Why I’m still with the Bay Guardian...for now

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During the tumultuous week since my longtime boss and mentor Tim Redmond suddenly left the Bay Guardian, I’ve been repeateadly reminded of the old journalism adage “Show don’t tell.” That’s what we tried to do in our widely circulated story this week about Tim and our new corporate overlords, and it’s the standard that I’ll apply to their public assurances that the Guardian will remain a progressive, independent voice.

I’m glad that owner Todd Vogt and new Publisher Stephen Buel said it, and now I will wait and see whether they show it through their actions. I think that Guardian readers should do the same thing, reserve judgment for now, and delay any plans to abandon or boycott the Guardian.

First, there are a few things I want to tell you all. As the senior progressive political journalist still working for a newspaper in San Francisco, I hope that you’ll trust me to test our independence and speak honestly to you about whether the Guardian’s integrity remains intact (either here or through other media if that becomes necessary).  

As tempting as it has been for all of us to just follow Tim out the door and refuse to give the new Guardian management any cover or credibility, it’s not clear to me how that would help San Francisco or the Guardian’s readers and community. The city needs the Guardian more than ever, given the arbitrary and exploitive exercises of corporate power now plaguing this great city, but nobody needs a Guardian that has been coopted by those same forces.

At this point, I’m willing to risk my job for the sake of truth and transparency, as I did with the long story I wrote with my courageous colleague Rebecca Bowe this week (and the support of another trusted ally, Guardian Interim Editor Marke B), and which I’m probably doing with this post as well.

So let me continue what we started by offering a bit of backstory and updating you on the latest developments before closing with some thoughts on the possible endgame to all of this. As we talked over the weekend following Tim’s sudden departure, a bit traumatized by how it all went down, Rebecca and I both seriously considered not returning to work on Monday.

Ultimately, we decided to come in to write a story on what happened, as Buel had invited the Guardian to do late Friday afternoon, his first official act as our new publisher. Initially wary that writing a full and truthful account of what happened might get us fired, we decided that was the only thing that we could do.

Consistent with longstanding Guardian editorial policy that sources may not preview news stories, we planned to refuse any requests by Buel or Vogt to read our story before it went to the press, and to their credit, they didn’t ask. When I interviewed each of them that day, I thanked them for letting us do the story and told them how important I thought it was to our community and the Guardian’s credibility.

Our noon press deadline passed without incident and we thought we were in the clear until around 3pm when we were called into CFO Pat Brown’s office and we saw him, Vogt, and Buel each holding copies of our article, clearly displeased with what they were reading. Executive VP David Ceccarelli, who oversees the company’s printing press, had seen the article and sent them copies, delaying the Guardian’s press run until Vogt gave the okay.

It was a tense but fairly measured conversation, and we made our case that the article was fair, straightforward, and accurate, even though it went beyond the scope of what they expected and may have sometimes cast them in an unflattering light. In fact, we told them this article was the only way that the Guardian would have any credibility with its readers.  

Buel said that he didn’t see any incorrect facts in the article, but he took issue with the article’s emphasis and context, casting it as an example of how the Guardian isn’t “realistic” in its approach. Vogt’s main concern was that the article was what he repeatedly called a “fuck you,” a parting shot by three employees who planned to resign.

As someone who has written many “fuck you” polemics over the years, I assured him that this wasn’t one, and that I considered it a fair article that I was proud of. Still, he wanted our assurances that we planned to stick around, telling us he wouldn’t print the article if this was to be our final act as Guardian employees.

Writing the article was a cathartic experience for us, giving us some hope that the Guardian might still be worth fighting for. So we each told Vogt that we still want to know what the plan is for the Guardian -- something we’ve been seeking for months -- but that we’re willing to stick around for now to assess that plan and our roles in it.

