OB Rag Challenging Assumptions Over At The Union Tribune

by on July 27, 2011 · 14 comments

in Media, Popular, San Diego

Three disparate events over the last month have prompted this article. It’s funny how life works – and sometimes doesn’t – and how one’s perspective can impacted. Those of you that are long time readers of the OBRag may have noticed less output from me here as of late, from a guy who in the past has written early and often about whatever crossed my mind.

Which leads me to event #1: finding out that I had cancer. I won’t bore you with the details except to say that my prognosis is extremely positive and that the treatments (chemo/radiation) are debilitating. So I have had lots of time to contemplate life but can’t often summon the energy to write about it.

Event #2: is the real snoozer dominating the news these days—the debt ceiling crisis.  Poor Artie Ojeda of at NBC San Diego news got sent out this week to capture some “person on the street” commentary about the clash of the ideologues that may or may not threaten to plunge the country into a massive depression.  What Artie got was a collective “huh?” from the one guy he could find willing to go on camera. It’s obvious that people don’t care, understand or believe what they hear coming out of Washington these days.  For me, bottom line, it’s not about Obama’s cuts, asking the wealthy to contribute a few dollars more, or the GOP flavor of the moment counter-proposal.  This is ultimately one battle about the future of our civilization… (a point that I’ll address further on here)

Event #3: was the decision of the local daily newspaper to constitute a community editorial advisory board, and the subsequent reactions that I’ve seen around the bloggosphere.

(This board includes the OBRag’s Ernie McCray, and I do not deny that my opinions here are influenced by my admiration for his writing talent and the unwavering support for the youth in our community that he demonstrates on a daily basis. Or the guts he’s shown when confronted with the hatemongers of our community.)  

Way back in the early days of U-T Editor Jeff Light’s reign, he asked me—a known vociferous critic of the daily fishwrap—out to lunch. I found him to be a reasonable person with an extremely difficult set of tasks before him. To be truthful, I almost felt sorry for the guy. We talked about many of these challenges, but mostly we talked history. I laid out my perspective on the history of the alternative press in San Diego; how we viewed the paper; and my view that the local dead-tree press spoke to an ever-narrowing audience.

So, when I read about the plan to include more voices in the paper’s printed perspectives I was (and am) skeptical. As I read down the list of names, the thing that most impressed me was the obvious bias towards highly educated and/or articulate individuals. Then I saw that our own Ernie McCray was the first out of the gate with a perspective—and, hey, they even admitted that he contributes to the OB Rag. So, while I have no illusions that the overall thrust of the Union-Tribune will be changing, I have to give Mr. Light credit. In one fell swoop, he’s taken a step towards giving new voices and viewpoints ink and made the move look like a thoughtful step towards building bridges with a community that has largely written the paper off for decades.

Still, this move didn’t inspire me enough to want write about it. After all, who wants to admit that their longtime adversary might have done something r-r-r-r….r-right?

Then I saw a bit of commentary over at SDRostra whining about how all these folks are leeches. The actual wording was: social activists, government bureaucrats and other tax-takers. But I think that was just them being polite. I think that they probably were remembering about all the money Carl DeMaio’s made off the public trough, and decided softer language was needed.  Here’s more of their beefing:

Of course any group that represents the local community is going to include the left. It will include those active in labor, education and the environment. What’s wrong is what it doesn’t include. This group has no openly identified conservative Christians, Tea Party activists, libertarians or defenders of the Second Amendment. And there’s no one who actually produces jobs and profits in the private sector without government largesse.

For as long as anybody can remember the Union-Tribune has been a welcoming place for this town’s elite, effete Republicans.  Hell, that paper was so right wing that they wouldn’t even print obituary notices for people of color until a few decades ago. The UT was so interconnected with the local power-structure that, back in Col. Victor Krulak’s days at the helm, he personally facilitated intelligence data between agencies interested in local dissenters.  When “Mr. San Diego’s”—oligarch C. Arnold Smith—bank collapsed into insolvency, the UT heralded the event as a “sale” to Crocker National Bank. And, hell, it often appears that the comments section of the paper is owned by the groups that SDRostra finds in such short supply on the newly constituted board.

So now the paper has thrown a few column inches to an as yet unfinished group, whose only common denominator that I can discern is that they’re kinda smart.  In this age when the Huffington Post and AOL are attempting to turn unpaid blogger’s passions into corporate profits, it’s easy to be cynical about what the Union-Tribune is doing. As one Voice of San Diego commenter –pretending to explain Editor Light’s thinking– put it:

 “Since our editorial board was so lame anyway, we thought we’d put them out of their misery. Then I was clicking around on my Facebook account, and noticed that I’ve got some friends who would probably write for free.”

“Frankly, chimpanzees writing editorials would be fine with me,” said Light. “So long as it fills up that white space between the advertising, I’m good.”

I must admit that this overlapping of the blogger and the professional bothers me. But, as I have been saying to folks at OB Rag editorial meetings (and even, so I was recently told, at a lecture I gave to the OB Free School back in 1972), if we, as alternative journalists, citizen bloggers or whatever you want to call us, aren’t producing and developing our craft, there is exactly no chance we’ll have a seat at the table come the revolution (what I said then) or the collapse of dead tree journalism (what I say now).

Getting back to the whinings of SDRostra, I realized that there are bigger issues at play here, ones that encompass a much broader perspective that is simply conservative vs liberal, taxpayer vs leech, spendthrift vs social democrat.

