Reading the Bay Guardian 40th Anniversary Edition So You Don’t Have To

Editor’s Note: Don’t forget to check out additions to the 2006 Political Mail Archive this week!
This week I read the Bay Guardian’s 40th Anniversary Edition. And, as a public service, I’m going to tell you all about it so you don’t have to slog through it yourself.
“If it’s so boring,” you ask, “why did you read it?” Well, oddly enough the Guardian’s 40th anniversary issue did more (albeit unintentionally) to reveal the paper’s current shortcomings and problems the paper has brought upon itself than they realize.
First off, aside from two pieces penned by Bruce Brugmann and editor Tim Redmond, there was little to distinguish this significant anniversary issue from any other. No articles or comments from SFBG alumni, no archival photos, nothing. I find it odd that with so many alumni now doing great things, not one was invited to pen a short story talking about their time at the Guardian.
This is baffling to me – when I attended the Guardian holiday party in 2000 I remember being surrounded with former and current employees who had nothing but good things to say about their time at the BG. When I attended the Best of the Bay in 2005, none of those people were to be found – neither were any of the City’s progressive politicians. WTF?
Even more revealing was the contrast between the Guardian’s history, which retold tales of extensive investigative reporting and “you heard it here first” news, and today’s paper, which does not feature much you can’t hear or read somewhere else. In fact it was ironic that in the Guardian’s Website of the Week feature, citizen journalist Daniela Kirshenbaum was featured for her contribution to Luke Thomas’ Fog City Journal investigating downtown advocacy group SFSOS.
Now, I dig Luke’s site, and Ms. Kirshenbaum’s piece did do some nice work bringing up facts many people did not know about SF SOS. That said, shouldn’t this have been something the Guardian broke first, it being the alleged local news powerhouse it was in the past? Come on, gang! I was told you’re better than this!


Maybe the Guardian didn’t because it seems to have an editorial staff endlessly fascinated by a once-cool, VERY expensive party in the desert, and who spends a lot of time dissing my neighborhood. I guess amongst the poser hipster staff if you live on the west side, you’re a neo-con goosestepper with bad fashion sense. Whatever. Sure makes me wanna pick up that “locally owned paper” on Wednesday. Helpful Hint: your publisher is a Westsider too, dorks!
The Westside bashing would tolerable (!), but the editorial folk have seemed to invent new and improved ways to use the word “I” , such as in this front page self congratulatory spread that I was supposed to be impressed by. (Helpful Hint 2: If you write about how you missed Hurricane Katrina because you were at a weeklong party, you’re not impressing folks.)
(BTW, more people attend Comic-Con in San Diego every year than Burning Man – and they also have people in costumes being “freaky.” I can dress up as Chewbacca, get a “playa name” and get freaky with 4x as many people and be 100x as relevant vs. being at Burning Man…does that earn me countless column inches of useless chatter in the Guardian too?)
Meanwhile, local blogs continue to best the Guardian on news people might wanna read about. You know its getting bad when the editor spends his “blog” postings quoting Daily Kos, again and and again. News flash: I can read Daily Kos already, and without the filter. Tell me something I don’t know, or can’t find elsewhere.
Utlimately, the Guardian’s 40th anniversary issue did more to remind me of what the paper used to be, and what it is not today. When I was in high school I used to read the Guardian to read investigative journalism on the topics of the day, today I read a Guardian in less than 15 minutes at Yancy’s Saloon, recapping something I read elsewhere.
In more cases than not, the Guardian’s coverage of local issues either ignores subtleties in local opinion, finds ways to give nasty, backhanded “help” to people who support its agenda wholeheartedly, refuses to acknowledge people speaking “truth to power” (whatever that means) just because they’re not dirty enough, or seems to have no regard for its own history that creates situations we deal with today. This is a winning model of alt-weekly journalism?
Meanwhile, sites like SFist.com, the print edition of the always funny Onion, and other interesting websites, other weekly papers and many others do what the alt-weekly once did.
The Guardian is facing some tough times, and seems to have pinned its hopes on suing its way out of them. Yet as the 40th Anniversary issue told me (unintentionally) lawsuits and blaming “The Man” aren’t enough to turn around a once-proud San Francisco institution. Healthy competition has been lost to a willingness to coast on past success, and a “head in the sand” approach to online media.
You and I are the losers, in the end, as we lose out on a dynamic competition between the many weekly and community papers and online entities in our fair City. If the Guardian’s elders want to know why that is, they need to get off the phone to the lawyers and take a look in the mirror instead.

One response to “Reading the Bay Guardian 40th Anniversary Edition So You Don’t Have To

  1. This comment was submitted by email, not the comment system, but in the spirit of open discussion, I’ve chosen to post it via the system since it was not anonymous, and I have no fear of open discussion
    I saw your post, Greg. We’ve done lots and lots of issues with previous staffers talking about the old days. In fact, we’ve done so many anniversary issues with so many “remember when” bits that I was frankly a little tired of it and decided to write the piece I’ve always wanted to write about the Guardian and SF history. It ran (as I suspect you’ve noticed) a bit long, but what the hell: its our 40th, and I’ve been here 23 years, and so that what we did.
    Next year we’ll be back to old stuffers and remember when stuff.
    BTW, what’s wrong with crediting Fog CIty Journal for a good piece? We’ve never had a monopoly on investigative journalism.
    Tim

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