Guiding the Guardian

Community forum and reader input help launch a new era

Guardian editorial staffers engaged in a dialogue with its readers and community on July 31.
Luke Thomas

On July 31, we at the San Francisco Bay Guardian came face-to-face with living proof of something we've long understood perfectly: Our readers are not a shy bunch.

Discerning denizens of and inky-fingered print readers aren't just unafraid to tell it like it is — they also care about the future of San Francisco and the wider Bay Area. You might call them real, live, informed and engaged citizens.

Nearly 100 attendees joined the Guardian's six-member editorial staff for a community forum at San Francisco's LGBT Center, hosted by this publication to solicit feedback, answer questions, and contemplate the future of the alt-weekly as we emerge from a difficult transition period.

Some discussion focused on the ouster of the Guardian's longtime editor and publisher, Tim Redmond, who was invited but unable to attend. In mid-June, Redmond left the Guardian following a dispute with Todd Vogt, the CEO of the San Francisco Print Media Company, which owns the paper (see "On Guard," 6/18/13).

Labor organizer Gabriel Haaland pointed to Redmond's controversial departure as a source of "challenging questions and credibility issues" that he finds troubling. "At the end of the day, I believe Tim Redmond. I believe he was fired, and I don't think it's right. As a labor person, there's something called job security after 31 years. And it's great to say that the paper's pro-labor, but if the paper isn't treating its employees in a pro-labor way, then what's the point?" Haaland said.

Freelance journalist Chris Cook, a former Guardian city editor, called Redmond's departure a "big loss for Bay Area journalism," and added, "I think the challenge going forward is how can the Guardian maintain and perhaps even sharpen its political edge, and focus and its accountability for progressive causes and communities?"

(On Aug. 5, Redmond announced that he has formed the San Francisco Progressive Media Center "and will launch a nonprofit online SF-based publication that will do real reporting and original cultural coverage," launching as soon as next month).

Activist Denis Mosgofian said he didn't want the paper to get watered down. "I am concerned if the paper moderates itself and begins to sound like middle of the road, because if that happens, from my point of view, there's really no point in reading the paper," he said.

San Francisco native John Kelly noted, "the Bay Guardian ... provides an education for the people of San Francisco. It certainly did for me when I was trying to find out what my political viewpoints should be." He closed with a word of advice: "Pick a fight with somebody."

Some urged the editorial staff to uphold the Guardian's longstanding tradition of acting as a progressive check against powerful forces. Lois Scott, a retired city planner, called for more investigative journalism, because "I think there is a great deal of corruption in this city that needs to be revealed."

Some commenters referenced a statement that Editor Steven T. Jones made in his opening remarks — "I've always seen the Guardian as really fighting for the soul of San Francisco. We're fighting a battle to win here, to create an informed and engaged citizenry." — as did journalist Josh Wolf in an article on the event that he wrote for the website Journalism That Matters, "Fighting for the Soul of San Francisco."

One commenter, who said he'd lived in the city since the mid-1960s, also spoke about the Guardian in the context of local history. "I love this city. When I hear the phrase 'soul' of San Francisco, the soul of San Francisco was an immense, loving, rebellious, warm community — so diversified, it was a blessing ... When you care about the soul of a place, your mind and your heart will be clear."


So firing the guy who reduced himself to commenting on other journalists' work towards the end is morally repugnant but doing business with union buster Brugmann for all of those years was just another tough choice?

Posted by anon on Aug. 06, 2013 @ 7:28 pm

ugly step-sister - the War on Success.

There are hundreds of thousands of IT and biotech workers, voters and taxpayers in the Bay Area, and they swing elections. Why would SFBG place itself off-limits for their support just to score some cheap shots?

Posted by anon on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 2:45 am

as of course is the staff of SFBG. What does this tell us about SFBG's stance on diversity?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 2:49 am

the fact that there were only a hundred or so people there. And of course they are mostly the "usual suspect" types who show up at every meeting.

What can possibly be gained by over-weighting the views of these folks, who have nowhere else to turn to anyway. Pandering to them may feel good for about a minute but does nothing to make SFBG more relevant to the silent majority of SF'ers who vote for Lee and want moderate policies.

The key question is this - how does SFBG boost circulation without becoming more moderate? I do not think it is possible, and fear they will fall back into their extremist bunkers when the goings gets tough.

Posted by anon on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 5:13 am

Actually, there were many people of color there, including two of our freelance journalists who each wrote cover stories this summer, but we're always looking to improve the diversity of voices in the paper and the input we receive. If you know of any good writers of color or from communities that we're not covering well enough, please send them my way:

Posted by steven on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 10:54 am

Now, don;t get me wrong, I'd lose hat remains of my respect for you if you embarked on a quota policy and decided, "OMG we have to have a one-legged black lesbian on our staff" or some such.

