I woke up at 5:30am this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. So here I am, balancing my checking account, researching contractors (for the new house) and reading about Grosse Pointe. I came upon a news story published in the Detroit Free Press last month about Grosse Pointe residents wanting to ban the Metro Times, a free alternative weekly, in libraries and throughout the city.
Flashback to the late 90s. I started working at SF Weekly (San Francisco’s equivalent to the Metro Times) as advertising coordinator for the retail department. Best job ever, by the way. We had the same kinds of ads in the back of the magazine and sure, a handful of people complained but generally they left us alone. It being San Francisco and all.
When I got promoted to marketing director, my office was moved to the classifieds department, which handled all the adult ads. For sure there was never a dull moment. I remember overhearing phone conversations about the definition of a hooker versus that of a prostitute (a serious conversation between a Classified employee and potential ad placer). And “back of the book” customers who came to the office with payments or in-person questions, were led to a separate, more discreet window (not paraded through the lobby). We obviously took steps to keep that section of the paper a bit….sheltered, for lack of a better word (and do you see how I used “we” there? I still feel like I’m part of that company in some way). But it paid the bills. Which meant that the editorial department could keep writing phenomenal journalism.
Back to present day. The argument that some Grosse Pointe residents (who wanted a complete ban of the weekly) made, was that in addition to advertisements for topless bars, phone sex and other promiscuous services, the tabloid promoted human trafficking. The editor in chief of the Metro Times countered by saying that the ads were “no more sexually explicit than many of the books on public library shelves.” And though the Library Board was “quick to praise” the editorial content of the Metro Times,” they voted unanimously to move the magazine behind the counter, meaning that only those 18 and over could request copies.
I’ve always had mixed feelings about this, but ultimately I side with free speech. And as one Grosse Pointer put it, “I hope the library has a big back room to handle all the potentially off-putting materials one might be aghast by in the place.”