Local Newspapers – the Peninsula Beacon and the OB Rag – Still in the Game

by on March 6, 2018 · 0 comments

in Ocean Beach

Editor: Please welcome Delaney Mowers – a journalism student at Point Loma Nazarene University – in her first post in the OB Rag. She’s passionate about writing and the power it has to illuminate the truth and influence lives. 

By Delaney Mowers

Coming through the door of the newsroom, the first thing the eye catches is the stacks of newspapers.  The stacks of black ink on white paper almost catches the front door entrance as the door swings open. Situated above a Wendy’s restaurant on Grand Avenue in Pacific Beach, San Diego, the newsroom is home to three local papers: The Peninsula Beacon, La Jolla Village News, and Beach and Bay Press.

The papers, put together in a collaborative effort here in the newsroom, are published bi-weekly, and will eventually coat the areas of La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, Point Loma, and University City with their combined total of 62,000 copies per edition.  These newspapers go out to the community by news carriers for free after they are rubber banded, and then delivered to homes, businesses, and organizations. According to the Circulation Verification Council, an independent company that audits newspapers, San Diego Community News Group distributes to 96% of homes and businesses in the zip code areas that the paper covers.

Inside the newsroom, San Diego Community News Group’s current intern, Victoria Davis, settles in for a morning at work.  On her desk lies a note instructing her on her first task of the day, which is to edit a press release. After taking care of it, she turns to the upcoming stories she is working on.  The upcoming business she is set to write about is experiencing some uneasiness about the story, and calls to talk through the story with her. In the end, they allow her to write the story, but she must come up with a new angle as important information is now off the table.

After her phone call, she works on compiling a list of local events that goes out every week, advising the community on events that are happening around town.  She types on the computer at her desk, which is situated in a nook off of the main room. As she types, a mail man comes in with a package. He stops to chat with the receptionist, Marisa Lopez, who sits at a desk in the middle of the main room.  Waving at Davis, he exits the building, passing by the neighboring real estate office on his way downstairs.

Davis said:

“The cool thing about the mail people is they know everyone here and they always say hi.”

Taking a break, she goes to converse with Lopez herself, talking about her friends who are coming to visit and commiserating together about the busyness of life. Davis said:

“One of the fun things about the way Tom Melville, the editor, runs the office is that there is no drama. Its such a small office and we are always together, so you have to keep it friendly. If you have a problem with someone, you have to work it out.  It is so supportive and friendly.”

The topic of conversation moves to the office fish, who is on display at the front of the office.  Despite living in a word saturated environment, the beta fish does not have a name.

“He should be called Harold, like the Harold of a newspaper,” David quips.  Getting back to work, Victoria pulls out a recent addition of a paper they put out.  She dons the front cover, smiling next to a huge slice of pizza. The picture is part of an article they did about the best pizza businesses in the community.  Articles like these are normal at the San Diego Community News Group. Davis often does business profiles, including recent ones about an electric bike company in town and a Mexican café in Point Loma that recently opened.

Covering the community in this way is important to the paper, and they make an effort to get out in the community and actively be a part of it.  While the news business is stressful, the news group remembers to keep their focus on the community.

“It is a really healthy dynamic,” Davis said.  “I have been to other newspapers before and it is really stressful.  And here we are like we are going to get it done but we are not going to be hermits.”  She stresses that the whole point is to get out in the community, and really talk to and see the people you are writing for.

Further into the newsroom, Dave Schwab works on stories he is writing for the three newspapers.  As the only full time journalist at the San Diego Community News Group, he covers a wide range of things that goes on.  A veteran to the newspaper life, he has worked for the group for four and a half years. With many years of previous experience, he has seen firsthand the shift in media from print to electronic. Schwab said:

“If you want international news you can get it on your IPhone or TV. If you want national news, you can get it from TV. If you want to know what going on in your back yard, that’s what the community newspapers are there for.  They have always done a better job because they are in direct contact with people. So that is the niche that is left.”

