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

The entire newsprint media industry is losing money, moron.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 8:47 pm

Oh you shouldn't have even bothered to write that comment. He won't even see it. His arrogant head is firmly planted in the upper colon of conservative Ed Lee and he will continue to campaign for him. People like him don't know any better. Sad.

Posted by not ignorant "anon" on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 9:39 pm

Progressives are deluded into thinking that Lee isn't popular, when he is.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 5:55 am

As you said Steve, wait and see !!

Posted by David Sloane on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 4:52 pm

Thanks Steve, and Rebecca yesterday, for your brave good work getting these stories out--I'm sure it was not easy. Definitely in solidarity with you guys, and with Tim Redmond. Given the track record of both this company and the for-profit news biz as a whole, I have little faith or trust that the Guardian will remain either in existence or with its strong progressive voice for very long. I hope I'm wrong--though I also hope (and will work) for a more sustainable progressive independent media that's not subject to corporate bottom-line machinations. I support you guys in doing what you think is right, and no matter where your work appears we are better off for it. But as you say, let's keep our eyes very open here--when a paper like the Guardian with its politics and ideas becomes part of a corporate portfolio (well even when it doesn't but especially then), it becomes subject to calculations of not only the bottom line, but increasingly economistic calculations about voice, tone, politics...it can be a very slippery and insidious slope going from changes in tone to changes in politics. So yes, let's keep our eyes wide open, all of us--and keep supporting Tim Redmond too (http://timssanfrancisco.blogspot.com/). What worries me is that Vogt and Buel will continue dividing and conquering, and ultimately they'll force the remaining folks to make equally intolerable choices about staff cuts and, ultimately, politics. We'll see. Thanks Steve and Rebecca for your work helping to keep progressive political journalism alive in SF. We need it now more than ever, and we need more of it, not less. For those who want media that blindly cater to the asleep-at-the-wheel interests of corporate advertisers, and to a less politically aware or caring readership--well, there's plenty of that already dominating our media landscape. --Christopher Cook

Posted by Christopher Cook on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 5:55 pm

I feel sure that no matter how sincere you are about your "progressive" values, you also understand that that is a minority viewpoint, even in SF. And I feel sure that you also understand that a journal like the SFBG has to be solvent to continue, and that implies reaching out to a much broader base.

So what are the top three ideas that you would like to put forward to Todd and Stephen to finesse that dilemma? What principles can you sacrifice to achieve a more viable medium?

Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 6:03 pm

Here's an idea, moron: go swallow some battery acid.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 8:51 pm

receptivity to diverse viewpoints manifesting itself again here.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 5:56 am

Thanks for your clear and direct essay on our situation. As I've shared with you personally, it has been an overwhelming week for me. Tim Redmond is the person who invited me to interview for a job at the Guardian near the end of 2008, just after I had returned to the Bay Area after living in North Carolina for awhile. At that point in time, I was marginally employed and living on a sailboat. Tim saw my writing samples and decided to give me a chance. If it had not been for him, I'm not sure I would be a journalist at this moment, and I am grateful both to him and Bruce Brugmann for hiring me. I'm also thankful that Tim kept the door open and agreed to bring me on again, this time as an editor, at the paper at the beginning of this year. (I did not work at the SFBG in 2012.) Given this personal history, having a front row seat to the saga that unfolded around Tim's departure from the paper last week was nothing short of gut-wrenching. That also resulted in an added layer of complexity while working with you on that story. As you have noted in the piece above, it has been seriously difficult for me to determine what my path should be from here. However, at this time, I also remain committed to communicating directly with progressive readership in the Bay Area and trying my best to produce quality journalism about the issues that people are passionate about. I'm also very interested in hearing reader feedback, input, advice, reactions, ideas, you can tell me to go fuck myself, whatever people want to share. Email me at rebecca@sfbg.com or post it here.

Posted by rebecca on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 5:56 pm

of the SFBG, such that advertizers would be motivated to spend more on ad revenue, thereby ensuring your job security?

