Bruce Brugmann

Why people get mad at the media, part 4, will guerrilla email help?


It looks to me as if there isn’t anybody from Business Week /McGraw Hill that will be graduating from the Rock Rapids College of Community Journalism (see my first blog about journalistic principles as practiced at the Lyon County Reporter in Rock Rapids, Iowa.) The Business Week folks really don’t want to deal with readers who have legitimate complaints.

As you will remember from my last post, the stonewall continues. The Business Week author Jessi Hempel refused to correct the erroneous statement about the “grungy SF Bay Guardian offices,” and sent me merrily along to her editor in New York, Elizabeth Weiner. I called Weiner twice, on two successive days, and left messages on her answering machine asking for a full correction on the Business Week errors. No reply.

So I finally figured out her email address and sent her an email. I got an automated email response that said she is “on vacation and will return on Aug. 28th.” Great. That will be well after the next issue is out, the issue that ought to have contained a full correction. It would have been nice if I had been told that she was on vacation and it would have been even nicer if I had been given another real live editor for me to talk to. Are all the editors in hiding at Business Week/McGraw Hill?

So, since I was still getting stonewalled after almost a week of trying to get a full correction and explanation of the errors, I figured out the email address formula of Business Week staffers and sent off guerrilla emails to them with my request for a full correction to everyone from the editor in chief Stephen J. Adler to President William P. Kupper Jr to President of Information and Media for McGraw Hill Glenn S. Goldberg, to others listed on the masthead of Business Week. I suggested that they go to my blogs for background on the issue. Most important: I asked for a copy of the Business Week/McGraw Hill policy on corrections and retractions and dealing with reader complaints. No reply as yet, but I will keep you posted.

The operating principle seems to be: set up a track field of hurdles and make it as difficult as possible for a reader (particularly a reader with a legitimate complaint) to talk to a real editor, to get a full correction, to get some satisfaction for a grievance. The point: It doesn’t have to be this way, as you will soon see. Stay tuned. B3, still grunging away down here in my office at the bottom of Potrero Hill

Why people get mad at the media, part 3, The case of “grungy offices” and “grungy journalism”


Following up my attempts to my attempt to get a full correction from Business Week/McGraw Hill:

I finally got a call yesterday (Tuesday) from Jessi Hempel, one of the two authors of the front page piece on Kevin Rose. She apologized and said the error about mixing up the Guardian and the SF Weekly/VVM/New Times offices was “atrocious” and that Business Week/McGraw Hill would correct it in their next issue.

Fine, thanks, I replied, can you read me the correction? No, she said it is our ethical policy not to do that. Why, I questioned, I need to see the proposed correction, or at least know what is in it, so that the correction does not make “the atrocious error” even more “atrocious.” For example, I said, is Business Week going to correct the phrase that states our Guardian offices are “grungy,” which Webster’s dictionary defines as meaning “shabby or dirty in character or condition.” She said this phrase would not be corrected because it was a subjective evaluation. Well, I replied, did either of you visit the Guardian offices and if so when? And specifically what is “grungy” or “shabby” or “dirty” about the Guardian offices? (I stipulated that my desk is “grungy.”) She couldn’t convince me she had answers to those questions. She said she could do nothing more for me and suggested I write a letter or call her editor in New York, Elizabeth Weiner, and talk to her. Then she hung up. Click.

I then checked to see how the “correction” looked on the Business Week online version of the story. This made my point in 96 point tempo bold: The lead to the story, which of course goes out to a worldwide internet audience, now said that Digg’s offices were above the “grungy offices of the SF Bay Guardian in Potrero Hill.” This identification thus made the “atrocious mistake” even more “atrocious,” as I had feared. The Guardian is now, despite my attempts since last Friday to get a full retraction, as having “grungy” offices and the reporters on the story cannot back up or explain their use of this pejorative adjective.

I called Weiner in New York and tried to leave a message on her answering machine, but got cut off before I could complete my complaint. So I immediately called again and finished up on the second call.

It’s as if the Business Week/McGraw Hill policy on reader complaints and corrections comes down to this: complain and we’ll stick it to you, buddy. In short, we are witnessing, not some dreadful “grungy offices,” but some “grungy journalism” as practiced by Business Week/McGraw Hill. I now wonder if the reporters and editors on the story will ever be up for a Potrero Hill martini at the Connecticut Yankee. B3

P.S. l: Steve R. Hill, director of development for the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska Foundation, was in our office on Tuesday as I was wrestling around with this issue. I gave him a full tour of our two floors of offices and even took him up to our rooftop for a spectacular “alternative” view of the city from Potrero Hill. He told me, for the record, that he could find nothing “grungy” about the Guardian offices or the view from the Guardian building.

Help, BizWeek, Help!!! Why the public gets mad at the media, part 2



Below is a letter I have just emailed to the only email address I could find in the Aug. l4th Business Week of Business Week, formally asking for a correction and explanation for three factual errors the magazine made about the Guardian in the first paragraph of the lead story (note my previous blog). Follow along and see how a major communications company (McGraw-Hill) handles reader complaints about factual errors in their stories.

