So after almost 53 years as publisher of the Straight, I’ve decided to pack it in and turn it over to a new owner, MediaCentral. Although I will still be hanging around the office a while longer.
And Yolanda and I couldn’t be happier with this new owner. That’s because these are tough times for newspapers, especially for the Straight. But perhaps it’s destiny that we will survive longer than so many others who have fallen, along with so many lost jobs in the media in recent years.
There was a time when the Straight was an early member of a revolutionary movement. It was in the '60s when we were part of the Underground Press Syndicate, a loose, anarchistic worldwide network of 250 papers that was operated out of New York by Tom Forçade. The Straight was the only Underground Press paper that survived those wild days and the suppression of the free press during the Vietnam War. And of course, we survived the peaceful Gastown Smoke-In, which was attacked without warning by club-wielding police on horseback and later dubbed the "Gastown Riot".
I say all this because I think some of the same revolutionary spirit lives in MediaCentral, only in a smarter, more constructive sense. And these are different days. MediaCentral is working to build a network of alternative newspapers capable of battling and disrupting and growing amid the most dominant tech players today.
We’ve been through tough times before, starting with the very first issue, back in May of 1967. The mayor was a narcissistic individual who loved nothing more than seeing himself on TV as often as possible. He saw our first issue with its hippies on the cover, and figured going to war against the Straight could help him win at least two more terms in office. Sound familiar? And he did win those terms. The very next day, he sent two police detectives to the office of our printer to threaten the owner with closure if he printed our second issue. But Vancouver had other printers who believed in freedom of the press. And we went through most of them, with police threats following close behind.
Eventually, we ran out of local printers. Then we found a printer in Victoria who had no qualms about printing the paper. By this time our circulation was up to 60,000, so I had to hire a big truck and take the ferry to Victoria with one or two staff members to pick up the paper. We weren’t going down easy.
Now the mayor could no longer threaten our printer because Victoria was outside his jurisdiction. So he raised his game by coming up with dozens of trumped-up criminal offences to charge us with. Fastforward to 1972 and 52 criminal charges later. By this time, the courts had grown tired of adjudicating the mayor’s seemingly endless list of “offences", and him losing every case. And so were the voters. In December of 1972, he retired from politics and was replaced by a moderate mayor, Art Phillips. The previous mayor had won his war, but slow and steady won our race.
I’ve received several offers to buy the Straight over the years but none of them made sense to me until I met the CEO of MediaCentral. Here is a group that appreciates the contributions that the Georgia Straight has made to local independent journalism and the cultural lives of our readers—the people they like to call the creative class.
Most of all, they have the enthusiasm and the resources and the revolutionary thinking to take the paper to greater heights. MediaCentral is preparing to fund the purchase of dozens of alternative papers in Canada and the U.S., each one serving its own unique community, and uniting them under one alternative umbrella.
Toronto NOW and the Georgia Straight are the first two such papers. All of our current staff will be coming along for the ride for this new beginning in the history of the Straight. But this won’t be another bland megamerger, far from it. Each paper will retain its own identity and editorial freedom, just as the Georgia Straight has now, and our future achievements will be more ambitious than ever.
So please join Yolanda and me in welcoming our new publisher as of February 28, Media Central.