Goodbye San Francisco Bay Guardian; Hello Wankergate

by on October 27, 2014 · 0 comments

in California, Culture, History, Media, Under the Perfect Sun

Bay Guardian Front PageBy Jim Miller

Recently, California lost one of its last remaining, genuinely progressive weeklies, the San Francisco Bay Guardian. As [] tells the story:

The San Francisco Bay Guardian, the prize-winning newspaper and progressive voice, was shut down immediately by the San Francisco Media Company, after 48 years of “printing the news and raising hell.”

No warning for staff, just pack your boxes and get out. Boom. This historic independent newspaper, so long a pivotal force in San Francisco progressive politics and culture was suddenly treated as a corporate portfolio item, and lopped off the balance sheet . . .

Guardian editor Steven T. Jones recounted to the Chronicle, “We were told at 10 a.m. (Tuesday) that this issue would be our last. They shut down everything — our sites, our social media, our passkeys, right away. We’ve all been laid off, effective immediately…I need an escort to go to the bathroom and get back to the office to pack up my stuff.”

The problem with the Guardian, of course, was not the quality of the journalism or the need for an alternative voice, but the paper’s loss of advertising revenue, a particularly grievous sin in the minds of its new corporate owners. [] again notes that:

The paper, long suffering losses due to declining advertising revenues among other factors, had shrunk from a roughly 90-page weekly product to a svelte 50 pages or less on most weeks; still, a trimmed-down news and culture editorial team continued to pump out timely in-depth reporting. Founder Bruce B. Brugmann and his wife and co-publisher Jean Dibble sold the paper to the San Francisco Media Company in 2012, adding it to a monopolistic portfolio that included the San Francisco Examiner and SF Weekly, and, later, a substantial share of the Bay Area Reporter.

Of course losing a progressive voice that had been a fixture of San Francisco politics and culture for 48 years is a bad thing, and it’s a particularly terrible sign for the rest of the country that this happened in the Bay Area, one of the most fertile grounds for such ventures in the United States. But it should have been clear that the sale of the paper to the SF Media Company was the beginning of the end for the “muckraking and fiery editorials against corporate power” upon which many in San Francisco came to rely.

Indeed, if we look at the demise of the Guardian through the lens of Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s propaganda model, it’s obvious that the kind of content that the Guardian used to deliver simply would not make it through the first two “filters” that sift out counter-hegemonic information from the “news”—ownership and reliance on advertising.

A while back, over at the OB Rag, I did a column that outlined this model more specifically:

Years ago, Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman delineated precisely how the corporate media serve to manufacture consent for an elite agenda. Their model outlines five filters that “news” has to sift through before it makes it to your newspaper, radio, or television set: the concentration and profit orientation of media ownership; advertising as the primary source of income; sourcing reliant on governmental and business “experts” frequently funded by or linked to powerful interests; flak as a means of disciplining the media; and anti-communism (or more recently “anti-terrorism”) as an ideological litmus test.

Since Chomsky and Herman originally published Manufacturing Consent in 1988, their model has only become more relevant with the number of media giants controlling almost everything we read, watch, and listen to shrinking from around twenty to a mere handful. As Ben Bagdikian notes in the most recent edition of his seminal study, The Media Monopoly, “five huge corporations — Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany, and Viacom (formerly CBS) — own most of the newspapers, magazines, books, radio and TV stations, and movie studios of the United States.” And as much as we’d like to think that the proliferation of Internet sources gives us an alternative to this, at present the blogosphere doesn’t come close to offering a counter narrative nearly as powerful. What was once thought of as a quasi-utopian cyber space has shown itself to be just as vulnerable to commercial penetration and cooptation as much of the traditional media.

This dangerous concentration of ownership only magnifies the power of the second filter as the lords of the global village have every reason to ensure that media does all it can to encourage the “buying mood” in every way possible. It’s all about selling audiences of affluent consumers to advertisers. Hence national news has been demoted to a kind of least objectionable programming while local news has become so pathetically devoid of content that it is little more than a “a soap opera,” to borrow Elayne Rapping’s term, punctuated by news and sports.

In such a landscape, a paper like the SF Bay Guardian or any other news outlet that thinks it can work around the power of these filters without being compromised in significant ways is an endangered species.

That’s why here in San Diego, no one is even particularly shocked when we discover that Carl DeMaio’s staff either ghost writes editorials for the UT-San Diego or that the UT-SD’s editorial writers spit out his talking points like good little lap dogs following orders from ownership.

But it’s also why everywhere else we get wall-to-wall coverage of scandal à la Filner or DeMaio but very little deep analysis of how power actually works in our city or, more recently, the fact that the race for Congress is between the Koch money-fueled, pure product of the right wing think tanks and a neoliberal Democrat who the Chamber of Commerce loves more than the Tea Party .

One might suggest that that is a scandal of a higher order.

Nevertheless, stories about personal misconduct, particularly when they involve sex or boorish personal behavior in any way, are perfectly in line with the “news as soap opera” that does not offend owners (or donors) and is much more fun to read than boring analyses of our democracy’s seemingly inevitable drift toward oligarchy as exemplified by the tawdry, intellectually and politically bankrupt race for the 52nd Congressional District.

Sure, I’d like to see DeMaio’s ugly political career end for good, and I find Peters a far less offensive character and better on a handful of important issues like climate change, but . . . wait, did you hear somebody accused Carl of playing with his member in front of them on multiple occasions? Now that’s news!

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