To the good people at
Business Week:

Can you get the questions in my first blog item below (the ones outlining three factual errors in the first three lines in the first paragraph of the lead story with the head: “How this kid made $60 million in l8 months.”) Could you get this message to editor in chief Stephen J. Adler and President William P. Kupper jr and Glenn S. Goldberg, president, information @ media, McGraw-Hill Companies? Or to anyone else locally or in the New York headquaters at Business Week that can help me (a) get an appropriate correction; (b) tell me how such egregious factual errors happened, (c) give me a copy of your retraction and corrections policy on factual errors, and (d) give me the whereabouts and contact information and credits of the two writers of the piece (Sarah Lacy and Jessi Hempel).

I looked extensively through the issue but I couldn’t find any information on how to contact the writers and editors and staff of Business Week, either by phone or by email. How does a reader (or in my case, a reader with a serious complaint) do this? I would appreciate any immediate help that you can give me.

Thanks very much. Bruce B. Brugmann, editor and publisher of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, proud landlord for Digg.Com, but a landlord wrongly identified in your piece (you named our chain competitor) and wrongly characterized as having “grungy offices” that weren’t up to the standard of Business Week. My phone is 4l5-255-3l00, email at, Bruce blog at

P.S. No word back from either the San Francisco or San Mateo offices today on my calls for help on last Friday. I will start in again on the phone, but I’m already beginning to wear out. B3

For more info:

Why people get mad at the media, part l


We have a tenant on the third floor of our Guardian building at l35 Mississippi St, at the bottom of Potrero Hill in San Francisco, called, a new and bustling and highly publicized operation.

It is getting lots of publicity these days and so I was highly interested to find that the company founder was displayed in full color on the front page of the Aug. l4th edition of Business Week magazine. He was a good looking young guy of 29, obviously full of Mexican jumping beans, wearing a T-shirt and some sort of earphones beneath a cap turned backwards. He was doing a jaunty thumbs up and between his thumbs in the middle of his T-shirt was the headline: “How this kid Made $60 million in l8 months,’s Kevin Rose leads a new brat pack of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.”

I opened the magazine and read the lead: “It was June 26, 4:45 a.m. and Digg Founder Kevin Rose was slugging back tea and trying to keep his eyes open as he drove his Volkswagen Golf to Digg’s headquarters above the grungy offices of the SF Weekly in Potrero Hill.”

I was astounded. The article had three major factual errors in the first three lines of the opening paragraph. First:, we are happy to report, is a good tenant on the third floor of the Guardian building. Second: the SF Weekly is our chain competitor, the Village Voice/New Times conglomerate based in Phoenix, Arizona, with offices on the other side of Mission Bay near the Giants ballpark. We are suing the VVM/NT for predatory pricing. Third: we don’t have “grungy offices.” Did this pattern of factual errors, I wondered, continue throughout the piece?

Well, to be objective and fair, I am known to have a grungy desk and many people have commented on it through the years and it has even attracted a bit of publicity. In fact, there is a photo of me, sitting amidst a mountain of papers and books, grinding away on my trusty Royal typewriter (which I call fondly my l876 Royal), in the l988 edition of the book titled “A Day in the Life of California.” There is a similar photo of me at my grungy desk, back in the early l970s, in an old National Geographic magazine, with the cutline: If a writer in San Francisco was going to write like Mark Twain, he would be writing for the Bay Guardian. Reporter Sarah Phelan, hearing me mutter the word “grungy,” immediately pointed out that “grungy” is cool. She may be right. I am not going to argue the point.

However, I was curious to know how a major national business publication, an ornament of McGraw-Hill publishing, could make three such major embarrassing factual mistakes in its lead story. I also wanted to know what McGraw-Hill was going to do about it and what its policy was on corrections and retractions. I was also curious to know the whereabouts and the credits of the two writers, Sarah Lacy and Jessi Hempel, so I could ask them directly how this happened. Perhaps I could orient them over a Potrero Hill martini at the
Connecticut Yankee.

So I went to the phone book and found a Business Week office at 160 Spear St., in San Francisco, phone number 260-5390. I called and gave my questions to the young lady who answered the phone. Oh, she said, you will have to call Elizabeth Moses, an editorial assistant, at our editorial offices in San Mateo at 650-372-3980. I promptly called the number and got one of those deadly you’ll-not-get-in-here-if-we-can-help-it computer answering systems. After some fumbling and bumbling, I did get through to a voice mail with a name that I could not quite distinguish who told me she was unavailable right now but directed me to leave my phone number and email so that she could contact me. I did so. And I am now waiting patiently for an answer.

I will file my next bulletin as soon as I get the word back from Business Week/McGraw-Hill. Good luck and good night, or was it good night and good luck, B3

P.S. l: Wow! “$60 million in l8 months?” I must be in the wrong line of work.

P.S. 2: You will note that I say Giants ballpark. After the name changed from PacBell park (bad enough), to SBC park (terrible) to AT@T park (godawful), I will never again use any formal corporate name of any kind for the ball park. In this blog, it will always be the Giants ballpark in San Francisco. I hope you understand. B3

Here is what happened to Lani Silver, a Bay Guardian reader and occasional Bay Guardian contributor in an e-mail she sent to me:

I am still waiting for a call back from the San Francisco 49ers. Six weeks ago I saw a headline in the S.F. Chronicle that announced the campaign to build a new stadium, for $600-800 million. The sub-headline, said that if anything fell through, the team reserves the right to move to Santa Clara.

