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Sunday, August 1, 2021

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UncategorizedThe Bay Guardian shuts down

The Bay Guardian shuts down

This is all that's left of the sfbg.com site.
This is all that’s left of the sfbg.com site.

By Tim Redmond

OCTOBER 14, 2014 – What a crazy, sad morning.

I was teaching my San Francisco State class from 10 to noon, on the sixth floor of a building right next to the Westfield Mall, and about 11:45 my phone started to buzz like crazy. I finished class, checked the messages …. And found out that the Bay Guardian, the newspaper I helped run for 30 years, the voice of the San Francisco left, a community institution … was just shut down.

Summarily, the way big corporations do things.

The staff was told at 10 this morning to pack their stuff and leave. Website turned off. Email gone. Everyone out.

Such a terrible loss to the entire city.

It turns out that the Guardian office is one floor below where I teach, in the same building, so I hopped on the elevator. The door was open; I was met by some of my old friends hauling out boxes of personal possessions.

I walked back into the Guardian newsroom, where Steve Jones and Marke B. were packing up, and we talked for a few minutes. Everyone was sorta numb. It’s not as if the owners had given notice or warning. They conveniently waited until right after the staff had busted its collective ass to put out the Best of the Bay issue – which generates a lot of revenue – and as soon as that one went to the press, the paper was closed.

I will have plenty of time to reminisce and talk about the good times we had – and there were lots of good times. We put out a hell of a good paper for a very long time. We were part of the San Francisco community, an institution with value far beyond the cash assets and bottom line.

And that’s the real tragedy here: San Francisco has lost not only a newspaper but a part of itself, a part of its history and soul.

I was only able to stay for a few moments before Pat Brown, the chief financial guy for the SF Media Company, which owns the Ex, the SF Weekly, and until today, the Guardian, came in and asked me to leave.

So I don’t know all the details. I certainly can’t comment on anything to do with Guardian finances since I have been out of that loop for a long time.

I hear that the owners are willing to entertain offers from buyers. I don’t know if anyone will come forward.

But there are some immediate, critical issues, including:

— The staff – great, talented editors and designers and salespeople who have contributed so much to this city – are suddenly and unexpectedly out of work. There are so many stories that won’t get done. 48hills is going to do everything possible to pick up the slack, but the Guardian had a full newsroom and we are still a small operation with limited resources (I’m trying like crazy to raise money, but I can’t exactly hire five people.)

— The Guardian endorsements were a critical part of the San Francisco left, and now they are gone.

In fact, they’re gone now: The company has essentially blocked access to the web site. You can’t find the Guardian endorsements on sfbg.com; if you Google “Bay Guardian endorsements 2014” you get a link that takes you to the splash page that says the Guardian isn’t publishing anymore.

— Worse: Years and years of progressive history is suddenly hard to access. Some of this is on the Internet Archive and there are ways of finding stories, of course, but you can no longer go to sfbg.com and search for the deep resources of all those reports.

(Oh, and how do you submit a resume for a job when all the links to your past work are unavailable?)

— There are print copies of every Guardian ever published – 48 years’ worth – in a warehouse. There are bound volumes of much of that in the office. I used to let anyone researching history go through those copies; now what happens?

I asked Brown as he was showing me the door what he would do with the archives, and he said “we will keep them, they have value.” But will the public get access? He said he thought so, eventually.

Given how this all went down today, I am worried.

The archives ought to be donated to a library where everyone can see them. I don’t see why the website is dead; can’t the splash page allow at least a search icon for old stuff?

I know this all happened fast, but there are a ton of questions hanging.

I sincerely hope there’s a buyer out there who wants to keep this paper alive. I know the staff will try to save it in any way they can.

