Thursday, January 31, 2008

Editor takes the stand in SF Weekly trial

“I don’t like the SF Weekly because I don’t think they have a soul,” Bay Guardian Editor Tim Redmond told a jury yesterday in Day 2 of the Guardian vs. SF Weekly trial. We have two reports on his testimony — what the SF Weekly says he said and Redmond's report on what he said. Take your pick.

Redmond writes:
    The point I tried to make: The Guardian is a community institution. We care about this city; we care about people and issues and arts and culture, and whether you agree or disagree with our political stands, we're part of San Francisco -- and our readers have always known that. The Weekly is part of a chain based in Phoenix.

    And yeah, I think local ownership matters, and I think independent papers matter, and I think it sucks that the Weekly has been selling ads below cost and trying to hurt our ability to compete. The Weekly has been losing tons of money; when VVM/New Times owned the East Bay Express, that paper lost tons of money, too. Over the past 11 years, the chain has lost $25 million in the Bay Area. That's what happens when you sell ads for less than the cost of producing them.

    And it only works, and it only makes sense, if you have a big chain that can subsidize the losses in the hope that the locally owned competitor will be driven out of business. (That, by the way, is what this suit is all about.)"
The SF Weekly focused on Redmond's "withering" cross examination by Weekly lawyer Ivo Labar about the quality of journalism in his newspaper:
    Redmond responded to Labar, "I don’t want to see the Weekly go out of business. I want to see [Phoenix-based] New Times sell it to a local owner, like they did with the East Bay Express."

    However, that claim didn’t jibe with a memo Redmond wrote for the [Guardian's] board in 1997. Under the heading "Send the Guys from Phoenix Packing," Redmond listed long-term goals that included "forcing the New Times to admit they can’t make it in San Francisco" and "making them shut the SF Weekly down."

    In that same memo, Redmond admitted that the Guardian had problems that went beyond the unwelcome presence of New Times. His paper’s "leaders and decision makers were considerably older than our target audience," he noted, and the Weekly was already perceived as a hipper publication more likely to attract coveted younger readers.

    When Labar challenged him about the goal of "shutting the Weekly down" -- which is precisely what the Guardian is accusing the Weekly of -- Redmond backpedaled. "I guess at the end there I got a little carried away," he admitted."
The trial before Judge Marla Miller in Department 318 of San Francisco Superior Court is expected to last four to five weeks.

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