San Francisco print publications have a rich and complicated history. It’s almost enough to say the Hearsts, accused of starting wars to increase circulation for example, were major players in the long, dramatic battle of the San Francisco dailies. They owned the evening paper, The San Francisco Examiner. The San Francisco Chronicle, owned by the brothers de Young, had heir own drama. One of them shot a mayoral candidate after the candidate and the owner-editor cast aspersions on each other’s character and was, in turn, shot to death by the mayor’s son. The two papers spent decades battling to gain the upper hand, stealing popular columnists from each other along the way. It was the kind of battle that played out in major cities across the country — morning paper battling evening paper, only more viscerally than most.
In most cases, it was the morning papers that survived. In this case, in a complicated and bizarre transaction that kept the courts busy for a few years, the Chronicle, the prize, blinked and Hearst bought it, getting the prime a.m. spot it desired and needed to survive. The Examiner, which was of questionable worth even before the bargaining, was subsequently sold to the politically powerful Fang family who also had newspaper interests (the then popular Asian Week among them). However, in my view, the relaunch of the doomed Examiner under the Fangs went worse than expected. The new Examiner, was perceived as error-ridden and was largely ignored even though or because it was free. In those days, advertisers wanted paid circulation numbers to support ad buys. And readers, I suspect, doubted its credibility. Soon, The Examiner was for sale again.
This was good news for wealthy conservative businessman Phillip Anschutz who seemed to be setting up a national network of small, free dailies. Wisely anticipating the inevitability of the Internet and the dotcom explosion he obtained a copyright on the word “Examiner” and purchased various Internet domains with big city names followed by examiner.com. Who could ask for more —twenty or thirty major city dailies with one owner and inter-connected web sites? Go to examiner.com and pick your city was the logic. When he bought The San Francisco Examiner from the Fangs, he added it to his other prizes, The Washington Examiner and The Baltimore Examiner. I thought that was pretty forward thinking at the time. He would have a powerful medium to deliver his message. He would have the singular ability to deliver ads to every major metropolitan area in the country with an economy of time and cost. He was, it seemed, on his way to a media empire.
|METRO: Alive and well in the '80s|
San Francisco also has many colorful, fascinating neighborhoods. Most of them have monthlies, and many of them are quite good. The Noe Valley Voice and The Marina Times are exceptional servants of their respective communities. My favorite is The New Fillmore, though small and promotional in nature, the writing is solid and the design exquisite. It has a more difficult task than most: provide balanced coverage of an area with multiple, often overlapping borders and very different identities.
There are also two city magazines — the older San Francisco and the now well-established 7X7. Both are well-designed glossy pubs competing for the attention of the young and the restlessly trendy. Restaurants, interior design and fashion dominate. Because I’m linguistically limited, I won’t attempt to speak for papers specifically targeting the significant Asian and Latino populations of the city —about a third of the city’s population each. The Bay View positions itself a “National Black Paper,“ and was one of the first to switch its primary focus from print to web. It does however print a print monthly edition, many of them distributed in the Bay Area.
|A lively Weekly from Francis Ford Coppola|
Far more interesting to me, though, are the one-of-a-kind publications, labors of love in many cases. I’m pretty sure my list isn’t complete. Some had short lives and some never made it beyond the first issue. City Lights Bookstore used to have a rack of magazines, mimeographed, Xeroxed, even hand-copied issues of peoples' personal periodicals. But here are some publications I remember and one I briefly edited.
Of those who made it at least beyond its premiere issue, my favorite was METRO. Fiction. Photography. Commentary. Food, The Arts. It was a beautifully designed monthly with a usually elegant magazine-style cover over newsprint in a tabloid format. It was active in the early ‘80s, reflecting the full range of San Francisco’s creative community. When METRO exited the scene Photo Metro, once an insert that was also beautifully executed, attempted to survive on its own showing the work of local photographers. If I were younger and this was an earlier century I would try to revive it.
|Still alive and well|
The city’s well-to-do have always been served. The dailies used to have society pages, but gradually let them dwindle in favor of expanding news about and for the hinterlands. As I mentioned earlier, San Francisco magazine and later 7X7 courted and continue to court the one percent, but in some ways they didn’t know how to make the elite and those who loved them feel special enough. And to some extent, they come across as too egalitarian. Snob appeal has its appeal. Here comes The Nob Hill Gazette.
In 1978, sugar fortune heir Gardner Mein founded a tabloid that essentially became the city’s official society pages. It is delightfully and intentionally snooty. Anybody who is anybody eventually finds a way into the publication. Anybody who isn’t doesn’t. The rich and famous are photographed at parties, fundraisers, and openings, usually smiling, bejeweled, dressed in designer gowns, holding a glass of champagne or a cocktail. To appear in the Gazette is a kind of confirmation of your status in the ruling class, or an indication of your arrival there. The number of pictures in which one finds him- or herself is a measure on the order of the number of bead necklaces one gets at Mardi Gras. Sort of.
|Flirted with fame and fortune|
Unfortunately, from the point of view of a print guy like me, this post is really a toast to what is already gone or slipping away. Print? I remember my parents talking about all the programs on radio. There were a few left when I was old enough to appreciate George Burns and Gracie Allen. Lucy was paired with Richard Denning then, not Desi. I remember radio’s passing: the day we got our first television set. I say this as I sit before my large screen Mac, where I e-mail,friends and associates, check Facebook. write books, post on my blog and generally Google my life away. I haven’t picked up a newspaper in quite some time, I am ashamed t say.