By: M.L. Stein
Hostilities break out when Navy starts a paper; San Diego’s
existing military papers charge unfair restrictions and dirty tricks
PUBLISHERS OF THREE privately owned military newspapers serving San Diego’s vast Navy community are hopping mad over what they call official restrictions on their distribution that work in favor of a new Navy newspaper.
Heating the conflict is an unusual alliance: The Navy’s weekly, the Compass, is published in partnership with a general-interest daily, the Oceanside Blade-Citizen, which takes revenue in exchange for selling advertising and providing printing, prepress and editorial services.
The three weekly papers insist they welcome competition from the Compass but complain that the nearly unlimited access they once had to San Diego’s seven naval bases is being cut drastically.
One publisher, Richard Matz of the Military Press, vowed to go to court if the Navy doesn’t change its position.
Sara Hagerty, owner and publisher of the 34-year-old Navy Dispatch, has sought help from her congressional representative.
Pat Cavanaugh, publisher of the Chula Vista Star-News, which publishes Homeport ? the third “civilian enterprise” paper, according to Navy parlance ? fumed in an interview: “The military is supposed to protect our freedom, but what are they protecting? Not our First Amendment rights. We’re not at war. The bases should be open to us.”
All three blame Capt. Mark Neuhart, Compass executive editor, for curtailing their distribution. Neuhart denied the charge, saying each base commander has had controlled distribution of outside newspapers since the Compass debuted in July.
Neuhart explained the Compass is an amalgamation of seven newspapers that formerly served individual bases, which together house 84,000 uniformed personnel. San Diego and Norfolk, Va., are the two largest Navy bases in the country.
Neuhart said each base will have “from four to 10 locations” for the civilian enterprise papers, depending on what each base commander decides.
“The commander has the right to screen any publication appearing on the base,” he said.
Hagerty, whose father, a retired Navy public relations officer, started the Navy Dispatch in 1961, rejected Neuhart’s account.
“Neuhart is putting pressure on public affairs officers to influence base commanders,” she asserted.
She said Capt. M.K. Collins of the 32nd St. Naval Station told her the Dispatch would be limited to three drop sites on the base, a reduction from 20.
Matz said the Navy is cutting his distribution points ? including racks, post exchanges, bowling alleys and credit unions ? to 30, from 1,000.
“This will pretty much put small companies like ours out of business,” Cavanaugh said of the reductions. “This was the worst time in the world for the Navy to consolidate its papers, given California’s bad economy. This is empire building on Neuhart’s part.”
The outside publishers said they are also rankled by what they allege are dirty sales tactics by Blade-Citizen ad reps, who have told advertisers that the civilian weeklies are going out of business.
“That’s bullshit,” retorted Blade-Citzen publisher Thomas F. Missett. “I have a 28-year reputation in this business, and we do not resort to those tactics. The product is selling itself.”
Missett said the Blade-Citzen supplies computer equipment to the Compass and editors to work with Navy editors.
The Blade-Citizen, located about 35 miles north of San Diego, also publishes the Scout, the newspaper for the big Camp Pendleton Marine base nearby. Its parent company is South Coast Newspapers Inc.
Neuhart, who was an AP stringer in college, called the advertising accusations “unfounded or exaggerated.”
“We are not targeting the three civilian newspapers,” he declared.
The officer said the consolidation of the seven base papers came about because of the inferior quality of their editorial content, layout and design.
“They were uneven at best, and were not serving the information needs of the San Diego Navy community.”
The Compass is zoned for each base and does not carry alcohol or tobacco ads.
“I think it was a helluva good idea,” Hagerty said of the consolidation. “I don’t mind the competition. What I do mind is taking away our distribution points.”
She said she was told “flat-out” by the public affairs officer at the Miramar Naval Air Station that the base is cutting her paper’s availability “at the direction of Capt. Neuhart.” Hagerty added that she has formally protested the action to Admiral Jeremy Boorda, chief of naval operations.
“The Navy is taking away our rights,” said Matz, who said he was informed by letter that a Navy review found that the Military Press “is being placed in unauthorized locations.”
“We’ve been on the bases for 18 years,” Matz said. “The Compass says it’s the official paper now. Official what? The Navy has clearly overstepped its boundaries.”
Jackson is a free-lance journalist who teaches at Stillman College, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
?( The Compass joins three other weeklies is the battle for 84,000 potential readers at seven Navy bases) [Photo & Caption]
?( The Navy Dispatch, among three military weeklies to protest restrictions imposed on their distribution to Navy bases since the Navy started its own papr.) [Photo & Caption]