But whatever happens, I want to say to my friends and colleagues of all of these years: You did good, folks. We made San Francisco a better place. Nobody and nothing can ever change that.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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98 COMMENTS

  1. Only page 1 of 9 pages is available. What a loss to the progressive community it is to see the Bay Gardian axed.

  2. Yep. My thoughts exactly, Susan. I moved here because of San Francisco’s politics. It’s been a creeping realization of mine that this is no longer the city that I moved here for. I’ve tried to deny it, but news like this just hits you over the head and makes it impossible to deny anymore.

  3. So it’s all Brugmann’s fault?

    Why doesn’t he offer to buy it back for a small portion of the millions he cashed out for?

  4. That was me who made that comment about the train wreck. The comment proved prophetic, but in truth it was an observation of an already existing condition. It’s sad that progressives have no media in SF anymore. But that happened as soon as it was bought out by a corporation and Tim was fired.

  5. While there are many solid reasons why this happened, the sf media company merely put the last nail in the coffin. The sfbg heart had been bleeding for a long time, the greatest injury when Tim left and many of the real die-hards walked out in solidarity. That was amazing Tim, I’d never seen anything like it. By then there was quite literally one sales rep left and no true helm to drive the ship. That said, your writers are out there Tim, look to the changing models of online media and you may find your solution to fill the progessive hole cheaper than you think.

  6. It’s important to differentiate social and economic liberalism. The newcomers to SF will always be liberal on social matters like abortion and gay marriage. I am liberal on those topics myself.

    But people in SF are much less liberal on economic matters, not least because so many of us are prosperous, at least by the standards of the rest of the nation. For instance, all this talk of the so-called “one percent” ignores the fact that about two thirds of SF residents are in the one percent if that is defined globally.

    And successful people do not vote to give away their money, even though they tend to be very generous towards charity and fund-raising for good causes.

    Put another way, traditionally the left wants government to intervene on economic matters but not social matters. The right wants big government on social matters but not economic matters. But the new SF model is wanting small government on both social and economic matter i.e. let gays marry AND let me keep more of my hard-earned money.

    And it is in that sense that SF is becoming more libertarian. We want the government out of our bedroom and out of our wallet. The new thinking is that an endlessly bigger government is bad for the people, and that thinking started with a Californian – Ronald Reagan.

    Sadly, SFBG was an old-school big government advocate and SF’ers just don’t think that way any more.

  7. I agree with folks here asking you,Tim, to consider picking up the mantle – are you and SFBG folks and friends open to starting another publication together? At least discuss it and see what ideas you have. You could start small, and grow.

  8. I think the talk about the ‘death of the Left’ in San Francisco too simplistic. The demise of the Guardian and the passing of Ted Gullicksen hurt, indeed, but it’s not like they were the only threads holding us in place. To me being leftist (or liberal, or progressive, or whatever) is not a fashion, it’s a necessity. When people of lesser power are threatened by those of greater power, they need to hold this threat back to preserve themselves, that’s all there is to it. There are and will be other investigative journalists and tenant advocates, though the present injuries will need time to heal.

    Some people on both sides of the political spectrum have been predicting a demographic shift of SF from liberal to libertarian. I’m unconvinced one way or the other. San Francisco has had a very active and vocal liberal faction for decades, but has always teetered between liberals and conservatives (‘moderates’ in the local parlance), and this conflict was probably a factor in the very founding of the SFBG. The “leftist San Francisco values” are more of a journalistic cliché than a clear reality. I believe that the “libertarian techie” is equally a cliché, reinforced by some loudmouths, but by no means universal.

    Political shifts are in general more often predicted than actually occur, and when they do occur they do so in unexpected directions.

  9. How sad. Ted and SFBG gone the same day.Two more nails in the coffin. San Francisco, I’m glad I knew you. Thanks to all. Keep on truckin’.
    Patrick Monk.RN. NoeValley.

  10. Ha. Yes, that shocked me as well. If only the organs of the left could be saved from criticism, who knows what a brave new world we could have . . .

  11. been turning all the slick mailers, into for my windows voter guides,with thick black marker,works great YES ON H,E,G,J. NO ON I, help me Tim

  12. their last endorsment issue,is now getting a lot of mainstream press attention.no arguments,no comments, what a plan!

