For Seth Roffman, founder and editor-in-chief of the Green Fire Times, the achievement of a decade in print is bittersweet. The submission-based community newspaper is widely distributed across Northern and Central New Mexico and celebrated its 10th anniversary this month; however, inadequate funds have forced it to suspend publication over the summer. And, unless enough money is raised to re-launch in August, this month's water-themed anniversary issue will be its last.
Over the past decade, the Green Fire Times has covered topics from traditional agriculture to gender politics in rural communities. The publication has no journalists on staff—articles are written by professional and non-professional writers who have included a diversity of perspectives from community leaders to everyday people from across the region. SFR caught up with Roffman to learn more about the evolution of the paper, the communities it represents and what might be lost if it ceases publication.
SFR: In May's anniversary issue, regular contributor Alejandro Lopez wrote a call to support the Green Fire Times in which he says that the publication is such a valuable resource because it is "written by the community for the community." This is very different from the traditional journalism approach. What does the community submission model add to available media in our region?
Seth Roffman: When we first started, I definitely felt that despite all of the media platforms out there, including online, there's a lack of an adequate platform for a lot of communities in central and Northern New Mexico. … Basically, too often people from underserved communities are being spoken for without having their own voice actually included, or their voices get misinterpreted without an understanding of cultural context. I've worked with a lot of the pueblos and the Hispano acequia communities over the years and have learned a lot by doing that, including that communities want to hear from each other. And so that's why GFT was established as a platform for those voices, among others.
To give you two examples, the 2019 April issue was focused on multicultural education from the Hispano perspective of the people who won the Martinez-Yazzie lawsuit, so a lot of the people who were writers in that issue were the people who sued the state and won when the state educational system was declared unconstitutional.
But again, it has to be in their voice, as opposed to somebody speaking for them.
We've done nine annual issues called Indigenous Solutions. The last one from August 2018 was a collaboration with the All Pueblo Council of Governors about an event they held last year called the Pueblo Convocation on Education, so this issue represented the voices of pueblo leaders and educators.
Why is sustainability such an important piece of all of these conversations?
An important aspect of GFT has been to highlight the connection between traditional cultures and the green movement and take a culturally informed perspective on sustainability. In northern and central New Mexico, we feel the direct impact of environmental issues such as mining, water, climate change … but the history of this region is very complex and difficult for people to understand, and many people don't want to dig into it beyond their comfort level, you know, because it's messy. And so what we've done with GFT is to create a bridge between different communities and issues, and to me, that's a key to "sustainability"—which again we have approached from the interrelation of community, culture, environment and regional economy. … From the outset, we tried very consciously to not fall into the trap that a lot of green and/or alternative publications fall into where they are preaching to the choir. So our writers are really diverse and from the communities of our regions that we cover.
In the last year GFT transitioned from a for-profit to a non-profit model. Why did you make this transition?
To be honest, we needed more funding. The nonprofit I started some time ago, called Southwest Learning Centers, bought out GFT in support of its mission of multi-cultural education and community development and so now we can get donations and grant funding in addition to ad revenue. We only made this transition last year, but meanwhile we haven't been making enough money to keep going so that's why we have had to suspend operations to launch this fundraising campaign and launch a new website. We hope to resume publication in August with our 10th annual Indigenous Solutions issue. We need to raise about $125,000 in combination of ad revenue, donations, grants or commitments, and we've started a fundraising campaign on Fundly.com.
How would going digital change the nature of the publication?
What we are doing with this new website is to make our whole archive available online. By the nature of the articles that we have published, we have become an archive of community knowledge and traditional ecological knowledge for living in our unique high desert environment. And so for example, if people want to look at all the articles on acequias for the past 10 years, they'll be able to do that.
But we have a loyal readership of people who really value the print, especially in a lot of the pueblos and the rural areas of Northern New Mexico. … Many of these communities still don't have the same kind of access to the internet that people have come to expect in the more populated areas, so in many ways this is a matter of equity too. So we are looking to develop the online dimensions of Green Fire Times, but we also want to continue print distribution as well if we can raise enough funding.