Saturday, June 5, 2010

Underground Newspapers on Microfilm: Peninsula Observer

"We are firmly committed to printing the truth about events in the Midpeninsula area and elsewhere, no matter how many people howl because we do."

An offspring of "Vietnam Summer" at Stanford University, the PENINSULA OBSERVER first appeared on July 7, 1967 and was co-founded by Barry Greenberg and David Ransom. Originally called the MIDPENINSULA OBSERVER, this underground title drew on prior Free University project publishing efforts and sought meaningful societal change. Avidly read in the Palo Alto and Stanford University environs, the OBSERVER featured some outstanding journalism.

Among other highlights, this newspaper ran an August 12, 1968 piece by Robert Coats and Gina Rivera, revealing valid conflict of interest irregularities against the chairman of the Board of Commissioners of Santa Clara County. David Ransom (Harvard graduate and SDS member) analyzed the war research activities of the Stanford Research Institute and produced a series of articles that resulted in sit-in demonstrations, massive protests, and the eventual severing of ties between the University and the independent Institute.

With anti-Vietnam War efforts as a focal point, the PENINSULA OBSERVER staff (composed of educated community members, graduate students and others) strongly opposed the presence of ROTC on the Stanford campus and sought to clarify and expose the many links between big business, the University, and the Pentagon war machine. Other memorable features included an in-depth critical study of Stanford President Kenneth Ptizer, a special issue on air pollution, and an examination of the Black Panther Party's "United Front Against Fascism" (July 28, 1969). The bi-monthly OBSERVER maintained close ties with the Palo Alto area radical high school movement, and frequently interceded in print for the underserved members of the community. The paper spoke out courageously on environmental, transportation, and urban renewal issues, conducting several very effective investigations of nefarious local construction projects.

A revolving cast of editors included Randy Bonner, Marlene Charyn (ex-Syracuse University), Peter Dolinger, David Shen, Maureen Kulbaitis, and Joanne Wallace. The OBSERVER posted upcoming local events on its "Happenings" page, and regular political editorials ran under "Polemicus." Circulation ran in the range of about 5,000 copies per issue, with the paper relying on patron donations and limited amounts of advertising revenue to cover operating costs. An important and ambitious intellectual watchdog publication, the PENINSULA OBSERVER remains one of the most well-written underground papers of its era; the paper folded quietly in November 1969.Check out the Underground Newspapers collection on microfilm at the Main Branch of the San Francisco Public Library and rediscover the experimental journalism of the 1960s.

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