By Denise Tessier
Since the demise of the Albuquerque Tribune more than four years ago, V.B. (Barrett) Price has been trying to save Albuquerque from being a one-newspaper (Albuquerque Journal) town.
For two of those years, he did so by contributing columns at the all-volunteer, free distribution paper ABQ TRIal Balloon, which, as its name suggests, was an homage to the Trib and a trial balloon intended to gauge Albuquerque’s interest in a publishing alternative. But after nine slim issues, in print and online, publication ceased in 2010.
Meanwhile, Price met Benito Aragon, who had studied communications and documentary filmmaking at the University of Florida, and had returned to his native Albuquerque to work in journalism. (Aragon briefly worked with me at the online New Mexico Independent in 2008).
Four years ago, the two North Valley residents got together for breakfast, became friends and came up with an ambitious publication that is scheduled to be unveiled Monday.
“Elegant and readable” is how Price describes New Mexico Mercury, his venture with Aragon. Based on the preview Price and Aragon offered at a launch announcement last month, the publication does appear “elegant” in terms of readability and design. And it appears up-to-date in all aspects of online and applications technology, an advantage Aragon has brought that the rudimentary ABQ TRIal Balloon lacked.
With Aragon as publisher and Price as editor, Mercury holds promise to offer thought-provoking editorial content as well, based on what its principals shared at the launch preview.
“This is truly my last shot at doing something like this,” Price said at the launch preview, with Aragon quickly adding, “I would never have dreamt about doing this without (Price). He’s mentored me. We have very complementary skill sets.”
Price has been a journalistic presence in New Mexico since the early 1970s, when he edited Mark Acuff’s New Mexico Independent (1971-78) and then his own magazine of Southwest commentary, Century Magazine (1978-1984). He also edited New Mexico Magazine in the 1980s and was briefly an architecture critic for the Albuquerque Journal before becoming a weekly columnist at the Trib from 1985 until its closure.
He’s also been on the faculty at the University of New Mexico since 1986, both as a member of the Honors Department and, since 2000, as an adjunct professor in architecture and planning.
That academic connection informs the editorial content of Mercury, as the publication will turn to those in academia and other well-informed experts to contribute articles, in addition to stories and columns by Aragon and Price.
“We both know there is enormous talent in this region and in this state – so much brain power,” Price said. “We want to try to treat New Mexico in its complexity . . . with all the intellectual respect we could bring to it.” Locals have been “usurped by national media, national gossip,” he said.
Aragon concurred, saying the syndicated content we usually see in newspapers is “framed from somewhere else. Some deeper issues are getting bypassed.”
Through the local lens, the publication will be “looking at the rest of humanity” with New Mexico “as a microcosm of the world,” Price said.
Our authors are academic experts so you can rely on well-informed and sourced content.
Our editors are professional journalists so you can rely on well-edited and checked content.
Our content is subject to an Editorial Charter, so you can rely on the fact-based, independent and ethical journalism.
It notes on its donation tab: “The enemy of trusted journalism is spin and PR.”
The two cited The Texas Tribune (one of my daily reads) as a business inspiration, saying that online newspaper is tackling online journalism as a business, rather than as a nonprofit, adding that many online journalistic ventures have yet to crack the sustainability code.
(They’re right: A drop-off in donations led to curtailment of the online New Mexico Independent; New Mexico in Depth is working under a Kellogg Foundation grant and donations; and reporters at New Mexico Compass – which I consider a local must-read – appear to be working as volunteers, as did former Journal business reporter Diane Velasco when she launched what I think was New Mexico’s first online news publication, The Citizen.)
New Mexico Mercury is a for-profit venture and will partner with local businesses as “sponsors,” both to sustain Mercury financially and to promote “select” local brands and “community-minded institutions.” Price said “local businesses are part of local culture,” citing as examples Bookworks on Rio Grande, where the launch was announced, and the adjacent restaurant, Flying Star.
Being for-profit also has an editorial advantage in that the publication is unfettered by IRS non-profit prohibitions. “We retain more editorial control doing it this way,” Aragon said.
“If we’re a 501 (c) 3 we have to hew the line to certain political middle-of-the-road-ism,” Price said, adding that E.B White once said there’s no such thing as a perpendicular person and that “everybody has a slant.”
“I think everybody in this room is tired of the faux journalistic stance that it is ‘fair and balanced,’” Aragon added.
Business-wise, Aragon noted that AOL, Google and other mega-web companies are going after local dollars. “It’s a wave that’s about to hit,” and Mercury is ready to ride it.
Content-wise, Mercury will have three to five pieces a week, with writing by Aragon and freelancers and academics, plus a video interview show with Price at least once a week. The site will offer a regional round-up and updated statewide headlines, plus a feature called Voices, with two a day from around the state.
Eric Garcia is donating his El Machete cartoons, a Variety section will serve up features and there will be music, book and other kinds of reviews. Poetry will be integrated into the site because it’s “near and dear” to Price, who is a poet.
In a prepared statement, Aragon and Price said:
With E. B. White in mind, we believe that every writer and publishing effort has a natural slant, and that to deny its reality is not only dishonest but hypocritical.
Our slant is toward respect for land, air and water, respect for culture, and respect for the struggles of individuals of all ages and backgrounds in their efforts to live satisfying, secure, and meaningful lives.
We don’t hate government, but we believe it functions best, as does big business, when it is under the sharp scrutiny of an alert and informed citizenry.
Hoping to “transcend mainstream conflicts between the Right and Left,” Mercury will offer “a regional meeting of the minds, a place to explore problem solving and shun dead-end bickering.”
A partial list of the stories to be covered include environmental degration, the impact of climate change on ecology and economy, drought and water law, sustainable agriculture, the importance and dangers of extractive industries, energy sources, health issues (including “the threat of misogyny to women’s health”), poverty, homelessness, the plight of poor children and the working poor, privatization, the commons, education, immigration, indigenous culture and law enforcement and justice.
“Horrific things are being done to people” that are not being covered, Price said.
And while weighty and often written by academics, the stories are “meant to be digestible,” Aragon added.
At the bottom of each story will be links to stories on similar topics, aggregated from sources nationwide, Aragon said.
Price said Mercury is the Roman name for Hermes, Greek god of interpretation and communication, and also the name of H.L. Menken’s newspaper (American Mercury) and of the repertory theater company in which his parents, Vincent Price and Edith Barrett, met and performed in New York.