The San Diego Free Press will soon be gone. And with its departure, San Diego will be losing a precious space—the only unapologetically progressive outlet in the city.
We had a good run through some incredibly challenging times locally and nationally and did enough excellent work to irritate a fair number of politicians and local power brokers.
That’s worth celebrating.
As I wrote back in the beginning of this endeavor in a 2012 column on the late Alexander Cockburn:
If the San Diego Free Press can learn anything from the likes of Cockburn and 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.
I think we managed to hold true to this spirit because we had folks like our late great friend Bob Dorn cheering us on and offering his own sage advice as he did in response to that column:
Thanks, Jim Miller, for reaching quickly to the core of what is more and more becoming evident: we’re all in an almost juvenile pursuit of approval, right and left, and that most of the time we’re repeating ourselves. I knew Vidal and he had no hesitation calling me out when I didn’t know what I was talking about. Bullshit is bullshit; wherever it finds a home it perverts and redirects communication.
And good on you for reminding us that us lefties ought to wear “the mantle with pride.”
So we did what we could, imperfectly to be sure, to open a place for political and cultural discussion that was welcoming to opinions that were outside of the mainstream of San Diego’s stale business as usual. And maybe, just maybe, we did a little something to change things.
More than anything else, however, the San Diego Free Press was a gift.
Over the years, I was quite frequently advised by colleagues and other fellow writers that it was a mistake to perform the countless number of hours of labor it took to put out a weekly column for the SDFP.
By “giving it away for free” I was either being exploited, wasting my talents, or undercutting the economics that support professional journalists. Take your pick.
But all of this advice missed the mark. The fact is that giving it away was precisely the point.
Margaret Atwood, in one of her sharp commentaries on Lewis Hyde’s work, outlines the logic of “the gift” for artists in a way that I think applies to the writers and editors of the SD Free Press, all of whom never earned a nickel for years of creative labor:
By the pressures of the market economy we live in, [Hyde] says, we’ve been fooled into believing that there is only one way in which things are exchanged: through money transactions, or buying and selling. Yet on some level we know there’s another economy at work in human societies: the gift economy, which has quite different rules and consequences . . . Money transactions create no bonds of love or gratitude and imply no obligations. Gifts, on the other hand, are reciprocal and also emotionally loaded: Market exchanges move through the bank account, gifts through the heart. Where the gift circulates, spiritual life flourishes. All societies exist in both economies, says Hyde, but each tends to value one economy over the other. Our own society has overemphasized the market and denied the gift, and the result is stagnant wealth on the one hand and spiritual death and material poverty on the other.
Thus, while I have made money writing elsewhere, some of the writing that I value most I did for this outlet, for nothing and everything.
Thanks to everyone.
In solidarity, Jim
Note: Jim will continue to give it away for free over at the OB Rag starting in January.