On July 31, we at the San Francisco Bay Guardian came face-to-face with living proof of something we've long understood perfectly: Our readers are not a shy bunch.
Discerning denizens of sfbg.com and inky-fingered print readers aren't just unafraid to tell it like it is — they also care about the future of San Francisco and the wider Bay Area. You might call them real, live, informed and engaged citizens.
Nearly 100 attendees joined the Guardian's six-member editorial staff for a community forum at San Francisco's LGBT Center, hosted by this publication to solicit feedback, answer questions, and contemplate the future of the alt-weekly as we emerge from a difficult transition period.
Some discussion focused on the ouster of the Guardian's longtime editor and publisher, Tim Redmond, who was invited but unable to attend. In mid-June, Redmond left the Guardian following a dispute with Todd Vogt, the CEO of the San Francisco Print Media Company, which owns the paper (see "On Guard," 6/18/13).
Labor organizer Gabriel Haaland pointed to Redmond's controversial departure as a source of "challenging questions and credibility issues" that he finds troubling. "At the end of the day, I believe Tim Redmond. I believe he was fired, and I don't think it's right. As a labor person, there's something called job security after 31 years. And it's great to say that the paper's pro-labor, but if the paper isn't treating its employees in a pro-labor way, then what's the point?" Haaland said.
Freelance journalist Chris Cook, a former Guardian city editor, called Redmond's departure a "big loss for Bay Area journalism," and added, "I think the challenge going forward is how can the Guardian maintain and perhaps even sharpen its political edge, and focus and its accountability for progressive causes and communities?"
(On Aug. 5, Redmond announced that he has formed the San Francisco Progressive Media Center "and will launch a nonprofit online SF-based publication that will do real reporting and original cultural coverage," launching as soon as next month).
Activist Denis Mosgofian said he didn't want the paper to get watered down. "I am concerned if the paper moderates itself and begins to sound like middle of the road, because if that happens, from my point of view, there's really no point in reading the paper," he said.
San Francisco native John Kelly noted, "the Bay Guardian ... provides an education for the people of San Francisco. It certainly did for me when I was trying to find out what my political viewpoints should be." He closed with a word of advice: "Pick a fight with somebody."
Some urged the editorial staff to uphold the Guardian's longstanding tradition of acting as a progressive check against powerful forces. Lois Scott, a retired city planner, called for more investigative journalism, because "I think there is a great deal of corruption in this city that needs to be revealed."
Some commenters referenced a statement that Editor Steven T. Jones made in his opening remarks — "I've always seen the Guardian as really fighting for the soul of San Francisco. We're fighting a battle to win here, to create an informed and engaged citizenry." — as did journalist Josh Wolf in an article on the event that he wrote for the website Journalism That Matters, "Fighting for the Soul of San Francisco."
One commenter, who said he'd lived in the city since the mid-1960s, also spoke about the Guardian in the context of local history. "I love this city. When I hear the phrase 'soul' of San Francisco, the soul of San Francisco was an immense, loving, rebellious, warm community — so diversified, it was a blessing ... When you care about the soul of a place, your mind and your heart will be clear."