Originally published in the "Encyclopedia of the American Left," edited by Mari Jo Buhle, Paul Buhle and Dan Georgakas, Garland Publishing, 1990.
Liberation News Service (LNS), founded in the summer of 1967, provided news of the counter-culture and the New Left to hundreds of periodicals with a total readership in the millions, serving as an alternative to the Associated Press or United Press International.
Like most political institutions launched in the 1960s, it was not especially oriented toward labor issues, but however unconsciously, it could be described as the successor to the Federated Labor Press, which sent dispatches to union periodicals at the height of the labor movement.
LNS was most influential in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but it continued to send material to subscribing periodicals until 1981, when it finally went out of business. Over the years, perhaps 200 people were involved in LNS, usually with 8-20 full-time participants or staff at any one time. Funding came from subscribing periodicals and from a variety of private donors; the organization could not have functioned without significant amounts of volunteer labor.
LNS was founded by Marshall Bloom and Raymond Mungo, staff members of the United States Student Press Assocation (USSPA). Bloom and Mungo, former New England college editors known for their outspoken opposition to the U.S. role in Vietnam, decided to start an alternative press service when Bloom was fired by USSPA for his denunciation of the National Student Association for having accepted funds from the Central Intelligence Agency.
LNS became firmly established after the October 1967 demonstration at the Pentagon, when LNS material documented aspects of the anti-war movement ignored or misunderstood by the "straight media." Starting that fall, printed "packets" were sent out two or three times a week to a mailing list that grew from a few dozen to several hundred subscribers. The packets included hard news of liberation struggles and resistance to oppression in the U.S. and around the world plus features, opinion pieces, poetry, photographs, cartoons and artwork. LNS offered useful copy on national and international affairs to the "underground press," which utilized the technology of inexpensive offset web press printing to become a fixture in hundreds of cities and small towns of the U.S.
Several hundred counter-culture and movement papers (often bunched together under the catchy, myth-making name of "underground press") regularly reprinted LNS articles and graphics. The organization operated during its first year in Washington, D.C., where USSPA was located, receiving considerable assistance from the Institute for Policy Studies. LNS relocated in mid-1968 to New York City's upper west side, near Columbia University. The move resulted in part from attention LNS received for its insider coverage of the April 1968 student strike at Columbia. Around the same time, LNS merged with a similar press service, Student Communications Network (SCN), launched by the University Christian Movement, and benefited from the new connection to gain funds from the left-wing sectors of maintstream Protestant churches.
LNS' contribution to American journalism included an advocacy position on formerly taboo topics, such as psychedelic drugs and homosexuality, as well as promoting activism on behalf of movements for social change, especially various third world liberation movements and feminism. LNS staff members often liked to think of themselves as propagandists in the "good sense of the term," i.e., propagating ideas that would make the world a better place. LNS added a touch of professionalism to the underground press and also sponsored several national get-togethers for writers and activists interested in alternative media. The people of the underground press helped forge a national youth culture and in both subtle and direct ways influenced their colleagues in the "establishment media." The LNS print shop offered its facilities at low cost or no cost to other movement groups, in particular the Black Panther Party, whose position on black issues was supported, almost blindly, by the LNS staff. The lifestyle of LNS staff members mirrored that of many movement activists, including group meals, communal living, subsistence salaries and considerable interest in mind-expanding drugs, rock and roll, sex and intimate relationships.
LNS' material represented a broad spectrum of socialist, anarchist, pacifist, civil rights and "hippie" concerns, but gradually the organization became more decidedly Marxist and more critical of such tendencies as pacifism and the counter-culture. Many staff members felt loyalty to Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
In retrospect, this dichotomy between "politics" and "culture" seems exaggerated, but this was a factor in a serious and unresolved split in the summer of 1968. The increasingly uncomfortable schism motivated a faction, supporters of founder Bloom, to use funds from a fund-raiser (a showing of the Beatles "Magic Mystery Tour") to buy an old farm in Montague, Mass. The split crystallized after a majority of the staff voted for a more structured collective control, undermining the free-wheeling style of Bloom and Mungo. For a brief time, news packets were produced in New York City and in Montague, but within a year, the Montague faction ceased publication. Bloom committed suicide Nov. 1, 1969. In the mid-1970s, residents of the Montague farm became prime movers of the movement against nuclear power when a local utility proposed construction of a nuclear power plant nearby.
Dogmatism on various levels, from obsessive concern about having a correct political line on many national and international issues, to internal organizational matters, such as the distinction between manual laborers (printing press operators) and intellectual laborers (editors and writers), led to internal strife at various times in LNS' history. Even after the 1968 split, lengthy, tedious meetings and the often emotional departure of staff members resulted from these internal problems.
In its latter years, with the "underground press" virtually defunct, LNS served a variety of community newspapers and periodicals serving specialized audiences.
The story of the organization's early years is interestingly and humorously told by Mungo in his book "Famous Long Ago" (though this account is often self-serving and one-sided).
Many copies of periodicals that subscribed to LNS, plus internal papers of the organization, were acquired by the special collections library of Amherst College, Amherst, Mass., where they form a collection named in memory of Marshall Bloom.
References: Famous Long Ago: My Life and Hard Times with Liberation News Service, by Raymond Mungo, Beacon Press, 1970.
Uncovering the Sixties: The Life and Times of the Underground Press, by Abe Peck, Pantheon, 1985.
The Paper Revolutionaries: The Rise of the Underground Press, by Larry Leamer, Simon & Schuster, 1972.
Allen Young is assistant editor of the Athol Daily News, Athol, Mass. He worked as an LNS staff member from 1967-70. He has written several books, including Gays Under the Cuban Revolution, which describes the oppression of homosexuals under the Castro regime.