Jimboy’s serves up the censorship

ilustration by SONIA ARNEJA

Like all evil media empires, the Sacramento News & Review needs some way of measuring its audience, its likes and dislikes. One of the most scientific methods is to count our returns.

It’s a pretty straightforward process, really. Every week, a certain percentage of the papers we distribute don’t get picked up, and these get returned to be recycled. The lower the return rate, the better.

In a typical week, SN&R’s returns are between 6 and 6.5 percent. That’s pretty good for an alt weekly like ours. The paper keeps returns low with a combination of good design, interesting content and carefully considered distribution. On a really good week, we’ll get that number down to about 4 percent. Those are the weeks issues fly off the stands and you can hardly find a copy downtown. Our cover story “Living homeless,” (June 11, 2009), a collaboration with Capital Public Radio, was in this range. But week to week, the returns don’t change all that much.

But something about our July 2 issue must have spooked our readers, particularly the suburban readers. The cover story that week featured the happily married (and happily gay, if that’s not redundant) couple Ben and Lonny Phillips-Lesenana, and the headline, “5 easy steps to marriage freedom.” The whole cover package was partly a one-year anniversary celebration for those lucky gay and lesbian couples who got hitched between last June’s historic state Supreme Court decision granting the right of marriage to same-sex couples, and last November’s hysterical Proposition 8, taking that right away. It also offered a sort of map for getting out of this bigoted little cul de sac and back on the road to equality, with our own Kel Munger as a guide.

But returns on this issue were 14 percent—more than twice the normal rate. In fact, it was “historically bad,” said SN&R’s distribution manager Michael Billingsley. On some suburban routes, like in Roseville and Elk Grove, the returns were as high as 22 percent.

What could it be that made this issue of the paper so darned unpopular? The two dudes hugging on the cover? Noooooo! You think? Sacramento isn’t really that homophobic, is it?

It was probably just a coincidence, right? Just like the way 24 Hour Fitness banned SN&R from its Roseville location that same week? After years of having a newspaper rack in the store? Surely, just a coincidence.

Likewise, Jimboy’s Tacos, the homegrown chain that’s gotten nothing but love from SN&R over the years, also gave us the boot that week. Hundreds of copies of the gay-marriage issue were thrown in the trash by Jimboy’s employees, and SN&R was removed from seven locations in all.

Tom Boalt, vice president and general manager of Jimboy’s Tacos, said the paper was only officially banned from three stores: the Roseville, Carmichael and Folsom locations. Those three stores are directly owned by the Jimboy’s corporation. The other stores are franchises and can ban or not ban whoever they want.

And Boalt insisted that the exile had nothing to do with the gay-marriage cover. “It had nothing to do with that specific issue,” said Boalt. “It wasn’t anything about editorial content at all. We’re not on a crusade against the News & Review.”

Whew, that’s a relief. Because if it were a crusade, they’d probably have Jimboy’s workers build a bonfire with the papers—rather than just throwing them away en masse.

Boalt did say that corporate had received complaints about some of “adult-themed” advertisements in the back of the paper over the last couple of weeks. True, the papers have also been in these locations for years, and true, the ads are nothing new, either. “So, the week we have the gay-marriage issue, our papers end up in the garbage?” said Billingsley. “Sure, maybe it’s coincidental.”