This is not a goodbye but more of a note to say I’ll be seeing you around.
For the past three years, it has been my good fortune to be the editor-in-chief of the San Francisco Examiner and oversee editorial at the SF Weekly. It’s the best job I’ve ever had, working with terrific reporters and editors to cover the most interesting and vital stories for one of the best cities in the country. If I didn’t love every minute of it, I came really close. It has been a hard decision to leave, but I will step away from the papers tomorrow to begin a new adventure.
Starting next week, I trade in the newsroom for City Hall, where I will join the President of the Board of Supervisors London Breed as her new chief of staff.
I have written in these pages more than a few times that a city’s mettle is measured in its ability to care for its people, especially its most vulnerable, and create opportunities for stronger, more connected communities. I now have the opportunity to put my money where my mouth has been.
In this country and in this city, especially at this moment, we need local leadership that is courageous, thoughtful and caring. Whatever is to come, San Francisco will have a big role in leading the progressive response to antagonistic federal policies, protecting our sanctuary city and our inclusive notion of civil rights. I am proud to join Supervisor Breed’s office and work to set a good and sustainable course for District 5 and San Francisco as a whole.
At the Examiner and at the Weekly, I have been lucky to work with a group of dedicated journalists who work gracefully everyday under pressure, and do so with serving the public interest as their guiding principle. In that respect, I suspect I will find myself on familiar ground with many of my new colleagues.
I started out in newspapers because I was seeking a way to feel more connected to the places and people around me, to understand why things worked and why they didn’t, and because I believe newspapers give people a way to feel more connected to their city. Today, I believe as much as I ever have in the power of journalism to empower communities, elevate civic debate and expose sham. Those are goals I also carry with me to my new workplace.
I leave both the Examiner and Weekly in excellent hands: Gregory Andersen is taking the reins at the Examiner, and Peter Kane is the new editor at the Weekly. I expect both to accomplish great things with the talented journalists at each publication. I’m excited to follow their coverage, now as an avid reader. These papers, and the other local news outlets, are essential to ensuring we remain a responsive, inclusive and working city.
San Francisco is the city where I was born, and as a kid growing up in Berkeley, I spent much of my free time riding BART into The City to wander around its neighborhoods, chasing fun and trouble, and finding both in great supply. It was wonderful to be a kid on the loose in San Francisco, and sometimes, walking its streets now, I feel that same opened-eyed wonder, the sense of freedom and fascination in the multiplicity of The City, its diversity and juxtapositions squeezed right up against each other.
But other times, it feels we are a far distance from the San Francisco I remember from years ago. Perhaps it’s partly a function of seeing the world now through adult eyes, but the intense stress, competition and exclusivity of today’s San Francisco can feel like the opposite of freedom and openness. Evidence of this new reality is too hard to ignore. It pushes against us constantly — the packed transit lines, crippling housing costs, tent encampments, sidewalk drug use, rising expense of basic goods mixed with glaring omnipresence of commercial luxury, and all the friends who have moved away. The too-common public displays of mental distress are at once heartbreaking and menacing.
These are not all new or unique problems — other cities certainly share many of these burdens, and their experiences may teach us new ways to respond — but these are our challenges to address as a city on our own terms. San Francisco is a great city, but we have work to do.
In this particular moment, in our country and in our city, it feels important to be involved as directly as possible in civic life. I want the opportunity to do new things, to invest myself in public service. I want to take action, not just by writing about how our city can be better, but by trying to make it so. This is the only antidote I can think of at this time when I have felt out of step with the larger world.
As I look at San Francisco through this new lens, I hope to see sides of it that I have never noticed before. I’ll let you know what I find.
I look forward to seeing you around.
Michael Howerton is editor-in-chief of the San Francisco Examiner.