Eventually a group of more than 100 street vendors hawked the paper. They got to keep half of the sales price. And for a while the paper was sold in newspaper boxes, primarily downtown, but most of these were vandalized and became useless.
But running an underground paper in a town that was a major staging point for the Vietnam War was a lot of fun, according to those who worked for the Street Journal. Golden remembers that even toward the end, when the paper "was totally under siege," a communal sense of humor kept the staff together as much as their anti-establishment values.
"Everybody was really young, in their early 20s, really bright, very attractive," Golden recalls. The Rolling Stones were always on the turntable, almost never the Beatles. If somebody wanted to do something, you said, 'Great!' One day I complained to Jan about something in the paper, and he said to me, 'Okay, you be editor, so I was editor for awhile. He once came up with this phallic illustration, and I said, 'Not in my paper!' But it ran."
Golden says that the theater and the paper influenced each other. "The theater became more political, and the paper became more theatrical."
From "Draft Dodger Attacks Veterans," Free Press, November 1, 1968:
Coach Max Rafferty [a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate], in a recent San Diego speech, whipped up his audience of 500 local patriots and then unleashed them on a 23-year-old Vietnam veteran ...
Rafferty's talk put down everything from "long-haired creeps" to "yellow-bellied war protestors." ... When Rafferty mentioned Eldridge Cleaver, Mike Kohler, a Vietnam veteran who spent 22 months on the front lines, stood to applaud Cleaver... Rafferty pointed at Kohler and called him a hypocrite.
The majority of the audience went wild — one observer reported seeing a middle-aged woman drool on herself...
As Kohler was pulled from the room, one onlooker hit him with the American flag and another hit him with a cane. Not once did Rafferty gesture to intervene and stop the violence...
Rafferty, who once told his former wife that if he saw that he was going to be drafter he would shoot off a toe, ended the evening speech. "We're going to end it all," he concluded. "You saw how they brought their violence here!"
In addition to the Rafferty story, the paper's first issue devoted a full page to excerpts from a speech given by Stokely Carmichael, minister of self-defense for the Black Panther Party, at an October 26 rally in Ocean View Park. The rally was in support of a black man who had been shot five times by sheriff's deputies when they came to evict him from his house.
That same issue compared recent San Diego speeches by Black Panther Information Minister Eldridge Cleaver, a Peace and Freedom Party presidential candidate, and George Wallace, who was then an independent presidential candidate. According to the paper's account, student protesters from UCSD and SDSU prevented Wallace from completing his speech at the Sports Arena because the "seductive nature" of Wallace's appeal to disaffected blue-collar workers was deemed a menace to the kind of radical change the paper's staffers were advocating. The demonstrators "felt a moral obligation to prevent this seduction. For the seduction in reality is rape; and we do not allow people to be raped."
So the demonstrators adopted a "simple but imaginative tactic: the students, dressed as hippies, sat in one section and cheered with gusto for Wallace. Pro Wallace buttons and stickers flashed from every lapel and hat, while colorful placards declared 'Anarchists for Wallace,' 'Hippies for Wallace,' 'Kill the demonstrators' and so on." After a short 40 minutes of interruptions and distractions, Wallace gave up and left.
Much of the material in the early issues came from the Liberation News Service or the Underground Press Syndicate, both of which made available at no cost the contents of underground papers all over the country. The Street Journal devoted full pages to briefs about the Vietnam War, conscientious objectors, economic issues, military contracts, the net worth of the UC Regents, long polemics on race relations, and early exposés about Richard Nixon's political appointees. Nixon's character was a subject of intense suspicion, a precocity that put the mainstream press to shame.
Aside from these national and international stories, the paper carried local movie reviews ("The moronization of the American people, the attempt to moronize us, will succeed as long as we permit ourselves to be amused by such trash as 'The Graduate'"), and a food column ("Dear Food Freak: What are mung beans?..."). A cultural calendar listed plays, lectures, classes, and pickets. As advertising picked up, rock radio station KPRI became a mainstay — the paper traded out space in return for free mentions on the air — as did handmade-clothing stores, head shops, and the Guild, State, Academy, and California movie theaters, and Theater 5. The Church of Scientology frequently placed ads.
Jan Diepersloot says that ad revenues, together with street sales of the paper (the masthead lists the price as 20 cents in San Diego, 25 cents elsewhere), eventually amounted to just enough to cover the printing bill for a press run of 5000 copies of the 16-page tabloid. Its center of circulation was downtown, and beginning in early 1969, its vendors began to be arrest in the Horton Plaza area for violation of Section 52.20 of the Municipal Code — blocking the sidewalk. Stories about these arrests and many other types of police harassment became a staple and a source of editorial outrage.
In its November 30, 1968 edition, the Free Press published the results of an unflattering UC Berkeley School of Criminology study of the San Diego Police Department. It quoted police officers in the report making racially derogatory comments and used the cops' own testimony to expose their "field interrogation" tactics: "Sometimes it is necessary to embarrass, let us say, one teenager in front of his friends," one officer reportedly told the Berkeley researchers. "If, for example, he can be put down, no matter how this is done, the rest of his friends will sometimes then follow his example, once he has been put in his place."