Vogt told us that if we were lying to him that he would hunt us down to “burn down your houses” -- a threat that he seemed to mostly mean as a joke, we hope -- and then he told Ceccarelli by phone that he could roll the presses with our article. Within the hour, we then posted a longer version of the article on the Guardian website, which generated 218 comments and 684 Facebook shares within 48 hours.

Frankly, we’re still concerned about the comments from Buel and Vogt that the Guardian’s editorial tone and focus need to change, which they’re only been able to describe in vague terms so far. And we were all disturbed the next day when Buel told Marke that he will begin proofing Guardian stories after they are laid out and before they go to press (he hasn’t yet asked to preview blog posts like this one), ostensibly to catch typos and examples of our flawed tone.

While that is probably his perogative as our new publisher (to preview content without directing what we cover and how), it could also portend an unacceptable incursion into the newspaper’s independence and integrity by someone who has been critical of the Guardian and its progressive voice, and who often doesn’t seem to share our values and worldview.

But we meant what we said about giving the new Guardian a chance, and we’ve all found Buel to be an honest, straight-shooting person and experienced journalist who wants the Guardian to succeed. And we believe Vogt’s explanations that it doesn’t make financial sense to shutter the Guardian, and that he’s committed to its long-term viability.

Time will tell whether Buel’s input seems constructive and designed to elevate the Guardian as a forum for progressive-minded Bay Area residents (hopefully improving our business model along the way), or whether he intends to strip away what we all love about the Guardian and turn it into just another bland, centrist publication.

We’re trying to keep an open mind, hoping for the best but prepared for the worst. No matter what happens, we will continue to communicate with our community, the people who rely on the Guardian almost as much as we do, strategizing ways to help San Francisco realize its potential.

These have been tough days for us at the Guardian, a sad reflection of the struggles that many of us face as we grapple with economic insecurity, erosion of civil liberties, and exploitation by wealthy corporations and individuals.

But we’ve been sensing and chronicling a renewed progressive spirit in San Francisco, from the small victories of tenants groups to the organizing against Plan Bay Area to the growing recognition that economic development needs to be tempered with protection of this city’s cultural and economic diversity.

So for now, in the absence of Tim’s leadership, I’m taking my tenure at the Guardian one day at a time. "All I'm saying is keep reading and see if we live up to what I'm saying,” Buel said of the Guardian’s independent, progressive approach, which he promised would continue.

I’ll monitor that from the inside, you all can monitor it from the outside, and we’ll see what happens. Deal?

Comments

Thanks for writing this and thanks for sticking to your guns. Much, much appreciated.

Posted by Andy Blue on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 4:29 pm

Yes, thank you for reassuring us Steve. Now I know to keep supporting the Guardian despite it being a corporate rag on a swing to the right. Especially since the newly crowned "most senior progressive journalist," in SF is still working there this week.

We should definitely not use the groundswell of grassroots support for an alternative to create some new progressive media project as Tim has called for. We should let the moment pass, because, hey, at least you still have a job.

And if that changes, then YOU can name the SFBG as the corporate swill it is turning in to, and then like Tim, YOU can call for support for a new publication. Maybe even centered around yourself?

Of course when that happens, Marke B will write a cathartic piece about being the "most senior progressive journalist" in SF. He will tell us how we should rally around him and the SFBG when it is his turn to say that the conservative/corporate "progressive voice of San Francisco" should not be boycotted or avoided in your absence. He will let us know that he is still at the paper and trying to stand up to a conservative newspaper owner as the newest "most senior progressive journalist" in San Francisco.

And at that moment should we listen to Marke or you? Tough call. Which is exactly where the community finds itself now, right -- split between listen to you about rallying around SFBG, or to Tim about creating an alternative progressive publication?

Very slippery slope here. I hope someone thought to bring a sled that fits more than one progressive in it.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 11:06 am

Change is normal in any business, and the SFBG has until very recently had a very stable workforce.

No doubt Steven will leave at some point, but even then he has held this job far longer than I have ever stayed in the same job.

