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

No bank account? No cards or cheques?

No mortgage on that condo?

No IRA, 401K, SEP or Keogh retirement plan?

No mutual funds, bonds or stocks?

How would the city fund itself without Goldman Sachs and the rest floating bonds?

You're off your head. Or your meds.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 10:09 am

Why on earth would the SFBG want to run a favorable article on the financial equivalents of heroin dealers and fly by night scamsters?

Posted by marcos on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 10:39 am

that than they buy into the opposite i.e. that everything corporate is good.

In other words, it would be because the new SFBG values objectivity, balance and perspective, rather than kneejerk, biased, partisan over-generalizations.

I expect a serious journal to criticize banks when they do wrong but also note where and when they do good. In other words, consider context.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 10:56 am

There is no scarcity of those paeans to corporate grandiosity in the media in the US. You can find them in most every media outlet but the SFBG. Why not satiate your fix for authoritarian capitalism there?

Posted by marcos on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 11:12 am

that all corporations are bad (or good) is not worthy of serious reporting.

What we need, rather, is objectivity and balance. Problem for you?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 11:47 am

Problem!

Posted by marcos on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 12:20 pm
Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 12:28 pm

Scumsucking leech.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 12:54 pm

Just because you are wrong doesn't mean that you are totally worthless.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 1:04 pm

Consider that Heroin dealers might be a tad more careful than banksters to not bring disaster to their customers.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

Mortgages do not - at worst, they default.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 25, 2013 @ 6:03 am

And trust, Marcos knows about male whores and transmitted diseases

Posted by NOT_Eric_Brooks on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 11:46 am

gets consistently wrong.

He apparently wishes to suppress here any viewpoint that doesn't meet with his personal approval. I suppose we should be grateful that he is not the editor.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 11:57 am

If I was editor I'd have long since cracked down on you toxics in a way that would have made martial law look like anarchy.

Posted by anon on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 2:08 pm

I guess tolerance isn't a virtue that you hold dear then?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

Extraordinary Rendition.

Posted by anon on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 5:41 pm
Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 6:00 pm

QED.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 6:54 pm

His powerlessness and attempts to over-compensate for it are fairly transparent.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 7:16 am

More of this us against them dynamic. Are you poor?

Posted by anon on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 9:37 am

even if they are not poor, they covet those who have more. To them, wealth is relative not absolute. And if they cannot be better thru their own merits, they seek to confiscate by pushing punitive wealth redistribution policies.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 25, 2013 @ 6:02 am

to order to a Big Mac?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 3:53 pm

Please.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 4:45 pm

Why would a business advertise in a paper that spends it's time trying to harass every business in town with it's crazy agenda.

In the age of the Internet why would a business advertise in a paper that has a narrow demographic. Once upon a time the Guardian had a broader demographic that used to the paper to see what is going on around town, the Guardian also had articles that would appeal to broader cross section of the city population.

Why advertise in a paper that caters to bonged out neo-hippies, has an agenda of raising costs everywhere and and wants to make the population subservient to the governmental over class at every turn?

Posted by matlock on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 3:37 am

struggle with. The only readers that SFBG currently appeal to are ones with no disposable income, because of course SFBG has always worshipped failure and eschewed success.

The pressing need is for SFBG to write things that appeal to the vast, affluent majority who do not believe that a business leader is an anti-christ.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 7:18 am

Whatever one thinks of the Guardian, at least it stood for something. At least the people who published it had a reason for publishing it. I see no such rationale for any of the publications in Mr. Vogt's portfolio. SF Weekly: the city's "smartest publication"? Sorry, there is no such thing. The Weekly's only reason for being since its acqusition by New Times in 1995 was to destroy the Bay Guardian, and that has now been accomplished. That the Weekly destroyed itself in the process -- that these two bottom-feeder alt-weeklies mauled each other to death -- is beside the point. And the Ex has been completely pointless for many years.

