Thursday, August 27, 2015

OC Weekly's 20th Anniversary: My Reflections

This week, the iconoclastic OC Weekly celebrates its 20th anniversary!  I was there almost at the beginning, one year or so later, in 1996, penning my first founding editor Will Swaim-commissioned piece, after he noticed the strange obit about Japanese internment camp-denier Lillian Baker in the Los Angeles Times.  

I've already reposted last July that earliest piece in Subversities but here is again an image of that first freelance article I wrote for the paper.

My original article appeared in OC Weekly 29 November-5 December 1996, pages 9-10

In all, from 1996 to 2003, even before the weekly began reducing freelance contributions, I wrote dozens of articles, some under the column "Civil Unliberties," a takeoff of Calvin Trillin's column elsewhere.  Using that name I covered police abuse in the county, especially in Little Saigon, where I was the weekly's first beat reporter, covering the regular eruptions of anti-communist fervor.

Here's a "wordle" of titles of my reportage in OC Weekly from 1999-2003 (plus the title "Real Lillian Baker" thrown in from 1996):

The OC Weekly web site only displays online my articles since 1999 so the earlier years are missing from that site.

The wordle above higlights the fact that Little Saigon was the focus of most of my articles since 1999. But I also covered police abuse, Asian "gangs" and queer uprisings, especially on high school campuses in OC Weekly.

On my KUC Subversity Show I actually interviewed Will Swaim on June 20 1995 just as the weekly was starting. (That interview was recorded on analog tape and not yet digitized.)  Will, whom I just ran into on campus outside Langson Library last week, was a return guest on Subversity in June 4, 2007, with Orange Coast Voice editor John Earl and CSUF Communications Prof. Jeff Brody, who also discussed OC Weekly on the show.

Will, who  was then-editor of The District (Long Beach) appears in the audio clip (around the 10 minute mark) when he debates later OC Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano's "Ask a Mexican" column with John and Jeff.  Said Will he was "not an Excel spread sheet kind of guy" and it "wasn't fun" anymore, explaining why he left the OC Weekly. Gustavo is also pilloried by John and defended by Will for Gustavo's coverage of  UC "recovered memory" Prof. Beth Loftus.  Also discussed in this 2007 interview is OC Weekly's coverage of ethnic issues and criminal justice with Will and John discussing whether or not Scott was too reliant on prosecutors' handouts (at the time).  (I'm glad Scott would later go after the incumbents in the OC Sheriff's position.)  I also had been told by a Managing Editor at the time that Scott was the "gatekeeper" of Little Saigon coverage, which was also discussed on the Subversity interview. 

On the current "Oral History of OC Weekly," for which writer Joel Beers interviewed me by phone a few months ago for some 20 minutes, here's what got extracted from the interview and was published this week in OC Weekly:

"Daniel C. Tsang, contributor, 1996-2003: I think at the time [1996], I was the only reporter who was a person of color. At first, they wanted me to write a horoscope column--because I was Asian, I guess. And I thought that that was crazy. And then they wanted me to write a gay-nightlife kind of column, and I wasn't interested. I am a gay, Asian-American activist and wasn't interested in fluff. But finally, they let me pick my own topics, like my column, "Civil Unliberties", which covered civil-rights violations in the county."

Truth be told, it was Will (if memory serves me) that asked if I wanted to do an astrology column, and then a gossip column a la Michael Musto in the Village Voice.  (Although I was active in the gay community I was not a club frequenter, except to pick up gay print media there.) Both Will and Gustavo have columns on OC Weekly in this week's edition, in addition, of course, to being quoted throughout the oral history.

I am glad there are more people of color there now who do good reportage at the OC Weekly. -  Daniel C. Tsang 


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