The English communist who invented the ‘newsletter’ | The weekly country

Claud Cockburn (left), with British commander Fred Copeman, in Brunete in 1937.Gerda Taro / ICP / Magnum (Contact)

If in every newspaper there are firms that we like and others that we don’t, why not just pay for the former? That is roughly the logic behind Substack, the platform that allows many journalists to create paid newsletters for their readers / followers. There are already some success stories, all in America, that act like siren songs for media professionals who have lost their jobs in recent years or are about to do so. Those of people like the political commentator Andrew Sullivan, the journalist specialized in technology Casey Newton or the cultural analyst Anne Helen Petersen, who are managing to earn around $ 100,000 a year (about 85,000 euros) by charging their readers 5 to receive their texts directly in the email. There are also small media like The Dispatch, a conservative magazine hosted by Substack, which generated a million dollars in its first six months.

So the newsletter, that humble product of the first Internet, has returned with enthusiasm. In fact, one-person (or very few) newspapers already lived through a golden age before, and it was not in the 2000s, but in the 1930s. The first newsletter is believed to have been created by Claud Cockburn, the Oxford-educated English communist classic who might appear in a Graham Greene novel – in fact, the two were friends. Cockburn, who is the grandfather of actress and director Olivia Wilde, came from a family with a diplomatic past and became a correspondent for The Times in Berlin and Washington, until in 1932 he left the newspaper due to ideological differences. In a couple of months, he bought a mimeography machine and launched The Week, a newspaper that he defined as “without a doubt, the most disgusting-looking thing that has ever grazed the breakfast table.” In a fantastic interview that he gave in 1972 to the BBC and which is available in the digital archive of the British chain, he tells how he sent 2,000 copies of the first issue hoping to get around 200 subscribers there. They answered seven. That will ring a bell to many avid copywriters who jump onto Substack or Patreon, the platform where fans support creators of all stripes, and discover how difficult it is to get people to part with their money.

However, the journalist, of whom George Orwell speaks fatally in Tribute to Catalonia considering him almost a henchman of Stalin, he did manage to convert The Week in an influential artifact that brought out the colors on more than one occasion to the traditional press. Like when he published in June 1936 that a fascist military coup in Spain was very likely. In fact, Cockburn was in Spain on July 18, and covered the Civil War to The Week and for him Daily Worker, the historic organ of the British Communists, under the pseudonym Frank Pitcairn. The Week It stopped being published in the middle of the world war, in 1941, but by then it had already littered the breakfast tables of tens of thousands of readers, including Charles Chaplin and Edward VII, who were subscribers.