Editor’s Note: The San Diego Free Press is five years old this week. This is one in a series of posts reflecting on the paths we’ve traveled.
By Doug Porter
One thousand, three hundred and thirty posts ago I started writing for the San Diego Free Press. Today, I want to give you a peek behind the digital curtain.
Along with this column, there will be articles from contributors throughout the week. I urge you to read them. You’ll discover–I hope–some of the humans whose creative efforts make this unique media platform happen.
The idea for creating a modern day version of San Diego’s legendary underground newspaper came out of meetings organized by some of us local bloggers who posted at the OBRag–a digital re-incarnation of its sometimes-scruffy ancestor.
My deciding moment came during a confrontation on Newport Avenue, OB’s main drag. The Black, a head shop whose advertising dollars (under previous owners) had been a mainstay of the early alt-press, was marketing a sicko sticker urging people not to feed the homeless. Frank Gormlie and some of us with the OB Rag picketed the store.
The resulting scene was as ugly as it gets, described later by Ernie McCray in the OBRag:
I spent the next two hours wondering if I was in the Twilight Zone as I held up a sign upon which I had written “Children are Watching! Show them OB’s Loving Heart (symbol)” while all around me there were people supporting The Black’s “First Amendment Rights.”
Their chests were puffed out like bantam roosters or boxers staring each other down in the middle of the ring before a hyped up championship fight. I saw people’s fists clenched as though hungry gremlins were coming to take a bite out of their loins. Venomous words flew from mouths like fighter planes taking off from the USS Midway to bomb anyone who would dare stand up for “bums” and we were asked nonsensical “bum” questions that morphed into one big:
“Would you like it if your grandma was mugged by a bum with a knife or if you had a bum urinate and defecate on your hydrangeas or camped out or passed out or shot up or had sex in your yard or begged you for money or blocked your way every time you wanted to walk down the street or showed your children that it’s okay to expect a handout without working?”
The Free Press took a couple more years to happen–but that was the day it occurred to me we had to do more. Then, as now, we were all volunteers, with lives to live, mouths to feed, and people to care for.
I didn’t know it that fateful day in OB, but I was sick. One year later I was in Mercy Hospital getting tubes inserted into various orifices. Stage 4 laryngeal cancer was the enemy I was fighting. The chemo made me stupid. The radiation made me sick. And it was all for naught. Losing my vocal chords via surgery was the last option.
Five years and five weeks later I’m still here, so the good doctors at UCSD must have done something right, Though I would eventually regain some limited vocalization through a prosthetic, the keyboard has become my primary voice. ProTip: Unless you adore the sound of gargling over the phone, don’t ask me to call you.
Enough about me. I’m sure you’re just dying for the tour of our cavernous lair… …except there isn’t one. The editors all work from home. There are weeks where we don’t even see each other. We do email and text up a storm at the drop of a punctuation mark. And hug a lot when we do see each other.
The San Diego Free Press has no office. There’s no clock to punch, no payroll, and no bosses to please. There are no editors informed by press releases to dispatch reporters to cover stories.
It’s just us–eight people who meet once a month to discuss ideas, a handful of us who make it happen daily, and the always fluctuating number of people willing to put their observations into a post.
We are not monetized. There are no ads, no sponsored content, nor links to hinky stuff not related to our purpose. We finally did open a bank account after the first two years, just to keep the paperwork orderly. Someday that might change, but for right now we see no point in competing with other outlets for money.
We do accept donations. You can donate through PayPal here. The money gets used to pay for technical services, hosting, social media promotion, and occasional coffee klatches with our contributors.
You can support us in other ways. Subscribe. It’s free. You can choose what you want to be sent to you. We don’t share your email address. And if you move or get mad at us, there is an ‘unsubscribe’ link at the bottom of every email. Also, take a second to “like” our stories in social media. The algorithm gods give us more exposure when people interact with stories.
We’re now committed to all-original content. Over the years, a bit more than one-quarter of our posts have been “sourced”–with permission– from other publications, including many with a national audience.
As of this week, we’re narrowing our focus to original material (some of our writers will publish on several sites, and that’s okay) and information from local activist organizations.
It could be you. The Free Press has roughly three dozen people who contribute posts, photos, cartoons, and ideas. See our FAQ for new writers and talk with your doctor to see if the San Diego Free Press is right for you.
While we welcome (but do not print) press releases, we’re not doing this to repost PR blurbs for commercial enterprises. And we are totally uninterested in sponsored content of any kind.
If you are a progressively oriented activist or research organization and want your information to appear here, try writing something up that doesn’t sound like a press release. We do not have reporters in a traditional sense to dispatch to cover events or editors who can be pitched on stories. (The above two paragraphs are copied from the tabs appearing at the top of the page in the desktop version of this entity.)
As of this morning, we’ve published 6,980 stories and 28,978 comments. Over the years, we’ve set an increasingly higher bar on what comments get approved. Though I doubt some of our critics will believe this, our standards for approval don’t include agreeing with the commenter.
We’ve also had 299 attempts to hack the site since midnight Saturday; many of those are automated bots looking for financial data. (Ha!) It’s likely a few have more nefarious intentions. Patty Jones (who created the site, BTW) and Rich Kacmar are keeping an eye on the bad guys for us.
We know who you are. Well, sorta. Our readers are more likely to be women, highly educated, 35+ years old, lean Democratic, and at least interested in activism. Most of our readers reside in San Diego City/County, followed by Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Riverside, and San Francisco. And a growing majority of our roughly one million readers annually read us on mobile devices.
Free Press writers have won 22 awards from the San Diego Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists over the years.
From Day One it’s been okay to make mistakes around here, especially if there’s a lesson we all can learn from it. The two unbreakable rules we have concern showing respect for one another and being as honest as you can.
Starting with the scandals surrounding former Mayor Bob Filner and continuing through the various political fights right through the thickets surrounding union leadership in San Diego, we’ve made choices. Some of those choices have been very popular (or not), like the progressive voter guides.
Sometimes those choices were not easy to make. I’m sure lots of people think we were/are/will be wrong. Sometimes those choices evolved through discussion and debate. Sometimes we all didn’t necessarily agree, but respected majority rule where serious issues were concerned.
The election of the Orange Cheeto made the future of San Diego Free Press come into focus, a future involving serving as a resource and platform for activism in the fight for social justice and equality.
I stay awake at night wondering how we can do more; get more people involved, and especially broaden the diversity of our contributors and content. This is a fragile being we’ve created. Its future depends on growing our connections throughout San Diego.
Anyway, thanks for reading. I love getting up in the morning to write up the news, even when my jokes sometimes fall flat. Now I’m off to report on yet another political conflict that could determine the future of our city.
Looking for some action? Check out the Weekly Progressive Calendar, published every Friday in this space, featuring Demonstrations, Rallies, Teach-ins, Meet Ups and other opportunities to get your activism on.
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I read the Daily Fishwrap(s) so you don’t have to… Catch “the Starting Line” Monday thru Friday right here at San Diego Free Press (dot) org. Send your hate mail and ideas to DougPorter@SanDiegoFreePress.Org Check us out on Facebook and Twitter.