About Us

Contact Us

Monday, March 22, 2002

Quo vadis?

The Call at a crossroads - fight or flight?

By Betsey Culp

Quo Vadis is a clever game of political manipulations.

Game review

Have you noticed that there’s been a recent heightening of the noise level around here? I don’t mean an increase in traffic cacophony, although that’s probably happened, too. But I’m talking about the din of political battle, which should have subsided along with the battle itself, after the election.

Most of the noise is simply a distraction, the kind of unproductive yelling that daytime TV manipulators like Jerry Springer foster. It’s a verbal smokescreen – a screech-screen, if you will – that prevents engagement with real issues. It’s Frank Gallagher sounding off about Supervisor Chris Daly’s finances. It’s Willie Brown squawking about newspapers’ slovenly housekeeping. It’s any number of political columnists, right and left, enjoying the titillation of skillful name-calling. And it’s a barrier to serious thinking about the problems besieging our city & beyond.

Let me give you a fer-instance.

Recently, I spent an intense hour-plus with Gavin Newsom, discussing his proposed homeless legislation. Homelessness is a big problem in this city – perhaps the biggest – and it will need the labors of as many thoughtful people as possible to solve it. More about that in a week or so. What’s relevant here is the reaction of two of my favorite Knee Jerks, who later asked me what had transpired. Each – without waiting for me to answer – proceeded to spew out a tirade against the supervisor and his presumed policies. One even offered to write my article for me.

After I finished wiping the figurative spittle off my face, I began to wonder what the place of the Call was in such a climate. Should my little publication follow the lead of its elders and join the feeding frenzy that surrounds each tasty tidbit of scandal? Should it turn tail and run, finding a safe distance in art and analysis? Should it eschew politics and go for glossy froth, transforming political activism into a celebrity scene à la 7x7, or aiming for the “deeply shallow” of the soon-to-appear PaperCity? Or should it close shop completely and leave the media exploration of this city to the big guys?

What would you do?

Here’s what I came up with. See if you agree.

This city, I thought, is too important to leave to the jackals. When even the mainstream press serves up fast food, there must be people out there who are hungry for Mom’s cooking. There must be people who would genuinely welcome enough information to make intelligent decisions about the future of their city, their state, their country, their planet.

In an ideal publishing world, where money flows like lemonade, I‘d play Judy Garland to your Mickey Rooney and say, “Hey, kid, let’s start a newspaper! Let’s put together a broadsheet like nobody’s ever seen before, one that goes in your face like the New York Press, exercises your brain like the New York Review of Books, but does it every single day like the New York Times. One that truly tells you what‘s happening – not only in City Hall, but also in the cafés of North Beach, the clubs of Soma, the churches of Bay View, and the dunes of Ocean Beach.”

And with a newspaper like that, you would run to your local newsstand every single day, eager to see the latest we had to offer.

But lacking a mattress stash of $66 million, I’m stuck with Plan B. Which is not a bad plan, I suggest, just smaller and more easily fundable. Let the Call remain a weekly, on the streets and online, which offers a unique Bay Area blend of the New Yorker and the Nation. Let it document – before they are a done deal – the steps that the pols are taking to fix our city or fix our wagon. Let it send out a hardy band, armed with tape recorders and cameras, to capture the many voices and faces of San Francisco. And let it carry a collection of irresistible cartoons, poetry, and fiction. In other words, let the Call truly reflect the extraordinary city and region where it lives.

Quo vadis? Where are you going? The phrase denotes a clever game, yes, as well as a silly movie and a Nobel novel. But it also appears in another guise, in the Book of Zechariah:

2:1 I lifted up mine eyes again, and looked, and behold a man with a measuring line in his hand.

2:2 Then said I, Whither goest thou? And he said unto me, To measure Jerusalem, to see what is the breadth thereof, and what is the length thereof.

To measure San Francisco... What do you think, those of you who have applauded my "project" in the past – is this a good way to go?