The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Underground press

The phrase underground press, especially underground newspapers (or simply underground papers) is, these days, most often used in reference to the print media associated with the countercultural movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

These papers borrowed the name from previous underground presses such as the Dutch underground press during the Nazi occupations of the 1940s. The French resistance also published an underground press and prisoners of war (POWs) published an underground newspaper called Pow wow. Those predecessors were truly "underground," meaning they were illegal, thus published and distributed covertly. While the countercultural "underground" papers frequently battled with governmental authorities, for the most part they were distributed openly through a network of street vendors, newsstands and "head shops," and thus reached a wide audience.

The underground press in the 60s and 70s existed in most countries with advanced economies and freedom of the press; similar publications existed in some developing countries and as part of the samizdat movement in the communist states, notably Czechoslovakia. Published as weeklies, monthlies, or even "occasionals", and usually associated with left-wing politics, they evolved on the one hand into today's alternative weeklies and on the other into zines.


The underground press in Australia

The most prominent underground publication in Australia was Oz (1963–1969).

The underground press in the UK

Key underground press papers in the UK were International Times (IT) started in 1966 by John Hopkins which was joined in 1967 by Oz — a magazine originally published in Australia (1963–1969) and only later (1967–1973)in the UK — and Friends (later Friendz) which were based in the Ladbroke Grove area of London.

The underground press offered a platform to the socially impotent and mirrored the changing way of life in the UK Underground.

Police harassment of the UK Underground in general became commonplace to the point that in 1967 the police particularly focussed on the "source of the antagonism": the underground press. Harassment had the opposite effect than was intended: if anything, it made the underground press stronger. "It focused attention, stiffened resolve, and tended to confirm that what were doing was considered dangerous to the establishment," remembered Mick Farren [1]. From April 1967 on the police raided the offices of International Times to try and close the paper down. In order to raise money for IT a benefit event was put together, "The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream" Alexandra Palace on 29 April, 1967.

By the end of the decade, community artists and bands such as Pink Floyd, (who later "went commercial"), the Deviants, Pink Fairies, Hawkwind, Michael Moorcock and Steve Peregrin Took would arise in a symbiotic co-operation with the underground press. The underground press publicised these bands and this made it possible for them to tour and get record deals. The band members travelled around spreading the ethos and the demand for the newspapers and magazines grew and flourished for a while.

The flaunting of a defiant sexuality within the underground press provoked prosecution. IT was taken to court for publishing small ads for homosexuals, despite the legalisation of homosexuality between consenting adults in private. The Oz "School Kids" issue, brought charges against the three Oz editors who were convicted and given jail sentences. This was the first time the Obscene Publications Act, 1959, was combined with a moral conspiracy charge.

The underground press in the United States and Canada

The North American countercultural press of the 1960s drew inspiration from some predecessors that had begun in the 1950s, such as the Village Voice and Paul Krassner's satirical paper The Realist . Arguably, the first underground newspaper of the '60s was the Los Angeles Free Press, founded in 1964 and first published under that name in 1965. By 1967, the cooperative Underground Press Syndicate (UPS) was formed at the instigation of the publisher of another early paper, the East Village Other. The UPS allowed member papers to freely reprint content from any of the other member papers. Other prominent underground papers included the San Francisco Oracle, theBerkeley Barb and Berkeley Tribe (Berkeley, California); Fifth Estate (Detroit), Other Scenes (dispatched from various locations around the world by John Wilcox ); The Helix (Seattle); The Chicago Seed ; The Great Speckled Bird (Atlanta); Rat (later "Women's LibeRATion ") (New York City), and in Canada, Georgia Straight (Vancouver). By 1969, virtually every sizeable city or college town in North America boasted at least one underground newspaper.

A museum display of covers from various underground newspapers has been posted by the University of Connecticut. Examples of the Boston underground newspaper Avatar [2] are posted online. (While The Avatar shared its design approach and many social concerns with other underground papers of the time, in one important respect it was completely atypical: it served as a platform for for self-proclaimed "world saviour" Mel Lyman , leader of a communal cult.)

The underground press phenomenon proved short lived. By 1973, many underground papers had folded, at which point the Underground Press Syndicate acknowledged the passing of the undergrounds and renamed itself the Alternative Press Syndicate. That organization soon collapsed, to be supplanted by the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies.

Georgia Straight outlived the underground movement, evolving into an alternative weekly still published today; Fifth Estate survives as an anarchist magazine. Most others died with the era. Given the nature of alternative journalism as a subculture, some staff members from a number of underground newspapers moved on to become staff on the newer alternative weeklies, even though there was seldom institutional continuity with management or ownership. An example is the transition in Denver from the underground Chinook , to Straight Creek Journal , to Westword [3], an alternative weekly still in publication. Some underground and alternative reporters, cartoonists, and artists moved on to jobs in corporate media.

During the 1960s and 1970s there were also a number of left political periodicals with some of the same concerns of the underground press. Some of these periodicals joined the Underground Press Syndicate to gain services such as microfilming, advertising, and the free exchange of articles and newspapers. Examples include The Black Panther (the paper of the Black Panther Party, Oakland, California), and the Guardian, New York City; both of which had national distribution.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducted surveillance and disruption activities on the underground press in the United States, including a campaign to destroy the alternative agency Liberation News Service.


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Last updated: 05-15-2005 06:01:54
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04