The Salt of San Marcos

Journalists Who Write Like Scholars - and Vice Versa

Juan Palomo and David Barton of The Salt Journal
photograph by Jana Birchum

Although San Marcos has been home to Southwest Texas State University since 1903, it's just now starting to get a reputation as something of an intellectual haven. Last week, the Chronicle "Books" section profiled SWTSU's nationally ranked creative writing programs. But there are non-SWTSU things happening there as well. Since December, The Salt Journal (the name comes from the alchemist's use of salt as a metaphor for the imagination and soul) has been printing intelligent commentary that founding editor David Barton describes as "a New Yorker for people who think psychologically. Many of our readers," he continues, "are therapists in one form or another, or intensely interested in the unconscious, or in the unreachable or unattainable parts of themselves. We appeal to a lot of psychoanalysts, people who work with dream interpretations, people interested in ritual or spirituality."

No, it's not some New Age rag. Nor, The Salt Journal's website asserts, is it a scholarly journal.

"We try to bring it back into the real world," Barton says, "with things like politics, why are our cities falling apart, how do we interact with the world, and interesting things going on with culture." Barton has tried to do this with some quality writers - Chronicle readers will no doubt be familiar with Michael Ventura, and probably Juan Palomo as well, a former columnist with the Houston Post and The Texas Triangle, former religion reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, and now a monthly columnist with USA Today. Other writers of note, whose name recognition Barton has used to build a subscriber base, include Thomas Moore, Christine Downing, and James Kunstler.

You need writers like that to publish articles that can be lengthy on esoteric topics but don't lose the reader - and articles such as a profile of radical theologian Matthew Fox by Don Lattin, or Palomo's look at Austin's University Baptist Church and its struggle to welcome gays and lesbians do just that.

"In general, we are trying to make our scholars write like journalists and journalists write like scholars. We're trying not to have the feel of scholarship," Barton says, adding that a scholar can often drain the life out of a topic of spiritual nature. He cites Ventura as a writer who can intellectualize on the meaning of life without going into an ivory tower.

"There's this really heavy-duty intellectual stuff behind his writing, but it doesn't show," Barton says. "He's writing like an artist rather than a scholar.... He was very excited to write for us. He often doesn't get a chance to write 4,000-5,000-word articles."

Barton himself began his journalism career as the editor of the University of Texas campus magazine, UTmost, in the late Eighties. After some years as a business reporter in Alaska, he decided to pursue a Ph.D. in mythological studies, with an emphasis in depth psychology, concentrating on the theories of Jung and Freud.

"My mother is a Jungian analyst, and my father is a country newspaper editor, so that led me to where I am now," says Barton.

To inquire about The Salt Journal, call 512/396-1150 or go to

Critiquing the Critic

The waste of space which is currently going into Austin American-Statesman TV critic Diane Holloway's profiles of the four Austin television newscasts is quite baffling. Granted, stuff in the "Lifestyle" section is generally expected to be light reading (although it doesn't have to be), but don't the four stations have enough money in their advertising budgets to do their own promotions? Holloway could better serve her readers by going into critic mode and examining why the four stations' news programs range from weak at best to excruciatingly godawful at worst.

Holloway certainly had the resources to do so at her disposal: In her stories, she has interviewed Paul Klite, the executive director of Rocky Mountain Media Watch (RMMW), which she understatedly described as "a nonprofit group that follows trends in local TV news." More accurately, RMMW is a Denver-based activist organization which is the foremost and most acerbic critic of local TV newscasts - its most recent action was to file a petition asking the FCC not to renew the licenses of Denver's four stations, on the grounds that their newscasts are too dependent on sensationalism and violence, and an irresponsible use of public airwaves.

Holloway's quotes of Klite almost make it sound as though he endorses the stations' use of fluffy, eye-grabbing tricks; if she probed deeper, she could have gotten some biting attacks from him on their bells and whistles.

Holloway's stories on K-EYE and Fox-7 ran on May 18 and 25, respectively. She will write up KVUE on June 1 and KXAN on June 8.

