The first 40

40th Anniversary special: How we made it against all odds — and why we'll be here for the duration
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bruce@sfbg.com
On Oct. 27, l966, my wife, Jean Dibble, and I and some journalist and literary friends published the first issue of the first alternative paper in the country that was designed expressly to compete with the local monopoly daily combine and offer an alternative voice for an urban community.
We called it the San Francisco Bay Guardian, named after the liberal Manchester Guardian of England, and declared in our statement of intent that the Guardian would be a new model for a big-city paper: we would be independent and locally owned and edited, and we would be alternative to and competitive with the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle, which were published under a joint operating agreement that allowed them to fix prices, pool profits, share markets, and avoid competition.
We stated that "the Guardian is proposed, not as a substitute for the daily press, but as a supplement that can do much that the San Francisco and suburban dailies, with their single ownership, visceral appeal and parochial stance, cannot and will not do." And we played off the name Guardian by stating that we would be "liberal in assessing the present and past (supporting regional government, nuclear weapons control, welfare legislation, rapid transit, tax reform, consumer protection, planning, judicial review, de-escalation and a promptly negotiated settlement in Vietnam.)” But the Guardian would also be "conservative in preserving tradition (civil liberties and minority rights, natural resources, watersheds, our bay, our hills, our air and water)."
It was rather naive to challenge the Ex-Chron JOA with little more than a good idea and not much money and a wing and a prayer. We had almost no idea of what we were getting into in San Francisco, a venue that Warren Hinckle of Ramparts and many other defunct publications would later describe as the Bermuda Triangle of publishing. But we had, I suppose, the key ingredient of the entrepreneur — the power of ignorance and not knowing any better — and somehow thought that if we could just get a good paper going, the time being l966 and the place being San Francisco and the world being full of possibilities, we would make it, come hell or high water.
Well, after going through hell and high water and endless soap operas for four decades, Jean and I and the hundreds of people who have worked for the Guardian through the years have helped realize the paper's original vision and created something quite extraordinary: an influential new form of independent alternative journalism that works in the marketplace and provides what little real competition there is to the monopoly dailies. And let me emphasize, the alternatives do not require government-sanctioned JOA monopolies and endless chains and clusters of dailies and the other monopolizing devices that dailies claim they need to survive.
Today I am delighted to report that there are alternative papers competing effectively with their local chains throughout the Bay Area (seven, more than any other region), throughout the state from Chico to San Diego (22, more than any other state), and throughout the nation (126 in 42 states, with a total circulation of 7.5 million, and more coming all the time). There are even cities with two and three competing alternatives, and there are cities where the monopoly daily is forced by the real alternatives to create faux alternatives to try to compete (it doesn't work). And alas, there is now a Village Voice–New Times chain of 17 papers in major markets, including San Francisco and the East Bay, that is abandoning its alternative roots and moving to ape its daily brethren.
Jean and I met at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in 1957. Two friends and I were driving around Lincoln one fine spring day, drinking gin and tonics, which were drawn from a tub of gin and tonic that we had mixed up and stashed in the trunk of our car.