48 Shills: The myth of independent media, part two

Scant seconds after arriving to 48 Hills, a donation plea pops up with a message. “We need independent, local news sources featuring diverse, progressive voices more than ever.” Truer words, never spoken. Unfortunately for visitors to their website, and San Franciscans in general, 48 Hills fails on all counts. Like their big siblings at The Guardian, 48 Hills, specifically founders Tim Redmond and Marke Bieschke, are fervent protesters of injustice in the streets while being the coziest of collaborators between the broadsheets.

Redmond launched 48 Hills soon after his disputed departure as Editor and Publisher of the San Francisco Bay Guardian (SFBG) and Bieschke joined him soon after the SFBG’s demise. 48 Hills’ focus remained identical to that of the SFBG’s under Redmond and Bieschke’s leadership, focusing and championing politicians and causes favored by San Francisco’s good-cop “progressive” Democrats, and opposing anything put forth by the bad-cop “moderates.” Instead of being critical cheerleaders, however, Redmond and Bieschke, in addition to Redmond protege Steven Jones who replaced him at SFBG, all too often eschewed independence in favor of being a cog in Democratic party machinery.

In 2014, good-cop Democratic favorite David Campos ran against bad-cop Democrat extraordinaire, and then San Francisco Board of Supervisors president, David Chiu for California State Assembly. Campos, arguably the Board’s most liberal member, picked up a curious endorsement from Mark Farrell, arguably the Board’s most conservative member. 48 Hills wrote it as ideological opposites whose mutual respect overcame their differences, but the truth was far more labyrinthine. Farrell desperately wanted Board President as a stepping stone to a future mayoral run, and essentially threw his support to Campos’ Assembly campaign in exchange for Campos’ vote for Board President should Chiu win and vacate the president’s chair. In stepped the Bay Guardian to sweeten the deal by endorsing Farrell in his Board re-election bid. Endorsing Farrell would’ve been anathema only a year previous, yet now it was simply one means to an end of getting their crony Campos elected to State Assembly. In addition to Farrell, the SFBG also endorsed bad-cop Democratic incumbents Scott Wiener and Katy Tang, over progressive challengers in the races of Farrell and Wiener. So much for the need for independent, progressive voices.

SFBG avoided endorsing one bad-cop Democratic incumbent, though. In mostly nonwhite D10, they endorsed Tony Kelly, a white man, over Malia Cohen, a Black woman, because Kelly’s ideas were “more principled, well-researched, and closely aligned with progressive principles.” The progressive principles challenging Farrell and Wiener, both white men, held no influence over SFBG’s endorsement decision yet out those principles came as excuse for handing representation of a nonwhite district to a white man. Welcome to diversity when Redmond and Bieschke are calling the shots.

On July 31, 2013, SFBG held a community forum to address Redmond’s recent departure as well as take comments and questions on SFBG’s immediate future and direction. In the above clip, a speaker asks about newsroom diversity and is met with a very flustered response by Bieschke:

Speaker: I have a question about issues of diversity and as far as I can tell in the media landscape of San Francisco there are very few people of color who are decision makers, who decide what goes on in the paper. I think that debacle that happened over at KTVU is somewhat reflective of what happens when you don’t have a diverse newsroom. So I just like to ask, what do you plan as far as not only coverage, but having people of color, particularly African Americans. San Francisco has the largest Asian American population per capita in the United States, and in the overall media I don’t see any Asian American columnists on the Chronicle, the Examiner or most of the other papers on a regular basis.

Marke B: That’s a wonderful question and I think we can answer you, address that during the Q&A portion and also I don’t want Diamond Dave or, or anyone who shares his feelings to think that we’ve avoided what he mentioned. I think we will be able to address that better during the Q&A portion. We just kinda want to hear thoughts now, so that we can really let it rip during the Q&As. So thank you so much for raising that valuable point.

Spoiler: They didn’t come back and “let it rip during the Q&As.” Not only did Bieschke and SFBG avoid further discussion that night, they avoided newsroom diversity altogether. Almost a year later, SFBG was on its soapbox (rightfully) accusing tech of doing nothing to address staff diversity after almost a year of inactivity on its own newsroom diversity. When I inquired into the state of SFBG’s newsroom diversity, one of their intrepid reporters replied with this:

Not exactly holding themselves to the highest standard, are they? This flippant approach to diversity is reflected in 48 Hills’ content, which is written from the perspective of, and specifically for, white liberal Democrats. Anything happening outside the NPR/MSNBC ivory tower of white progressivism will most likely be overlooked by 48 Hills, or be deemed too insignificant to post.

48 Hills’ identity as independent local media took another hit recently as it remained silent during a surge of media attention surrounding Enrique Pearce and his latest court appearance. Normally Redmond would jump at the chance to skewer someone so integral to Ed Lee’s success, but Pearce also helped elect current good-cop Democrats such as Jane Kim, Norman Yee and Sandra Lee Fewer. Access and funding trumped public service, and no 2016 mention of Pearce can be easily found on the site. I reached out to 48 Hills on Twitter regarding their lack of 2017 Pearce coverage and was told “a longer piece should be up this week.” Longer than what, I’m not sure, but regardless no piece appeared last week; in its place, wall-to-wall coverage of immigration protests at SFO. At a time when Democrats local to national are calling for unity, no infighting and all energy focused on Trump and the GOP, 48 Hills marched to the beat like a good soldier and protected the Democratic shield while contributing to ongoing media silence/indifference that will soon allow a child predator to secure his freedom without any meaningful punishment.

We certainly do need independent, local news sources featuring diverse, progressive voices more than ever. That position has gone unfilled in San Francisco for far too long.

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