  13. VanishingSF won editors’ pick for Best of the Bay 2014…

    The ineffective, self-righteous torch has been passed.

  14. As I recall, SFBG couldn’t collect on the judgment because the parent company at that time was in Canada, and BBB settled for pennies on the dollar.

  15. Tim, pick up the torch please. Lots of folks are looking for progressive endorsements right now. This could be your moment. Also – a kickstarter might help. I’d certainly throw in some bucks for new progressive media in SF.

  16. You don’t have any idea of what you’re talking about. You don’t know how many times the Brugmans financed the Guardian with their own funds. You don’t know the final sale outcome, a paltry amount no one could survive on. If you didn’t like SFBG, you didn’t have to read it. What will you harp about now?

  17. An alternative for some historic coverage from the SFBG (and related titles: The East Bay Guardian, anyone?) are the collections of the Institute of Governmental Studies Library at UC Berkeley. We have roughly 1300 articles indexed in the campus catalog (http://oskicat.berkeley.edu/search) and fairly rich holdings in print from 1966 onwards, albeit with some gaps. The material doesn’t circulate but can be used here on site.

    I’m deeply saddened by the prospect that the Guardian’s own archives might not be accessible in the future and hope the “owners” will see fit to find a way to have these materials stored at SF Public or another local institution. Microfilm really doesn’t convey the substance of the paper and digitizing microfilm would likely yield a product akin to reading the news as if it had been printed on toilet paper…

  18. The problem with “leaders,” or Central Planning, is that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Worse, people get used to others doing their thinking for them, “following orders,” and then having someone someone to blame when things don’t work out. I don’t think we need more of the Cult Of Personality; that’s what we have now in the U.S. of A. We need a simple plan that anyone can activate by individual and collective action: boycott, divestment, sanctions, strikes, sit-ins, reducing auto use by 50%, etc. I would recommend starting with the defining issue of our time: war.

  19. Without a leader, the left is typically just a disorganized rabble who achieve very little. The brief flurry of Occupy was a classic example of how a well-meaning but leaderless movement fizzles out as soon as things get a little difficult for them.

    Without organization and leadership, the left is little more than a bunch of people complaining a lot and achieving very little. And that is even more true in America than, say, Europe where the left can organize around a proper political party which occasional wins seats and even power.

    Our rugged sense of individualism and self-determination makes it hard for socialists and collectivists and interventionists to gain traction with ordinary people. And even harder without a newspaper, although I use that term loosely in the case of SFBG, as it was really more a marketing medium.

    Most leftism in the US is recreational.

  20. The closure of SFBG’s comments section indicated a closing of their minds to criticism and diversity. That day can now be clearly seen as the beginning of the end. An enterprise that is confident does not censor dissent and suppress free speech.

  21. Yes, the left can be mindlessly intolerant at times, and these comments by Dan signify that. It’s sad that some on the left scream and yell when anyone utters a universal criticism of, say, blacks or gays. And yet they will commit the very same sin against techies, christians or conservatives.

    A true liberal is tolerant of differences and appreciative of diversity. A true liberal doesn’t declare war on every group that he personally dislikes or is envious of.

    At its best, SFBG true liberalism and tolerance. At its worst, it was little more than a proponent of hopelessly simplistic class warfare.

  22. The “Left,” whatever that is, doesn’t need any “leaders,” whatever those are.
    People of like mind need to band together and demand an end to war,
    free universal healthcare and education, and a new Works Projects Administration
    and Civilian Conservation Corps guaranteed living wage jobs. Every unemployed person
    in the country could be put to work tomorrow planting trees, rebuilding public infrastructure, and growing food. These are not “left” and “right” issues; these are money issues. The ‘Left” may indeed be dead, but Capitalism is not far behind.

  23. Noticeable that they left off the “YES, YES, YES” to measures like Prop G; instead using a simple “yes”. I wonder how that decision was made.

