The San Francisco Bay Guardian, an alternative-news weekly that has been recognized as a progressive source for news and arts and culture for nearly half a century, will cease publication effective today.
Publisher Glenn Zuehls announced Tuesday morning that the San Francisco Media Co., which also owns The San Francisco Examiner and SF Weekly, is closing the Guardian. Its final issue published today.
Calling it the hardest decision he's had to make in a 20-year newspaper career, Zuehls said the 50,000-circulation Guardian could no longer achieve financial sustainability.
“The Guardian has not made money for years. When we bought it two years ago, in fact, it was doing poorly … and we tried to breathe life into it,” Zuehls told The Examiner. “The product is incredible, but if we don't have people who will advertise in it, sometimes these strong, passionate things, you can't sell.”
Zuehls praised the Guardian as a “community watchdog” with a passionate staff and readership.
The news was a shock for staff at the paper, Editor Steven T. Jones said.
“It's sad, it's the end of an era,” Jones said. “San Francisco is losing an important progressive voice to The City at a time when I think that's needed more than ever.”
Several observers echoed that connection between longtime progressive coverage and the newspaper, which was founded in 1966 by Bruce Brugmann and his wife, Jean Dibble.
“I think it's played a very important role with providing a progressive perspective on San Francisco politics,” Supervisor David Campos said.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano said the local progressive community has “lost a strong supporter.”
“The paper was strong in two senses: It pushed hard and strong for what it believed in — things like public power, LGBT rights, prison reform and marijuana legislation,” he said. “It also had a strong moral influence that was often lacking in other publications.”
Former Guardian Editor and Publisher Tim Redmond said that while it's “tragic” anytime a newspaper is forced to close, the Guardian was more than a print and online publication but a community institution.
“The Guardian was for so long the independent voice of progressive San Francisco, arts, culture and news and it was a voice that didn't exist anywhere else,” Redmond said.
Brugmann said the business he founded provided a valuable service over its nearly five decades.
“I am proud of the staff who put their blood, sweat, and tears into producing one of the most influential alternative newspapers in the country,” he said.
In addition to its weekly coverage of news and arts and culture issues in The City, the Guardian has produced distinctive editions such as the Best of the Bay and an annual sex issue, as well as presented its Goldie Award for excellence in the arts. The paper's 40th annual Best of the Bay issue was published today.
The Guardian, whose history includes an attempt by employees to unionize during the 1970s, became part of the same parent company as its rival, SF Weekly, in January 2013, when the SFMC bought the Weekly.
The news of the Guardian's closure received a mix of reactions from across The City on social media Tuesday. “Even though I disagree with them much of the time, I will miss the voice of @sfbg” public-relations executive Sam Singer tweeted.
Anthony Lazarus, director of news and new media at San Francisco State, said many companies in the newspaper industry are challenged with the transition to the online world because it often doesn't produce adequate revenue despite advancements.
“This closing isn't necessarily out of sync with what's been happening more broadly in the newspaper industry,” Lazarus said.
Jones said Guardian staff has received wide support from the community and are exploring any potential options there may be to purchase the newspaper.
“If there was someone out there that could make it viable, we'd definitely listen,” Zuehls said when asked about prospects for a sale.