In my mind, I’ve come to the conclusion that what this “debate” ultimately is about much greater things. It’s about whether Socrates, Cato, Hobbes and Franklin (to name a few) are going to survive as part of our culture. It’s about understanding the accomplishments and failures of non-western civilizations as well. It’s about the high road for civilization versus the low road of the most banal acts of a few greedy people.  It’s about making sure that our children understand that Beethoven is just as important as Snoop Dogg.

So, putting the UT’s community editorial in this context, I see it as a small victory for  a “smarter” world. To SDRostra, I offer some cheese to go with that whine.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff at the beach July 27, 2011 at 6:13 am

Aw Doug, good luck with the fight. I’ve enjoyed your work & can’t wait until you beat cancer and start pumping out the stories again!


ss July 27, 2011 at 8:28 am

Doug, thanks, nice article. I had never seen the SDrostra, I’ll have to read more of it to get a better feel for it but I am sure but I am sure I will have different opinions than most of their bloggers.
Good luck with your battle, having been through it I know how tough it can be to get motivated.


Shane Finneran July 27, 2011 at 9:00 am

Great to see your writing back on the pages of The OB Rag, Doug! And great to hear the prognosis is positive.

This was a particularly good article. Definitely an interesting move by the UT. I think I’m going to adopt your cautiously optimistic stance as we see how it unfolds…


annagrace July 27, 2011 at 9:38 am

Doug- you nailed it! Can we have some more, please? ;)


Frank Gormlie July 27, 2011 at 11:52 am

Doug, great to hear your ‘voice’ again. At times, I think who cares about what SD Rostra says or believes, but then I remember how attached they are to shining the boots of the local establishment and to the local tea partiers. The like being called ‘fascists’ – makes them feel close to history.


doug porter July 27, 2011 at 3:16 pm

one thing i forgot to do in writing this article was to visit the UT’s web site to read the comments being left about Ernie’s piece by those individuals whom SDRostra claims are so tragically under-represented… here’s a sampling:
** Is this all we are going to get??? Strike up one for the Left. For being someone who helped form this idea, this was a weak effort. Anti-Military , Pro Homosexual.
**Well the first ridiculous editorial from the Board of government leeches.
**This guy was an educator!!! The fact that he is retired is “Making A Better Place For Children”. This guy sounds like he wants San Diego to be like San Francisco, and you can see how bad that place is. Then he attacks the Boy Scouts, JROTC, and our city trying to fix the pension mess. I disagree with this editorial 100%. I hope this isn’t the kind of editorials that will dominate the U-T.
**It’s OK with me if you hate the Boy Scouts. Just don’t pretend to care about “benefiting the children” while you’re attacking innocent Boy Scouts to advance your political agenda.


annagrace July 27, 2011 at 4:01 pm

sigh… but am I shocked or surprised?


Terrie Leigh Relf July 27, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Great to read this piece. It’s also interesting to note, that many young people come to the door in an attempt to sell subscriptions to the UT–and by phone. I’ve told them time and time again to take me off their call list to no avail.

About a year or so ago, I was appalled at how the youth salesperson got in my face and was hostile when I wouldn’t subscribe. I phoned the UT and never received a proper response back. Some of these youth are attempting to win points for scholarships and while I sympathize and think it’s great they are working hard, I’m of a mind that the UT should give them the scholarships outright.


Dickie July 27, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Hey Doug, very interesting article . . . and I remember some of those old discussions about craft and talent vs. intuition and inspiration. I think I had a foot in both camps. I’d like to think this signals a good direction for the U-T but right now I would be cautiously pessimistic . . .

. . . but mainly it is great to see your challenging thoughtful faintly ascverbic and sarcastic content flapping on one of the scraps of the OBRAG. Keep getting better!!


Frank Gormlie July 27, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Wow! What a week for OB Ragsters! Doug’s back, Ernie’s in, and Shane and Kirsten are at Comic-Con.


judi curry July 27, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Hey Doug! Welcome back. Truly enjoyed your article – probably because I agree with you totally. Glad you are writing again.


John P. Falchi July 27, 2011 at 8:55 pm

Dear Doug-
It was nice to know that you are back writing again, despite your incidence of cancer. I’m glad to hear that your prognosis is positive. However, I don’t envy you going through the treatment that you have been undergoing. Sometimes the treatment seems worse than the disease.
I, too, am a cancer survivor and have experienced 40 days of radiation therapy along with Androgen Deprivation Therapy which together have been keeping my cancer in check.
I, also, was surprised to learn of the UT’s move toward a Community Editorial Advisory Board. I will hold my breadth to see how much influence it actually will have over what it is that the UT chooses to print. However, I definitely was pleased by the fine article that Ernie McCray wrote on “Making San Diego A Better Place For Children.” These articles will at least allow some different voices to be heard in this town which is tortured daily by the right wing cacophony over the air waves.
Keep up the good written work, Doug; it certainly gives you a good reason for fighting off your cancer.


john July 27, 2011 at 11:15 pm

If you’re cheering the idea that the UT may be coming around from the days of tightly controlling local politics to the advantage of Republicans, such joy would be window dressing at best.
Their days of dominance in local media are long gone, how far down is their daily circulation? How much farther down will it go when the last retiree gets a smartphone? When will they have to vacate that big building in mission valley and lease it out for office space to pay their own bills? Will there even be tenants to rent it?


Pat H. July 28, 2011 at 7:24 pm

Dear Doug,
Thanks for this article and your other contributions to the OB Rag Blog. I’m sorry to hear of your bout with cancer and I hope
you are back to enjoying good health very soon. We all wish you well. Thanks for all your efforts. I know it must be difficult. Take care.


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