  24. “Programmed idiots.”

    Someday, perhaps the more insightful progressive folk ranting here might realize that the SFBG’s failure to find an audience just _might_ be related to the fact that this is all you ever have had to say about the thousands of young people who have moved here in the past few years, many of which would be inclined to agree with progressive views on many issues – even if they’d also like more housing built, so they had a chance to live here and pay a little less rent too.

    But nope, they’re all “programmed idiots”. The SFBG staff certainly seemed to agree.

  25. The fact that SFBG could not manage even a comment section which was over-run with spam points to a broader malaise. The closure heralded the end.

    Marke claimed a new website would fix that. But then again he claimed readership was up and revenues were great. Lies and deception aren’t typically the hallmark of a successful entity.

  26. The countdown timer for the SFBG started when Derr Kommisar Bruce sold out his stake and real estate holdings to the highest bidder. You all should be keenly aware of this fact: Bruce sold OUT – cashed out really. Left the flock of sheep desperate to be told who/what to believe in..Sold his building to a real estate developer!
    Really all thats left was Steven Jones and this new site – both of which employ that style of writing that involves finding your point and lining up all the facts that support it.
    RIP SFBG, so ideologically pure that it ended up being poison.
    One can only hope this means death to the SF version of national progressive politics: Anti everything, anti change, unable/unwilling to compromise, willing to get in bed with any kind of money as long as it suited their “no to anything, anywhere, ever” philosophy.

  27. Uhmmmmmm could this also be a harbinger to finally ending rent control in SF……?

    Which was a systematic plot designed by wacko leftist to raise rents for new comers to San Francisco and endorsed whole heartily by both Ted and SFBG. RIP to both.

    The times….they are a changing.

  28. “The death of the Bay Guardian and (coincidentally) of Ted Gullicksen, may be harbingers.”

    Absolutely!

    Could not have said it better!!!

  29. “Such a terrible loss to the entire city.”

    Not really. San Francisco is a very different city now, sadly. It’s the new Lobotomized Techie City with stupid-phone addicts squinting at that box implanted in their hands 24 hours a day while walking out into traffic without looking and walking into other people (and sometimes walking into each other – I’ve seen that happen too), and not even seeing where they live. Programmed idiots.

    And it’s not such a terrible loss to the entire city based on the Bay Guardian’s pro-establishment, status-quo endorsements they shit out for the November election while pretending to be “progressives.”. jesus fucking christ! That word “progressive” has come to mean nothing of substance and standing for nothing based on their endorsements. For example: Wiener for D8????????????? If they didn’t want to endorse Michael or one of the other candidates, have they not heard of “No Endorsement?”

    Earlier in the week, someone on here described those endorsements as a “train wreck and said that the BG is dead.” True. The BG died years ago. I’m not sure when, but long before today. I knew this was coming at some point and the BG staff should have known it was coming too.

  30. This, and gullicksen’s death…what you landlord hating wacko progressives get for obnoxious measures such as prop G, the insane ellis payouts, etc.

    Karma is a bitch.

  31. And when the current editors deciding to end comments, they deleted _every_ comment ever made at the site.

    Now, folks are bemoaning the loss of the entire site online but few raised their voices in complaint when _all_ comments were tossed into the web’s dustbin a few months ago.

    Name one other alt or progressive publication that erased their entire collection of comments.

  32. I can’t help but laugh at how the Guardian endorsed Sup. Wiener’s reelection last week and is now kaput, I guess to appeal to more conservative elements in town who didn’t pick up the paper edition or only read the online version for giggles, the endorsement was made to prove a political point.

  33. It’s time to take back the Bay Guardian. Like the Mexicans nationalized their oil, Cubans their sugar industry, and like the unemployed miners in Pennsylvania illegally dug and mined coal on company property and sold it themselves in the Depression era. Look at all you displaced talented folk! Take it over! Get hold of the webmaster, get the keys, change the name to the People’s Bay Guardian or such, strike up a collection and go for it. If you decide to do this, I’ll challenge people to match my $100.