As a native San Franciscan, I called John York’s office to suggest that they not make an announcement and threaten a population in the same breathe. After being transferred a half dozen times, I left a message on a voice-mail system meant for community feed-back. I wanted to tell York and others, but wound up telling a machine that it’s rude to launch a campaign and threaten a city in the same moment. I thought my comment to the 49ers would be a valuable p.r. tip for the company.

This is what happens with big companies. You can never reach the top managers. You’ll get transferred many times and then you’ll have to leave a message on a machine that will never get to the people for whom they were intended.

I left my message, something nicely put about jamming a stadium down a community’s throat, when there is a perfectly fine stadium already, and how a corporation should not say that if they don’t get what they want, a billion dollar stadium that they will move. I am still waiting for a call.

Whew! What a Best of Party last night!


What a splendid Best of Party last night at Club Six down in the inner Mission in San Francisco. Almost all of this year’s Best of winners were there, more than 300 of them, to pick up their Best of certificate, and to pose in a group photo that will stand as one of the year’s most eclectic gatherings in San Francisco and certainly the Best San Francisco photograph of 2006. (We will publish the photo in next week’s Guardian).

There was Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White, Kathi Kamen Goldmark and Sam Barry from the Rock Bottom Remainders, Chris Middlestadt of the Fruit Guys, the best beer-soaked bingo brigade, local heroes Tony Kelly of thick Description Theater, Barry Hermanson and the Greenaction Gang of closing-down-the-Hunters-Point-power-plant fame, (Marie Harrison and Bradley Angel), the best drag queen who plays the accordion, Breda Courtney of the Best Bloomin’ Thespians, Robin and Joe Talmadge and Cinder Ernst from World Gym, the Primitive Screwheads (best goofy gore), Press Secretary Peter Ragone and other reps from the mayor’s office (yes, Mayor Gavin Newsom did win an award, the best mayor we love to hate), best neighborhood newspaper publisher (Ruth Passen of the Potrero View), and scores more of the city’s best and brightest and most diverse.

The Keeping it Real with Will and Willie gang were there from the Quake (Comedian Will Durst, Ex-Mayor Willie Brown, producer Paul Wells) to accept their award as the “Best Herb Caen column on the radio.”
They exemplified the spirit of Caen by being “visible” at the party (a key Caen quality in his man about town role at the old Chronicle) and by talking genially to everyone who came in range in the massed crowd, including some who have tilted politically with Willie through the years. Caen had to do that, whether he liked it or not, because he was a target and a celebrity wherever he went. One key difference is that Will and Willie, out on the town regularly, can comment and do their reviews the next morning. Caen’s nocturnal adventures were always in his column a day later in the morning Chronicle. Caen also had l,000 word columns. Will and Willie have three hours every week day morning, from 7 to l0 a.m. in prime time, and can handle lots of live interviews in the studio or on the phone. Most important, Caen could only hint at his political proclivities, but Will and Willie announce they are Democrats and go after Bush and the war and local sacred cows with great glee.

This morning, Will and Willie led off their show on 960 the Quake with a report on the event, which they obviously enjoyed. My journalistic point: There will most likely never be another Herb Caen in San Francisco, or probably on any other daily paper, because he was a creature of another era, the hell-for-leather competitive newspaper wars in San Francisco, which were some of the most colorful in the country. Once the old Hearst Examiner and the old Chronicle formed a JOA in l965, they had no more real use for Caen but the Chronicle kept him on because of his ability and reputation. The Chronicle family owners were always nervous and often agitated about Caen and his enormous influence but they really couldn’t do much about him. Now, with the new Hearst Chronicle as the dominant daily here, with the coming of Singletonland in the Bay Area, no publisher has any use for a powerful independent talent such as Caen, particularly a strong union voice. Al’as.

The Caen formula lives

Will and Willie demonstrated the point again in this morning’s show with a snapshot of Caen’s San Francisco with a nostalgic interview of Mort Sahl, who Caen helped make a celebrated fixture at Enrique Banducci’s Hungry I. They were making the most of the fact that Sahl was reemerging in San Francisco and opening tonight at the Empire Plush Room (Willie said he would in the front row). And Sahl responded with some good political jokes: The Democrats are proving they can defeat Democats, he said of the Lieberman race. But can they defeat Republicans? Jerry Brown is putting Oakland “up for adoption.” On the Mel Gibson incident, Sahl said there was talk in Hollywood that he would now be boycotted. But Sahl quoted Jack Warner of Warner Brothers about an earlier star: “He’ll never work in this town again– until we need him.” And Sahl mused at one point, “Just how many wars are we fighting today.”

Sahl also had some news. Banducci was alive and well in Hayward, sharp as ever. Sahl lived in San Francisco and Sausalito for many years and is now living in LA and working regularly. The I in Hungri I stood for Intellectual. ON and on, making the point on the show that Sahl is back. Hurray!

Back on the monopoly journalism front

Just in: story from the Mercury News by Pete Carey with the arresting head: “Area’s new media king is having fun, industry leader started with one small paper at age 20.”

He quoted Singleton as telling a meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Seattle in April, on a podium he shared with McClatchy’s Gary Pruitt,
“We do a lot of things because they’re fun.” Impertinent questions: who else is having fun as Singletonland comes to town? Is there no way that any of the reporters covering Singleton on any of his papers can utter a discouraging or realistic word about his form of discount journalism, or find someone who can do? (Carey, incidentally, a veteran reporter, has done the best job of covering the sale of Knight-Ridder and subsequent developments).

