By: Mark Fitzgerald
When Bruce B. Brugmann and his wife Jean Dibble arrived in San Francisco a year ahead of 1967’s Summer of Love and the heyday of underground New Left papers, their mission was to launch an alternative newspaper that would challenge and compete with the city dailies ? or, as Brugmann still calls them, the “monopoly combine.”
Brugmann brags that the San Francisco Bay Guardian was the first-ever true alternative west of the Mississippi, maybe even the Hudson. And he frets ? again, with some justification ? that the Guardian is among the last crusading “progressive” alt-papers left standing in a glut of demographically targeted marketing vehicles. “Jean and I are almost anachronisms,” he says.
Love him or hate him, and plenty of San Franciscans line up on either side, Editor/Publisher Brugmann has taken the Guardian from the prototype to the archetype of the politically involved, locally focused alternative newspaper that’s an alert and occasionally rabid watchdog.
Back in 1966, the “monopoly combine” in the Guardian’s line of fire was the joint operating agreement between the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle. The Guardian’s antitrust lawsuit eventually failed in court, but a lump-sum settlement financed the paper’s move from fortnightly to weekly publication.
Fast forward 40 years, and the Guardian was back in court last winter demanding, with partial success, that a judge order MediaNews Corp. and Hearst to publicly disclose documents in a businessman’s lawsuit accusing them of scheming to monopolize the Bay Area newspaper market. (The lawsuit was settled, with all sides claiming victory.)
During the decades in between, Brugmann and longtime Editor Tim Redmond have crusaded against Pacific Gas & Electric’s public power “swindle,” the “theft” of the closed Presidio military base, the “Manhattanization” of San Francisco’s skyline and, since the first drumbeats of war, against military involvement in Iraq.
“Bruce is a big guy physically, and he’s got a big personality,” observes Abe Peck, a pioneer underground publisher (Chicago Seed) who later wrote for Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy before turning academic. In this Web 2.0 era, Brugmann is a digital version of the classic hell-raising publisher. He seems to enjoy the anti-Brugmann blogs as much as his own (www.sfbg.com/blogs/bruce/).
“Every good newspaper man ought to be controversial,” the paper’s leader declares. Why don’t other publishers blog? “Because while they say they want to be close to their readers, they really don’t.”
The Guardian stays close to all of San Francisco, its bohemia and its establishment ? in-your-face close.