    –Margot Pepper http://www.margotpepper.com

  34. David, it is hardly appropriate to castigate someone for not knowing who Bruce Brugman is … don’t toss the baby out with the bathwater. Brugman is his own side show, not a “must know” for all San Franciscans who may have lives outside of following every twist and turn of local media personalities. Most people don’t know the inside baseball on Brugman, just know he was the SFBG founder who sold out/off.

  35. Internet archive is easily eradicated by the new owners. Retroactively as well. This is a big controversy online but at the moment, a simple piece of code can erase that history at the new site owner’s request.

  36. The Internet archive, or the Wayback machine, do NOT keep a complete record of every website. Also, it is a simple matter to remove your site using a piece of code easily available. They can remove the records of entire site almost as if it never existed online. Thank god for the Library but who goes to a library anymore?

  37. Very sad.
    Not just online. For the past year or so it’s been quite difficult finding a print copy around, unlike the SF Weekly. Many boxes, it appears, weren’t getting stocked.

  38. Although the paper was getting thinner of late, presumably a reflection of cash flow, I’m still in a state of shock. I freelanced for the Bay Guardian quite a bit from around 1993 to 2001 and always found it a pretty good outfit to write for. Whatever one thinks of particular events or decisions, the Guardian was a critical voice and did some great investigative reporting on subjects others didn’t touch. San Francisco is going through a difficult and complicated transformation and it needs all the tough, aggressive journalism it can get. This is a huge loss.

  39. It always had the best concert listings. Lectures, too. And at one time (this is ancient history), it it had good romance listings.

    Towards the end, it was perhaps too focused on old farts like me.

  40. Sad news, indeed. I used to take the Guardian into the ballot box and just tick most of their endorsements back in the 1980s. Times change, but there is definitely still a place for a paper edition of a progressive newspaper.

  41. If you don’t who Brugmann was you are irredeemably ill-informed about San Francisco, its politics and its political history. Perhaps you ought to learn something about the city you’re commenting on before putting your ignorance on display.

  42. Although I’m not an SF progressive, the commentors so far miss the much larger picture; the progressive left itself may be a spent force. The death of the Bay Guardian and (coincidentally) of Ted Gullicksen, may be harbingers.

    We may have to wait for the SF Weekly to write the in depth story of how and why. Or maybe the New Yorker or the Atlantic will dig in– its an important enough story if some enterprising journalist realizes it.

    The scattered kick-the-corpse comments here indicate there’s plenty of animus. With no clue who Bruce Brugmann was or his relationship to Tim Redmond, I’m at a loss. So must be many San Franciscans who have relied on SFBG and lately on 48 Hills for a window into the progressive movement.

    As someone who was around for the Berkeley Barb and it’s mad, King Lear emperor Max Sheer, it’s clear to me that progressive alt weeklies have a pattern probably tied to the DNA of the left of aggressive prick founder-patriarchs.

    But Redmond doesn’t seem this kind of a guy, so perhaps 48 Hills will break out of its current clique to become a first-of-kind alt-internet-progressive local news site. There are business possibilities, but I’d guess Redmond needs a good money man to build and manage cash flow. The fact that 48 Hills is broke doesn’t bode well either for Redmond or the left.

    Whither the SF left?

    Sam– Tim’s doppleganger– is strangely silent but there are glasses being raised among the rentier class. The SF progressives sorely need a come-to-Jesus moment. A mass tent revival with lots of raw emotion and cringing self examination, but plenty of hard analysis as well. Mostly the left needs real, old fashioned leaders. That none rose from Occupy surprised me.

  43. Advertising revenue.

    As the audience for these publications in San Francisco becomes more apolitical or conservative it becomes harder to pitch and sell ad space in an increasingly “demographically isolated” publication both online and in print.

    SFWeekly clearly has a more mainstream and younger demographic pitch and therefore presumably better ad revenue both online and in print.