The newspaper unions have been quiet and have not even commented on what happened to their offer to buy the Merc and the other McClatchy castoffs. And the few statements they have issued took the line of the Hearst unions in San Francisco in dealing with its monopolizing issues: lay low and wait till negotiations on the next contract (when, from my point of view, it may be too late.) The Merc employees are working without union contracts. The crunch will come when Singleton starts “consolidating” and making the deep cuts in production and newsrooms and quality that he must do, sooner or later, probably sooner, with his mountains of debt, his unmanageable forest of papers and presses, and his “lean Dean” cost-cutting modus operandi. Stay tuned. B3

More on the Case of the Uncovered Bay Area Newspaper Monopoly


1. It was good to see today’s Chronicle run a big front page, above the fold story on a 24-year-old freelance cameraman (Josh Wolfe) upholding journalistic principle and going to jail rather than disclosing unaired tapes of a 2005 anarchist demonstrations in which protestors clashed with police. This once again shows the power a daily paper can wield in punching up a serious Freedom of Information/First Amendment issue. Wolfe’s courageous decision as an individual contrasts nicely with the institutional moves by the nation’s biggest newspaper chains to impose quietly on the Bay Area a Singleton/Hearst regional monopoly conglomerate, with McClatchy, Gannett and Stephens aiding and abetting, no competition allowed, for the duration. (See Bay Guardian editorials and my previous blogs).

Since these publishers have mangled and blacked out the coverage of this story, let me lay out the documents below in the Clint Reilly court filings for you to judge for yourself. Pay particular attention to the Alioto filings, which detail the real monopolizing strategy of the publishers:

Read the Alioto Legal Documents:

Gannett-Stephens_Opp_to_ TRO.pdf







2. Just in: A breathless editorial in today’s Contra Costa Times (“Times’ bright future”), welcoming Dean Singleton and his brand of journalism, by some folks who want to keep their jobs. Click here. Their line is presented without blushing: “…the joining of these suburban newspapers under the Media/News flag creates a Bay Area publishing constellation that makes each paper stronger by giving it access to the best that the others have to offer. This is another chapter in a classic American success story: how MediaNews CEO Dean Singleton grew his enterprise from a single, small daily newspaper in New Jersey to the fourth largest publishing company in the country.” The rousing conclusion: “As we said, it has been a difficult eight months for everyone at the Times, but all of that is about to be behind us which allows us to turn our attention fully to the job at hand. Creating informative, entertaining and compelling content for the Times dailies, our weeklies and Contra Costa Times.”

Impertinent question: we always thought the CCT was a damn good community newspaper, so recognized by the California Newspaper Publishers Association with its 2002 and 2003 General Excellence awards. Does anyone over there really think the paper will get better under Singleton? Which Bay Area paper has Singleton made better after he took it over? Let me say for the record: I like Dean Singleton personally and have had some dealings with him and I would like to hope for the best but…Keep me posted on developments in Singletonland.

3. The nation’s journalism and mass communications professors are communing this week at the Marriott Hotel under the banner of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC). Will any of the professors or panels take up the issue of accelerating media concentration, perhaps the most serious problem in the newspaper business, and in particular the issue of the emerging Hearst/Singleton conglomerate right here in San Francisco? This is a tough one for journalism/mass com departments who depend on newspaper and broadcast companies for money and jobs. B3

The press censors the press


Well, well. Today’s Chronicle/Hearst had some big stories on its front page, including a story by its City Hall reporter headed “SF Residents asked to volunteer for a day.” The lead: “Mayor Gavin Newsom today will call on all San Francisco residents to take time out and give a day to their city.” And there were at the top of the page some teaser heads, “After 25 years-still want your MTV? C. W. Nevius on Mel Gibson’s tirade. Bruce Jenkins on baseball’s busy day.” And a big across- the- front – page story, framed in yellow with a white sun, saying, “If you thought last week was hot…More heat, rising ocean, loss of snowpack forecast by the state for 2l00.” Nifty. All legitimate stories.

But way inside on the business page was the hottest local story for San Francisco, the region, and the newspaper business. It was Hearst’s joyful policy announcement story headlined “Bay Area papers cleared for sale to MediaNews, Federal agency’s antitrust review ends with approval.” Our earlier two blogs pointing out the lousy Hearst coverage (and lousy coverage by the other papers involved in the deal) must have done a bit of good. I emailed the obvious questions in my blog to Hearst, but Hearst didn’t reply and Hearst and the other participating papers didn’t answer the questions in their stories, but they did do a bit better with the DOJ story. At least, after I chided them for leaving out a key point in their minimalist stories reporting how a federal judge refused to grant a temporary restraining order in the Clint Reilly/Joe Alioto suit, they asked Alioto if he and Reilly were going to press on with their suit. They are, as I reported exclusively on my blogs. Finally, Hearst et al did publish this fact in their stories. The Mercury-News put it as the last paragraph to its story.

However, the stories by Hearst and the other participant papers read as if nobody ever bothered to check the court documents in the case or at least the Alioto reply memorandum in support of his motion for a temporary restraining order.
What Alioto argued is that Hearst and MediaNews (Singleton), and the other billionaire partners (Gannett and Stephens), have no use for facts nor principles in their move to regional monopoly. Case in point: Back in 2000, when Reilly tried to block Hearst from buying the family-owned Chronicle and shutting down its own Examiner and establish a morning monopoly, Hearst argued that there was no reason to fear a newspaper monopoly in San Francisco because competitors from other Bay Area cities, such as the San Jose Mercury-News and Contra Costa Times, would provide serious competition.

