‘Extremely Positive Force’ : Paper Celebrates 25 Years of Focus on Blacks’ Views

Times Staff Writer

Gloria Vinson was the quintessential successful woman, pulling down a hefty salary and rubbing elbows with Hollywood’s elite in her 12 years in show business, first as a production assistant for the long-running television series “Good Times,” then as an associate producer under situation-comedy king Norman Lear.

So what more could this longtime San Diegan have wanted out of life? A chance to move back to her hometown, for one. And, more importantly, the opportunity to “respond to the needs of the black community” she left behind when she migrated to Tinseltown in 1972.

Two years ago, Vinson, whose family moved here from Louisiana when she was 9 months old, quit her $1,400-per-week position with Lear “because I was having an average of two anxiety attacks a week from the whole L.A. scene.”


She came back to San Diego without a job, and worked for the Jesse Jackson presidential campaign before recently finding her real calling--as general manager of The San Diego Voice & Viewpoint, a weekly newspaper serving the city’s black community that marks its 25th anniversary this week.

Vinson, who grew up in Southeast San Diego, has held the position for six weeks and “couldn’t be happier or more challenged.”

Tonight, former “Good Times” star Esther Rolle will be the keynote speaker at the Holiday Inn Embarcadero banquet marking The San Diego Voice & Viewpoint’s silver anniversary. “I knew she couldn’t turn me down,” Vinson said of her actress friend, with a smile.

On Saturday, Vinson and the 12 members of the newspaper’s staff, working in Spartan offices at 30th Street and Imperial Avenue in the heart of Southeast, will continue their quest to expand the weekly’s circulation of 10,000. Vinson’s immediate goal is to broaden the circulation base, which is now largely confined to the neighborhoods in Southeast. Oceanside, with its growing black population, is the next target area.

The paper was the inspiration of Dr. Alfred Graham, a black dentist who lived and worked in Southeast. Graham started the newspaper 25 years ago with the help of his wife and two journalists who are still with the newspaper.

“The office was in his home at the time,” Vinson said. Since its modest beginnings, the paper has changed ownership four times. The current publisher is William H. Thompson, a local developer who has built apartments and condominiums in the community. He bought the paper in September.


The paper offers a potpourri of local news about the black community, focusing on problems, people and events in Southeast. Its recipes, social news and sports coverage have a folksy tone.

In recent weeks, the paper created a stir--and received widespread compliments--when it began publishing the names of people in PCP arrests in an effort to discourage drug use in the neighborhood. But Vinson said a more significant story has been the paper’s coverage of Sagon Penn, a young black man accused of killing a San Diego policeman.

Penn has claimed he was a victim of police brutality, and his case has generated tensions between black residents and the San Diego police. “We’ve had angles on that story that the traditional press has ignored or been unable to uncover,” Vinson said. “It’s because black people feel this is their paper--they know the door here is always open to them.”

She recounted the story of a home for delinquents that was being closed by the state because of accusations that the children were using drugs and getting into trouble with the law. The mainstream local media were very interested in the story, but the owner of the home refused to talk to them. Vinson was able to get an exclusive interview with the owner because “she knew that I would be fair,” she said.

She said the key to getting the interview was the fact that blacks look at the paper as a part of their history. “Who can tell it better than we can? We are the story. We are a part of the culture and value system,” she said.

Along with a countywide circulation push, Vinson said, will come an effort to cover news involving black residents living outside the Southeast neighborhoods.

Jennifer Adams, spokeswoman for the Southeast Economic Development Corp., a quasi-public agency promoting commercial growth in Southeast San Diego, said that without The Voice, “most people active in the black community would feel their news is not really being reported. The paper is an extremely positive force for our people.”


Adams agreed, though, that the paper must expand its horizons. “There are black people all over San Diego County now,” she said. “And it’s discouraging to me that my black, professional friends in La Jolla and Tierrasanta have never heard of The Voice.”

“There are lots of communities in San Diego where blacks are moving,” Vinson said, “and those are the communities we want to reach. Oceanside is the first natural area, particularly so we can expand into North County. But places closer to home, like Mira Mesa and Del Cerro, also have good potential for us.”

Vinson hesitated for a moment when asked if the newspaper was objective, asking with a sheepish smile, “Do you want an honest answer to that? Well, it’s no. We can’t be objective in some cases--we have a different mission from the daily papers, and we look at issues differently, from an advocate’s point of view.”

Adams said her organization appreciates the paper’s emphasis on positive news involving the black community.

“The Voice promotes a positive image,” she said. “We can depend on them for that on an ongoing basis. We’re in the business of promoting development in Southeast, and The Voice is a big help to us. It makes people feel comfortable about this part of town.”

Times staff writer Sebastian Dortch contributed to this story.