The whole point of a newspaper, or any business, is that it is bigger than any one person, and that it outlives any staff member no matter how pivotal they seemed at the time.

SFBG owes you nothing, and you are free to either read it or not read it. No big deal.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 11:45 am

Steven, you and Rebecca are great writers but you're fooling yourselves. I know change is a hard thing to accept, but the warning signs are all around you. This formerly progressive paper has succumbed to corporate control, and the owners have given you every indication that they want to take it in a different direction. It's sad to contemplate, but it will never again be the progressive force it was under Tim's leadership. And you say that Vogt has even threatened to track you and burn down your houses if you don't go along with him?! Is that his idea of a joke? I don't know...if I were you, I'd hire a bodyguard. I wish you and Rebecca the best, but this is a sinking ship and I don't intend to be on it. Here's where the action is:

http://timssanfrancisco.blogspot.com/2013/06/now-this-is-delicious-it-ap...

Posted by Ana on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 2:11 pm

people only read blogs that they know in advance that they are going to agree with. That furnishes comfort to some but achieves nothing in terms of winning hearts, minds and votes.

To achieve that requires a wide-circulation newspaper and so Steven is right to hang in here. While the SFBG may lose some of it's single-mindedness, it will more than make up for that in it's wider readership and broader remit.

And being financially more stable can hardly hurt. Tim claimed that he wanted to buy back the paper but there is no evidence that he had the means to do so.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

I'll definitely check out Tim's blog, but I don't fault Steven for staying at least for now. Not just because he needs a paycheck, but because the Guardian still has a lot of built up loyalty, goodwill, and most importantly, reach. Like with any important but troubled institution, I think it's best to have people both on the inside and on the outside.

Posted by Greg on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 7:31 pm

Again, it's just another example of identity politics and "us" versus" them. What SFBG needs to do is break down all these stereotypes and instead recognize that there are just people, and not factions engaged in permanent war with each other.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 7:23 am

Here in the US the economic system is absolutely designed to make people permanently at war with each other. As a landlord, my tenants better pay me the highest rent equal to the what the next person in line would pay me or theyd better get to work at another job or put the kids to work. If 75% of their total income goes to pay the rent I charge, it's not my concern.

As a business owner selling new goods and services, of course I want my customers to pay as much as I can get from them. If they have less money left over to buy goods and services in other shops, it's not for me to care about that. The overall economy may not be as strong because they are overpaying me, but I just try to make as much profit for myself as possible and don't worry about the bigger economy. That's what Adam Smith taught us and what the vast majority of economic and business professors teach in US schools.

You may live in one of those northern european countries where life is a little more egalitarian, but here in the good 'ol USA we're taught at an early age to take as much for ourselves as possible and not to worry about anyone else.

It's possible not everyone thinks the current US economic system delivers the best outcomes for the most people. The SFBG website you've stumbled across is one of the few lone voices that occasionally offers stories that question whether the current economic structures provide the best results for the most people. This website has been a refreshing place to visit since it provides information and viewpoints not often seen in the majority of mass media that are mostly owned by multi-millionaires hoping to become even more wealthy or promote their own projects or egos.

PS. Reinstate Tim Redmond as a writer, with a weekly column at least. The SF Bay Guardian's goodwill and reptutation was built on his significant writing talents and insights into SF politics. Much more so than the paper's founder - Mr. one-note PGE obsessive - it was Tim Redmond who helped create the SFBG into a touchstone for SF politics. He should have been given a 10 year contract before the paper was sold if the former owner had any class, even if that might have slightly diminished the final selling price. The new owners should respect the community created by the SFBG over the decades and find a way to bring back Redmond in some meaningful capacity.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 8:49 am

In my experience, success comes with delivering products and services at a price where people see value. Everyone will always think that everything costs too much, and everyone want something for nothing, but in the end people will only buy from you if what you offer is worth the money.

