The future of Jump Cut

by Julia Lesage

Many of Jump Cut’s readers will know that Chuck Kleinhans died suddenly last December of a heart attack. He was a co-founder and co-editor of Jump Cut as well as my spouse. Our other co-founder and co-editor, John Hess died several years ago, so that leaves me as the sole editor and the person who has to decide Jump Cut’s future. This decision is easy in the short term. I will expand the range of scholars I ask to critique manuscripts and write letters to authors, and I will continue to do the layout for at least the next two or three issues, which come out about once a year. In a state of grief, it is difficult to do long-term planning beyond this, but I would like to set down some of my thoughts about this process, so that readers can know the dimensions of these decisions still to make about Jump Cut.

First let me tell you some of what the co-editors long thought about Jump Cut.

We began Jump Cut with experience in the Underground Press in the 1970s. The 60s and 70s had seen a flourishing of tabloid periodicals using photo-offset printing. Think of the grocery store flyers delivered to your door once a week, and you can understand this as the bargain basement of printing. Also, consider the size and appearance of the page. Here’s what costs more: each fold, each cut, each staple, each paper upgrade, each color. Those of you who knew our formats recognize the changes that came when we had a little more money to put in the printing: from tabloid paper to sturdier stock, from single fold to staple to more traditional magazine format with cut pages. Behind the scenes, we went from personal organizing of mass mailings to mailings done by the printer. In the meantime, and for the life of the print issues, our basements, attics, garages, and those of our parents filled up with back issues.

To pay for this, we did what we thought of as tithing for our art, each of us setting aside about a thousand dollars to pay for printing and mailing every issue. Because of John Hess’ business ability, we were able to do this across the lifespan of Jump Cut’s paper publication. We adamantly did not seek outside funding, and this decision came both from observation of alternative cultural institutions and a political stance, one that I adhere to today and will influence any future decisions I make about Jump Cut. Here is the observation: you have to be able and willing to live within your income. If your project gets a grant, you get used to the extra funding. If the grant stops, and it probably will, it is hard to go back to doing the project with your original, skimpier resources. That’s where lots of projects go under.

The political principle for not taking outside grants is more complex. Most obviously, he who pays the piper calls the tune. For example, university sponsorship may inhibit the discussion and presentation of sexuality in a print journal, particularly in terms of authors’ presenting and analyzing images. But there are other more insidious ways that financial sponsorship has an inhibiting effect. Less obviously, for example, potential censorship (i.e., fearing the cessation of a grant) leads to the maker’s self-censorship, even in the planning of her project. That is, in the case of applying for grants, the applicant has to write a number of long documents outlining the project, its goals, its processes, and its “spinoff.” That act of creation, writing the grant proposal, shapes how the person actually conceives of the project. It makes the whole project more conservative—in its range and in the kinds of risks it takes. And finally, writing for grant money takes a long time out of an artist or editor’s creative life—the time devoted to art, politics, alternative cultural institutions—and this is particularly onerous for someone who has to work at something else, like teaching, to make a living, support a household and get health/retirement benefits, etc..

The advent of the Internet largely settled our financial problems. It is cheap to maintain a web site, and writers/editors can purchase easy layout programs that offer simple templates into which the layout person inserts photos and texts. Furthermore, we always had a target audience and a group of potential writers. That is, when we began Jump Cut, we understood that film studies as an academic discipline was just beginning and that we could influence its development, both in terms of attracting politically oriented writers and a potential readership. In that, we shared a Marxist outlook with Screen and both journals, along with Women and Film and then Camera Obscura contributed greatly to the development of film theory in the 80s and 90s as academic film studies grew.

However, in the era of tabloid publication, we also began Jump Cut with a simple, even playful decision, Let’s start a movie journal. I always said Jump Cut’s beginnings were like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney saying, Let’s put on a play, and I still think that. Anyone can physically start and maintain a journal. So what makes this one last 40 years?

In that regard, I’ve already discussed the money issue. There are some others. One is the mix of people who are involved, whether they can or will stick it out for the long run, and what capacities they bring to the project. In this case, John had the business sense, Chuck had the political savvy and was a kind of walking Wikipedia about political history and popular culture, and I had the mediamaking skills and a propensity for taking on long-term projects (I was responsible for the 5-year task of creating Jump Cut’s digital archive of its old print issues). We all met as comparative literature graduate students and always thought of culture in broad international terms (John and I had lived for a number of years abroad, he in Germany, me in Peru). The three of us also had fierce disagreements and survived these like a marriage survives—somehow. When Jump Cut began, we formed collectives, principally in Berkeley and Chicago; these dwindled down over the years to a collective of just us three. In practical terms, over the years each of us probably put in about forty hours a month on the project, more during layout.

One of the options for Jump Cut’s future that Chuck, John, and I discussed, in an easy chat that hardly took a half-hour, was that terminating the project at some specific date was fine. Jump Cut would have dates, beginning and end, a project with a specific history. It certainly has a personality, marked by its location in time and by our co-editorship. In fact, over the years, we never found someone to join us at the top editorial level, and thus some specific individual/s for me to turn Jump Cut over to. Free labor, personal financial contribution, intellectual astuteness, political awareness, long-term commitment, sexual/gender politics, broad cultural range, international perspective, aesthetic judgment (including embracing low culture), media production skills—who’s up for such a job?

And if you are, why do it as Jump Cut and not put on your own play?



I circulated a draft of this essay to about a dozen contributors and editors, after which a group of junior scholars asked that I include their response here:

"If you are interested in discussing Jump Cut's future with a group of junior scholars thinking through how the journal's commitment to politically-oriented media studies scholarship might be reformulated for the future, please contact Peter Alilunas, Roxanne Samer, and Greg Youmans."