Is this not a classic example of an opportunity to compromise and moderate, so that everyone wins? Talk to us about the ideological concessions that you deem most viable here.

Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 6:08 pm

Get off your high horse, moron.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 9:57 pm

This coming from a corporate sellout moron.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 10:11 pm

The key issue here is the fiscal viability of SFBG.

The question is about what changes need to be made to ensure that - that is Stephen and Todd's focus right now.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 5:57 am

That's too funny. Listening to trolls who hate progressives giving advice to progressives, is like listening to Limbaugh giving advice to Democrats.

Note to Vogt: When all the Guardian's regular readers have gone, the trolls will be gone too.

Posted by Greg on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 7:20 pm

not less. And that that has to include the demographic of readers who actually have disposable income, otherwise the advertizers will demur.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 7:20 am

One is that progressives have no disposable income. The other is that people without disposable income don't matter.

Posted by Greg on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 8:35 am

If most SF progressives are wealthy, then why does SFBG constantly attack the wealthy? That makes no sense, and in fact Tim ranted on about the rich so much it became a joke, with their being "boring" and all. Are you boring, Greg, because you are trying to claim that you are rich? Why does Tim believe that? Was Bruce boring as well?

Nobody said poor people do not matter in general, but they may well not matter to an advertizer. If you cannot afford to buy their products or services then why would they spend money trying to advertize to you?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 8:50 am

Jason Grant Garza .., dear Rebecca ... thank you for the chance to write to you and ask for your assistance in bringing forward some VERY IMPORTANT issues such as MEDICAL CARE, POLICE SERVICES, ADA SERVICES and what I have received to date. What do I mean ... I will be contacting you later through your email address to send you my contact information in order to proceed with the paperwork and videos that I have that prove my statements and show the INHUMANITY and ILLEGALITY that I have had to face at the HANDS of the CITY.
A good start would be to show you an article where the city did it before ... http://www.sfbg.com/2007/06/27/crazy and then show you a signed confession where the city broke the law, left me for dead and now the process has started all over again ... http://myownprivateguantanamo.com/settle1.html and for more background read http://myownprivateguantanamo.com .
Now go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cP3jCmJFRo to see the CRIMINAL FRAUD or the sheriff's "CUP OF POISON" on 11/27/12 (see all six videos) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xax7ksytpu4 and then go to DPH http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFd-KtS8Zss or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pa7kfWNt4aQ or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCuMwXVxADk (where I was BRUTALLY ASSAULTED by the sheriff's deputy.) Then you can watch other videos for the FAILURES of SFPD, OCC, MOD, Sheriff and Chief of Police and Police Commission.
I hope to hear from you since I have a background article and now new paperwork and videos which show the lawbreaking activity. Mind you NO MEDICAL CARE, NO POLICE HELP, and NO HUMANITY ... what can be of MORE CONCERN?
Again, thanks and I await your response ... Jason Grant Garza

Posted by Jason Grant Garza on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 7:02 am

For a bunch of "progressives", you guys sure know how to stay clinging on to a sinking ship. Leave. Todd cares about one thing and it ain't San Francisco, The Guardian or the history or culture surrounding the Guardian. Why continue to help the guy line his pockets and assist him in the building up of his conglomeration cred? If you people really cared about the paper, you would have left as soon as Mr. Brugmann took the money and ran. The Guardian is nothing but 90% advertising and 10% content anyways. RIP

Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 6:12 pm

They may not be as aggressively socialist as Bruce and Tim in their heydey, but they will probably resonate better with the new generations of San Franciscans who do not see success as failure, and that implies the SFBG will become more fiscally viable as well.

Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 6:17 pm

says the troll who cares nothing about BG or progressive values

Posted by anon on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 1:07 pm

who see different things from you, but by way of clarification I believe that SFBG occupies a useful role in the local media. But that is not to say that it cannot be improved and made more focused.