The best businesses regard customers as another stakeholder, and you see some offer truly excellent customer service. The problem arises when government meddles with this arrangement and, since you said you were a landlord that is a perfect example. In SF LL's and TT's hate each other, but it is only because the game is rigged by rent control.

Visit Houston or Phoenix or almost any city that has no rent control, and LL's treat TT's as customers to be feted, not squatting scum to be evicted. The broken model is not capitalism, but rather the idea that bureaucrats can do better by meddling.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 9:24 am

I'm sure you and I took the same marketing class that told us to sell the "sizzle" (mouth-watering aroma) and not the "steak" (toxins, cardiac arrest and premature death). When it comes to sales, whatever we can say to make the customer buy from us is what we'll use, with sex, mortality, self-esteem being high on the marketing tools list.

Most businesspeople are clever enough to use the "customer is king" cliche while focusing on what's really important, making more profits. If the customer needs a self-esteem boost before they'll part with their cash, a few kind words are easy and cheap enough to make the killer sale.

And no anon, rent control has nothing to do with the landlord-tenant relationship that is structured as an outright war all across the globe. Take a trip over to Concord, or Marin, or China, or the peninsula, or Australia, or Silicon Valley and you'll find that the landlords there want tenants to pay as much rent as possible too. That's the reason for being a landlord in the first place. Duh.

If anon had any intelligence or self-awareness he'd sell his SF rent-controlled buildings, bank some serious profits and move on with his life. But isn't it funnny about all these anons in the world who'd rather be misrerable and strike out at everyone else for their misery rather than take that first baby step to try to improve their miserable lives.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 9:57 am

Yes, sell your rent controlled buildings and get away from your misery. It's an ideal time as the TIC speculators are willing to pay top dollar.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 10:34 am

further confirmation of on Tuesday when the latest Case-Schiller numbers are due - I'm expecting to see 20% YOY gains in SF RE. That's great news for Tim, Marcos and all the other progressive speculators here, and bad news for those like Steven, Greg and Lill who instead speculate on the odds of not being Ellis'ed YOY.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

But only when the ROI meets my targets.

I'd agree that Ellis/AirBnB or Ellis/TIC is the best way to go in most cases.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 10:56 am

Why should stick it out here when the owner fired Tim, and lied to us about it? Now he pretends he's not going to tinker with the progressive content of the paper, but admits that he wants to change the tone. And he has already interfered with endorsements. Who's in charge here? The only way to restore the trust of BG readers is to get Tim back on board. That should be our nonnegotiable demand to Vogt. Why should this corporate cat make money off the backs of progressives?

Posted by SFBG Readers Demand on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 12:54 pm

It is always the owner who is in charge because it is his money. The manager or editor can be fired at will (although in this case, Tim quit).

It's not unusual for two sides in a dispute to have different views on what really happened, but there is no reason for an outsider to believe either party here.

That said, it sounds entirely plausible to me that Tim, being the genial old commie that he is, didn't want to fire people even though he was told that was an imperative. And if Tim was thereby insubordinate, then he was always going to be toast, regardless of whether he jumped or was pushed.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

If progressive leave en masse, that leaves Mr. Vogt in the lurch. He needs us and he knows it. He has a choice. He can either reinstate Tim (on his/ our terms), or lose his shirt. Otherwise, this paper is toast.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2013 @ 11:05 am

He can move the paper to more of a liberal-center perspective. It will lose the hard-left but will gain far more readers who have a more moderate outlook.

