Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Bay Guardian puts its finger to the wind

Photo by Luke Thomas

All the hand-wringing and soul-searching at the Bay Guardian since Tim Redmond left---Fighting for the Soul of San Francisco!---is only highlighting that weekly's long-standing failures.

The single overriding reason for the Guardian's shortcomings is a massive intellectual failure by its original publishers, editors, and contributors. As a long-time Guardian editor, Tim Redmond was a good example of that failure.

What was shocking to me shortly after I moved back to San Francisco in 1995 was how deficient the approach by the city's left was on homelessness, which was then the big issue in the city and a front-page story in both the Chronicle and the Bay Guardian. 

Early in his administration, Mayor Brown essentially gave up on the idea of a new policy approach to the problem, and the issue continued to vex the city until Supervisor Gavin Newsom got Care Not Cash on the ballot in 2002 and passed by city voters, paving the way for his successful 2003 campaign for Mayor of San Francisco.

My analysis in 2005 of how city progs went wrong on homelessness holds up pretty well:

My theory on what happened to city progressives on the homeless issue: They saw the homeless as another oppressed class of people whose "rights" needed defending. This put them in an essentially defensive crouch, which Mayor Brown reinforced by using the police to push the homeless around during his administration. "Leave 'em Alone" was the headline years ago in the Guardian when Mayor Brown had the police eject the homeless from Golden Gate Park. 

The implication is that allowing homeless people to live in the park was somehow acceptable to the left...In short, the left didn't seem to believe that the homeless problem could be solved. The implication was that homelessness is just something we have to live with under capitalism. This wasn't a political failure---a matter of trying something and failing---but an intellectual failure that led to a peculiar political passivity on the issue. And then Gavin Newsom, much to progressive annoyance, took possession of the issue and used it to get himself elected mayor.

Beyond Chron's Randy Shaw, who knows something about housing, was the only progressive dissenter on the Guardian's monolithic opposition to Care Not Cash and everything else Gavin Newsom did to help the city cope with homelessness. It was all supposedly an "attack on homeless people." Otherwise, Shaw and the rest of the so-called "alternative" media weren't any better on the issues, as I've pointed out.

Josh Wolf has a story in Fog City Journal on the Guardian's group therapy approach to its post-Redmond transition "going forward," which, given the familiar faces now in charge, will be a Guardian a lot like the old Guardian:

When the San Francisco Print Media Company---which also owns the San Francisco Examiner and the SF Weekly---purchased the Guardian last year, some began to wonder if the new owners really intended to maintain two competing weekly newspapers. The news that Redmond was out only served to enforce this theory. “Since then we’ve been asking ourselves a lot of questions,” said SFBG News Editor Rebecca Bowe during opening remarks. “The biggest question is, where do we go from here? We realized that what really made the most sense was to just sit down and do some listening---and that’s why we wanted to have a community forum,” Bowe added.

The Guardian and the SF Weekly used to compete for ads before Vogt and company took over, and they will now presumably divide the ad revenue. But the two publications didn't really compete politically, since the Guardian has always put its "progressive" ideology out front, while the Weekly was less political. Maybe the role of the Weekly now will be to publish stories like last week's Critical Mass story---critical of the monthly demo---that the Guardian wouldn't do because its new editor, Steve Jones, is a dedicated, anti-car bike guy and a regular Critical Mass participant.

The new publisher, Marke Bieschke, and what's left of the Guardian's staff are engaged in public outreach that looks a lot like a finger in the wind: Tell us what you want and we'll do it:

“The first question is, what would you like to see the Guardian cover more of? The second question is, what do you feel is missing in Bay area journalism right now?” Bieschke asked. “We’re looking towards your ideas to kind of hit the refresh button on journalism in the Bay Area in general, and to bring up some of the great journalism that’s happening right now.” Bieschke called on the 100 or so in attendance at the LGBT Center to consider what voice the Bay Guardian should adopt moving forward. “Are we being too strident? Do you miss our stridency?” Bieschke asked. “Are we not being in-depth enough, are we being too hip?”

No, you've just been too dumb while "not being in-depth enough." Take the homeless issue, which was a significant Guardian failure and a turning point in the city's political history. Instead of routinely hammering Gavin Newsom's homeless programs---Care Not Cash, but also Homeward Bound, supportive housing, and Project Homeless Connect---the Guardian needed to do some serious analysis of those programs and tell its readers exactly why they were supposedly nothing but "attacks on homeless people" and not, in my view---and based on their clear effectiveness---pragmatic approaches to deal with what is now a permanent problem for San Francisco and every other city in the US.

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