Schwab explained that the information age has changed a lot of things.  He can no longer rent a movie from Blockbuster. Brick-and-mortar things are dying, and he misses them. He said:

“Some of the other local publications are in trouble. The UT has had five owners in ten years.  I wonder if there will be a UT five or ten years from now.  I also work for a news service on rare occasion and they are struggling and loosing clients.  This transition from print to electronics is hard. Maybe the daily newspaper is a dodo bird to.  We are just watching it die.”

The UT, or the San Diego Union Tribune, in its most recent shift of ownership, was sold to Patrick Soon-Shiong, who heads the LLC, or Limited Liability Company, the Nant Capitol Investment Firm.  The company also purchased The Los Angeles Times in the same deal, which cost 500 million dollars.  Meanwhile, local news companies such as The San Diego Community News Group keeps trying to focus on the community to stay alive in the business.

“I am a local reporter covering local news,” Schwab said about his role in the news business today.  “People ask me ‘what do you cover?’ I cover local news. And the buzzword today is hyper-local. That is why we are still in business.”

Schwab said that he still sees value in having print news; having something to hold in your hand is desirable.  But he recognizes that the demographics of millennials and younger people are not consuming print news, making the future of print news uncertain.  The San Diego Community News Group currently straddles both worlds, using the newspaper as their main mode of product but also posting their major stories online on their website.

The National Newspaper Association, a non-profit trade association that seeks to represent community newspapers, reported in June of 2017, based off of a survey, that the majority of people, or 33%, prefer to get local news from a print newspaper.  This beat out the 30% of people that preferred local and cable TV stations, and social media and radio, which both came in at 5%. Furthermore, 68% of respondents said that they read a print newspaper that specifically covers their community. Moreover, the main reason people read community newspapers is for local news: 84% of people of read local newspapers for local news, while only 2% reported reading their local paper for state or federal news.

Along with still remaining relevant, the report showed that over half of respondents said that they trusted their community newspaper more than any other news, and that 76% said that their local newspaper really understands what is of importance to them.

Schwab explains that the success of local news comes from taking care of the community.

“Being a good journalist is a lot more than just being able to write.  You have to develop a network of contacts, people that trust you. That know you are going to do right by them.  If you make a mistake, you are going to correct it.”

This focus on the community is echoed by Heather Long, the classified manager at the San Diego Community News Group.  Her job is go out and see people about getting the word out to their community about their business. Going door to door, she learns what people need to get the word out.

Asking questions about the businesses, she learns what businesses are good candidates for stories for the paper, and sells ad campaigns to businesses so they can market to the community.  The goal is to show community members what businesses are in the area, so they know they can go there to shop. It is a move away from a corporate feel, and a move towards highlighting the local community.  Long says that most business do want to be part of the paper, and appreciate the stories about them.

A single paper runs on average of 75 ads per paper.  Real estate are prominent ads, with some of them running for upwards of twenty years.  The Broken Yolk, a local breakfast café, was one of the original advertisers.

Long says that local newspapers have a direct affect on the community, and allows them to be in community as well. Long said:

“The community likes to read what is going on. They want to hear about a football time that is winning, or a team at Point Loma Nazarene University that is killing it.  They just want to hear feel good stories. I think it makes everyone feel a little bit better about how life is sometimes.”

Marissa Lopez, the receptionist at San Diego Community News Group, appreciates this aspect of the paper.  Starting this past April, Lopez mans the desk, talking to community members and making sure that procedures are taken care of.  She takes pride in what the paper does for the community, and makes sure that everything is done with the community in mind.

“Yes, everyone wants to know what is happening around the world, but it is really nice to know that someone like our newspaper is covering something that is going to spark their interest and might affect them in a positive or negative way,” Lopez said.

Answering the phone, she takes a message for a customer, and works on forms for the office.  Thursdays are layout days, and the office is in full swing.

