I started writing in the hey-day of the alternative press in San Diego.Back then it was called the underground press, partly because of the running battle between the hippie radicals publishing those papers and the local authorities, who were hell-bent to put us out of business. Propagating viewpoints contrary to the prevailing wisdom as presented by the establishment press were frowned upon, especially here in San Diego, where a dour and ultra conservative Copley Press dominated the public discourse.In the early days, underground papers lived to publish their next issue.Street sellers were harassed, and vending machines were banned or vandalized, making distribution difficult. Police harassment included raids on our offices, visits to (warn) advertisers and regular attempts at surveillance and infiltration.
None-the-less, by 1972, San Diego boasted no less than eight papers of the underground persuasion. They were:
- The Flaming Crescent(Black Liberation)
- Goodbye To All That(Feminist)
- The OB Rag(Community, AntiWar)
- La Verdad(Chicano)
- Up From The Bottom(Military Anti-War)
- Crazy Times(UCSD)
- San Diego Street Journal(Citywide)
- The San Diego Door(Citywide)
The San Diego Street Journal started out as the San Diego Free Press.I once heard that the name was changed due to pressure from the LA Free Press, which was widely distributed in the San Diego market back then.As the most “radical” of the underground papers, the Street Journal took it on the chin when it came to right wing harassment.Their muckraking articles exposing the true nature of San Diego’s power structure were inspirational for myself and others who would strive to follow their lead as we evolved over at the Door in subsequent years.Lowell Bergman, who went on prominence as an investigative reporter/producer at ABC’s 20/20 and CBS’s 60 Minutes got his start at the Street Journal.
The Teaspoon is generally credited as the first underground newspaper in San Diego, starting out as mimeographed booklet back in 1966 that was mainly distributed around State College.It merged with the nascent Door to Liberation in 1968 to become the first paper distributed throughout the region.The Teaspoon-Door (which eventually became simply the Door) was a product of its time, fusing the remnants of the cultural awakening in Haight Ashbury, along with aspects of the peace and sexual freedom movements.Politics, culture, art, photography and a steady dose of local news came together in a package that was (remarkably) successful.Many issues had two sections and color was liberally splashed throughout the paper.(Former publisher and photographer Bill Maguire, who guided the paper for several years, recently passed away in Encinitas.You can visit his memorial web site
Recently an acquaintance shared with me a collection of back issues of the San Diego Door.My time with the San Diego alt/unde-press of that era started with the OB Liberator, included an article or two for the Street Journal, a year or so with the print version of the OB Rag, and ended with several years at the San Diego Door.The papers that I re-read last night for the first time in over three decades were published in 1972-74.Most of the old Door editions were ones that I’d worked on, and reading them was a trip down memory lane.
The subject matters that the Door took on, given its finite resources, look all the more impressive after three decades.Issues that were given regular and unstinting coverage included the war in Vietnam, the struggles of the Farmer Workers Union, abortion rights, energy prices, US intervention in a wide variety of third world nations and sexism in the educational system. Anti-war protests large and small, along with every trial of protestors (and there were lots of trials, this being good ol’ reactionary San Diego) were reported on.
Lots of other local stories found its way onto the papers’ pages, news that the local establishment press omitted or buried. Stories about (libertarian) tax protestors, police harassment of local Chicanos on immigration charges, community opposition to development plans, sources and of funding for local political races and even sub-rosa tactics being used by the city government to evade controls on municipal sewage discharge (something that’s still going on!) into the Pacific Ocean all graced the pages of the Door.Over time some of our best sources turned out to be reporters from San Diego Union-Tribune who were disgusted by the openly reactionary agendas espoused by their bosses.
The paper had its softer side, with generous amounts of cultural coverage.Movie, record, book and concert reviews appeared throughout every issue, sometimes competing with “hard news” for front page headlines.Writer/Director Cameron Crowe was a regular, contributing reviews and interviews, starting when he was a mere 15 years old. The paper featured many interviews, including one with Mohammed Ali.Bill Ritter interviewed local radio and television station people and got their take on the state of the electronic marketplace—which was ironic, as he went on to become the anchor for ABC News’ New York affiliate.
One quality that differentiated the paper from others was its consistent use of high-quality original photography through most of its history. After Bill Maguire moved on in the early 70’s, Vince Compagnone‘s photography graced the pages of the paper. (He went on to a career as an LA Times photographer.)One of the more creative–and popular–uses of his talent came as a result of the fact that Vince always photographed the cops who were shadowing demonstrators at anti-war protests.At some point we realized that, along with the known plainclothes officers, undercover agents (sometimes in training) were being photographed.One thing lead to another and ‘voila!’, the undercover agent trading card was born.Readers could look forward to photos and stats, ala baseball cards that were regularly published on page two.It was wildly popular.
The end of the San Diego Street Journal (1971) left a void.Their hard hitting exposes convinced me and others that the blatant corruption that was endemic of San Diego politics was a weak chink in the armor of the local ruling class, one that could be exploited for both readership and at least the illusion of political power. Over the next three years, the Door went on to publish dozens of exposes of the local pillars of our fine community.Amongst the many revelations:
**The links between local paramilitary right wing organizations (which it turns out were sanctioned and funded by the FBI) and Nixon’s Committee to Re-elect the President even gained it a small footnote in the Watergate saga. This was a story that just kept on giving, as the rightists, realizing that they’d been played for patsies by the feds, willingly provided the paper with evidence about their relationships with the authorities.
**The ongoing relationship between the Copley News Service and the Central Intelligence Agency (Pre-Church Committee, btw).
**The many, many connections between organized crime figures, land development, local banks, and politicians.The inquiries into land development/organized crime connections lead to threats being made against the researchers working on that story; they fled San Diego, leaving their notes, which were turned into series of stories.
The paper also had its lighter moments.In 1973, the paper published a parody edition of the San Diego Union, complete with the headline “Nixon Declares Martial Law”.We responded to a letter from their law firm asking us to cease using their logo with note of condolence, regretting that so many of their attorneys at the firm were deceased. And when fast food king Ray Kroc bought the local baseball franchise from the Copley newspaper empire, the team was promptly dubbed the “San Diego Big Macs”.
The times they continued changing; with those changes came the end of the Door.While we were busy roiling the muck, we were a lot less attentive to the changing nature of publishing in the mid 1970’s.Nixon’s Justice Department successfully intimidated the record companies, whose support via advertising was a crucial link in the alt-press money tree. A new generation of “alternative” papers supported (in part) by a new generation of robber barons ate away at what little was left of the Door‘s advertising base.And that was the end, my friends….until this blogging thingie started happening.