San Diego Reader
|Headquarters||San Diego, California, U.S.|
|Circulation||152,524 weekly in 2011|
The San Diego Reader is the largest alternative press paper in the county of San Diego, distributed free in stands and private businesses throughout the county, funded by advertisements. It frequently presents an opposing viewpoint to the San Diego Union Tribune, the primary printed newspaper in the city.
The Reader, as it is commonly known, was founded in 1972 by Jim Holman, who attended Carleton College and was one of the original group who established the Chicago Reader. Although Holman briefly owned shares in the Chicago paper, none of the Chicago owners had an interest in the San Diego paper. Holman used the Reader format and nameplate with the blessings of his friends in Chicago.
Noted for its literary style of journalism and coverage of the arts, particularly film and theater, the Reader is recognized as a pioneer among alternative weeklies for both its creative nonfiction and its commercial scheme, using ad revenue (particularly from classifieds and entertainment promotions) to establish the practice of widespread free circulation, a cornerstone of today's alternative papers.
Published weekly since October 1972, the Reader is known as a showcase for San Diego writers and photographers. Each issue of the Reader is dated every Thursday and distributed free on Wednesday and Thursday via street boxes and cooperating retail outlets.
Specializing in feature stories, the Reader covers San Diego life in general, with emphasis on politics and the arts and entertainment. The Reader also publishes listings of movies, events, theater and music, restaurant and film reviews, and free classified advertisements for its readers. Its "City Lights" section contains short investigative reports into the dealings of the city, while the "Calendar" section highlights local society, things to do, places to eat, and the local music scene. Beginning November 2, 1972, film critic Duncan Shepherd has written the Reader's movie reviews.
Notable cover stories have included in-depth overviews chronicling San Diego history and pop culture, such as Before It Was the Gaslamp: Downtown’s Grindhouse Theater Row in the ‘70s, Gompers School Takes a Bow, The Rise and Fall of San Diego’s Pacific Comics, Pussycat Theaters – a Comprehensive History of a California Dynasty, Field of Screens: San Diego Drive-In Theater History 1947–2008, and Africans, Asians, Hispanics, and Hipsters: Changes in City Heights. The March 28, 2012 cover feature People Will Tell You That You're Late and You'll Hate Them for It., with confessions of a San Diego USPS mail carrier, earned national coverage on TV programs like 20/20 (U.S. TV series).
The paper has also become increasingly known for its local political coverage, due in no small part to the addition of columnist Don Bauder to the staff. Bauder become financial editor and columnist for the daily San Diego Union paper in 1973. When the Union and rival Tribune merged in the early 1990s, he remained at that post; in 1995, he was named senior columnist at the Union-Tribune. In 1985 and 1986, Bauder wrote Captain Money and the Golden Girl, a book about a local San Diego Ponzi scheme which stayed on the L.A. Times best-seller list for more than two months. He retired from the U-T in March 2003 and began writing his weekly column for the Reader in April 2003. He started his blog Scam Diego in September 2007, regularly engaging so many local readers that the comment section frequently racks up to a hundred or more comment posts for each blog post.
Among the Reader’s political and sociological cover features are Soho VS Developers: What’s Worth Saving in San Diego, Obama Taps Alan Bersin to Cover the Border, It’s Getting Ugly Downtown, What’s Wrong With Balboa Park?, San Diego’s Secret Missile Testing Sites, and a whistleblowing feature Just Save My Life, exposing how clinic trials of an experimental blood substitute called PolyHeme were being conducted on city medical patients without their knowledge.
Beginning around 2003, a political comic strip also began running in the paper, "Obermeyer’s Cut," by Neal Obermeyer. Other well-known comic artists who've served as staffers include Jim Cornelius, who illustrated Matthew Alice's longrunning "Straight From the Hip" column from the earliest issues until being replaced by Rick Geary in the later 1970s, as well as famed surf artist and California landscape painter Jeff Yeomans (whose wall murals on San Diego buildings included the Unicorn Trading Company on India Street) and Revolutionary Comics Managing Editor Jay Allen Sanford.
In the editorial staff, the paper’s longtime editor Judith Moore was an American author and essayist best known for her 2005 book Fat Girl: A True Story, published by Hudson Street Press. Joining the Reader staff in 1983 and subsequently known as “Mother Reader” for many years, she specialized in book reviews (especially food writing) and offbeat, whimsical feature subjects. Once, she visited a San Diego sausage factory and described it in lurid detail, in order to test the cliché that no one wanted to see sausage being made. She mentored dozens of writers still contributing to the paper to this day. Moore died of colon cancer after three years of treatment in May 2006. A memorial feature about Miss Moore written by several staffers ran August 16, 2007, called She Hated Adverbs.
