July 19, 2018
The East Bay Express’s publisher resigns
by Susan Rella
The East Bay Express: Where #MeToo met up with #WhiteLivesMatter.
Welcome to the sad, sad story of Stephen Buel, erstwhile publisher of the Express, an Oakland-based weekly newspaper specializing in investigative journalism and cultural affairs that’s celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. As Steve Rubenstein chronicles at the San Francisco Chronicle, Buel resigned this weekend following an admission that he’d used “derogatory words” while discussing a story about hip-hop he’d had removed from the Express website. Jasmine Sheena over at the Daily Californian offers a bit more detail; she says that Buel saw the piece, by former associate editor Azucena Rasilla, as “racist to white people,” and removed the story without talking to Rasilla or editor-in-chief Kathleen Richards. Rasilla resigned and, per Ryan Levi and Sara Hossaini at KQED News, Richards has also given her two-week notice — although she may reconsider her decision now that Buel is gone. [A Tuesday no-holds-barred editorial by Richards suggests she is staying on.]
That was the proverbial tip of the iceberg. According to Sheena, after Rasilla documented her grievances in a blog post, several other former employees came forward with claims of Buel’s impropriety. Chief among them were Kamala Kelkar, who tweeted that Buel had her fired from the San Francisco Examiner after she complained about sexism, and former Express publisher Jody Colley, who claimed that Buel had kissed her during a 2009 work event. Buel acknowledged having given Colley what he called an “inappropriate congratulatory kiss,” and says he immediately apologized.
But the damage has been done, and staff attrition has been high. “We lost two staff writers, both of whom are women of color, as well as many freelance writers as a result of this,” Richards told KQED.
Buel (who was editor of Express from 2001 to 2010, and has been co-owner since 2007) is also stepping down as publisher of four other publications, including Oakland Magazine and the East Bay Monthly. He will be replaced by Express journalist Robert Gammon. Levi and Hossaini also write that Buel and his wife plan to sell the weekly. In an email, Buel definitely seemed to eschew contrition: “I made a couple mistakes in the past month, and another one a decade ago, but the universe doesn’t seem to believe in forgiveness at the moment,” Buel wrote to KQED. “I have no idea what I will do in the future, or where I will do it … After working seven days a week this past year to save the East Bay Express from extinction, I’m feeling like it’s time to focus on quality-of-life issues.”
Sounds like a real winner.
Susan Rella is the managing editor at Melville House, and a former bookseller.