New Look, New Year, Same Goals By BECKY O'MALLEY, Editorial

Friday April 01, 2005

If the front page looks a bit brighter to you today, it’s because we’ve made a few small changes to what’s called “the flag” by newspapers insiders. The dictionary and many civilians still call it the masthead, but these days the pros seem to reserve that term for the place on the inside that lists the address and the staff. In any event, it’s that strip across the top of the paper that lets you know what you’re getting when you pick the paper up.  

We’ve made it a bit smaller, because these days we’ve got so many stories for the front pages, and so many fine photos, that we’ve been having trouble fitting everything in. That’s heresy in some press circles, where the tendency is for newspapers to contain ever-less copy under ever-larger headlines, but then we pride ourselves on doing things differently. We’ve lightened the lines in the flag, called “rules,” added color to our Planet Earth icon, and moved it up a bit so that it intersects a rule, causing, of course, bad jokes around the newsroom about how we like to “break the rules.”  

The change is timed to coincide with our second anniversary of publication, discussed at some length in this space just a week ago. We thought Saving the Planet was a big job when we launched this venture, but Running the Planet, twice a week whether you need it or not, turns out to be an even bigger job. Sometimes under pressure of just getting papers out on the stands we’re tempted to lose sight of why we’re doing this, so we thought it would be a good idea to re-visit what we said when we started.  

Here are the last few paragraphs of our April 1 editorial of two years ago: 

“Our agenda is a simple one: Tell people what’s going on, give them a paper to discuss it in, and trust that they’ll make the right decisions. The last few months have tested our belief in the wisdom of an informed public. One of the most discouraging aspects of the country’s turn toward the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive aggression is not how poorly it’s been covered in print. In fact, the failed effort to head off the Iraq war has produced an outpouring of some of the best prose this country has ever seen. Molly Ivins, Norman Mailer, Henrick Hertzberg, Tony Lewis, Jon Carroll. There’s a seemingly endless supply of cogent argument from articulate writers, and it doesn’t seem to have worked. 

“But we still want to do what we can with what we’ve got. Local coverage well done can still give local citizens the information they need to take responsibility for the actions of local government. How this translates to the national and international levels is a discussion that should be going on right now. It can take place in a newspaper like this, among other places. Joe Liebling, a cynical commentator on the press in the middle of the last century, used to say that the press was free for those who owned one. Now that we seem to own one, we want to share it with Berkeley citizens, so that together we might be able to figure out how to save the world. 

“And what better place for a free press than Berkeley? Berkeley was chartered on April Fools’ Day and named for a philosopher. Carol Denney likes to remind us that Berkeley was the home of the Free Speech Movement because of the University of California’s determined opposition to free speech, not because free speech was protected here. Berkeley needs a newspaper which remembers its complex and paradoxical past, and which understands and accepts its responsibility for shaping the future.”  

Have we done what we set out to do? Well, we haven’t gotten any further in stopping the federal government’s insane Iraq expedition. We do think we’ve held to the course described in the last paragraph. 

We’re particularly proud of having just about ended the Beserkely-only coverage of Berkeley which two years ago was a staple of the metro dailies. We’ve printed the real news about what’s going on around here, and the big dailies have been shamed into picking up our stories—often, of course, a few days later and with their own slant.  

But we weren’t aware when we started of all the unreported news outside of Berkeley. As the megalopolis expands, stories about what goes on in Richmond and San Pablo and El Cerrito and Albany and all of Oakland’s neighborhoods are increasingly important to all of our readers, no matter where they live. We’ve spotlighted casino frenzy and building on toxic waste to the north, school mismanagement to the south, and bending zoning rules to enrich speculators all over the East Bay, especially right here in Berkeley. Has coverage changed anything? It’s too early to tell—citizens throughout our readership area are taking responsibility for the actions of local government, but successful change is never quick. 

What’s next? Well, we’re still hoping to break even financially. We expect our new real estate insert to make a big splash. Our “Dining Out” advertising section has become a colorful and appealing addition to the center of the paper. Retail advertising depends to a certain extent on the health of local retail, and conversely local merchants should take advantage of advertising in papers like ours. We’re sorry to see a well-stocked music store closing its Berkeley downtown location, but we can’t help thinking that if they’d advertised in the Planet they might have had more customers. When you shop, tell the stores that they should be advertising in the Planet, for their own sake as well as ours.  

As always, keep those cards and letters coming. The difference between our opinion pages and most blogs is that our writers seem to take considerably more care with their writing than bloggers. We’re very proud of the high quality of our opinion contributors, and we thank you for your support.