Mission Improbable  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   July/August 1999

Mission Improbable   

SF Weekly touts itself as a successful prankster and brands San Francisco’s mainstream media guilty of press-release journalism in the process.

By Lori Robertson
Lori Robertson (robertson.lori@gmail.com), a former AJR managing editor, is a senior contributing writer for the magazine.      


SF Weekly touts itself as a successful prankster and brands San Francisco's mainstream media guilty of press-release journalism in the process. The Weekly ran a two-thirds-page ad in its June 2 issue promoting a fake rally in support of the rights of yuppies in the city's Mission District. Gentrification has become an issue for the diverse area as many longtime residents have complained of the influx of more- wealthy homebuyers. The "Stop the Hate" rally promoted by the Weekly was a fabrication of the paper. Yet the nonevent spawned a small protest and resulted in news coverage from the San Francisco Examiner, the Chronicle, the Associated Press state wire, KGO radio and KTVU-TV, as Weekly Editor John Mecklin boasted in a June 9 column. Mecklin says the episode "says something very deep and funny about the mainstream press in America." While the editor argues that an alternative publication like his should engage in such pranks, Ex- aminer Metro Editor Dick Rogers doesn't quite buy it. "It is [the alternative press'] role to raise questions about the way the mainstream press functions," he says. "But I don't think the way you raise questions is to lie to the public." Mecklin took the Examiner to task the most for running a front-page story spawned by a falsity. The Weekly editor adds that his paper made up six or so "ridiculously named groups" as sponsors to tip off readers that this was a sham. Several members of the media did call a phone number listed in the ad--a voice mail number at the Weekly that further propagated the myth. "You always ought to be open to whether you could've done something better," says Rogers of the Examiner's efforts to verify the ad. "But it's a somewhat sorry state of affairs," he adds, when readers have to discern an advertisement from a paper's prank. Nevertheless, the incident did prompt an examination by the media of a legitimate community issue. As Rogers says, "We probably covered that story a lot more closely because there was this suggestion of a specific event... That compelled us to go out and find real people" who voiced concerns about life in the Mission.

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