A routine funding measure turned into a provocative debate about the Marina Times, and whether it represents free speech or feeding the trolls with taxpayer dollars.

Sometimes at the weekly eight- or-nine-hour exercise known as the San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting, a seemingly insignificant rubber stamp item on the agenda turns into a passionate hour-long argument between supes who start accusing each other of “conduct unbecoming.” To wit: at Tuesday’s meeting, the board was tasked with approving another year’s worth of city funds to advertise public notices and such in the pages of small neighborhood newspapers. This is a way of reaching various communities that are not extremely online, putting notices in the paper copies of niche, neighborhood publications like Sing Tao Daily, El Reportero, and the Bay Area Reporter.

But one paper did not get that rubber-stamp approval. The Marina Times was (temporarily) 86’ed from the list of small papers with whom the city advertises, after Supervisor Dean Preston singled the paper out in an amendment that ended up moving consideration of their funding to the board’s December 8 meeting.

The Marina Times responded quite diplomatically, as seen above.

Preston explained his original amendment to nix Marina Times from receiving taxpayer-funded advertising. “There are a number of important outlets that provide useful and accurate information to the residents of the City and County of San Francisco,” he said. “There is, however, one outlet on this list that I would not include in the former category, and that is the Marina Times.”

“They are a mouthpiece for disinformation, doxxing of public officials, and personal attacks,” he continued. “I consider them on par with the likes of Breitbart News and Tucker Carlson, in serving to the public fact-free and often hate-filled propaganda. I don't believe a single penny of public money should be directed from the City and County of San Francisco to support their efforts.”

Supervisor Hillary Ronen, whom the Marina Times describes above as a “hysterical drama queen at pretty much every meeting,” also supported cutting city advertising from the paper.

“There have been several instances where the Marina Times has been presented with facts that prove their politically based assertions as incorrect and they refuse to retract their statements.” Ronen said Tuesday. “Sadly, Marina Times is doing a disservice to those [Cow Hollow and Marina] neighborhoods by becoming a purely propaganda outfit that presents lies as facts.”

So, is the Marina Times really that bad? A look at its current paper edition shows a rather anodyne and inoffensive neighborhood paper, a publication that runs articles like Supervisor Catherine Stefani’s recipe for authentic Italian pasta sauce. Their controversiality comes more from their relatively batshit Twitter account, that will publish absolutely any tip they receive with no attempts at verification. As seen above, the Twitter account is prone to picking fights.

But the Twitter account and the newspaper are two different things, and some supervisors opposed cutting the publication out merely because of their tweets, or reporting that describes public figures as “poverty pimps.”

“I’m actually quite shocked by this proposed amendment,” Sup. Stefani argued. “We must protect local journalism, even when we don’t like what they say.

“The Marina Times, whether you like it or not, whether you like what they say about you or not, is an essential neighborhood publication that has existed for years.”

It’s an interesting debate. Free speech is of course a constitutional right, but entitlement to taxpayer-funded advertising is not. (Indeed, the Marina Times is often critical of how tax dollars are spent.) Should a neighborhood newspaper be considered a separate entity from their far more histrionic Twitter presence? Should mean tweets take priority consideration over the necessity of posting public notices to people who simply prefer to pick up a neighborhood paper?

These are questions that, in the case of the Marina Times, are delayed until next week’s board meeting. We do not anticipate the Marina Times will try to butter up the supervisors with flattering coverage prior to then.  

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Image: @AaronPeskin via Twitter