“Specifically,” Alioto stated, “Hearst argued that all of the Bay Area newspapers compete with each other in the Greater Bay Area, and that this competition, both actual and potential, has a tempering effect on the behavior of the competing papers.”

Now, of course, Hearst is arguing the opposite-that these outlying papers are not competitors with the Chronicle and never will be. Alioto pointed out that Federal Judge Vaughn Walker, in ruling against Reilly and for Hearst in that case, agreed with Hearst’s argument and quoted extensively from Walker’s decision. Alioto continued that, “at the very least, this court ought to hold a hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction, if not a trial, to find out why Hearst and the other defendants are now ignoring and running away from the position taken by Hearst in the prior lawsuit.”

Alioto also pointed out why the contention of Hearst et al that there will be no allocation of markets and anti-competitive behavior is “ludicrous on its face.” Let me give you the precise quote that ought to have been in every honest story on this case:

“Although defendants disclaim the existence of their agreement to allocate markets, and Hearst professes that it will have no role in the combination’s subsequent stewardship of Bay Area newspapers, the claim is ludicrous on it face. Hearst cannot expect this court or anyone else to believe that it is shelling out $263,200,000 simply to buy and deliver the Monterey Herald to its Bay Area competitors to gain an interest in its competitors’ markets outside the Bay Area, without receiving any assurance or reaching any understanding that it will be protected against future competition in the Bay Area from its new partners. Such a claim strains credibility to say the least. Indeed, the role of Hearst in this combination, coming to the aid of its competitor MediaNews, can be explained most logically and cogently only by Hearst’s participation in the combination alleged in the complaint. Otherwise, Hearst’s motivation is truly mystyifying and Byzantine. If ever Occam’s razor ought to be applied, it is here.”

Let’s have a show of hands. Has anyone seen this quote and point, or a summary thereof, in any Chronicle, Contra Costa Times, San Jose Mercury News, Monterey Herald or Associated Press story, or any other Hearst/Singleton/Gannett/Stephens/McClatchy paper anywhere in the country? The larger question: will you ever see this quote as the suit plays out and the messy facts begin to emerge about one of the sorriest chapters in American journalism?

Today, John Simerman of the Contra Costa Times reported breathlessly, in a story headlined “MediaNews looks to set standard for papers online,” that Media News “hopes to harness its newfound Bay Area newspaper dominance on the internet into a regional website that aims to be a model for how old guard newspapers can work and make money online.” He also reported that MediaNews was in “very preliminary” talks with Hearst “about a joint Internet venture that could be run under the name.”

I suggest they first learn to cover local news.

Repeating: one city monopoly is now becoming regional monopoly and the monopolizing powers are now censoring the news toward that end. Alas, that is a terrible harbinger for Bay Area communities, for journalism, and for the free press provisions of the First Amendment. Let us all hoist a Potrero Hill martini for Clint Reilly and Attorneys Joe Alioto and Daniel Shulman.
Check the story yourself and in particular the Alioto/Shulman filings. Click here. B3

Stop the presses


July 31, 2006

Here are the developments following my “monopolies are forever” blog of last Friday:

1. Today, Monday, July 31, The Department of Justice decided, “to close its investigation” into the Singleton/Hearst monopoly deal. It said, in a terse two-page press release, “the Antitrust Division determined that the transaction is not likely to reduce competition substantially.” How in the world could the DOJ—even the DOJ of Bush and Gonzales— make such a finding on a transaction that in effect destroys daily competition in the Bay Area and establishes a Denver billionaire as the Baron on the Crag for the duration? It is obvious to anyone who knows anything about the history of local journalism just how bad this deal will be for the public, readers, advertisers, and the free press provision of the First Amendment.

2. Hearst has in effect thrown in the towel and says it doesn’t want to compete with Singleton—by announcing it is facilitating the deal by investing undisclosed millions of dollars in Singleton properties outside the Bay Area. Singleton is widely known as hating competition and doing everything he can to eliminate or coopt it. Justice did not even address this crucial point but did state: “The division’s investigation did not address the effects of potential future transactions involving MediaNews (Singleton) and Hearst. The Division is aware that Hearst has announced plans to invest in MediaNews—ostensibly limited to its non-California newspapers—and may be considering other collaborative arrangements with MediaNews involving San Francisco area newspapers. If and when any such arrangements is proposed, the Division will investigate whether it would adversely affect competition.” This crucial statement, wimpy as it is, was omitted from the Hearst coverage in its minimalist story on SF Gate on Monday—and omitted from the Contra Costa Times story.

3. The DOJ said that it did a “careful investigation” and interviewed more than 80 people, “including newspaper advertisers, subscribers, labor leaders, and industry experts.” Guess what? They didn’t interview anybody from the Bay Guardian or anybody from any other competitive papers to my knowledge. If anybody was interviewed, or knows of anybody who was interviewed, please let me know.

