There comes a time in any campaign, a political consultant once told me, when you just have to hang up the phone, stop looking at polling data, walk away from the office, and leave it in the hands of the voters. You do everything you can; you work every angle, make the case every possible way you can ... and in the end, someone else is going to decide. You can only hope that if you told the truth, played by the rules, and showed why your side was right, in the end you'll come out on top.
And sometime around the day this issue hits the stands, the Guardian's case against the big national chain that owns the SF Weekly will go to the jury. We have the facts on our side. We have the law on our side. We have the truth on our side. And all we can do now is hope the jury sees it.
If you haven't been following this on the blogs or in the paper: we're suing the Weekly and Village Voice Media, which used to be known as New Times, for predatory pricing. Our claim is that the Weekly (and until recently, the East Bay Express, which VVM just sold) has been selling ads below cost for the purpose of hurting a local, independent competitor.
Over the past three weeks I've been in the courtroom almost every day, watching the story unfold. I've learned a lot: the Weekly, for example, has lost money every single year since New Times bought it in 1995. In the past few years the losses have only escalated (to nearly $2 million per year). The paper is still publishing because the corporate parent in Phoenix has shipped more than $16 million to San Francisco to prop it up.
That's pretty good evidence of the first part of our claim: if the Weekly keeps losing money, the paper is clearly selling ads below cost.
I've also seen evidence that the Weekly prepared special Guardian reports every month to send to Phoenix, that the Weekly's publishers devoted a special section of their regular financial reports to competition with the Guardian, and that the senior staff regularly talked about the war they were waging on us. Three witnesses testified to hearing Mike Lacey, one of the principals of VVM, announce that he wanted to drive the Guardian out of business.
I've seen memos and heard testimony showing the Weekly paid its sales staff bonuses to take ads away from the Guardian. I've seen a study showing that in 91 percent of key accounts, the Weekly sold below cost and in 66 percent of those cases the Guardian either lost the ad or had to deeply discount rates to keep it.
I've heard witnesses from the Weekly's side testify that the Guardian was just one of many competitors in the market and that they treated it no differently than any other publication. I've heard misdirection and lies so blatant that I've wanted to stand up and point my fingers at the witnesses and call them out and demand they be indicted for perjury.
And now a jury will have to sort that out. In the end, I think this is a pretty clear case: we are a small, locally owned independent business under assault by a chain competitor that is vioutf8g state law in an effort to take monopoly control of the market. I think we've proved that. We'll know soon.