Hi-Ho Silver

Austin Community Access Center (ACAC, but you probably still refer to it as ACTV) will celebrate its 25th anniversary June 5-6. ACAC will show highlights of Austin's community television from the past 25 years on Friday, June 5, 11am-noon, followed by the 1998 Video Awards and ACAC Silver Anniversary Show, noon-4pm. On Saturday, noon-4pm, the ACAC studios (1143 Northwestern Ave.) will host a big celebration with guests such as Mayor Kirk Watson and Rep. Lloyd Doggett, and such notable former ACTVers as Woody Roberts, now with Hightower Radio.

The Chronicle will have more on this in our "Screens" section next week. Until then, you can call ACAC promotions dude Jim Ellinger at 478-8600, ext. 22 for more info.

Another Campus Rag

Recently, several copies of a UT campus newspaper called Contumacy arrived at Chronicle offices, accompanied by a note saying, "This is racism! Please help bring a stop to it!"

We're not quite sure what the anonymous note writer wants us to do - we're not the publishers, nor do we have any desire or ability to impinge on the students' First Amendment rights. But, for the record, the racism part is right on the mark. For those of you who think that the University of Texas is a hotbed of liberals, commie pinkos, or worse, rest assured - right-wing fanaticism is alive and well in Longhorn Land.

The April issue of Contumacy ("stubborn refusal to submit to authority; willful disobedience," the masthead explains) features some hideously racist cartoons by one Eric Reel: Some Sambo-ish looking caricatures are shown doing things like holding a picket sign reading "Give Me a Dollar!" and reading a book titled "Hooked on Ebonics" with the caption "R.I.F. - Reading Be Fundamental."

Accompanying an article explaining how the Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) are defending the celebration of Texas Independence Day against Mexican-American "heathens and hoodlums" with a "separatist agenda" is a photo with the cutline "Local celebrity Alex Jones debates some irate black guy on the West Mall." [Jones is an extreme libertarian commentator on ACAC and KJFK.]

Paper editor Sonia Mohammed (also the head of the YCT) also named Roe v. Wade lawyer Sarah Weddington the winner of the "Adolf Hitler Lifetime Achievement Award."

The paper arose out of a split between staffers at the old University Review. The more radical elements formed Contumacy, while their slightly more moderate comrades (irony intended) started The Austin Review.

And speaking of The Austin Review, changes are afoot at "The Voice of Reason for Central Texas." For better or worse, publisher Brent Tantillo and Editor-in-Chief Marc Levin revived the Review from its moribund state and gave it a noticeable presence here in town. However, Tantillo and Levin graduated this semester and will be handing over the reins to new leaders. Levin parted by writing, "I have never seen a city government pillage the concept of democracy more than this one... I am glad the new leadership will ensure that The Austin Review will be there to call them on it, because you can be sure the Austin American-Statesman and The Austin Chronicle will continue to be cheerleaders for the extreme environmentalists on the Council."

Funny - we just recently had a councilmember complain that the Chronicle is trying to "tear down" everything that this council was working on.

What's the Frequency?

On the topic of UT student-run media, student radio station KVRX has just had its programming schedule cut in half. KVRX shares the 91.7 FM frequency with KOOP, broadcasting at night while KOOP takes over during the day. So, during the daytime hours, KVRX has been taking its signal to cable radio at 99.5 FM. However, on May 1, Time Warner took back the cable frequencies used for radio for uses related to its system upgrade, leaving KVRX on the same half-day schedule as KOOP.

It would be easy to paint Time Warner as the bad guy here, but it's really the Federal Communications Commission that's the problem. The airwaves are legally supposed to be public property, but the FCC, especially in the last decade, has allowed commercial interests to rule over public ones. It's really pathetic that two companies - LBJ-S and Capstar - are allowed to control eight frequencies in town, while two grassroots nonprofit stations are forced to share one.

Got something to say on the subject? Send a letter to the editor.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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