4. As you will remember, I sent my story of last Friday and a batch of obvious unanswered questions to the Hearst executives and staff, asking for answers or a statement or asking that they be answered in subsequent stories. They weren’t. Saturday’s Chronicle story, reporting that a federal judge denied a temporary restraining order in the Clint Reilly antitrust case, was again buried, this time on page 3 in the Bay Area section. There was nothing in the Sunday Chronicle. And, on Monday, when DOJ made its announcement, the story on SF Gate was again minimalist and didn’t even get in the key public interest points from the DOJ statement.

5. To make my point crystal clear: the Chronicle didn’t even report the critical point: were Reilly and his attorney Joe Alioto going to continue on with the case? Or was it all over, as their coverage tried to show. Reilly and Alioto plan to continue on with their case, as Alioto told us this afternoon.

6. Meanwhile, the Guardian has demanded that Justice, since it has closed its investigation, open its investigative files to the Guardian and the public. We are asking the publishers, who often bellow loudly for government to release documents, to support this proposal publicly. Alioto says he, too, has asked for the files and that he plans to start a website and perform the ultimate journalistic and public service: make everything public that he comes up with through the suit as quickly as possible. The Guardian will do so as well on this site at Stay tuned. B3

Another Potrero Hill journalist


Bob Rezak, a journalist for many years and a Potrero Hill native, chimes in with this tale:

Your item on the 13 year old publisher makes me think there is something in the air on Potrero Hill that causes the veins of youngsters to be infused with printer’s ink.

I was 13, perhaps even 12, when I started producing my own newspaper on Potrero Hill (18th and Kansas). But the circulation was limited to family members.

I produced headlines by tracing letters from a stencil that contained the alphabet. Stories were “typed” on a toy typewriter made of tin (no plastic in those days). The instrument did not have a keyboard. The letters were on a wheel that you had to spin to the right letter, then press a button that tipped the letter over a felt pad and then impressed the image on paper. It was a painstaking process. Letter by letter, word by word. It took hours. But I did not know any differently. It must have been a little like the way Guttenberg operated. But the more papers I produced (single copies), the more convinced I was, even at that early age, that I wanted to be a reporter. Of course, my stories were about family activities–my dad painting the house, my brother getting engaged–that sort of thing.

It must have been good reading. I recall them all laughing. My sister -in-law still has some editions but will not relinquish them to me or anyone else.

Maybe that is for the better.

Monopolies are forever


July 28, 2006

By Bruce B. Brugmann
(henceforth to be known as B3 in this Bruce blog)

Earlier this week I dropped by Christopher’s Books on Potrero Hill, my favorite neighborhood bookstore, and was delighted to find a new grassroots newspaper that is published, written, edited, and distributed by a l3-year-old young lady.

Oona Robertson calls her paper “The hill, a Potrero Hill Kids newspaper.” She writes that she has “lived on Potrero Hill all my life. I like to read, write, fence, play sports and be in nature. I live with my mom, dad, sister, brother, fish and cats. I hope you enjoy my newspaper.”

She says her paper is “for kids of all ages.” The current issue has a poem titled
”Ode to my cat,” an essay headlined “The benefits of not owning a car,” part two of a serial about l5-year-old kids spying on a rich man in a mansion in Napa, four “fun summer recipes,” a synopsis of two kids movies (“Cars” and “Garfield, a Tale of Two Kitties”), a review of “The Alex Rider series,” a “Corn Cake Monster” comic strip, advice for bored kids during the summer (“try the ultimate water fight: invite all your friends and kids from your block to come to your house for the ultimate water fight…bring water balloons, water guns, water bottles, buckets, soakers, anything they can think of…Then go into your backyard or out front and either organize teams or have a free for all.”

The monthly paper is sold for $l at Christopher’s Books, but Oona says for an extra $3 she will hand-deliver her paper, but only to the houses of Potrero Hill kids. She will also take ads for $l. And she will take editorial submissions from kids. (Send ads and submissions to the hill, %Christopher’s Books, 1400 l8th St., SF 94l07.)

The hill is an amazing bit of entrepreneurial journalism, which I was reading as an email came in from my source in Contra Costa County, a news junkie and First Amendment warrior, who regularly alerts me to news in the Contra Costa Times that doesn’t appear in the San Francisco Chronicle. Did you see that the judge is going against Clint Reilly on his antitrust suit, he asked. No, I replied, I didn’t see the story. So I checked and sure enough, buried on page 9 in the Bay Area section, with a wimpy little head “Early ruling denies bid to halt big media sale,” was a story in the classic Chronicle tradition of minimalist and pock-holed media and power structure reporting. For attentive Guardian readers, you know our competitive-paper line. But this story had major whoppers and raised in 96 point Tempo Bold a new flurry of unanswered questions about a media monopoly move that will (a) allow Denver billionaire Dean Singleton to buy the Contra Costa Times, San Jose Mercury-News and Monterey Herald, plus a batch of weeklies and free dailies, and pile them up in his existing stable of papers that ring the bay, and (b) thereby gain a chokehold on Bay Area journalism for the duration, and (c) destroy the last remaining daily competition in the Bay Area–with the Chronicle– by getting Chronicle owner Hearst to assist and invest in the deal with undisclosed multi-million dollar stakes in other Singleton properties outside the Bay Area.

Whopper No. l: “In issuing the preliminary ruling (against Riley and for the Hearst/Singleton consortium), U.S. District Judge Susan Illston said the defendants faced greater harm than Riley if the sale of the San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Times was halted. ’I don’t see imminent irreparable harm to the plaintiffs,’ she said.”

