Public Comment

The Daily Planet: An Appreciation and an Appeal for Support

By Richard Fabry
Wednesday March 04, 2009 - 06:57:00 PM

I’ve been especially monitoring the letters and commentaries since the O’Malleys have made public their need for financial support from the community for their newspaper. 

Berkeley raised, I started reading the Daily Planet over four years ago, after I had recently sold my international magazine I had published for 18 years (it started as a partnership). It was a zine covering a small industry, too small, various publishing experts admonished, to support a viable magazine. But through good timing, vision, diligence, and hard work, it worked—funded on less than a shoestring. 

After 18 years of deadlines pressures, and the tensions and balancing act of serving subscribers, advertisers, and later an association, I became burnt out and sold it when competition came onto the scene. 

I can’t express in words how inspired I became when I first discovered the Berkeley Daily Planet. Its candid in-depth local news coverage and public opinions motivated me to go and witness for myself various city and university public meetings and forums, join several local community groups, and otherwise immerse myself in the Berkeley scene. I also benefited from scouring the community event listings and went to numerous and social, environmental, health-related events. 

Slowly my burnout turned into pride in my own past publishing accomplishment. I began realizing and acknowledging to myself how much I had learned in those 18 years of living the pressures of the publishing world. 

When I look at the reactions from Planet readers to its plight, so far I’ve been disappointed but not surprised.  

This area has a reputation for being “progressive,” whatever that means.  

In actuality, I frequently see a handful of passionate and dedicated citizen activists arduously promoting whatever cause(s) close to their hearts, too often with just a smattering of support from the community. This is not meant as a judgment or indictment—I realize that many are dealing with the struggles of having enough time and resources to live a full and balanced life, so we all have to prioritize our activities carefully. 

Satisfying all factions—especially in a town as diverse and vociferous and this one—is impossible. I bet that the O’Malleys would love to have more time to enjoy themselves rather than dealing with all the pressures they endure publishing while watching their nest egg dwindle. 

• The Planet becomes an easy target for some local politicos who don’t like and are not used to being scrutinized so closely. It makes them uncomfortable. They would like the paper to be more so-called “professional,” less “biased.” 

Have you ever witnessed a local press conference, especially one put together by the city or university? Too often there’s a tangible, discernable, and tacit agreement that certain queries just won’t be queried. It’s just part of the accepted culture of the more mainstream media news outlets. Other than for the occasional sensational expose, the media self-edits, most easily done by not even attending or covering obscure committee meetings, or press conferences. That’s why too much news is tinged with influence from “official sources” or PR departments.  

The New York Times, which has a local following here—are they supposed to be the benchmark for “professionally reporting”? Certainly their initial coverage of the lead up to the Iraq war show is just one example of how vulnerable they are to manipulation and human error. It’s hard to find many examples of financially viable news outlets especially of any significant size which consistently have high ideals and quality reporting. If you’d like to gain insights about huge problems with the media, view the outstanding documentary Orwell Rolls in His Grave (2003). 

• The commercial and business community thinks twice about advertising in the Planet because, well, the Planet might publish front-page news articles exposing a particular business’ controversy, or include unflattering commentaries and letters to the editor, or all of the above.  

• Some readers or groups may get peeved when the Planet publishes letters or commentaries contrary to their own views or those that they consider “politically incorrect.” I find being offered such a wide array of opinions and viewpoints stimulating and helps me to form my own. 

For a paper who some attack for their “inaccuracies,” it’s an interesting fact that the Berkeley Daily Planet has won numerous awards for the quality of its reporting. Especially when you realize that this is all done on a limited budget and a very limited staff. Money helps when you’d like to have the luxury of extra time and staff for further follow up and fact checking, while chasing the next deadline. When you consider their considerable constraints, they have done exceptionally well. 

It’s tempting to entertain the concept of a non-profit entity run by dedicated core group to become a vehicle for local reporting, and this could happen. But in my own life, the most dynamic, inspiring, experiences were ones based on the vision and ideals of one or two people, not by groups run by consensus. Sure, visionaries are going to have their set of values and biases, but if you have a strong sense of self and a critical mind, you can compensate for this.  

In an era when even publishing stalwarts like the San Francisco Chronicle could go under, it’s especially essential to have a locally-produced paper which brings us together. There’s nothing like a local newspaper to help create a sense of community and identity, in addition to providing much-needed information—especially in their fourth-estate watch-dog capacities. 

I urge readers who have benefited from this newspaper to make financial contributions to their Fund for Local Reporting. They now even make it easier by also offering their own Save the Planet merchandise.  

I’d like to see less nitpicking and more acknowledgment, appreciation, and support for the high ideals and Herculean efforts the O’Malleys have put in since 2003 to create and run a such a much-needed community newspaper.  


Richard Fabry is a Point Richmond resident.