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 Jim Miller
This week marks the fifth anniversary of the San Diego Free Press and that’s something to celebrate. I first started writing for the OB Rag and then subsequently became part of the birth of the SD Free Press because I loved the way that those outlets both paid homage to the legacy of San Diego’s countercultural press and continued its legacy into the digital age.
As part a key part of the local New Left and counterculture in the sixties and early seventies, Doug Porter, Frank Gormlie, and others offered a space for radical voices and cultural threads that were not acceptable in the mainstream, commercial media of the time.
In fact, as I document in Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Never See, “while the San Diego Left and counterculture were both quite small compared to their northern counterparts in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, they inspired the wrath of local elites, the police, and right-wing fanatics with alarming regularity. From 1969 to 1972, at least 35 separate incidents of terrorism were committed against the two alternative papers and/or local radicals or countercultural institutions.”
From 1969 to 1972, at least 35 separate incidents of terrorism were committed against the two alternative papers and/or local radicals or countercultural institutions.”
So, being part of those early countercultural papers was not just a bit of journalistic rebellion, it was an act of political courage. And while times have changed significantly and San Diego as a whole has become far more diverse and progressive than it was back then the desert that is local journalism, particularly progressive local media, persists.
The fact is that the OB Rag and the San Diego Free Press are still the only overtly progressive, non-commercial media in San Diego, and we should be proud of that fact. We are a forum that has an open door to activist groups and unions, but one whose editorial content and direction is not dictated by them. Hence, we are able to provide a space for both activist news and announcements but also a critical interrogation of the local Democratic party and the progressive movement as a whole.
In our era of ever more corporate consolidation of mass media, even the alternative press isn’t that alternative anymore. Thus, the existence of non-commercial media that, unlike public radio and TV, doesn’t even bother to beg rich angels (however liberal they might be) for money is a blessing as you can know that nothing you read in the San Diego Free Press is designed to not offend someone. Nor are we wedded to the false pieties of the more respectable press.
Why does this matter? As I wrote back in 2012 in my tribute to the late Alexander Cockburn:
If the San Diego Free Press can learn anything from the likes of Cockburn and [Gore] Vidal, it is that we should unapologetically leave the sham of objective media coverage to the commercial outlets—mainstream and “alternative.” Progressive media is only worth a damn when it has the courage to think bad thoughts and consistently afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. It’s not our job to prove how fair we are to the right or to make the Democrats feel better about selling us out. Our job should be to call out bullshit from a principled progressive position, not to substitute snarky hip for real creative resistance. We need to have the courage to be utopian and not let stale convention in the guise of pragmatism limit the range of our thinking. Otherwise, we’ll just be more information glut. Yawn.
So, happy anniversary San Diego Free Press! Here’s to a long future of continuing to piss people off.