Vogt needs the kind of readers who will attract advertising. He's not a charity case for the hard left. So the question you really need to consider is this:

Do you need Vogt and the SFBG more than they need you?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2013 @ 11:27 am

And you're overlooking Vogt's motivation in his takeover of progressive media, which is his interest in exerting influence over progressives. And by God, he's working his ass off to try to appeal to us -- regard his faux "I hate Nancy Pelosi" act. (Sorry Todd, we're not that gullible.) That should tell you that there is still a substantial progressive base in SF.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2013 @ 11:45 am

How will that help him sell advertizing?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2013 @ 11:54 am

This paper has a progressive readership. If progs aren't reading, ad revenues are going to be waaayy down. But I apologize if that's too much for someone of limited brain to comprehend.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2013 @ 1:06 pm

1) Only progressives spend money in SF, and therefore they are an essential target audience for advertizers.

2) If the paper moves more to the moderate center, those progressives readers will not be replaced by higher-spending moderate readers.

There's a reason why Todd is running a business, I am running a business, and you are not.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2013 @ 1:13 pm

Apparently, you don't the first thing about me. I run my own consulting business. But let's take your argument

1) Yes, other people besides progressives spend money in SF. Relevance? People who turn to this paper on a regular basis do so because it's a progressive paper. Lose them, lose your audience. Advertizers understand that progressives are the largest audience for this paper, and that's why they post their ads here.

2) Vogt has already said he wants to keep the progressive nature of the paper intact. Unlike you, he appears to understand that progressive values are still a force to be reckoned with in SF.

You have essentially boxed yourself into a corner because you have essentially admitted that this paper has a wider reach and appeal than you care to concede. And I suppose you know more than Todd Vogt about how to run a business. Some mind you are, Forest.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2013 @ 1:46 pm

1) Just because progressives are the largest audience for this paper doesn't mean they have to be in the future. What matters is what the advertizers want, and if they don;t want a bunch of impoverished lefties, and think other folks will buy more of their products and services, then bingo - we see style shift. Happens all the time.

2) Vogt is always going to say that. But firing Tim says a different story, and I tend to believe actions over words. In business, you go where the money is, and Tim evidently didn't get that.

You run a consulting business? Funny. Yet you have all this time to post here? The only guy I know who makes the same claim was laid off, and tells people he runs a consulting business because he doesn't like telling people he was laid off. Is that you, Tom?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2013 @ 2:15 pm

I can attest to the lack of stable workforce at the SFBG, so your comment just made me LOL.

During the five years I worked there (before being laid off along with four other employees the day after Bear Stearns failed) I saw other rounds of layoffs - mostly due to the shrinking revenue available to print media.

I loved working there and believe that the Guardian really isn't the Guardian without Bruce and Tim. I also believe Steve Jones and everyone else there will do their best to maintain the voice of the paper.

It still bums me out that Vogt gets to keep the name and the amazing staff that is still left there, because he doesn't deserve them. But, again, Steve's right to stay, because, honestly, I don't think I could get by without it.

Also, damn you, Bruce, for selling to Vogt. He wasn't worth it.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 25, 2013 @ 11:44 am

Partly because the internet stole SFBG's lunch and Bruce didn't adapt.

And partly because SF's demographic has changed and moderated, but the SFBG didn't adjust, so it's readership declined.

Vogt has kept SFBG going - even Steven admits that. The rest is up to us all.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 25, 2013 @ 12:00 pm

I believe Steven's assertions that he is relying on principle here to guide him. If he feels those principles have been usurped, even if it is perhaps right that that happen, then I think he would be willing to sacrifice his paycheck.

But with Marke, I'm not so sure. Not that there is anything wrong with working for a paycheck either, and most of us do that anyway. But he reminds me a little of the old joke:

He: Will you sleep with me for a million dollars?
Her: Er, OK, yes.
He: How about for $20?
Her: What kind of girl do you think I am?
He: We've already established that. Now we're just quibbling over price.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 3:56 pm

base of cranks like this?

A readership of kooks isn't a wise place for a business to advertise.

Posted by matlock on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 3:44 am

paper, but it can be fixed if Todd and Stephen get to work and identify the key demographics here. If the SFBG wants more money, it is going to have to stop hating those who have that money.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 7:22 am

That makes you and everyone else here a kook, moron.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 9:54 am
Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 10:52 am

Ah yes, the old us vs them

Posted by pete moss on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 5:17 am

group politically.

