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The Prism has a lot of friends

by Treasurer Mia Kirsh


David Kirsh
Jeff Saviano

How to Volunteer
with the Prism

I'm running late, and drag my complaining seven-year-old into the post office to grab the Prism mail from the P.O. box. Some junk, and one actual letter. I tear into it, never sure whether it will be a crazily written rant against "commies" and immigrants, or what.

Relieved, I read:

"Dear Folks, I have read The Prism ever since I came to the area 5 years ago. Sometimes I have trouble finding it, but usually can get it at Weaver Street Market. You are the only paper that is covering social justice issues in this area, and I really appreciate your work. Here is my money to become a "Friend of The Prism", so you can mail it to me. Maybe I can write a story for you sometime as I am involved in civil rights work. Keep up the good work."

Ah, that makes my day. Someone out there actually reads and likes the paper I have struggled to help start and keep going for 9 years now as a volunteer. I think back to what we must be doing right to get such a supportive letter.

In 1989, the early planning days before The Prism newspaper was launched, a large group of people met regularly to talk about a common vision of a real autonomous, community newspaper which wouldn't sell out and would publish stories about social and environmental issues that the mainstream papers won't print. It was exciting to me to be a part of that creative team.

An ever-changing group of folks met over days and weeks to hash out the practical steps of what this paper would be. The foundation created was a solid set of principles which we have basically stayed with all this time. For example, we decided to be an all volunteer paper. Money was a big issue. The need for lots of money to pay salaries has eventually meant disaster for a small, political rag like ours. If we eliminated salaries it would be hard to keep a staff together. It would mean only being a monthly, but it would mean we could keep our integrity. It is exciting that that integrity meant more to this group of people, than money did. I have now seen the benefits of that decision as new volunteers have helped the paper develop and grow with people bringing their own ideas and creativity to it.

One of my duties over the years has been as treasurer. I know first hand how small an amount of money it takes to keep this paper going each issue—basically the cost of printing, and a phone answering service. With no salaries to pay, we have kept afloat with very little income. We planned it that way. No one on the volunteer staff is allowed to give money to the paper. That way, no one can buy editorial control. We also decided not to rely totally on ads, but to diversify income through donations, fundraisers and ads. This way, ads will not dominate the page, and we can maximize content. The downside is that often we put little time into finding the little money we need, and we have to scramble to pay the bills. We do need someone who can come and help get the money side of the paper organized.

The Prism's principles fly in the face of the traditional money-makng newspaper. They allow The Prism a freedom to publish that others must envy. For example, right now we are running a contest for the best investigative reporting in our area. We want the paper to be able to uncover more of the truth of social and economic injustices that are going on in the Triangle. We need writers who can go out there and do the hard work of digging up the facts and getting them published, just because it needs to be done and not just to make a buck. To me, this is the real mission of the paper and an area we need to do better on.

The paper must be doing something right. The biggest thrill to me is still that letter in our post box or a message on our service from someone new who wants to volunteer, or help out. It is good to know that in today's corporate-mentality world, there are people who are fighting the trend. It is a relief to meet people who agree that everyone in our society should be able to live a decent life, and not just a select few. In fact with the steady brainwashing from the media that people get these days, it's amazing how many people still do question the practices of corporate America. Those letters, calls and new volunteers are people who want to take the difficult road of resisting the pull of mainstream society to live a comfortable life, blinding oneself to the realities of growing poverty and lack of opportunity for the majority of people here and in the world.

The people who come to The Prism are the other reward for me from working with The Prism. It is wonderful to work with activists, students, local politicians and other people who want to make a difference in this community through the paper. I have learned a lot, and benefited immensely from fellow "Prismoids." The Prism continues to enrich my life with a network of friends and contacts.


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