The paper's local music coverage reportedly earns some of its heaviest website traffic, including columns and staff blogs like "Blurt", "Lists", "Musician Interviews", "Record Release Roundup", "Here's the Deal" (local venue reviews), "Rock Around the Town," "Jam Session," and "Out and About." The magazine's massive online "Local Music Database" chronicles the histories of over 4,000 San Diego bands and 10,000 local musicians, from the 1940s through today, with discographies, biographies, interviews, article links, videos, and playable MP3s. The music section comic strip "Overheard in San Diego" has been running since late 1995, spinning off an omnibus book collection in 2012 containing over 700 strips.
With an average of over 220 pages each week, the Reader is reportedly the largest alternative publication in the nation. It is the second-largest circulation newspaper in San Diego, currently claiming a single-issue circulation of 170,000 and a 4-week readership of over 777,000 adults.
As a free publication with high circulation figures, the Reader generates high advertising revenue. A quarter-page color ad can cost as much as $3,000 for a single run.
Editor and publisher Jim Holman, a conservative Catholic who also publishes the online California Catholic Daily, has reportedly spent more than $5 million of his own money on three separate ballot measures (Props. 73, 85 and 4) that would require a doctor to notify the parents of a minor female before performing an abortion. The most recent measure, Prop. 4, which would have amended the state constitution, was defeated 52 percent to 48 percent on Nov. 4, 2008.
Notable contributors, reporters, and writers
Julia Davis is a member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, an executive member of Women In Film, a member of the Screen Actors Guild, a member of the Independent Filmmakers Alliance and a member of Film Independent. As a contributing writer for the San Diego Reader, she has authored several articles, including Murder in Las Vegas.
Richard Meltzer is a music critic whose first book, The Aesthetics of Rock, was one of the earliest rock-focused literary efforts. In the 1980s, while writing for the Reader chain, Meltzer’s articles for the L.A. Reader on the ugliest buildings in Los Angeles were later published as a book. He moved to Portland, Oregon in the 1990s, but continued contributing to the San Diego Reader, mostly music columns and autobiographical stories. He was also a regular columnist for Addicted to Noise, and by 2004 he was a contributor to a new weekly, Los Angeles CityBeat.
Duncan Shepherd is a longtime film critic whose pithy, incisive, and very often negative reviews began running in the San Diego Reader on November 2, 1972, continuing through the November 10, 2010 issue, where he announced his retirement. Originally, Shepherd had no rating system, but he was persuaded to institute a four star system, later expanding that to five. Five-star reviews have become rare: only two movies since 2000 have received the highest rating: Mystic River (2003) and Stevie (2002). Less than 100 films are listed as 5-star films, while nearly 2,000 have had the black spot, his lowest rating, bestowed upon them.
David Elliott is a longtime film critic who replaced Duncan Shepherd in the San Diego Reader as of the November 17, 2010 edition. He spent around 24 years as a columnist for the city’s rival newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune, before going to work for the Reader. He has also written for the Chicago Daily News (until 1978), the Chicago Sun-Times (until 1982), USA Today (until 1984), and SDNN.com (until 2010). According to his debut Reader column in November, Elliott cites his favorite movies as including Satyajit Ray’s The Apu Trilogy, Citizen Kane, The Rules of the Game, The Godfather, The Seven Samurai, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as the westerns of Budd Boetticher and Buster Keaton comedies. He departed from the San Diego Reader after a final column in the June 13, 2012 issue.
Jay Allen Sanford is an author and cartoonist best known for his work with Revolutionary Comics and Carnal Comics. He co-created the comic book Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics with Todd Loren in 1989, which is still being published in 2012 by Bluewater Productions. The publishing company he founded, Carnal Comics, is known for launching the movie and cartoon character Demi the Demoness. His Reader comic strip "Overheard in San Diego" was launched in late 1995, while a second weekly Reader strip, "Famous Former Neighbors" debuted in 2002. Both reality-based strips are still running. Besides writing several full-length cover features per year (many autobiographical), his other columns for the paper have included "Blurt", "Lists", "URLwatching", "Record Release Roundup", "Most Downloaded", the magazine's online "Local Music Database", and the daily entertainment and pop culture blogs "Rock Around the Town", "Jam Session", "Big Screen", "Fiction Writer", "Autobiography Channel", and "Out and About".
Rick Geary is a cartoonist and graphic novel writer best known for his contributions to the Heavy Metal and National Lampoon magazines. The National Cartoonist Society awarded Geary its Magazine and Book Illustration Award in 1994. At the San Diego Reader, he has been illustrating the staff-written advice and trivia column "Straight From the Hip" - aka "Ask Matthew Alice" – since the late seventies, as well as contributing spot illustrations throughout the newspaper.
Colin Flaherty was a contributor to the San Diego Reader from 1990 to 1994. His story on the unjust conviction of Kelvin Wiley resulted in Wiley's release from Soledad prison, and was featured on Court TV. He was named top political reporter by the San Diego Press Club.
