- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 25, 2005

Editor’s barbstarget merger

SAN FRANCISCO — This city has enjoyed its share of fierce newspaper clashes over the years. Reporters and columnists were stolen by competitors and then wooed back, and papers went to great lengths to knock down the literary yarns of their rivals.

But the quest for dominance by this city’s two leading alternative weekly papers, the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the SF Weekly, has reached angry and almost comic levels.

The feud’s latest incarnation is centered on the proposed merger of the Weekly’s parent company, Arizona-based New Times, and Village Voice Media, owner of the granddaddy of alternative weeklies, the Village Voice in New York.

The rhetorical brawling over the merger has intensified so that New Times Executive Editor Michael Lacey in a Weekly column in September called Bruce Brugmann, editor and publisher of the Bay Guardian, a “bull-goose loony.”

The Weekly’s Web site (www.sfweekly.com) also carries the Bruce Brugmann Watch, a list of critical articles accompanied by a drawing of Mr. Brugmann holding a “Public Power Now” sign and leading supporters over a cliff, lemmings-style.

Mr. Brugmann, 70, is suing the Weekly, accusing it of lowering advertising rates below cost to undermine competitors. New Times denies the charge.

He also is trying to thwart the New Times takeover of Village Voice, arguing that the resulting 17-paper chain and New Times’ cookie-cutter approach to urban weeklies is anathema to the journalistic mission of alternative newspapers.

“They don’t really like the city,” he said of New Times and the SF Weekly executives. “They don’t really belong here.”

The Weekly and the Bay Guardian, both tabloids, are distributed free. Their revenues are largely dependent on ads, and like their daily newspaper cousins, are being battered by the Internet and other free advertising vehicles.

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