Among the world’s newspapers, the Free Venice Beachhead is beyond unique. For one thing, nobody owns it – it has no profits or assets. For another, no single person is the editor. The paper is edited by a collective, a group of people who vote on every editorial and business decision. Can a newspaper survive this way? It has – for 40 years.
The Free Venice Beachhead is celebrating that anniversary on December 13 with an event at Beyond Baroque (another Venice institution founded the same year). Past and present members of the Beachhead Collective will read some of the best work from the paper’s 325 issues and will reminisce about the good and not-so-good-old days of Venice from which the Beachhead was born.
As current collective member Jim Smith describes it: “The Free Venice Beachhead began in 1968 at a time when the future of Venice was in question due to redevelopment schemes by the city of Los Angeles. If it had not been for the Beachhead and its founders, John Haag, Rick Davidson, Jane Gordon and others, a high-rise Miami Beach might have long replaced our funky little town.”
The redevelopment of Venice was seen as a threat by residents who lived in the shabby but inexpensive beach bungalows and apartment houses of the former replica of Venice, Italy. They also feared plans for extending the Marina Freeway through Venice and the Ocean Park section of Santa Monica.
Venetians felt the local media stereotyped them and did not tell their side of the story. Longtime Collective member and writer Carol Fondiller recalls that the media coverage had a “gee, look at all the funny hippies” tone. In order to create an alternative voice, a number of Venice activists created the Free Venice Beachhead in December 1968.
Over the next twenty years, the Beachhead was published more or less monthly, distributed free in Venice, Santa Monica, and nearby areas, and funded by small ads, subscriptions, donations, and the occasional fundraising party. Its only permanent address was a post office box. Editorial and production meetings were held in collective members’ homes or in donated office space.
This writer was a Collective member in the early 1980s and remembers when the Beachhead “office” was in the loft of the Fox Venice Theatre and production was done on the floor, old-school style, with paste-up boards and hot wax. The position of coordinator – in conventional terms, managing editor – rotated every month. Each issue’s headlines were created by free association, with Collective members calling out various ideas until one idea seemed to fit. Puns were encouraged, the all-time classic possibly being “Duke Of Oil,” for an article about then-Governor Deukmejian permitting offshore oil drilling.
But the Beachhead dealt seriously with the constant issue of development in Venice as it affected those who were losing their housing. The paper refused advertising from realtors so that there would be no conflict of interest when it came to publishing stories about developers versus tenants. The pages were filled with uncensored accounts of evictions and tenant harassment, told by the community members themselves.
The Beachhead survived having entire press runs “stolen” from distribution venues, as well as turnovers in its volunteer staff, and internal disagreements. Publication was suspended some time after the 1992 civil unrest. But the Beachhead always came back and is being published today on a monthly basis, with more modern technology, but still with a volunteer collective editorial staff.
The 40th anniversary celebration of the Free Venice Beachhead takes place at 7:30 p.m. December 13, at Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Boulevard, Venice.