Whopper No. 2: “Alan Marx, an attorney for MediaNews (Singleton), said there will be no cooperation between Hearst and MediaNews after the transaction. He said serious delays to the sale could force MediaNews to incur interest rate penalties of at least $22 million on loans that MediaNews has arranged to finance the purchase.”

Pow! Pow! Pow! If this single ownership chokehold on the Bay Area is not “irreparable damage,” then what is? Why is the federal judge worried about “irreparable damage” to billionaires in New York (Hearst) and Denver (Singleton), as well as the other billionaire partners to the deal in Sacramento (McClatchy) and MClean, Va. (Gannett) and Las Vegas (Stephens), and not worried about “irreparable damage” to the public, to readers, to advertisers, to competitive papers, to the health and welfare of their local communities, and to the marketplace of ideas principle underlying the First Amendment?

Some other key questions that the Chronicle and the other participants in the deal aren’t raising and answering: How can the publishers proceed before the Justice Department and the Attorney Generals approve and sign off on the deal? Why don’t they ask Attorney General Bill Lockyer about the status of his investigation? Lockyer, after all, is running for state treasurer and is on the campaign trail, as is Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, who is running for Attorney General. Lockyer appeared on the Will and Willie show on the Quake last week and left the room, just before Guardian executive editor Tim Redmond came on. Redmond opened up his remarks by saying that he wished he had known Lockyer was on the show, because he would have asked him about his investigation. And then Tim and Will Durst and Willie Brown discussed the impact of the Hearst/Singleton issues in an open and lively way almost never done in the mainstream media. Why are Lockyer and Brown on the lam, and allowed to be on the lam, when they are once again running for major statewide offices? Let me note that they refuse to answer our repeated questions on the deal.

More questions: why, if Hearst and the other publishers feel they can’t cover themselves, don’t they get comments and op ed pieces from journalism or law professors at nearby UC-Berkeley, Cal-State Hayward, Stanford, San Jose State, SF State, USF? Why don’t they check with other independent experts such as Ben Bagdikian of “Media Monopoly” fame, who is living in Berkeley? Why don’t they quote Norman Solomon, a local media critic who writes a nationally syndicated column? Or Jeff Perlstein, executive director of Media Alliance or the Grade the News media reporting operation housed at San Jose State University? Why don’t they quote union representatives at the Chronicle and Merc? Why don’t they quote any one of the six U.S. representatives from the Bay Area that called on Justice and the AG to carefully scrutinize the sale? Why don’t they call on Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who introduced a local resolution opposing the sale, or any of the other supervisors who approved it unanimously? (Note: the Chronicle refused to run the Mirkarimi resolution even though I personally hand-carried it to the Chronicle City Hall reporters in the City Hall pressroom.) Why is it left to the handful of remaining independent voices to raise these critical questions?

I’m sending these questions to the local publishers, and I’ll let you know what they say.

Hearst has never been much good on local power structure issues (witness its blackout of the PG&E-Raker Act scandal), but things will only get worse when it is comfied and liquored up with Singleton and there is no real daily competition in the Bay Area. The way Hearst and the other billionaire publishers blacked out and minimalized this critical story–a story critical to their future credibility and influence–is a harbinger of the future of journalism in the Bay Area and beyond. Alas. Alas.

I sometimes think that Oona Robertson and the hill can do better.

This is my first blog, so please be kind until I get the hang of it and get safely out of my Royal typewriter past. I have much to say, in a journalism career that started at age 12 on the famous Lyon County Reporter in my hometown of Rock Rapids, Iowa. I wrote a rousing story about catching a trout in the Black Hills on a vacation with my parents. I wrote a column for four years during high school, wrote off and on through the years and even worked a summer as the only reporter on the paper. I learned a couple of key things in the College of Community Journalism in Rock Rapids: that it is important to be accurate, and good spirited, because the locals know the story and read the paper to see if you got it right. And that, when you write about somebody, you write knowing you may seeing them later that day at the Grill Cafe or Brower’s Pool Hall or the golf club.

In Rock Rapids, I always felt I was having an ongoing conversation with the the people in town and on the farms. And, for the past 40 years at the Guardian, I have felt that the Guardian staff and I were conversing with our readers and the people of San Francisco. So now, with the magic of the internet and the blog, I hope to converse even more directly with our readers. Join the conversation. Join the fun. B3

Talk to me, dammit


Welcome to the Bruce Blog, where editor and publisher Bruce B. Brugmann (B3) will be giving you his thoughts on everything from his home town in Rock Rapids Iowa to his 40 years publishing the nation’s premier West Coast alternative newsweekly.

Oh, and PG&E, sunshine, international press freedom, the Potrero Hill martini, the decline and fall of the great gin and tonic and few other things you need to know about.

He’s on vacation until July 25th; check back then. And talk back to him, dammit.

Saluting small business



  Back in my hometown of Rock Rapids, Iowa, a flat land of tall corn and homestead farms way out in northwest Iowa, my grandfather and father ran a small, family owned drug store for more than seven decades. Their slogan, known throughout the territory, was "Brugmann’s Drugs: Where drugs and gold are fairly sold, since l902."

