Daily Planet Staff
This morning – unless our broadcast brethren pulled a fast one on us – no TV cameras filmed the production of this newspaper. No morning news show will send anyone to our offices to do a live remote.
This week, no reporters called up asking us what our agenda was, or what kind of newspaper we were trying to become, or if we thought we’d survive another six weeks.
What a difference a year makes.
Today marks the start of the Berkeley Daily Planet’s second year of publication, and our staff sees it as a reason to celebrate.
You see, when we launched this newspaper on April 7, 1999, a lot of people in Berkeley doubted we’d succeed. For most of them, it was nothing personal. They simply understood that in a day and age when newspapers are losing circulation, becoming increasingly consolidated and finding themselves under new owners – you don’t have to look too far around the Bay to find examples – it’s rare for a new daily newspaper to succeed. Have we succeeded? In most respects, it’s not difficult to argue that we have. We ran 5,000 copies of the first issue a year ago. The issue you’re holding is one of 9,500 copies printed today. We started at eight pages a day. Now we regularly run 16 to 24 pages each issue.
And by and large, our readers say we’re achieving our goal of presenting community news on a daily basis, and we’ve attempted to provide that news in a fair, balanced way.
Earlier this week, I sent out a round of e-mails and made some phone calls to a variety of community leaders, asking for their feedback on our first year. I asked them to tell us about the good, the bad and the ugly. The overwhelming response was that we’ve filled a void left behind in 1984, when the last community-focused daily newspaper closed in Berkeley.
Even people who don’t always see eye-to-eye on issues agreed on this one:
“The Berkeley Daily Planet has been a welcomed source of information in our community. Thanks for your coverage on the schools of Berkeley. I like to think the community is better informed,” responded Pamela Doolan, a member of the Berkeley Unified School Board.
“You burst on the Berkeley scene a year ago with energy, panache, and erudition. You are a great addition to our city and help tremendously to improve our public discourse and inform out citizens of the ‘doings’ around town. I am looking towards the day when you reach every household in Berkeley,” wrote Terry Doran, vice president of the school board.
Are we gloating? Well, you could call it that. Or you could call it pride at how we’ve been received by the community. The way I see it, if we weren’t doing the job we should be doing, we wouldn’t be growing in size or circulation.
Has this first year been perfect? Of course not. We’ve made our share of mistakes – like the time I referred to the California attorney general in a headline as “Lungren,” even though Bill Lockyer had already been in office for over a year.
And we have room to grow.
On Thursday, I called up a journalist whose name and observations have appeared in several other publications’ stories about us over the last year. I had never spoken with Peter Sussman before, either in person or over the phone. But I wanted to hear his feedback on how our first year has gone. I was seeking a critique, not criticism.
Sussman, who worked for 29 years at the Chronicle and has been active in the Society of Professional Journalists, earned a certain dubious distinction around our office in March 1999, when he was quoted as saying, “It may well take Superman to put out a daily paper in Berkeley.”
(For the record, Superman has never worked here, although we did employ Clark Kent for a while. But we had to let him go. He kept leaving the office, saying he had some kind of “emergency” to tend to, and he seemed to have this odd obsession with phone booths. Am I sick of the Clark Kent jokes? Guess.)
Sussman offered a rather balanced critique of our performance, echoing other people’s theme – we’ve filled a void – but providing other observations, as well.
“We have had absolutely no way of learning most of the things that are covered in your paper,” he said. “Certainly, it’s getting better as you go along.”
But at times, it’s noticeable that many of our staff members aren’t longtime Berkeley residents, said Sussman, who has lived here since late 1963. For instance, our KPFA coverage last summer – which helped to solidify our role in the community – didn’t adequately reach into the old roots of the conflict, which extend well beyond the by-law changes made by the Pacifica board early in 1999, he said.
And sometimes neighborhood issues aren’t covered much until the complaints and concerns are heard by an “official” body, whether it’s the City Council or a commission.
He did offer praise for our coverage of freedom of information issues, which are a high priority for Sussman. He said it was noteworthy that when we’ve encountered problems getting information or documents from public officials and agencies, we’re told our readers.
“It’s important for a newspaper to help readers see not only what they can learn, but also what they’re forbidden to learn,” he said. “It’s important to say, ‘Here’s what we could get, and here’s what they won’t tell us.’”
So, our first year has come to a close. Our second is just beginning. As a staff, we have just one thing to say: Thanks.
Oh, and keep reading, too.
Rob Cunningham is editor of the Berkeley Daily Planet.
He can be reached at email@example.com, and letters to the editor can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.