All of these papers seem moribund to me, and I can't imagine it's a coincidence that they've all been swept up together. The business plan must be to consolidate them, to keep editorial expenses to a minimum and eliminate competition. I could easily imagine a single publication emerging from the wreckage of this three-car smash-up. That would make business sense, but it's not clear it would make editorial sense. Printing and distributing newspapers is very expensive, and betting that there's any kind of future for it is a big bet, maybe a foolish one. Younger people don't read print newspapers, even if they're free.

The sad thing is that the Chron desperately needs competition. But I don't see that competition emerging from this mess.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

Most people read them to see what is on at the movies, clubs etc. and you scarcely need competition there. While a merger of the two would feature a greater diversity of articles, pitching left and right thinking against each other.

And the synergy for advertizing revenue is clear, given that the resultant merged journal would have a higher readership than each on it's own.

So yes, a merger sounds good if it makes business sense, which I feel sure we can leave to the managers.

As for opposition to the Chron, I doubt that SF is big enough for two major dailies. We'd need probably ten times the population for that to be viable, so unless Vogt plans a focus on the entire Bay Area and not just SF, I do not see that flying.

At minimum, Vogt would need to hire some business and finance expertise to attract readers in our economic engine - the South Bay.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

Well, remember that the Chron is a regional newspaper, not a city one. The Bay Area has a population of six or seven million and growing. Even the city of SF is supposed to hit a million in the next twenty years. Competition for the Chron need not necessarily be another daily newspaper. There needs to be some thinking anew on this question. Printing daily newspapers is really kind of ridiculous now. Print cannot compete with news relayed electronically, whether by TV, radio or Internet. If there is a place for print, it will have to do with longer, less time-sensitive pieces that can be read at leisure -- i.e. magazine stuff.

I can't imagine Vogt & Co. continuing to pay for the printing of three bad and irrelevant papers that make the Chron look like Mt. Olympus. Doing so is beyond wasteful, to say nothing of costly. One of the details that emerged from the Bay Guardian's own reporting on this story is that Redmond offered to buy back the paper from Vogt. If this is so, then why didn't he buy it directly from Brugmann a year ago? Why didn't Brugmann sell it to him for a dollar, since the paper can't have been worth much if anything. Elsewhere in the reporting you find references to unpaid freelancer debt running to the tens of thousands of dollars. That's a sizable encumbrance on a publication with no real assets. The Bay Guardian was and is just a name of uncertain value. Still, Vogt would have been a fool to sell it back to Redmond, and I'm pretty sure Vogt isn't a fool. He won't sell it to anybody. He'll shut it down and get rid of it if he finds it has no real use, as he well might.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 4:26 pm

If the SFBG name, assets and goodwill is worth a significant sum, then the chances are that there is no way that Tim could come up with the funds to buy it. He could take out a second mortgage on his home but I'm not sure he'd be happy to put his family at risk. And who else would lend him the money given that, absent the building, the business really has no assets.

While if the SFBG is worth next to nothing, then Tim could afford it, but Vogt would have no reason to sell it.

You make a good point about why Bruce didn't sell it to Tim, but I suspect that the very same logic applied. Either the SFBG isn't worth that much or Tim couldn't afford it. Paraphrasing Groucho Mark, you don't want to be the owner of any newspaper that you can actually afford to buy.

Getting back to the Chron, there aren't too many US cities that can afford tow dailies, at least not of any quality. A broader BayArea focus certainly helps but, in the end, you're right, papers are soooo 20th century.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 5:14 pm

The Guardian is too precious a resource to throw away, and while something tells me this is a fight you can't win in the short-medium term, it's still one worth fighting.

Like you said, I'll wait and see.

Posted by Greg on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 7:26 pm

Hey Mr. Laissez Faire, who's Groucho Mark?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 11:58 pm

He had some brothers. Maybe you've hard of them.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 7:14 am

LOLOL. The notion of "integrity" Jones mentions is complete BS. Jones is an egotistical and boring writer who is completely full of himself and never misses an opportunity to toot his own horn ("As the senior progressive political journalist still working for a newspaper in San Francisco").

