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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Waiting

Posted By on Wed, Feb 27, 2008 at 2:56 PM

As closing arguments near, The Snitch has time to ruminate.

By Andy Van De Voorde

As The Snitch was killing time at his one-desk courthouse bureau, tidying up the place while awaiting tomorrow's closing arguments in the Bay Guardian's predatory pricing lawsuit against the Weekly, he noticed that the Guardian was already speaking of the case in momentous tones.

Guardian executive editor Tim Redmond wrote Tuesday that the "outcome could impact the future of the alternative press," and claimed that alt-weekly publishers across the land were eagerly awaiting the verdict.


This is a convenient fiction for the Guardian: The notion that it is leading some sort of communal crusade rather than simply trying to cash in by sinking its hand into what it repeatedly calls the "deep pockets" of Weekly parent company Village Voice Media (formerly New Times).

The Snitch hasn't heard of a single alt-weekly publisher who's tuned in to the trial, other than Brugmann pal Bill Johnson of Palo Alto Weekly fame, who sat through much of the case and then on Tuesday made his bed with the Guardian by calmly suggesting that predatory pricing schemes happen "all the time."

Johnson also told the jury that, while the content of daily papers can easily be cannibalized by Web sites, the content of alt-weeklies is so precious and unique that nobody on the Internet can hope to touch it.

The publisher's comments were then cited happily by Redmond as evidence of the Guardian's argument that Web sites pose no threat to its fortune.

Unless, of course, we're talking about the Web site you're reading now.

It may be true that long-form cover stories or other in-depth news reports are hard to duplicate.

But are Redmond and Johnson seriously suggesting that only alt-weeklies can provide listings or coverage of restaurants or nightclubs--both fields where weeklies sell a good chunk of their ads?

Perhaps in the Underwood-typewriter world where Brugmann and Redmond exist, such is the case.

But The Snitch humbly suggests that he's never heard of advertisers who wouldn't at least look at Internet options when attempting to publicize their businesses.

He also hasn't heard a single local advertiser step forward to suggest that he or she will gladly pay higher ad prices if it means extending the shelf life of Brugmann's increasingly moribund publication.

Higher ad prices for local businesses, after all, are the whole point of Brugmann's suit.

Regarding Redmond's suggestion that a particular slice of the American public is awaiting a verdict with bated breath, The Snitch will take a wait-and-see attitude.

He should note that he is unaware of any alt-weekly types who've voluntarily bookmarked blog coverage of the trial.

He has, however, heard from scores of them about the fact they've received unwanted spam emails from Brugmann.

Those missives include a handy library of Redmond's posts along with derogatory comments about your faithful correspondent.

Among alt-weekly types, The Snitch also hasn't seen anyone leap to defend the Guardian's oft-repeated argument that the Weekly should be made to "live within its means" by laying off writers.

That's the perverse position you end up taking if you buy the Guardian's argument that Village Voice Media shouldn't be allowed to spend more than Brugmann on editorial salaries because it's just not fair for a company to use profits earned in one market to help subsidize a paper in another market that's still striving for profitability.

Of course, believing that would mean believing the free-enterprise system is still preferable to Soviet-style government control of the media--even if that market-based approach enables the existence of creatures such as VVM.

And, by the way, which award-winning journalists should SF Weekly send to the unemployment line in order to satisfy Brugmann's and Redmond's desire to see their longtime ideological rival receive a public comeuppance?

The Snitch can only assume that Redmond's remark about "the future of the alternative press" was meant to suggest that other publishers might view a Guardian victory as a sign that they should follow Brugmann's lead and sue their own competitors in hopes of a big payday.

That would undoubtedly please Brugmann and Redmond to no end: Leaving behind a legacy of encouraging people not to compete in the marketplace, but to sue each other.

Which, after all, is what Brugmann has spent a good part of his career doing.

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