The people who picked it up to see what is going on around town are long gone.

This would be their readership/demographic, if this readership is made up of sour conspiracy addled idiots, why would a business advertise here. Why would a business advertise in a pro-life magazine geared to low wage Jesus freaks? Maybe some gun stores, home schooling supplies and end of the world mail order houses? Why would a business advertise to sour neo-hippies? Whats that demographic, hydroponics stores?

Posted by matlock on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 11:49 am

The left demands that the SFBG represents their interests (and only their interests, so no balance or objectivity needed).

But then they need money to run such a paper, and of course they do not have it. So they believe that someone drawn from the ranks of their enemy (the affluent and successful) should pay up even while being attacked by the very same paper. The owner should pay to be abused and insulted!

Easy for the left to say, since they hate the rich. And of course it's not unlike their arguments for more and more tax, not even so much to raise revenue but more to simply punish the rich for being, well, rich.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 12:14 pm

Since that attitude is what appears to have gotten The Guardian in the spot it's in now in the first place.

"Purity or death" usually results in the latter, not the former.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 4:45 pm

than a pawn in a war between the classes, a projector of envy and a vehicle of political correctness.

Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 4:53 pm

Only a glass-half-empty moron thinks like you do.

GAL, girl.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 5:08 pm

dovetail with the kind of progressive values that Steven is espousing here?

Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 5:32 pm
Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 5:49 pm

"Lying sack of pus" is more accurate and proper.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 6:20 pm

Is tolerance not a progressive value?

Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 6:25 pm

Because you are not a real person.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 6:37 pm

can convince yourself that the other party is somehow not "real"?

But rather, what? A figment of your imagination? Or is their only crime holding a different political opinion?

And why does the left always shoot itself in the foot by seeking to insult, abuse or suppress any contrary opinions? Do you really have that little faith and confidence in your opinions? Is that this famed "San Francisco tolerance" i have heard so much about?

Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 7:11 pm

Arthur Evans was a real flesh and blood human being who put his name behind his postings.

You are merely virtual, not a real person, and not entitled to the same rights as a person because you bear none of the responsibilities of a person in this forum.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 7:36 pm

And even if you used what looks like a real name, chances are it isn't real at all.

Verbal abuse is not a progressive value.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 5:54 am

Tolerance is only a progressive value when the progressive cult believes in the behavior. The slightest disagreement creates copious amounts of bile and vitriole.

Hmmm...sounds oddly like the far right, doesn't it?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 29, 2013 @ 2:16 pm
Posted by anon on Jun. 29, 2013 @ 2:52 pm

Depends on who the "us" are and depends on who the "them" are.

If the "us" are nonprofits and labor and "them" is everyone else, yeah, you're right.

But if the "us" is the San Franciscans who pay taxes and want honest, just social services delivered with progressive values and the "them" is everyone who would rather take their cut off the top at our expense, then "us" versus "them" is the way to go.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 5:16 pm
Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 5:31 pm

"progressive values"?

Assuming that the last mayoral election was the best indicator of that (or, for that matter, any other mayoral election since the ill-fated Agnos) then the clear demonstrable evidence appears to be that most SF voters, while being leftwards on a national level, soundly reject the Avalos-style anti-jobs progressive mandate.

And prefer moderate can-do governance as personified by the very popular Ed Lee.

Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 5:41 pm

I think you have to ask yourself whether there is a groundswell of support among the people who really matter here - the readers and voters of this city.

No doubt there is a vociferous faction in SF who lean hard to the left and will support our ideas. But if the SFBG is losing revenue because it's core message isn't resonating with enough readers then you really do have to ask yourself whether there is a critical mass of readers who not only will support you in theory, but who will also buy the products and services of those who keep SFBG going by placing the ad's that pay your salary.

Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 4:51 pm

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