The Berkeley Daily Planet: A Personal Obituary 

A former longtime reporter details the rise and fall of Berkeley's hometown newspaper.

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A week later came the announcement that print version of the Planet would end with the February 25 edition.

Two historians, one an academic and the other a passionate amateur, offered me some perspective on the Daily Planet and its place in their domain.

Gray Brechin, who holds a doctorate in geography from UC Berkeley, wrote about the consolidation of San Francisco newspapers early in the 20th century in his landmark 1999 book, Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin, where events paralleled those of the most recent wave of mergers and acquisitions. "I really think it's a tragedy," he said of the Daily Planet's folding as a print publication. "It's such a rare thing for any community these days to have an independent family-owned newspaper to serve as a forum for open discussion of issues important to the community."

Brechin said he was certain the news brought smiles to many of his colleagues at the university. "The biotech people will be delighted," he said, along with the paper's foes on either side of the town/gown divide. "It's really sad that the paper's critics were willing to sacrifice the paper for their own agendas."

In describing the potential impacts on the local scene, Brechin cited one of his favorite California authors, Upton Sinclair, who wrote in The Brass Check, "It does not destroy the steel trust if there are a few independent steel makers, it does not destroy the money trust if there are a few independent men of wealth, but it does destroy the news trust if there is a single independent newspaper to let the cat out of the bag."

Richard Schwartz is Berkeley's unofficial town historian and the author of several books on its history, including Earthquake Exodus, 1906: Berkeley Responds to the San Francisco Refugees, Eccentrics, Heroes, and Cutthroats of Old Berkeley, and Berkeley 1900: Daily Life at the Turn of the Century. Schwartz said he relies heavily on newspaper archives at the Berkeley Public Library and the university's Doe and Bancroft libraries in researching local history. "The Planet had a focus on land use and covered it in great depth," he said. "It covered the political scene in a way that can't be done otherwise. Without the paper, there's nowhere out there to give us the insight on those issues. We're going to be flying blind."

The Daily Planet isn't the first Berkeley newspaper to fold, and it's not the last paper published in the city — that honor goes to the Daily Californian. Collections in the three libraries include at least 23 now-vanished papers ranging from the Berkeley Advance (1905-06) to the West Berkeley News (1892-95). The last mainstream paper, the Berkeley Gazette, folded in 1984. The Berkeley Barb, the city's famous alternative newspaper, had folded four years earlier.

Looking back at the paper and its controversial editor, Brechin said, "I, like everybody else in Berkeley, have had problems with Becky O'Malley. But I really developed a respect for her because she didn't shy away from controversial issues, including the Palestinian question."

While ostensibly mourning the paper's loss, John Gertz offered this at his web site: "The Daily Planet announced today that it is ceasing print operations, effective February 25. It will apparently continue on, at least for a while, as some kind of online echo chamber for Marxist and jihadi opinion, devoid of reportage."

But a lot of people in Berkeley will miss the printed paper, both for its articles and for the sense of community the paper provided. The paper's supporters also will no longer have a newspaper to champion their causes. And with the Berkeley Daily Planet no longer a visible presence in the community, even its foes may feel a certain nostalgia for the paper, as well as the absence of a potent symbol onto which they could blame their own failures.

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