The San Diego Reader really got started last summer (1972) when the editor, Alex Farnsley, left his job at a racing car shop in National City. It was then that Farnsley (who was also known for subscribing to more newspapers than anyone else in San Diego) and Jim Holman (who had left the Navy in San Diego to help start the Chicago Reader a year earlier) began talking seriously and looking for others to join them. In the year to come, Holman was to borrow bank money for the paper against savings he had made while in the service overseas.
The writers came from everywhere. The secretary at UCSD's Literature Department said, “Oh, I have a friend who'd be interested — I just had dinner with her the other night. She has been trying to write for San Diego Magazine but they've given her the run-around." And so we fell in love with Kathy Woodward. Kathy, who had graduated from Smith in 1966, had married Bob Woodward (now one of the two Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate floodgate); he brought her to San Diego when he got stationed here with the Navy. She had taught at San Diego State for a while, at a French university for a while, and is now on the verge of getting her Ph-d at UCSD.
Kathy introduced us to Jonathan Saville, who is a professor of literature at UCSD, and to Jeff Weinstein who is a graduate student there.
The secretary of UCSD's Visual Arts Department referred us to Duncan Shepherd who was brought out to San Diego from Columbia University several years ago by the famous film scholar, Manny Farber. Duncan introduced Alan Pesin, who teaches film with him.
Jane Weisman called up in January from San Diego State’s journalism department, and Ted Burke called up from Mesa College. Jane entered the Mission Bay Marathon to prove her determination to write, and Ted stayed around and played his harmonica
er. harp — until it was decided that it was less punishment to proofread his stories. Then Steve Esmedina, also from Mesa, began to send in stories.
Sue Ray's architect-husband met Alex at a warehouse downtown and asked if Alex wanted to see some things his wife had written.
Gerry Corrigan, a Navy lieutenant stationed in Coronado called up and said he just had to share the MCRD Officers' Club with the outside world.
Albert Barret is an attorney who went to Kenyon College for undergraduate work and was brought here by the USS Providence. (Albert and editor Alex were roommates while Albert was a law student and Alex was an undergraduate.) Gale Fox came to San Diego with her husband Larry who is a scientist at Naval Electronics Laboratory. Connie Bruck is a wife and mother who taught a course on New Journalism at University of California Extension last fall; her husband Ben is San Diego’s most famous balloonist.
And now, much more than before, the Reader is getting its writers from individuals who send in articles unsolicited.
The idea behind the Reader was to provide a forum for good writers and at the same time be a functional guide to life in San Diego, with reviews of movies, theatres, and restaurants, as well as consumer surveys and free classified ads. From the beginning, people have urged us to be more political, but now — after a year — more people seem relieved that we’re not. A crucial factor in the paper’s direction, though, is the will of the writers. Since the Reader can afford very little to pay its writers, they tend to determine where the paper goes.
How has the paper done, business-wise? Well, distribution has been all-important. The idea of giving it away free seemed to be the only solution. It would have taken too much money and too much hype to get lots of people to pay for a paper they'd never heard of before; it would have been unconscionable to do what most new papers do — sell very few copies and lie to advertisers about circulation. So the only real answer was to give the paper away free and hope the advertisers (who from the beginning could be guaranteed honest circulation figures and would get very good results from their ads) would multiply. That has seemed to work. The number of papers picked up around town has gone up to the point where the Reader has had to go up to 30,000 copies with this issue. Advertisers have gotten remarkable results. Wherehouse Records got 500 responses to an ad they placed in February; Carol Glasier of Cost' Less got 50 responses to a classified ad she put in several weeks ago. And the testimonials go on and on.
How has the paper really done, business-wise? Well, we lost about $7100 our first year and most of the staff have gone into heavy personal debt and/or abject poverty. Advertising seems to be picking up enough now to pay our weekly printing and typesetting bills without borrowing more money. But then it's the beginning of the school year and summer and winter tend to be much slower seasons. And who knows what the economy will be like? We only hope there will be a second year and a Second Anniversary Issue.