In 2008 Warden Robert Ayers removed San Quentin News from the shelf, dusted it off and put the responsibility of managing the newspaper in the hands of a group of inmates advised by retired professional journalists.
In our previous editorial, Steve McNamara wrote about the history of SQ News and how it was revived. What you didn’t read about were the dreams that the inmate staff has to expand the newspaper to nationwide circulation.
The inmate staff is aware of the many challenges they would face to fulfill this endeavor. Nevertheless, they have stayed true to their vision. It has been an enormous challenge to implement these commitments while working with the administration to further our goal. SQ News wants the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to become fully acquainted with our ambitious plans.
We have evidence that our newspaper attracts attention throughout the California prison system and we think it is important to make the newspaper accessible to every prisoner in the state of California.
Our purpose is to educate the inmate population about rehabilitation and changes in criminal justice policies that affect them and their families. Conscious of that obligation, we have prepared a mission statement that reflects our goal.
Our Mission Statement: “We strive to report on forward-thinking approaches in criminal justice policies that support changes in prisoners’ behavior, particularly through rehabilitative efforts.” Our aim is to heighten social awareness that the incarcerated person has something to offer the community.
Since its renaissance, San Quentin News has gained the positive attention of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), where the newspaper is recognized as an official media outlet.
In 2012, Dr. William Drummond from UC Berkeley’s School of Journalism was asked to teach a Patten University class at the prison. When he became aware of the San Quentin News he immediately expressed an interest in working with the newspaper.
The following semester, Drummond brought in some of his UC students, who sat with our writers and helped develop stories. The students were so impressed with the results of these efforts that many of them returned for a second semester.
Six semesters later, visits by Drummond’s journalism students are a regular part of the newspaper. Students eagerly register for his class, wanting to become a partner in the San Quentin News vision.
Dr. Drummond realized that in order for SQ News to meet its goal of putting a newspaper in the hands of every prisoner in CDCR, the staff would require guidance from business professionals.
Professor Drummond helped us broaden our vision by introducing our news program to the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. In 2013, a group of Master of Business Administration (MBA) students from the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business began meeting regularly with the SQ News’ staff to plan how to move the newspaper forward.
After weeks of interviewing, evaluating and assessing the feasibility of growing a small newspaper’s operation into a medium-size publication, the MBA students developed a business plan that outlines how SQ News could expand circulation to reach every California prisoner within 12 years.
The project was led by Jon Spurlock, MBA. Once the San Quentin Hass Project Report was completed, he assumed a continuing role as a business adviser to SQ News. His knowledge of business development provides direction on constructing an organization that will diversify and expand its efforts. The newspaper’s internal operation is being morphed to handle future growth. We want our supporters to think of this metamorphosis as analogous to that of a caterpillar and a butterfly.
Within a short time, the SQ News has attracted the attention of major media outlets such as the LA Times, New York Times, Washington Post and CNN. In 2014 SQ News won a James Madison Freedom of Information Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for “excellence in journalism under extraordinary circumstances.”
With assistance from Spurlock and Jen Lyons of Patten University, SQ News may be able to reach its goal in 10 years and reaching the goal in 15 years would still be considered successful. Of course, SQ News’ ability to grow depends foremost on the cooperation from the administration at San Quentin and CDCR Sacramento.
Paul Cobb, publisher and editor of Post News Group, an Oakland–based news group, was introduced to SQ News staff in 2014 and agreed to support the newspaper development. Cobb has also arranged to publish some of our articles in Post News Group papers to expand SQ News reader base.
The newspaper’s expansion in the seven years since its revival in 2008 has been impressive. It is now read in 21 of the 34 state’s prisons and has a goal to give every prisoner in the system access to the San Quentin News.
For the SQ News to expand its reader base, we must continue to raise the necessary funds. It is important for all financial supporters, subscribers and readers to understand that the path of success will not come easy.
SQ News’ supporters past, present and future also should know that this prison newspaper operates without financial support from the state of California.
As one of the only prisoner-run newspapers in the country, if not the world, we strive to be on the leading edge of prison innovation. We want to lead by example. We want for our fellow prisoners what we want for ourselves. That is, the ability to enhance ourselves with knowledge and embrace truth so that we, too, see our future.