If such an advance delivers more profound coverage, increases readership and boosts ad revenue, then everyone can win. And I think the new management are capable of that.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 1:17 pm

NIMBY, troll!

Posted by anon on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

although it is less clear why that would temper my excitement about the changes to SFBG mooted here.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

"NIMBY" is always an unhelpful terms to try and disparage those who see different things from you

Posted by anon on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 2:02 pm

doubt that there are a class of "mostly white, middle-class" people in SF who oppose any new growth, progress or development on principle, and they have done a great deal of harm to this city and it's perception elsewhere.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 3:52 pm

says the troll who cares nothing about BG or progressive values

Posted by anon on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 1:07 pm

it's a good idea to forget you've got a job. Look for part time work. Cut expenses to the bone. Make a big pot of soup.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 6:13 pm

as being more about minimizing needs rather than maximizing opportunities, taking risks and striving for success?

Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 6:16 pm

Its called Zen Budhism. A much more serene path then any of the abrahamic cults.

Posted by pete moss on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 5:22 am

Less is more, the shortest political path between two points is rarely a straight line....

Posted by anon on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 7:51 am
Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 8:44 am

The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.

Posted by anon on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 9:40 am

R2: let the Wookiee win.

Posted by matlock on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 11:42 am

As a long-time SFBG watcher, i applaud all this transparency. reading all the intrigue is fascinating

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 6:21 pm

It needed a wake-up call, and this is it.

Posted by anon on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 6:26 pm

pop goes the bubble. You will surely have to spend more time overseeing your portfolio than to contribute 40% of the comments on this website.

Now, you are a loser with diminished net worth.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 7:28 pm

I can live with that.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 5:58 am

When this guy throws down and shows us rather than telling us, aforehand...............then it will mean something. Meanwhile I miss Tim.

Posted by Thomas Plagemann on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 8:38 pm

Progressive San Francisco is a thing of the past. Hire more writers and ad staff who know about Oakland - that's where the readership is.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 9:22 pm

a much more appropriate target audience for a journal that plays upon envy and resentment of success.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 6:00 am

you are the spirit of the Bay Guardian.

Posted by matlock on Jun. 20, 2013 @ 9:59 pm

I'm finding this whole saga to be fascinating, though it's too bad some people lost their jobs. That said, it's odd that the newspaper has become the story the newspaper is reporting on.

Posted by The Commish on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 6:46 am

it's lack of change. Bruce and Tim ran the show for too long, and therefore the journal became staid and predictable. It's values always seemed more "60's hippie" than "noughties pragmatic".

So I see these changes as a good thing, and first indications are that Todd and Stephen have a better business head on their shoulders than Tim.

As for it being "sad" that some people lost their jobs, one can also look at that as both an opportunity for those folks to carve out a new career, while also giving SFBG a new lease of life. As such, it may not turn out to be sad at all.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 7:03 am

I've never seen a better indicator of someone who was about to be fired, or about to quit then this "editorial"

"progressive" SF is dead! Here's hoping a new progressive SF comes about that is more reasonable and less tied to extreme stasis.

Posted by Maldita fondada on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 6:57 am

SF needs the Guardian more than ever...or Guardian staffers need their paychecks more than ever? Sorry, Steve, but let's not pretend money is not involved here on both sides. In my mind, the Guardian ceased to exist when Bruce cashed the check. I hope it was a big one. And I really hope he took care of Redmond.

Posted by Laurel on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 8:01 am

think that a business like SFBG can be anti-business 24/7 and not run into problems. The good news is that we seem to now have some astute business-minded people running the show, and I think that even Steven can see the benefits of that going forward.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 9:16 am

groovy, alternative flavor.

When was the last time you did a favorable article about a Fortune 500 corporation? A financial institution? A fund manager? A private utility provider?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 9:49 am

When was the last time that these corporate whores ever did anything to us that did not result in a financially transmitted disease?

Posted by marcos on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 9:55 am

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