Noam Chomsky, that venerable media critic, takes newspapers to task like so: using your local daily paper, measure column length devoted to certain subjects and compare it to the amount of space dedicated to subjects you deem important (the same measure can be applied to TV news). Over time a pattern will emerge and (surprise!) the reader may find that popular media have certain biases, biases that aren't always aligned with the reader's own worldview.
It's a common sense conclusion, says Chomsky, but sometimes a person can get lulled into blindly accepting a prescribed viewpoint.
You don't need to tell that to the ambitious folks starting up the San Diego Free Press-they already know.
Charles Nelson, moderator of the San Diego Action Network and co-sponsor of the Free Press' first meeting last Friday night, welcomed a crowd of 50 or so to the Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest.
“Think about the state of media in this town,” Nelson opened the meeting.
The request prompted grumbling, the sporadic sarcastic “Ha” and, over it all, a voice of malcontent. “Gives me a headache,” said the voice.
In that retort Nelson found his springboard. “We're here tonight to give ourselves aspirin,” he said. “To take care of a problem.
“For most San Diegans,” added Mark Conlon, editor of Zenger's newsmagazine, “the progressive community just does not exist because they don't read, hear or see anything about it in the local media.”
“If only these publications understood us, maybe they'd be a little nicer,” Nelson opined, “maybe if we were more photogenic...”
Another round of “Ha”s from the crowd, many of whom would have fit in nicely at a WTO protest.
What's at issue for Nelson and his progressive comrades is a critical mass of events ignored by the mainstream media, such as last month's march from Sherman Heights to the new baseball stadium to protest rising housing costs resulting from stadium construction. Also at issue is an equally large number of letters to the editor that go unpublished by the local daily paper.
So, as an outlet for their frustrations, San Diego's uber lefties are planning a publication of their own.
The San Diego Free Press-which isn't something new, having had stints in both the 1930s and again in the '60s, (but, we assume, with a different crowd than this go 'round)-seeks to publish a monthly 10,000-circulation, 12-page tabloid-size paper starting up as soon as it can get its act together. The publication's raison d'etre is as follows:
“The San Diego Free Press will be the voice for San Diegans excluded by the corporate media in San Diego. For too long we have been asking ourselves what we were doing wrong when the local daily ignored us, TV news thought that their network's programs were bigger news than our community events, and talk radio attacked us. Frankly, more and more, we discover that the problem isn't ours; it's the problem of a media system that is focused strictly on private profit, rather than the public good. Whether our issue is housing, immigration, discrimination, anti-corruption... we know that we need our own voice.”
The strong turnout at the Joyce Beers Center was promising-there was a large Green Party contingent, at least one self-proclaimed anarchist and a number of people who can simply be categorized as “free thinkers.”
After the brief introduction, San Diego Independent Media Center's Jonathan Snapp-Cook instructed attendees to split up into four breakout groups: editorial, governance, finance and recruiting. As it goes with free-thinking, creative types, most gravitated towards the editorial pocket.
Conlon served as moderator of the editorial group, leading the circle of 25-plus through a series of important considerations: What should be the political stance of the paper? Should it include arts and entertainment features as well as news and opinion? Should organizations that contribute financially be allowed editorial space to forward their cause?
But the question that seemed to raise the most concern was who or what should oversee the paper's content. As expected, the mainstream mode of a single editor-in-chief was distasteful to some. The words “dictator” and “overlord editor” peppered discussion.
“What about a triumvirate?” someone suggested, glancing back to the ancient Roman model of government.
“Would three people consent on all the issues?” another person asked.
“With three people, one person has veto power...”
“There's pressure involved in consensus-two against one.”
“Ultimately you do need a single person in charge...”
“Would you like to square off with everyone in this room?”
“Are we talking about sports?”
Try as they might to resist the corporate establishment, a voice of reason sprang from someone over in the finance group.
“Without money, this thing will never get off the ground,” said one gentleman with print media job experience. “You can't have five people sit on finance and 30 on editorial-that's not the way a paper works.”
For Nelson, it was another perfect springboard.
“We're asking for commitment, we're asking people to come to Jesus,” he grinned, taking on the role of media evangelist. “I want you to ask yourself what this is worth to you. You have a chance to be different. I can't offer you anything in exchange, I can't promise your conscience is going to be good to you....”
By evening's end, the Free Press was off to a good start with a few hundred dollars in pledges, the promise of an inkjet printer, a scanner and some free cartoon work. Once the pesky editor issue is solved, who knows what can be accomplished.