THE NEWS — kinda.
"No offense, but you guys are no competition," Jacob Berendes tells me.
We are sitting in a Providence coffee shop, talking about his free monthly newspaper, Mothers News, which has just celebrated its two-year anniversary. Flipping through the stack of back issues he's brought along, it's clear he means this as a statement of fact, not a taunt. There are "SCENE REPORT" articles from The International Congress on Invertebrate Morphology and public libraries in Kodiak, Alaska. There is a gossip column that reads, "famous filme critique FARTINA BICHARDSON went gluten free and now she's going CRAZY cooking CHEESECAKES that are JKGJDSOIJDSLKNERTIOUDFLKJDELICIOUS!!!" There are word jumbles, poems, top 10 lists, product reviews ("The Casio WL-71 is a reliable $16 . . .and it is the best watch in the world"), and the occasional re-printed postcard sent from Disneyland in 1984. And there are plenty of articles by Berendes, himself, including one cover story that begins, "Hey, speaking of Cool Ideas and the Endless Feminized Jutting, June is 'Officially' the month of the unicorn."
If the New York Times boasts "All The News That's Fit To Print," Mothers News could use the catchphrase "I Don't Know What It Is, But It's A Newspaper," Berendes says. Whatever it is, it's growing. The paper is in the midst of a fundraising push that will run through the beginning of July. Year three of the paper — which Berendes is calling "PHASE 2" — will include more pages, broader circulation, a larger roster of contributors, and, according to the web site, "lots of other far out shit that we are not currently at liberty to discuss."
Berendes started the paper shortly after moving here from Worcester. "I've always liked writing and I've always hated working, so, it came upon me as a scheme," he says. "I sort of ran the numbers, I was like, 'Oh yeah, I can write a newspaper and that could be my job.' " Inspired by the legacy of "weird, semi-anonymous" papers from Providence like Paper Rodeo, he put together a debut issue. It lost money, he says, but the second issue attracted enough ads to pay for itself. After five issues, the paper was paying his rent. Of course, it also helps to have a loose definition of success. "To anyone else, I think this would be a colossal failure as a business," Berendes says. "But I'm very used to operating very close to the wire."
Now, the paper boasts a devoted following in Providence, where it is snatched up at Acme Video, the White Electric, Nice Slice, Cellar Stories, Cable Car, and other drop points. Each month, Berendes also ships a batch to Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York, both Portlands (Maine and Oregon), and a handful of other cities. The comics are irreverent and often incomprehensible. The copy reads something like this, from the September issue: "On the one hand, it is certainly true that we drink the future and pee the past. On the other hand, drinking a limited amount of your own pee is said to be quite beneficial. Who Can Know? Farmer . . . irrigate thyself."