Mary Leary is a poet, performer, and journalist who published and edited seminal New Wave/alternative music & arts 'zine (the) Infiltrator in Washington, D.C., in the late '70s and early '80s. She did several radio shows at WGTB FM, along with djing in Washington, D.C.-area clubs. She has contributed to My Old Kentucky Blog, San Diego Sidewalk, The Washington Tribune, San Diego Entertainer, Blurt Magazine, Daggerzine, and other journals and online magazines. Her poetry has been featured in a number of journals and anthologies, including those of the New York City-based Unbearables, an anthology of women writing about baseball called Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend (Faber & Faber), and a collection about the Obama election, A Dream in the Clouds. She began writing about music for the San Diego Reader in 2009 after programming music and organizing poetry and music performances for Art Site, El Campo Ruse and Lestat's. Her spoken word/music performances have been featured at the Adams Avenue Street Fair, at Woodbury University, on the Lounge radio show, at the Northwest Singer-Songwriter Showcase, and in numerous other settings.
Bart Mendoza is a musician and journalist who has written for numerous publications, including San Diego’s Axcess Magazine and local editions of The Reader and San Diego CityBeat, as well as The San Diego Union and its weekly arts insert Night & Day. National publications include the second series of Crawdaddy!. International publications he has contributed to include British Time Out Guides for Southern California and the Spanish rock magazine Ansia De Color. He has also penned liner notes for recording artists including Phil Angeloff, Ray Brandes, Ryan Ferguson and The Lolas and music compilations such as This is Mod Volume 6, from Cherry Red Records.
Eleanor Widmer scoured San Diego in search of culinary treasures for the Reader from 1974 to 2000. Often disdaining established and chain restaurants, she gravitated to obscure and new eateries, sometimes adopting the nickname "Aunt Bertha" for her more contentious reviews. She carried her Reader food critic career over into radio and television in the 1980s and 1990s, on KPBS-FM radio and at KNSD-TV 39, where she answered callers' questions on restaurants and foods. Widmer, who frequently donned wigs to preserve her critic's anonymity on food-themed television shows, died November 8, 2004, at Scripps Health Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, at the age of 80.
Jerry Schad authored the book Afoot and Afield in San Diego County, published by Wilderness Press in 1986 and widely considered one of the most comprehensive guides to public hiking lands in San Diego county. An instructor of astronomy at Mesa College, Schad was trained in physics and astronomy at UC Berkeley and at San Diego State University. He began writing the "Roam-O-Rama" outdoors column for the Reader in 1993, maintaining it weekly until shortly before his passing (related to cancer) on September 22, 2011.
Steve Esmedina wrote his first story for the Reader in July 1973; his last story appeared in September 1994. Having written for the paper about popular music and film, mostly in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Esmedina died on June 24, 2001.
Linda Nevin was an editor and writer for the Reader for over thirty years. As fictional columnist "Matthew Alice," she wrote the "Straight From the Hip" column for over twenty years, until mid-2012, though the public was never made aware of the columnist's true identity. Nevin died on February 15, 2013, though the column continued with Ian Pike standing in as "Matthew Alice" without credit. This was only made public after the Reader acknowledged a letter from a reader on July 17, 2013, and added that the column was planned for retirement.
In 1983 Charles Holloway of San Diego created a 32-page parody of the Reader called Not The Reader. This parody (circulation 20,000) resembled its source publication in many ways, including front page format, page layout, and style of advertising (mostly all advertisements were fictional). Stories and articles were mostly attempts at humor. The editor of the real Reader (at that time, Jim Mullin) gave Not The Reader "top review grades."
- "Annual Audit Report, June 2011". Larkspur, Calif.: Verified Audit Circulation. Retrieved April 30, 2012.
- Before It Was the Gaslamp: Downtown’s Grindhouse Theater Row in the ‘70s
- Gompers School Takes a Bow
- The Rise and Fall of San Diego’s Pacific Comics
- Pussycat Theaters – a Comprehensive History of a California Dynasty
- Field of Screens: San Diego Drive-In Theater History 1947 – 2008
- Africans, Asians, Hispanics, and Hipsters: Changes in City Heights
- People Will Tell You That You're Late and You'll Hate Them for It
- Soho VS Developers: What’s Worth Saving in San Diego
- Obama Taps Alan Bersin to Cover the Border
- It’s Getting Ugly Downtown
- What’s Wrong With Balboa Park?
- San Diego’s Secret Missile Testing Sites
- Just Save My Life
- Obermeyer’s Cut
- Women In Film
- Independent Filmmakers Alliance
- Film Independent
- Murder in Las Vegas
- Dylan Gives the People What He Wants by Bill Wyman, The New York Times, June 12, 2005.
- "Overheard in San Diego"
- "Famous Former Neighbors"
- Masciola, Carol (August 20, 1992). "Conviction Set Aside as Boy Recants : Justice: Judge tosses out guilty verdict in case of man who spent 1 1/2 years in state prison". Los Angeles Times.
- Romney, Lee (October 2, 1992). "Times Takes 3 First-Place Prizes in Press Club Awards". Los Angeles Times.
- San Diego Reader Author Archive
- San Diego Citybeat Author Archive
- Crawdaddy! Second Series Index