It set a new journalistic precedent, to say the least, to refer to himself in the third person, in an article which was obviously designed to save his job. And, really, that article, while entertaining, is the most pathetic piece of journalistic navel-gazing ever, and obviously biased. Next time you have a pity party, make it private, ok? You're not as important as you think you are.

If Jones truly had any integrity, he would have resigned with the others. On principle. that's what Tim did. And Caitlin. And several other staffers. But no-- Jones is probably hoping he'll still get to do his annual 3,000-word missives on Burning Man and write about how everyone loves his bicycle, again. and again.

The fact is that Jones is probably unemployable by any non-Socialist paper this side of Communist Russia. Which doesn't exist anymore. See the point?

Rather than come to terms with reality--the Guardian sucked, it was losing a lot of money, and whatever mojo it once had was long gone-- Jones and Bowe have chosen to be in denial. Probably because any objective look at the truth would mean acknowledging they are part of the problem.

Vogt may be an self-aggrandizing asshole, and Buel a corporate yes-man who tries to play both sides at once, but pointing a finger at them makes it easier to overlook the obvious: Redmond was incompetent and also in denial of his own ineptitude, and Bruce ran the paper into the ground through his stubbornness, then cashed out like the corporate sellouts he railed against for 30 years. In the words of Bugs Bunny, "what a maroon, what an ignoranimus."

Writing this sort of article--or this sort of follow-up--doesnt serve the community at all; it's completely self-serving, and more than a little dysfunctional to air dirty laundry publicly, because you cant seem to communicate effectively directly.

Look, when a paper undergoes regime change, it's best to tidy up the loose ends and start over fresh. The Bay Area is ready for a new version of the SFBG because the old one wasn't working. Looking at Vogt and Buel's resumes, they probably will shift the paper more to a centrist stance as a matter of survival. The good news is, there's practically zero chance they'll allow the type of insular bloviation and willful myopia which the Guardian became known for.

Steven, you have no future at the SFBG because you are so closely identified with the past. with this blog post, your Deathwatch has officially begun. Do you really think you will be permitted to keep writing Game of Thrones-like commentaries critical of your bosses? You should just quit now, and let a younger writer with less baggage take your slot. Hopefully, it will be someone from a community of color, of which the Guardian is in desperate need of and has been ever since day one. It IS interesting to see so much whiteness parading as "progressiveness," but last time i looked, young people of color set the agenda for change, while middle-aged white males resist it.

As for the micromanaging, that not only will happen, but should happen. Romanticizing a paper which has clearly lost resonance with readers--not just in Vogt's view, but in the eyes of the public--is pointless. I have no doubt that Vogt and Buel can make the paper better than it was. Unfortunately, that's not saying much. But to truly do so, they need to start with a clean slate.

In a purge, the old regime's hardliners need to go. Those are the rules. Your team lost, so get over yourself already.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 11:35 am

"people of color" copout.

That's exactly the kind of shtick we would routinely attack Steven etc. of dropping into every piece, so I don't expect to see it in a hit piece.

Heck, you're white, Steven is white, I am white, everyone here is white. We write for other whites - the rest have better things to do anyway.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 12:10 pm

"young people of color set the agenda for change, while middle-aged white males resist it."

Except that young people of color are as likely these days to be pimping the agenda of middle-aged white males, which is the wrong kind of change.

Posted by anon on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 12:33 pm

Is there a college for progressive journalism somewhere that teaches all would-be journalists to always include a gratuitous reference to "people of color" (and never "non-whites") to every article regardless of topic?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 2:44 pm

why is it "gratuitous" to reference the lack of diversity on the SFBG staff? isnt that like, you know, a fact?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 9:37 pm

Maybe there is and maybe there isn't. It depends who was the best candidate for each job vacancy they had.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 8:40 am

no. not nearly close to remotely accurate. guess again.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 9:35 pm

Because all young people of color think alike and think your way.

