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Twenty and proud, say it loud!

New Times grows older, not up

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Remember when you turned 20? You thought you knew everything. You had all the answers to solve the world's problems. Your parents were clearly clueless. If only those "in charge" would listen to you! Ah, 20. Doing the hubris-watoosi.

New Times is now 20, and my, doesn't it feel smug and know-it-all-y. Ask it anything and it will give you an answer. The speed of light? 186 thousand miles per second, natch! Homelessness? Call 'em "campers" problem solved. Los Osos sewer? Poop in Morro Bay. Oh wait, that's already what's going on.

Hey, it has answers, just not always the ones you want to hear.

I'm sure when it first hit newsstands on Aug. 13, 1986, more than a few people would have predicted that New Times would never see its fifth birthday, much less its 20th. But here it is. I'm not even sure it should be called "new" anymore. Twenty years is not, repeat not, new. It's old. Ancient, really. Archaic. In fact, the whole idea of a newspaper is archaic. The Internet? Hello? Ever heard of it? Doesn't waste all this precious paper and ink. Yep, New Times is old, washed up, past its prime, last year's model, obsolete.

Who really needs a newspaper anyway? You've got reality TV, bloggers, that guy at Farmers' Market with that sign reminding you you're going to hell (And you are! New Times knows what you've been up to! Shame!).

Seriously, what can a lousy, smalltime, "alternative" weekly news magazine add to that?

I imagine that was the very question on the minds of Steve Moss, Bev Johnson, and Alex Zuniga New Times' founding triumvirate when they gathered in that tiny apartment on Swazey Street to crank out their very first issue, a slim 28-page tome whose first cover story examined downtown SLO's "Burgeoning Restaurant Industry."

Lots of restaurants downtown. Competition fierce. Yada yada. Did SLO County really need a newspaper to tell it that? As a matter of fact, it did. The daily paper of record, languishing like a well-fed Parisian hooker in its oxygen-rich, competitionless atmosphere, had grown complacent, entitled, and edgeless. The Tribune should be thanking New Times for lighting a fire under its butt and forcing it to become a better paper. New Times brought competition to the local print media by offering an alternative. You're welcome, Tribune. Flowers and a bottle of scotch would be very nice. What a sweet thought! Thank you!

Steve Moss wrote in the very first issue that the purpose of New Times is "to be a complete, current, and accurate guide to entertainment in San Luis Obispo County to highlight the special lifestyle of the area and present news of interest to our readers and to reflect honestly the unique spirit of the region, leading the community in a positive direction consistent with its past." Has it done that? Hell yes! But somewhere along its path toward 20, New Times evolved into something more than a little entertainment guide. It became a member of the community, a member that cared about the place it lived.

As it developed, the stories in New Times moved beyond restaurants, art galleries, and concerts. Those who began the paper as a way to fill a gap in the reporting of the entertainment scene soon discovered there was also a reporting gap in local news and politics. As New Times matured as a venture, so did its purpose and conception of itself.

Suddenly it found itself investigating how the city bus service was poorly run and how that led to tragic accidents, and reporting on efforts to protect the valuable open space that made our region unique, and scrutinizing crowding in prisons including CMC all things that affected our county and its residents. Somewhere along the line, New Times became a watchdog: faithful, sometimes goofy like a puppy, but stalwart in its mission to protect and serve the community. It hasn't always been perfect, but it's certainly been genuine in its desire to inform.

Perhaps more importantly, New Times has become an important community forum, one that welcomes all letters and commentaries. As a left-of-Marx liberal, I always chuckle when I hear New Times branded a "leftwing rag." More often than not, I find the paper too conservative. Our late great founder Steve Moss was a secret Libertarian. Sure, he was for legalizing a harmless substance like marijuana, but he was also for easing business regulations. He, and New Times, never shied away from printing opinions of all stripes. In that sense, the paper has reflected the varied and often politically divided population of SLO County. It has never advocated for one myopic political vision instead, it has offered a forum for all political visions.

So back to my original question: What can a smalltime "alternative" weekly news magazine add to the lives of SLO County residents? Quite a lot, it turns out.

New Times is 20, and it's proud. But we who have the honor of working here hope it's not too full of itself, too hubristic, to know-it-all-y. After all, New Times is you your opinions and letters, your stories, your lives writ large and small. ?

Glen Starkey was first published in New Times in 1990. Guess his age at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

 

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