    In the end of the day tobacco and “escort” ad revenue only get you so far in paying your bills.

  44. This can’t be a surprise to anybody.

    The death of the SFBG was a self-inflicted wound.

    The Guardian put catering to their political professional friends over building any relationship with San Franciscans. As the professionals lost touch with San Franciscans, the Guardian followed in turn.

    The Guardian really lost touch with San Franciscans the day that it missed the Gonzalez uprising.

    It has taken this long for the self inflicted speared beast to lumber across the Savannah before falling to the ground and expiring due to exsanguination.

  45. The Internet Archive is great, but not easy for people searching through google to find. Somebody searching for the SFBG November 2014 endorsements won’t easily find them. So I love the Archive, but I’m still sad that the SFBG.COM site is dead.

  46. The last set of endorsements were particularly pathetic.

    Even you endorsed a total hack like Fiona Ma. Stephen endorsed the astroturfing of soccer fields, Gavin Newsom for Lt. Governor….the list goes on and on….

    Why Jason Henderson had a column was beyond comprehension. 🙁

  47. Hang on! It looks like the Archive only captured the first page of endorsements. Tried it on 3 different browsers.

  48. It’s sad indeed that the Guardian’s staff was treated in such a cruel and cavalier fashion. But they should be used to that by now given the Guardian’s execrable history of employee relations and vicious union busting.

    The death of the Guardian is nothing to mourn about. For most if its life it was a Pravda-like bore featuring bad writing and ossified thinking, particularly on nutty “house issues” such as city control of electricity distribution. A few of us tried (I wrote for the paper off and on from 1977-1997) to inject more lively and diverse content but the paper was never interested in good writing or independent thinking.

    Most of the blame for its failings belongs to its psychopathic bully publisher and founder the hateful Bruce Brugmann. In the end the crazy-like-a-fox Brugmann proved his true colors, cashing in and selling the paper for the highest price to idiot buyers. In more recent years, GuardianSpeak was maintained by mini Brug Brugs such as editor Steve Jones. As its longest serving editor, Tim Redmond has a lot to answer for, particularly his spineless relationship with Brugmann.

    For years few people have paid much attention to the Bay Boredom and with the Internets ascendancy, to which the Boredom never adjusted, the newspaper’s need to exist evaporated.

    The emperor never did have any clothes and now he’s just another newspaper corpse moldering in his grave, naked unloved unmourned.

  49. I think smartphones played a role also. It used to be that if you were waiting for a bus or getting something to eat at a counter and had nothing to read you could search for an SFBG box.

    Now you just pull out your phone.

  50. There are several sources that web marketers use to estimate web traffic to sites that they don’t own. These sources consistently say that SFWeekly’s web traffic was several multiples higher than the SFBG’s.

    One popular service is http://www.alexa.com, another that has proven reliable is http://www.similarweb.com/ . See or yourself.

  51. So sad. Any chance you can figure out how the SF Weekly is profitable and SFBG wasn’t? Or was Weekly just chosen to stay? It always seemed unlikely to me that this company would keep both papers.

  52. Thanks so much Tim. When I heard the very sad news this is the first place I came. Are your relations with Bruce such that you might ask him to comment and give his reactions?

  53. How ironical–the SF Bay Guardian,so much a part of the forty years I have lived in SF, stops publishing the day we receive the keys to a house I bought with my son and daughter in law in the East Bay. What better sign that the time has come to pack up and go—-.

  54. The archives exist and available to the public…they are on micro fiche at the main library. It would be easier to digitize the microfiche than the hard copy newspapers.

    And if you don’t like the way the bean counters handled things then get a grant. Easier said than done but somebody has to pay the bills.

    It is somewhat surprising that the SFBG couldn’t make a go of it as a food/cultural/entertainment guide. That was a pretty good franchise and better than a Yelp type thing. The political department had no benefit, the fact that they entrusted it to someone like Steven Jones showed that they had no hope for it under any circumstances.

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