Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Dueling Weeklies

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Dueling Weeklies

Article excerpt

ALTERNATIVE PUBLISHER BRUCE Brugmann, whose usual media targets are major dailies and chains, is locked in a bitter dispute with a group of neighborhood weeklies he accuses of being bought off by a downtown business organization.

The weeklies have struck back, charging Brugmann's city-wide San Francisco Bay Guardian with false reporting. One community newspaper publisher said a libel suit against Brugmann was "under discussion."

The battle is ironic because Brugmann has long been a champion of neighborhood papers. A few years ago, he led a successful fight to kill proposed legislation that would tax free newspapers, as well as paid ones. More recently, his name was at the top of a list of weeklies supporting the San Francisco Independent's bid to retain the city's legal advertising, which the city moved to the San Francisco Examiner.

The current fracas began with a July 13 Bay Guardian story by Martin Espinoza, alleging that the Committee on jobs, a private business association, "co-opted" the neighborhood papers by lavishing thousands of dollars in advertising on them in return for news stories about the association's agenda and general editorial support.

The committee's stated purpose is preventing corporations and jobs from fleeing San Francisco by creating a more favorable business environment. The group is composed of 23 of the city's largest employers, including Bank of America, Chevron, The Gap and Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

Brugmann and Bay Guardian managing editor Tim Redmond, on the other hand, regard jobs as a deeply conservative group seeking to privatize city services and "crush progressive politics", as Espinoza's story stated.

In an Aug. 3 story, Espinoza reported on a document showing that Jobs members spent nearly $48,000 for 11 ads in various neighborhood news, papers during 1992 and 1993. The document was a letter from David Ish and Maggie McCall, publishers of the New Fillmore and Marina Times, respectively, to Dan Fisher, chairman of the Gap stores.

The letter makes clear, Espinoza asserts, that the San Francisco Neighborhood Newspaper Association "could be used by large companies to polish their tarnished images." Espinoza also said that Mark Mosher, a jobs political consultant, wrote bylined opinion pieces for several community papers.

SFNNA editors and publishers hurled a barrage of protest letters at the Bay Guardian and defended themselves in their own papers.

In a column headed "Newspaper Editors Not for Sale," Paul Kozakiewicz of the Sunset Beacon declared: "To suggest that all the editors and publishers of the neighborhood press were bought off is ridiculous. I have known my co-publishers for for almost six years and all of them would just as well drive taxis or wait tables rather than compromise their integrity by taking money to influence their editorial coverage."

Kozakiewicz conceded that SFNNA members met with jobs representatives on several occasions, just as they meet with other business groups "with a point of view to discuss," but he denied being co-opted by any of them.

"We're in the trenches covering local news, giving local merchants an opportunity to communicate with their local markets and create a sense of community in the neighborhood," he explained. …

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