   The town was then and still is about 2,800 in population, and we were miles away from the nearest cities of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Sioux City, Iowa. The merchants, and the farmers and townsfolk who patronized them, had to go it pretty much alone and depend on each other for economic sustenance.  The two Brugmann families bought shoes at Jensen’s and Hornseth’s shoe stores, purchased clothes that often didn’t quite fit at Bernstein’s department store, bought our groceries from Bob Bendinger and Tony Sieparda’s grocery stores, ate meals out at Jay’s and the Grill Café, banked at the Rock Rapids State Bank and later the Lyon County bank,  went to endless church suppers in town and in the country to support the local churches, hired Jim Wells to do our taxes, used both Doc Wubbena and Doc Cook, the town’s two doctors, and had our teeth done by Doc Lee and Doc Fisch.

   My dad, as the town pharmacist, would often get called at night, sometimes twice, to go down to the store and fill a prescription for one of the doctors tending a patient who needed emergency help. My wife’s father, who owned a lumberyard in Bennet, Nebraska, and later a hardware store in Le Mars, Iowa, followed the same routine. As did her grandfathers, one who founded banks in small towns in Nebraska and Kansas, another who ran a grocery store in Topeka, Kansas.

   I asked my grandfather and my dad why they went out of their way to do all these things in town and why I always got pulled along as Con Brugmann’s boy. "We want to keep our money working in town," they would reply. "That helps the store and that helps the town." I also asked why they put regular ads in the local Lyon County Reporter, run by Paul Smith as the fourth generation of the pioneering Smith family, when everybody already knew what the store offered in merchandise and service. "That’s the price of having a good local paper in town,” my dad would say.

   Significantly, Brugmann’s Drugs and our old store building have been transformed into the B and L café, a friendly oasis featuring yummy homemade pies and soups and a unique setting full of antique furniture. It is owned and operated by Beth and Lawrence Lupkes, a husband and wife team who work long and hard to keep the café going from dawn till dusk seven days a week. Their key to economic sustenance: they keep their “day” jobs, Beth as a dispatcher for the county’s emergency services, Lawrence as a rural mail carrier and mayor. Lawrence’s sister is the main cook and they press family members into service.

   When my wife Jean Dibble and I founded the Guardian in l966, we quickly found that the cooperative small business way of life that worked in little towns in Iowa and Nebraska and Kansas worked the same way in San Francisco with its tradition of neighborhoods and communities. Small business, we found, was not only the leading job generator and a key piece of the city’s urban fabric. Small business was critical to building sustainable local economies in San Francisco and most other cities. Jean and I like to think that the Brugmann and Dibble families have been continuously making small business contributions to our communities since l902.

   A long list of studies shows that small businesses keep more money circuutf8g in the local economy than big chains. The chain money is wired out of town every night—and chains are more likely to buy from other chains, in bulk, and thus rarely patronize other local businesses. So very little of the dollar you spend at a chain store stays in the community, which means its impact on the local economy is negligible. Money that stays in town creates more jobs, more business activity, a more stable economy and a larger tax base. Thankfully, no Wal-Mart came to the Rock Rapids area, but Wal-Mart came to several other Iowa communities with disastrous consequences to the downtowns and local tax bases of three towns and seven counties. Many other studies showed similar consequences in many other areas of the country.  (The Hometown Advantage, Big Box Economic Impact Studies from the Institute for Local Self Reliance.

    When academics and policy makers around the country are increasingly discussing ways that cities can be more self-reliant, work more with local resources and thus be both environmentally and economically stronger, they are talking about the value of small, locally owned, independent businesses.

    Economies are all subject to business cycles. If a city’s economy is dominated by a monocrop and or a few big companies, the entire economy suffers when they take a hit. Rock Rapids is tied to the farms and the weather.  Detroit’s fate is tied to the auto industry. If Microsoft and Boeing have blips, the impact is felt across Seattle. But a community with many different local businesses in many different niches is much more able to survive and even prosper in tough times.  After the l906 earthquake, it was the entrepreneurs and small businesses that lifted the city from the ashes. After the dot-com bust, it was again the small businesses and the entrepreneurs who are helping cushion the blow and leading the recovery.

    The bottom line is that the big chains see a community like San Francisco as a place to extract money from as quickly as possible, much like the strip miners in the Sierra. Small businesses see the city as a place to invest human capital to build real community—to join merchant groups, get involved in local politics, hire local kids, patronize other businesses, work to invigorate their neighborhoods, spread the gospel of shopping local. (See the San Francisco Locally Owned Merchants’ Alliance at

    Jean and I and the Guardian staff are happy to salute the small business community with our second annual Small Business Awards. Our congratulations to the winners, all working in their own way to transform San Francisco into a sustainable local economy. And our congratulations to the thousands of small business people in San Francisco, and the merchant groups behind them, who daily struggle valiantly against daunting odds to keep their businesses going, their neighborhoods vibrant, and San Francisco an incomparably great city.

     This year, we give special recognition to Arthur Jackson, who for almost four decades helped thousands of people get jobs in small, independent, locally owned businesses through his employment agency, Jackson Personnel Agency. He died on April l0 at     age 58 after a courageous fight against a series of illnesses including a kidney transplant.  He lived his favorite quote: “Putting people to work is a passion for me, because the paycheck fully empowers our community.” Arthur, as we all called him, won our diversity in small business award last year and his name will live on at the Guardian in the form of our annual Arthur Jackson diversity in small business award.