Nonetheless, come on, this is a yuppie indulgence at the end of the day. How many nights a week do you volunteer at a soup kitchen in Bayview?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 11:42 am

it is a good comment, I really like what you said!

Posted by on Jan. 17, 2014 @ 6:45 am

The Guardian is losing relevance because it promotes the agenda of the professional progressives at the expense of the agenda of San Franciscans who are otherwise amenable to progressive politics. Those agendas overlap slightly but are generally oriented in different directions.

Whatever funding battle a nonprofit or union faces is what the Guardian prioritizes in coverage, generally uncritically. The Guardian rarely reports on issues where the priorities of residents and professionals clash. With this posture, readers rarely see their realities reflected in the SFBG's coverage and they tune out. The era of appeals to liberal white guilt is over, those reserves have long since been exhausted in the precariat.

The numbers tell the story. The social services nonprofits that command the Guardian's attention provide social services to a sliver of those who need them who in turn represent a sliver of potentially progressive San Franciscans. That sliver of a sliver is dwindling precipitously because these nonprofits have been captured with city funding and neutralized out of effective politics. The SF Rising Action Fund encapsulates this capitulation. Our opponents are playing for keeps, we just keep on fucking around, selling out whole communities for peanuts. The CCHO sold out the Mission to developers for affordable housing crumbs when they could have put their MOH $$$ at risk by organizing residents against that developer give away.

Labor likewise only speaks for a 13% sliver of San Francisco workers, a good chunk of whom do not live or vote in the City. The staffers of the labor unions are primarily concerned about what is important to them--headcount especially theirs--not about wages or working conditions. SEIU does not even afford its rank and file professional representation for grievances. Workers must rely on volunteer representation by people who already have to do their day jobs. Given the corruption in the municipal departments, the notion that workers are forced into a union that can't figure out how to represent them in the workplace should be a Guardian story. But that would threaten a relationship.

The common thread here is a narcissistic focus on what is important to the paid principals not to the constituency that these paid staffers are supposed to represent. It is that political disconnect, equal parts vanity, cooptation and incompetence, which has led to the demise of progressive political power.

Steven T. Jones and Tim Redmond, for that matter, were of the mind that relationships are paramount in politics. Nobody gives a damn about relationships when parties to them have dropped the ball on public-facing city services which are deteriorating rapidly.

The number of San Franciscans dependent upon Muni, Rec and Park and DPW dwarfs those dependent upon the DPH and MOH. Yet the latter receive almost all of professional progressives' attentions. This prioritization of relationships amongst the professional progressives ignores the need for a set of relationships between those professionals and the noncombatants. Sometimes, an appeal to a broader constituency in a coalition opens the door to doing more to help the narrower constituency than a direct appeal to help the latter.

Used to be, back when there were runoffs, the professionals would get put over the top into the winner's circle only when noncombatants joined the campaigns. But serial elections where the professionals took the volunteer work of the noncombatants for granted while offering up nothing in return combined with the stupidest political move ever made in local politics--IRV--mean that the professionals are largely on their own. And the rate at which they are losing is accelerating.

It is clear that the professionals who get paid to organize cannot organize themselves out of a paper bag at a picnic, so they've cut crappy deals with neoliberals. From Randy Shaw to Calvin Welch and CCHO to SEIU, the name of the game now is "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." For a neighborhood that is crawling with paid organizers, The Mission is very unorganized. City, labor and nonprofit funding of organizers is predicated upon them not organizing.

There is a finite end game at play here. As the professionals have avoided political confrontation to keep their Good Thing Going, they're stipulating to their demise as in any game of musical chairs. All that they are left to do is support neoliberal technocratic staff in the hopes that they'll be the last ones to feel the inevitable axe.

Would that the SFBG critically covered the progressive movement's structural faults instead of papering over them and pretending that they don't exist because that would poison relationships. At the rate we're going, all that will be left is a relationship between one labor hack and one nonprofit hack, each angling to make sure that they're the last one standing.

As one long time local anarchist said of Christopher Cook, he's got no critical theory of the left. Either we adapt with a critical theory of why we're not prevailing with intent to make progressive politics relevant to a majority of voters or the SFBG might as well abandon politics and acknowledge its descent from the ranks of journalism to an entertainment vehicle.

Posted by marcos on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 7:40 am

on the left believe or would like it to be.

As we saw in the last mayoral election, 2/3 of the voters want a pro-jobs mayor like Lee over a pro-ideology extremist like Avalos. The sooner everyone on the left grasps the reality of this city, the sooner the SFBG can regain it's relevance.

Posted by anon on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 8:03 am

I read about your article, it is quite good! I really like what you said!

Posted by Dehler 38 on Feb. 12, 2014 @ 1:22 am

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Also from this author