing cost per inch. Using our figures throughout this section, it should come to about $2.00 per inch. Double this figure and you’ll arrive at the correct rate per advertising inch-$4.00. There should be special lower rates for large ads, such as half or full pages. There should also be a special arrangement for a continuous subscriber. If you have a classified section, another rate based on number of words or lines is constructed. A service charge is fixed if you make up the ad layout rather than the advertiser. The whole formula should be worked out and printed up before you lay out the first issue.

The best place to get advertising is locally. Theaters, hip clothing stores, ice cream parlors, and record stores are among the type of advertisers you should approach. After you build up a circulation, you might want to seek out national advertisers. The Underground Press Syndicate, Box 26, Village Station, New York, NY 10014, can be joined for $25.00, no dues thereafter. They try to get national ads for you in addition to sending out a newsletter, a news service, and making sure you get free subscriptions to the other underground papers. The U.P.S. can also do many other things for you, like list you in their directory, obtain legal advice, and bring you together with other underground papers for mutual benefit and defense. Another way to get national advertising is to see who tends to advertise in other underground papers. Send the publicity department of these companies letters and samples of your paper. Never let ads make up more than half the paper.


At the beginning you should aim for a bi-weekly paper with a gradual increase in the number of pages. The price should be about 25¢. Check out the local laws about selling papers on the street. It’s probably allowed and is a neat way to get the paper around. Give half to the street hawkers. Representatives at high schools and colleges should be sought out. Bookstores and newsstands are good places to distribute. After your paper gets going well, you might try for national distribution. The Cosmep Newsletter is put out by the Committee of Small Magazines, Editors and Publishers, PO Box 1425, Buffalo, NY 14214. In addition to good tips if you want to start a small literary magazine or publish your own book, they provide an up-to-date list of small stores around the country that would be likely to carry your paper. Subscriptions should be sought in the paper itself. If you get a lot, check out second class mailing privileges. UPS can help with out-of-city distribution.

If you’re in a smaller town, you might have to shop around or go to another city to get printing done. Many printers print only pig swill, which brings up the point of getting busted for obscenity which can be pretty common. You probably should incorporate, but contact a sympathetic lawyer before you put out your first issue. During the summer there are usually a few alternative media conferences organized by one group or another. You can pick up valuable information and exchange ideas at these gatherings. UPS and the news services will keep you posted. Good luck and write on!

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