It's the Journalism, Bruce

Why Bruce Brugmann and his Bay Guardian are (by their own admission) failing

- The claim: "The move follows a legal agreement in which a former SF Weekly employee agreed to pay the Bay Guardian $10,000 to settle charges that she stole confidential sales information."

The reality: After months of hounding by the Bay Guardian, the poor woman did settle the lawsuit. At the time she settled, she had not worked for SF Weeklyfor months, and New Times' attorneys did not represent her. I have no idea whether she actually paid the Guardian$10,000 but am assured that neither New Times nor SF Weeklyhas paid, or agreed to pay, her or the Guardian a dime in this regard.

- The claim: "TheWeekly and New Times remain under a permanent injunction forbidding them from using proprietary documents the employee downloaded from the Bay Guardian's computer files before taking a job at the competing paper."

The reality: The highlighted passage is simply false; neither the Weekly nor New Times was a party to the lawsuit, or the injunction.

If the segment of Redmond's column dealing with the lawsuit is thin, the rest of his argument is laughable. A huge portion of the Guardian/Redmond claim that SF Weekly has engaged in anti-competitive behavior appears to rest on the Guardian's shocking -- shocking! -- discovery that the Weekly sometimes offers discounts to attract new advertisers. People on the Weekly ad staff tell me that the Guardian is itself a past master at bartering, giving away, and discounting ad space. And public records prove that the paper has given away tens of thousands of dollars of ad space to a favored political cause.

But you know what? It's OK with me if the Guardian discounts or gives away its ad space, because discounting is a fairly ordinary part of the newspaper business. Our business side sometimes discounts ads to gain new business -- within the context of making profit. That's called enterprise, and the last time I looked, even here in San Francisco, enterprise and profits were still allowed.

So if the Weekly and its owners haven't engaged in some massive effort to improperly subvert the Bay Guardian's business, why has the battlefield in the San Francisco weekly newspaper war changed so dramatically over the last several years? How has the Weekly been able to catch up to and sail past the Guardian?

Well, for one thing, we've had a lot of help from the Guardian.

Over the past five years, Bruce Brugmann has done something at the Bay Guardian that is, it seems to me, unprecedented in American big-city journalism, at least since the era of Citizen Hearst and yellow journalism. He has actively, openly pushed for the paper to be acknowledged as a political power broker. Not as a newspaper that reports a lot on politics, or even has a particular political point of view. No, Brugmann appears to desperately covet being a player in the S.F. political game, and his paper has stepped on journalistic norms and bored readers to tears in this years-long quest to attain particular political ends.

The degree to which the Guardian has abandoned journalism and chased political power is difficult to exaggerate.

If it suits the paper's agenda, or fits with Brugmann's fixations, the San Francisco Bay Guardianwill print repetitive, unbelievable, one-sided "stories" on the same subject, week after week, year after year, whether they are newsworthy or interesting -- or, as is frequently the case, neither. The Bay Guardian will try to squeeze policy concessions out of political candidates as a precondition for endorsement. The Guardian has bankrolled much of a political campaign to create a publicly owned electric utility, donating $100,000 in cash and free advertising; for a time, some of those donations were hidden -- inside a group dedicated to the advancement of open government! In issue after issue, the paper has run lasciviously positive articles praising the so-called public power movement -- often without mentioning that Brugmann and the paper were major financial supporters of the effort.

Every pre-election issue of the Bay Guardian throws all notion of journalistic credibility to the winds, sporting a cover consisting of nothing but listings of the paper's endorsements in the election. This year, the paper created an election hotline that citizens could call on Election Day to learn how to vote the Guardian way. And in the days before the election, doorknobs all around town were festooned with Guardian slate cards, informing the insufficiently instructed on how they were to vote.

As a result of this amazing focus not on political journalism but on the influencing of political outcomes, the Bay Guardian has indeed become a minor flicker in the San Francisco political firmament. In essence, it has become one of the many political "clubs" that San Francisco political consultants advise San Francisco candidates to appear before, seeking endorsement.

But if Bruce Brugmann has, after years of trying, achieved at least part of his goal of becoming a political force in San Francisco, a city of just 750,000 or so souls where relatively small numbers of votes can have big consequences, the achievement has come at a cost. The San Francisco Bay Guardianis often no longer recognizable as a newspaper; what it prints in its news columns comes across, rather obviously, as political advertising or propaganda, rather than journalism. And condescending, ill-written propaganda, to boot. Read a Bay Guardian, and you'll know what it's like to be trapped in a room with a tremendously confident '60s acid casualty who needs a bath and just can't stop talking political trivia.

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