During the latter half of the 1960s, the Los Angeles Free Press, also called “The Freep,” was the largest of the underground newspapers in the United States. The Los Angeles-based publication died due to financial strife in the early 1970s, but the dutiful volunteer reporters of one of the nation’s pioneer alternative weekly newspapers refused to let The Freep’s essence die.
The last editor of the paper, veteran journalist Tommy Thompson, gathered journalists who had written for the magazine — people like Ron Ridenour, Dave Lindorff, Ben Pleasants, and his wife Dorothy Thompson — and proposed that the group found a new alternative newspaper. In the spring of 1976, the Los Angeles Vanguard published its first issue.
The rebellious publication quickly became a target of the LAPD’s Public Disorder Intelligence Division; they worked to send uncover cops to infiltrate the paper and bribed its ad sales agency to stop doing business with the Vanguard. The LAPD’s underhanded campaign ultimately succeeded, and the paper ceased publication less than two years after its creation.
The Vanguard’s life was brief but impactful. During its 14-month run, the weekly paper won awards for its reporting on rampant violence against citizens by the para-military Los Angeles Police Department, invasive practices of the phone company Pacific Telephone (often on behalf of police agencies), judicial corruption, and nuclear hazards.
A mission statement published in the first issue promised readers:
“We will hold politicians and bureaucrats accountable for their conduct, reminding them that they are public servants. We will closely watch the actions of large corporations, utility companies, transportation and communication lines, the Los Angeles moguls and others in positions of economic power. To this end, we will engage in advocacy journalism and some good old-fashioned muckraking, launching our own investigative reports and carefully following up our readers’ complaints. We will examine all forms of repression, from the blatant to the subtle. We won’t be afraid to take stands when necessary.
“The Vanguard is more than a newspaper, it is an organizing tool for community groups and individuals to fight back through citizen action. FIGHT BACK will be a regular feature of such efforts.”
The Park Center for Independent Media would like to thank David Lindorff for providing copies of the Vanguard’s publications, which will be displayed on our website as a historical record of the paper’s dissenting and impactful reporting.