Saturday, January 17, 2015

C.W. Nevius and local journalism

C.W. Nevius misses the Bay Guardian:

A few years ago, the San Francisco Bay Guardian called me a “conservative suburban twit.” I miss that. The Guardian, an independent, progressive weekly newspaper, was abruptly folded in October, ending a 48-year run. And now there are reports that its less shrill cousin, SF Weekly, will be focusing more on entertainment than news under new leadership.

Those were the days when giants strode the city!

As usual Nevius talks to people who agree with him for a soundbite:

“It is unclear where they are going,” said former Mayor Art Agnos, a progressive stalwart, “but this does not look like a good sign. It would be devastating for public discourse if we do not have an opportunity to hear other voices in the city.” Whatever the Weekly ends up doing with news coverage, there’s no doubting the trend. Opinionated, news-driven independent newspapers are slipping away, partly because it’s so hard to make the finances work in the Internet age.

But anyone who has actually read the two publications over the years knows that the SF Weekly, unlike the Guardian, has never been about city politics and issues. Matt Smith used to bring a tonic shrillness to the Weekly now and then, though his rants were often ill-informed, like his attack on me and the lawyer who handled our litigation against the city on the Bicycle Plan.

The Guardian died because it's "hard to make the finances work" for print publications. But it's actually cheap to do a blog, since all it costs is the time to do the work, which is the main thing for people trying to make a living with their writing.

Nevius turns to Bruce Brugmann for a soundbite:

He’s been disappointed in the direction of independent news ever since. “You look at the alternative papers, it’s awful,” he said. “Before the Internet, we had a lot of power. We had classified ads, personal ads. In the late 1990s, we were up to almost $12 million in revenue.” Of course, slipping revenue is a familiar story for newspapers everywhere. But there’s also a concern that the blogs and Internet sites are content to sit back and snipe at mainstream coverage, rather than getting actively involved in boots-on-the-ground reporting. “These online startups,” Brugmann scoffed. “Do you ever see an online reporter at City Hall or at an event? I never have. They’re not interested in covering the news of the community, holding people accountable.” (An exception is former Guardian editor Tim Redmond, whose website, 48 Hills, broke the story of the new editor at the Weekly.)

Brugmann was just lucky to get out of the print business before it crashed. Does that qualify as "sniping"?

Redmond's scoop about the new Weekly editor couldn't wait for the press release a few days later? Why waste time on that?

Redmond tells us about his scoop:

Weekly newspapers have always done both news and arts, and typically done both well. But news was always a critical element---and for all the times I’ve blasted the Weekly and its politics, the paper spent money on journalists and on investigative reporting.

I can't remember the last time a Weekly cover story was interesting and/or significant. Maybe this one, which wasn't very good, since it got everything wrong. And there was this one, which was almost ten years ago.

There's a personal element to Redmond's approach to this non-issue and non-scoop:

Reynolds and I were never close. For a while we worked in the same office, but he took a Village Voice Media approach to the news, which was often cynical about the left, and I was (and am) a proud progressive. I never met him for lunch or drinks, never saw him outside the occasional pass in the hallway. I don’t even have his phone number. But he had a reputation as a skilled editor, and you could see that in the clean copy the paper produced, and he cared about news. If the Weekly moves more in the A&E direction, it will be one less news voice in the city at a time when there are so few paid reporters covering local issues.

He didn't even have his phone number! Reynolds apparently wasn't a schmoozer, which is counted against him. I get comments like that here, too. Why don't you show up at "community" meetings? This is Brugmann's gripe at local bloggers. But anyone interested in City Hall can now watch most meetings on TV, and important planning and traffic documents are available online. Why would anyone sit through those paralyzingly boring meetings at City Hall if he/she isn't paid to do it? To wait to make a public comment on an issue while the supervisors wander around and/or nod off in front of their laptops?

And since when have weeklies really been about "news"? We can get most news stories from the dailies; I still read the Chronicle, the Examiner, and the NY Times every day before I check some online sites for more.

The most important function of the weeklies should be to cover stories not covered by the mainstream media and to bring an alternative analysis to the stories they do cover. Which is where the Guardian failed over the years---in its analysis of events in San Francisco, where it brought a crude, paleo-leftist perspective to local issues that actually hindered understanding.

And what does it really mean anymore to be an "alternative" newspaper? There was rarely anything in the defunct Guardian or in the Weekly now that would disturb readers of the Chronicle, the Examiner, and the NY Times.

And who exactly in the local online community is doing any serious political analysis or commentary, except yours truly? SF Appeal mostly recycles mainstream stories, Ditto for San Francisco Citizen only does issues every now and then, Left in SF is long gone, Fog City Journal is dormant, and the SF Weekly's blog is mostly about missing dogs and traffic accidents, rarely venturing into political issues, which is just as well, since when they do they embarrass themselves, like on the anti-jihad bus ads a few years ago.

C.W. Nevius has degenerated from his early good work on the homeless issue after he came over from the sports page. Now we get his hard-hitting columns on Christmas cards and a big smooch on Supervisor Wiener's skinny ass. 

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