Santa Cruz free weekly Good Times announced it had tapped media industry veteran Brad Kava to serve as interim editor in the wake of a fierce backlash over the publication of an anonymous letter to the editor attacking the trans community. The decision to run the letter and the subsequent reaction highlights the blurry divide in the media between promoting free speech and giving a platform to hate speech, and where and how those in charge should draw that line.
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Santa Cruz free weekly Good Times has parted ways with interim editor Adam Joseph following the May 17 publication of an anonymous letter to the editor that denigrated participants in a drag story time and criticized the transgender community.
Joseph, who had led Good Times’ editorial side since longtime editor Steve Palopoli left in December, has been replaced on an interim basis by industry veteran Brad Kava, owner and publisher of Growing Up in Santa Cruz and a journalism educator at Cabrillo College. Kava has a long history with publisher Dan Pulcrano, who Kava says needed an editor to step in fast.
“He called me up and said he needed an editor quickly,” Kava said. “As a favor, I said sure and got thrown right into the fire. The first day was deadline day, and we put out an issue. I’m a journalist; it’s all I’ve ever done. If someone asks me for a favor, I don’t really ever say no.”
Following swift and loud backlash from the community to the letter, Pulcrano, whose company, Weeklys, publishes several other papers in the region, took action. Pulcrano let go of Joseph less than two weeks after the letter’s publication, just as Good Times was gearing up to publish its annual Pride Month issue May 31. In a rare “Publisher’s Note” in the space typically reserved for the “Editor’s Note,” Pulcrano apologized for the letter, reaffirmed the paper’s commitment to inclusivity, and said Good Times deleted all traces of the letter from its digital channels.
The organizers of a drag story time event in Watsonville say they are disappointed that a local newspaper published a...
The letter’s publication “bypassed our normal review processes and violated our policies against anonymous letters and hate speech,” Pulcrano wrote. “We apologize unequivocally for granting a request of anonymity, for allowing this letter to appear and for the hurt it caused.” In an email to Lookout, Pulcrano said Good Times grants letter to the editor anonymity “only in rare circumstances.”
In the same publisher’s note, Pulcrano announced Kava as interim editor, saying he would “head the local editorial team until we complete the process of hiring our next editor.”
Although Kava’s role is interim — for now — he says he’s been given the reins and authority to make changes and mold the editorial side how he sees fit. He did not say how long he expects to stay at the helm.
“I have total license,” said Kava, who worked at the San Jose Mercury News for 22 years, until 2007. “I want to help get it back to where it used to be: 100 pages thick, a great news source for Santa Cruz,” he said of Good Times. “Back in the day, it was something you had to pick up. I like to think we can bring it back to that.”
Since the 183-word letter was published, Good Times has published several hundred words in repentance. Joseph did not return Lookout’s request for comment.
The decision to run the letter and the subsequent backlash highlights a timeless debate in the media on the blurry divide between promoting free speech and giving a platform to hate speech, and where and how those in charge should draw that line.
That debate often sounds like this: Should an editor publish a letter of that ilk to alert readers that these darker opinions exist in a largely welcoming community? Or should an editor quash it and decide those opinions don’t deserve the light of day in their community?
The New York Times faced this question when it decided to run Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton’s op-ed calling for military intervention during the height of civil unrest following George Floyd’s murder in 2020. That caused the almost immediate resignation of the paper’s editorial editor. More recently, CNN received internal and external pressure for giving former president and current Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump airtime to talk about election fraud and his sexual assault case during a rambling town hall last month. The fallout from that continued into this week, when CNN announced the departure of its CEO, Chris Licht.
Kava said publishing the since-deleted letter to the editor was a “rookie mistake” and that he would “never publish an anonymous hate letter like that.” However, he acknowledges that the free speech question is a tricky one and says the backlash from the letter was surprisingly charged toward a paper that, he says, has always supported the LGBTQ+ community.
“I think [the former editor] thought, OK, on one hand, you show readers there is this hate out there, and then you publish a counter-response the next week. But man, this turned out way harsher than I expected,“ Kava said. “Where do you draw the line for freedom of speech, representing everyone fairly, and hate speech? It’s tough.”