SLO New Times Announces Passing of Publisher Steve Moss

April 25, 2005

Media contact:
New Times General Manager Bob Rucker, (805) 546-8208

  It is with deep sadness that the San Luis Obispo New Times and the Santa Maria Sun families announce the passing of our founder, publisher, and friend, Steve Moss.

    He passed away over this weekend while gardening at his San Luis Obispo home. He was 56.

    Steve was born Sept. 18 1948 in Riverside, Calif., the son of Elizabeth and Harry Moss. He graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 1974 with a degree in fine arts, did some undergraduate work at the now-defunct Brooks Institute of Fine Arts, and some graduate work at Syracuse University in New York. While in Syracuse, he started writing for one of the city’s new alt-weeklies. By 1983, he had moved to San Luis Obispo and was working as the editor at what was then called Senior Magazine.

    As Steve himself liked to tell the story, when the publisher of that magazine discovered that Steve was thinking about starting his own local paper in 1986, he fired him. Over the next few months, Steve, along with friends Bev Johnson and Alex Zuniga, put together and published the very first issue of New Times.

    With his wit, humor, remarkable writing skills, and passion for quality journalism, Steve grew the paper into one of Central California’s largest and most-respected weekly papers, one that consistently outshined other local corporate-backed media sources.

    "We don’t have a hidden agenda at New Times," Steve wrote in 2003. "We don’t think we’re smarter than our readers. We think the world is complex, not simple; that conflicting issues usually have merit worth pondering on each side, that honorable people can disagree, that Democrats can screw things up as badly as Republicans, and that an environmentalist can become just as much of a nogoodnick as a mall developer.

    "We also think life is mostly a fun affair, not an impending disaster — and this sense of fun and playfulness shows in our pages each week, even as we acknowledge that there are indeed ugly things out there in need of a good thrashing."

    In 2000, Steve, Bob Rucker, and Zuniga started a successful sister weekly in northern Santa Barbara County, the Santa Maria Sun. The Sun followed a different format than New Times, but Steve’s goals were the same. As he liked to say, it was "a town square you can hold in your hands."

    Despite a lifelong struggle with clinical depression and epilepsy, Steve was a prolific writer and illustrator, and over the years became internationally known for the contest he started in a 1987 issue of New Times: 55 Fiction. The rules were simple — write a short story in 55 words — and the contest has grown to where it now accepts thousands of entries a year from as far away as Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

    His creation spawned countless knock-offs; a play produced in London, England; and even several movie scripts based on the stories. In the 1990s, Steve and Running Press in Philadelphia, Pa. compiled the best of the stories into two books, "The World’s Shortest Stories," and "The World’s Shortest Stories of Love and Death." In 2003, the second book was translated into Japanese.

    The final memory many of us at New Times will have of Steve will be the week before his death as he walked through the office, critiquing story ideas, shaping future issues, laughing at jokes, keeping the paper true to the ideals of journalism he held so high.

    He once wrote: "With an alternative paper there’s another voice — an alternative voice — for the community to partake of. With the consolidation of mass media today by vast corporate interests, these independent voices are all the more necessary if real knowledge and accurate information is to flourish. Without them, the world would be a poorer place."

    Steve was different things to all of us: leader, writer, artist, friend, mentor, inspiration. The world will be a poorer place without him.

    He is survived by brothers Harry Jr. of San Francisco, Kioren of Ventura, and Captain Francis Moss and his wife Sharon Jones Moss of Lawton, Okla.; sister Alice Moss of New York City; and by sister Laura Moss and husband Hagan Greer, nephew Alec W. Moss, and niece Georgia Greer, all of Minneapolis, Minn.

— Abraham Hyatt


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