Why some stories never make the front page
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There are people at the daily newspapers around here who bristle when I accuse them of ignoring important local stories, particularly ones involving powerful political, business, or social figures (and most particularly, involving the newspapers themselves). No representative of the Hearst Corp. stands in the newsroom door announcing that stories about management will be sent to New York for prior censorship. Nobody tells the Chronicle's reporters that they can't cover a pressing story.
And I believe all that. I really do. I know it doesn't work that way.
Carl Jensen knows that too. When he started Project Censored back in 1976, he knew he'd get a lot of criticism. "Censored" is a pretty strong word; it evokes a mirthless military guy with a pair of scissors and a big black pen, preventing real news from emerging out of a pressroom bunker somewhere.
But what Jensen has been trying to say for years is that the stories cited by Project Censored represent choices made by editors and publishers about what's important in today's world. That's what the front page of a newspaper is — a set of choices. Is the confession of the purported killer of JonBenet Ramsey more important than the Bush administration's illegal wiretapping of millions of Americans? Is the latest news about Brad and Angelina more important than the latest news from Iraq? Is one man's quest to take control of every daily newspaper in the Bay Area worth more than a first-day story and a few tiny news briefs?
Editors are paid to make those decisions — and the ones who want to keep their jobs know what the rules are. That's why some stories get more coverage, more play, and more attention and some get deeply buried or published in one place and never picked up by anyone else.
Anyone who reads political blogs knows about stories like the ones on this year's Project Censored list (see page 15). Nobody blacked out the news with a big rubber stamp; it just never got reported in the first place.
For a Sunday afternoon on a Labor Day weekend, it was truly impressive: I counted at least 300 people at the Delancey Street events room for the Sue Bierman memorial. Just about everyone on the local left seemed to be there, along with a few luminaries like John Burton, Gavin Newsom, and Willie Brown, who were Bierman’s friends even when they were wrong and she was right.
Newsom, who was often at odds with Bierman, looked out over the crowd and made the point succinctly: “This is what happens,” he said, “when you’re nice to people.”
There were many funny and moving stories. Burton, who showed up in his usual sartorial splendor (striped sweatpants and an untucked shirt, which makes me respect the guy as much as anything he’s ever done in politics) talked about how Bierman always, always enjoyed herself, even in the most boring political drudgery. It was wonderful to see her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren there (and wonderful for them to see how many people were part of Bierman’s San Francisco community).
Calvin Welch, her Haight Asbury neighbor, friend, and longtime comrade in arms, reminded us all that Bierman “created the neighborhood movement in San Francisco” — and that she did it in her own style, always believing that “fun is important.”
A lot of people go to political funerals because they have to; most of us went to this one because we wanted to. Thanks, Sue. SFBG