This is bad for the newspaper business and bad for San Francisco."
The Guardian prospectus, used to raise money for the paper, bravely put forth our position: "A good metropolitan weekly, starting small but speaking with integrity, can soon have influence in inverse proportion to its size. There is nothing stronger in journalism than the force of a good example."
It concluded, "The Guardian can succeed, despite the galloping contraction of the press in San Francisco, because there are many of us who feel that the newspaper business is a trade worth fighting for. That is what this newspaper is all about." And we quoted the famous phrase used by Ralph Ingersoll in the prospectus for his famous PM newspaper in New York: "We are against people who push other people around."
Our journalistic points were embarrassingly timely. A year before the Guardian was launched, Hearst and the Chronicle had formed the JOA with the Examiner and killed daily newspaper competition in San Francisco. The two papers combined all their business operations — one sales force sold ads for both, one print crew handled both editions, one distribution crew handled subscriptions and got both papers out on the streets. The newsrooms were supposedly separate — but as we pointed out over and over at the time and ever after, the papers lacked any economic incentive to compete.
The San Francisco JOA became the largest and most powerful agreement of its kind in the country, and San Francisco was the only top-10 market in the country without daily competition.
This was all grist for the Guardian editorial mills because the JOAs, most notably the recent SF JOA, were in serious legal trouble. The US attorney general was successfully prosecuting a JOA in Tucson, Ariz., claiming the arrangement was a violation of antitrust laws. Naturally, the local papers were blacking out the story. But if the Tucson deal was found to be illegal, the Chron and Ex merger would be illegal too — and the hundreds of millions of dollars the papers were making off the arrangement would be gone.
The JOA publishers, led by Hearst and the Chronicle, quietly started a major lobbying campaign in Washington for emergency passage of a federal law that would retroactively legalize their illegal JOAs. They called it the Newspaper Preservation Act. Meanwhile, the late Al Kihn, a former camera operator for KRON-TV (which was at the time owned by the Chronicle), had prompted the Federal Communications Commission to hold hearings on whether the station's license should be renewed. His complaint: his former employer was slanting the news on behalf of its corporate interests. We pounced on these stories with relish.
For example, in our May 22, 1969, story "The Dicks from Superchron," we disclosed how private detectives under hire by the Chronicle were probing Kihn's private life and seeking to gather adverse information about him to discredit his complaint and to “harass and intimidate him,” as we put it. Later, I found that the Chronicle-KRON had also hired private detectives to get adverse information on me.
I was a suspicious character, I guess, because I had gone to the KRON building to check the station's public FCC file on the Kihn complaints, the first journalist ever to do so. The way the story came out at a later hearing was that the station's deputy director left the room as I was going through the records and called Cooper White and Cooper, then the Chronicle's law firm. An attorney called their investigators, and four cars of detectives were pulled off other jobs and ordered to circle the building until I came out and then follow me when I left the station to return to my South of Market office. They also surveilled me for several months and even sent a detective into the office posing as a freelance writer.