At San Diego Community News Group, local stories are always in the works.  Learning about a new laundry mat opening in Ocean Beach, Davis heads down to the store.  She meets the owner, and they talk about the opening. Afterwards, the owner poses with her husband in front of the mural that covers to laundry mat wall.  Next week, they will be the Peninsula Beacon, their business story circulating around Ocean Beach.

The Peninsula Beacon covers the peninsula, the zip codes of 92106 and 92107, which is partially made up of the neighborhood of Ocean Beach.  According to the Certification Council, the total population in this area is 23,667. Ocean Beach itself, according City Data, a company that tracks statistics on land within the United States, in 2016 had a population of 9,920 with the medium household income coming in at $69,852.

While the area of Ocean beach matches the rest of San Diego in a lot of ways, it shows its unique history in its roots and the culture still present in Ocean Beach today. The San Diego Almanac, published by the San Diego Union Tribune, reports that the area got its name from two real estate speculators, Frank Higgins and Billy Carlson, got its name in 1887 from their lot sale campaigns.

A paper also making the rounds of Ocean Beach is the online newspaper The OB Rag, headed by editor Frank Gormlie.  The paper overlaps the new and the old, purely covering local news but publishing only online.  Tracking their website, the OB Rag has an average of 1,500 readers a day, which goes up considerably when the newspaper covers news that can only be found on the OB Rag.

Gormlie said he started the paper because the community was craving local news that the mass media was not covering.  They try to dig into community issues, and focus on redevelopment and planning around Ocean Beach.

“We try to provide a platform for Ocean Beach,” Gormlie said.  “A platform where people can debate.”

The name, the OB Rag, highlights this concept.  A rag is usually seen a derogatory, and the paper is meant to be the people’s rag, albeit in a good way.

The rag thrives on hyper-local news, covering stories such as a local Torrey Pine tree being cut down in Ocean beach, or restaurants putting up fences that make disability access difficult.

“Little stuff, that no one else does, including the Peninsula Beacon, that’s what we do,” Gormlie said.  “We immerse in the community.”

Along with these more isolated stories, the OB Rag strives to be a comprehensive voice in the community by covering all of the area’s bases.  The paper covers town council meetings in their entirety and highlights important business changes and issues in the community.

Truly centering around community, the paper is run on an almost entire volunteer bases.  While the number ranges, the paper draws on about 12 volunteer community members, who often hold other occupations in the community, to make the paper possible.

Perhaps best embodying what community news truly means is Gormlie himself.  Reporting spending most of his life in Ocean Beach, Gormlie graduated college with a degree in sociology and became an attorney, and evolved into the work that he does today.  Interacting in the community, he was a member of the first Ocean Beach Planning Board, according to the Ocean Beach Historical Society.

“I consider myself a citizen journalist,” Gormlie said of his work in the newspaper world.

According to Gormlie, the OB Rag came out of the OB People’s Rag, an underground newspaper he helped start in the 1970’s.  The OB Rag started in October of 2007, an eventual outlet for the aggravation Gormlie experienced towards what he felt was nationally and locally lopsided, unbalanced news coverage.  He viewed the newspaper, essentially a blog, as filling the same role in today’s monopolizing media as underground newspapers used to fill. By the one year mark, readership had reached about 250 daily readers, and continued to spike as the paper focused locally more and more.

Ultimately, Gormlie seeks to provide a dialogue within the community and a feel of community outside of the mainstream.  While the paper and Gormlie have made waves in the community, the paper continues to provide Ocean Beach with news in its own unique way.

“Not everyone likes me,” Gormlie said, referring to some of the issues he has brought up in the community that others may wish to not examine.  “People do thank me all the time. But I will say things whether people agree with me or not.”

Running support campaigns twice a year, the paper relies on this limited support and the monthly support they receive from individual supporters.  Ultimately, the paper is there for the community. Gormlie has plans to tackle a list of Ocean Beach stories he says will examine the “OB vibe”. In the meantime, the paper continues to cover local news and give the people of Ocean Beach a platform to talk about their community.

“We really try to dig into community issues,” Gormlie said.  “And Ocean Beach has plenty.”





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