Following his recent purchase of the San Francisco Examiner and SF Weekly, Clint Reilly, the San Francisco publisher, real estate entrepreneur and political mover and shaker, is nothing but optimistic about the future of the news business in The City.
“The Examiner has a proud legacy and history here in the Bay, but also by reputation across the country. I’m honored to be associated with such a great brand and I plan to do everything I can to make the paper as important, and as great a newspaper as it has the potential to be,” said Reilly, who runs Clint Reilly Communications with his wife Janet.
The longtime San Francisco booster, who has lived in Sea Cliff for 33 years, and before that, in the Mission, Bernal Heights, North Beach, Russian Hill and the Richmond District, has enjoyed recent success with his company’s publications, Nob Hill Gazette and Gentry, with their focus on culture, philanthropy and “achievers and achievements.”
His attention to The Examiner goes back to the early 2000s, with his involvement in an anti-trust lawsuit against the Hearst Corp., which, while in the process of buying the Chronicle, ultimately sold The Examiner to the Fang family in a highly publicized, controversial deal.
While noting that he wants to concentrate on the future, not the past, Reilly — who came to fame as a political consultant running campaigns for Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer — said, “I was in distress when there was an attempt to close The Examiner; I did everything I could to keep the Examiner alive and I succeeded in making that happen.”
An observer of the news industry for decades, Reilly has measured praise for its previous owners from William Randolph Hearst, who made the 155-year-old paper the “Monarch of the Dailies”; to the Fangs, who maintained it; to Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, who, even though he was “far to the right” of most Examiner readers, used his resources to enhance the paper; to the current owner, Black Press, the Canadian news group headed by David Black.
Jay Curran, publisher of San Francisco Media Co., which owns the Examiner and Weekly, said he is excited about the sale, under which ownership will be transferred on Jan. 1, 2021.
“I personally know it’s going to be great for our newspapers and it’s going to be great for our employees,” said Curran, who noted that Reilly, with his deep roots in The City, is highly respected by businesspeople in San Francisco, which will open doors to advertising opportunities and community engagement.
“David Black loves newspapers and he loves San Francisco and he loves the Examiner and Weekly,” Curran said of the Black Press owner. “Black wanted to make sure they got put in the hands of someone who was going to grow it, and not pull it all apart. And Clint’s that guy.”
While Reilly said there won’t be big changes at the papers in the first 90 days until he’s made a thorough assessment, his attitude about the future doesn’t reflect the economic strife – repeated cutbacks and layoffs — that has characterized the news business until recent years.
“My feeling is that the Examiner needs more journalists, it needs higher circulation. It’s not about making cuts, it’s about infusing new energy and new capital into the paper,” he said, adding, “The industry is learning how to cope with the new reality, and now we’re starting to see innovations and see some business success,” Reilly said, mentioning the New York Times’ huge digital readership and websites Politico and Axios.
Pointing to today’s need for solid, objective reporting, Frank Holland, executive vice present of Clint Reilly Communications, called The Examiner an institution that’s “critical to the function of our democracy.”
Describing his boss, he added, “Clint is not someone who really retrenches. He’s ambitious about doing things at a really high level,” citing Reilly’s real estate jewel, the Merchants Exchange Building, and what he thought was Reilly’s wild decision to open a restaurant, Credo, during the belly of the recession in 2009.
“Today you can get Christmas dinner from there, during COVID!” Holland added.
Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez, a producer/reporter at KQED and former political columnist for the Examiner, said Reilly will be an interesting newspaper owner because he knows so much about local politics and politicians — likely even more than the reporters who will work for him.
“He’s been in the fray of San Francisco as much as anyone,” Rodriguez said.
Reilly, a family man with college-age daughters Jill and Ava, clearly is committed to The City, fondly sharing how his father lived in the Mission and was a milkman for Berkeley Farms, and recalling days in the seminary in San Francisco and marching with Cesar Chavez in the 1970s.
He tried political consulting because he thought he might do good in the world by helping people he liked get elected, and found success with his first consulting job, running Richard Hongisto’s campaign for San Francisco sheriff. It was work for which he had no mentor.
As he mentions places he likes – from the views at Lands End, Baker Beach and China Beach to classic eateries North Beach Restaurant and Original Joe’s, owned by his friends – he sees challenges and hope as The City recovers from the pandemic.
“I want The Examiner to be a force for that element of San Francisco which we know has always been there, the spirit of always coming back from adversity, and overcoming adversity. I want The Examiner to be leading that charge and participating in that comeback,” said Reilly.