At the Bankhead Theater on October 4, The Independent sponsored a Rae Dorough Speakers Series lecture on the uncovering of fake news presented by Dr. Joel Breakstone, Director of Stanford History Education Group. In her introduction, publisher and founder Joan Seppala related her experiences at the newspaper, recounting the consequences of taking on powerful interests.
This is her statement:
Dr. Joel Breakstone’s research on fake news has certainly grabbed my attention. This year, for the first time in 55 years, The Independent newspaper has been accused of fake news and alternative facts. This is surprising because of the particular role our newspaper has played in the Tri-Valley over the decades. At our own peril, we have supported issues that benefit the whole community.
Now, trends on the national level are seriously impacting local politics. Of course, The Independent is in good company with the New York Times and the Washington Post.
In 1962 at age 24, I moved to the Bay Area expecting to find work as a journalist. The San Francisco Chronicle and other newspapers offered me jobs only as a society writer because I was a woman. I happened to meet three investors who agreed to start up a Tri-Valley newspaper. The first issue of The Independent was printed in September 1963.
Our editors, writers and sales force have endured boycotts and harsh criticism from citizens, business interests and politicians as they pursued one unwavering mission — to advocate for what is best for the community, and to be fair and tell the truth.
We supported a 1972 measure to curb rampant growth that was affecting schools, city budgets and air quality. Those who disagreed organized a boycott of our advertisers. We plunged from 50 pages 3 times a week down to 6 pages once a week.
Scores of residents loaned us money. Some gave us $100 for a day; Margaret Tracy, an environmentalist, gave us $10,000 for several years. A newly hired Lab scientist loaned me his beginner’s paycheck every month. However, I had to keep returning the cash so he could cover his monthly bills. Some say I married Lynn Seppala for his money.
The Independent survived, and worked with others to build thriving cities with urban growth boundaries. I learned that if you are true to interests of the broad community, not your own pocket book, and are accurate and balanced, citizens will rise up to support you.
Our readership is high because we are the newspaper of record, printing both sides of key issues. We publish all letters to the editor, whether critical or approving.
The Independent has an unusual management structure that has worked. As owner and publisher, I am out in the field listening to people, involving myself in grassroots advocacy. Our editor, Janet Armantrout, calls the shots back at the desk. She decides what to report and in what depth. She will say, “No, Joan, we cannot print one more article on this subject!” She keeps The Independent even-handed and accurate as I follow my passion to reach for excellence in our community.
Today, discerning between real and fake news is vital at both local and national levels. I look forward to Dr. Breakstone’s talk helping us to separate truth from fiction.