In Praise Of The AVA

If the Anderson Valley Advertiser isn't the best publication in the English language, then we'd really like to see the one that is.

Media Watch has spent plenty of time telling you what's wrong with the media, now let us tell you a little about something that is very right. Billing itself as "The Country Weekly that tells it like it is", the AVA is an official Mendocino County newspaper published weekly by Bruce Anderson, a "socialist unabashed", who believes that "responsible capitalism" is a "fantasy".

Just like our own beloved ETS!, the AVA loudly trumpets this bias. Even for an "official" paper, there is nothing wrong with having an agenda, so long as you tell the truth (and expose the lies of the advertiser-beholden media outlets). In fact, Anderson contends that there is a "media vacuum" north of San Francisco, and that a great many working people depend on his publication for needed information.

If you're wondering what in hell a small-town weekly has to do with you (or, for that matter, Seattle media) the answer is: everything. Think of it as a proxy -- the newspaper every community should have, but doesn't. In a recent interview with Alternative Radio's David Barsamian, Anderson explained: "People tells us things like this all the time: 'Hey, the school board meeting you wrote about in Boonville is exactly like the school board meeting I went to in Cambridge.' or New Mexico. We can change the names, but the procedure, the jargon, the, sort of, political cowardice is all the same."

Let's start with the basic structure. Use this handy-dandy comparison table at your own risk. These are approximate numbers for content:

Typical Community WeeklyAVA
Total Sq. Inches1,9203,150
Words Of Text5,76039,270
% Of Paper Devoted To:
Police Beat1.5.3

Pretty amazing shit, all in all.

The AVA's banner proudly carries three quotes: "Peace to the cottages! War on the palaces", from the French Revolution; "Be as radical as reality", from Lenin; and Pulitzer's "Newspapers should have no friends".

Anderson and company have certainly succeeded at the latter. The sheriff hates him. The DA hates him. The school board hates him. The Board of Supervisors hates him. The "respectable" local media hates him. The Clinton/NPR liberals hate him. Redwood Earth First! hates him, too.

Why so much enmity? In a word, you could say, "democracy". Fully one-quarter of the AVA is given over to letters to the editor -- often the most interesting part of the paper. Readers write in from all points to sound off. And not just "please come to the bake sale" letters, either. The AVA's letters boast some of the most insightful and accurate analyses of current events that you will ever read anywhere. Long, too. Imagine: the great unwashed not only given a voice, but allowed space to develop a meaningful argument.

And the reporting tells the truth (which can get one into a lot of hot water). No one expects small town newspaper reporters to attend the Community Services District meeting and report what's going on. When big business and government collude to try to use taxpayer funds to maintain a disastrous railway line for private profit, or to build a monstrous waste transfer station to benefit the supervisors' friends, for example, it's considered a little uncouth for someone to actually tell the public. When the DA refuses to prosecute a refinery for killing one of its employees and generally committing lawless skullduggery, newspapers aren't supposed to show up and ask why.

Added into the mix is a weekly "National Notes" column by the incomparable Alexander Cockburn, and a "Nature and Politics" column by Cockburn and Jeffery St. Clair. AVA boasts some of the finest freelance writing and investigative reporting you will ever see anywhere, as well as an entire page for editor Anderson to sound off on topics local, national & global; all punctuated by filler quotes from everyone from Noam Chomsky to Woody Allen to Gore Vidal to Joe Bob Briggs.

When was the last time you saw headlines like these in your local small-town weekly (or, corporate monolith, for that matter): "English Only Hysteria Grows", "USA: Land of the Free and Home of Political Prisoners", "The Pacification of Public Radio", "Breast Cancer Industry Month", "Digging Up Monsanto's Bio-Engineered Crop Flop: Crop Busting", "An Investor's Guide to Big Green", "The Greater Gods of GATT: Fabrique en Chine", "San Francisco's Bloodiest Strike", and, my own personal favorite: "Is The DA Cracking Up?"?

The AVA also publishes:

Books: Last year, they put out a book compiling all the letters AVA received from the mysterious "Wanda Tinasky", whom many believe to be author Thomas Pynchon in disguise. More Recently, they released a book of columns by Port Townsend writer Jeff Costello that originally appeared in the AVA, entitled Redleg Boogie Blues, which chronicled "Rock and roll, anarchy and drugs on the Sausolito waterfront, early '70's."

Special Editions: In the summer of 1994, as an "act of solidarity", the AVA published a blockbuster 20 page issue dedicated solely to the communiques of the EZLN. Its newest special edition will be "A comprehensive retrospective of the Bear Lincoln case, compiled from the AVA and other media reports, trial transcripts and first-hand accounts of the persons involved, rewritten and updated, including photographs and maps."

Indeed, its coverage of the recently completed Bear Lincoln murder trial was perhaps the AVA's finest hour. While the entire ("liberal") establishment wanted nothing more than to prosecute and kill an innocent man, the AVA consistently dug for the truth. Its reporters were the only ones to investigate the crime scene. It was the only outlet to treat police reports with skepticism. It was the only place to give voice to unsanctioned views. It even gave Lincoln himself an occasional column. Can you imagine your local weekly giving an Indian charged with murdering a policeman space (above the fold, front page) to tell his side of the story?

It's sad, but true: if you want to know what's going on in your community, the best way to find out is to read a Mendocino County newspaper. But that shouldn't discourage you from doing so. It's the most exhilarating thing you'll read all week. We promise.