Posted by anon on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 11:40 pm

IOW, he stereotypes, because that is what progressives do. If they cannot classify you, they cannot hate you.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 8:41 am

uh... i'm not white. but with that assumption, you've kind of proved my point.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 9:28 pm

Race, as a concept, is a myth. There is no scientific basis for it.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 8:42 am

you guys are all missing the point. i'm not suggesting pick a black, a Latino, or an Asian at random and offer them Jones' job. What i AM saying is that there's a disconnect when editorial staff does not mirror the diversity of its constituents, which leads, invariably, to cultural bias and omissions in reporting. If the Bay Guardian's aim is to be a paper only read by whites, as one commenter suggested, that's not exactly what i would call progressive. In fact, it's entirely the opposite. Media companies tend to be refuges of monoculture; their lack of staff diversity in a state (California) with a 60% ethnic majority, and a region (the bay area) known for multiculturalism is a dangerous thing, considering that the media does shape public opinion. To truly be progressive, the Guardian would have to diversify its staff in a way it has never done before. New ownership presents the opportunity to do just that. Otherwise, you're just supporting institutional racism and perpetuating inequality.

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

You assume not only that all blacks think the same thing but also that no non-black can think the same things. Not only is there no evidence for that assertion, but it's borderline racist in the way it emphasizes race , which is a non-scientif concept anyway.

And SCOTUS has ruled that having racial quota's for a workplace is unconstitutional, so your idea of SFBG "diversifying" it's staff is illegal, as it would be a form of racial discrimination against whites.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 11:29 am

is interesting in that it often closely resembles racialist southerners defending Jim Crow.

Posted by matlock on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 11:54 am

stereotypes, every bit as much as the old white racialists of the south.

Each side has it's bogeymen and it's opportunities for rabble rousing.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 12:09 pm

Sure, just keep pointing a finger at me, because my observation that the SFBG (and media in general) lacks diversity in its staff is the problem, not the actual lack of diversity itself. Yeah, right: i'm racist for pointing out the presence of structural/institutional racism among so-called progressives. Umm hmm. Yup. that's me alright: a big ol' fat racist. Just give me a show on the Food Network, why don't ya?

And, really, what a ridiculous argument, one that apparently can't be made without attributing things i never said or even implied to me. Bringing the Supreme Court into it? Now that takes the cake. Never mind that i'm not talking about imposing quotas, just hiring practices which actually reflect diversity, such as actively seeking the best and the brightest non-white journalists--because we live in California, not Utah. Sorry, but there's no sound legal argument which makes diversity illegal. And it's not racial discrimination against whites to suggest that the Guardian should diversify its staff, to reflect the multiculturalism of its service area more accurately.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 7:42 pm

is mostly white as a whole, a club who claim to speak for vast swaths of non whites.

It's often pointed out here and elsewhere that progressives are in general middle class revolutionaries, it has been that way for 100+ years. Marx, Lenin, Che, etc...

In the modern age this seems to come from their mono culture of studies class down at the local U., while dealing only with the leadership of the various, racial, union and non profit types. Like other true believers they gain their revealed knowledge at an early age so tend to associate with others of their like mind over the years.

In reality these operations like the Bay Guardian don't need diversity to further the progressive cause, as all these groups share the same uni-mind on "What is to be Done."

I suspect that if someone more to your liking got a job at the Guardian they would fit right in with the agenda and things would march along as they have before.

Posted by matlock on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 11:38 am

That is why they will always invoke the "people of color" phrase in every topic regardless. It just sounds good - "oh, look at me, I care about blacks" even though most of them would probably cross the street to avoid them in real life.

Being progressive is a white, middle-class, middle-aged and mostly male thing in San Francisco. They hate themselves and so use "white" as a derogatory qualifier.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 12:08 pm