Its founding mission was to "print the news and raise hell."
After 48 years of doing just that, the San Francisco Bay Guardian has shut down. The San Francisco Media Company, the alternative weekly's current owner, made the announcement on the Guardian's website this morning. The rest of the site is now offline.
Tomorrow's edition, which will be the annual "Best of the Bay" issue, will be the last published.
In an email to staff, employees were told the weekly is closing because it's "not a viable business and has not been for many years."
San Francisco Media Company Publisher Glenn Zuehls echoed that in an email to KQED, "The Bay Guardian is not a financially viable product," he wrote. "We are tremendously proud of the journalism the Guardian produced over its 48-year history, but we cannot keep it afloat at the expense of our other publications."
The company also owns the SF Weekly and the San Francisco Examiner.
In a subsequent interview with KQED, Zuehls said he thought the Guardian's "strong and passionate" voice has limited its ability to attract advertisers.
Guardian employees are not represented by a union. Editor-in-Chief Steven Jones told KQED that management is meeting with employees individually, at which time they will learn what severance is being offered.
Jones said the San Francisco Media Company offered to sell the paper to employees if they can find a buyer. "We’re going to look at that," Jones said.
He also threatened to fight against the closure should no options for keeping the Guardian open emerge.
"We’re still deciding what we want to do," Jones said. "I think it’s in everyone’s best interest that if there is a way for the Guardian to continue, that we remain civil now. If it looks like it’s just dead and there’s not going to be any more hope of bringing it [back], then we decide whether or not we want to go to war."
When asked what that would entail, Jones said, "We have a large, supportive community out there. I think progressive San Francisco really values the Guardian. They don’t feel like there’s anyone else out there who's going to be raising these issues. They can be very creative in their responses to setbacks."
SFist has the email that Zuehls sent to employees announcing the closure.
The Guardian has for decades been a leading voice for progressive San Francisco. As a company, we are proud of its legacy as a community watchdog, a publication with stellar reporting and its passion to push for a better city.
Unfortunately, the economic reality is such that the Bay Guardian is not a viable business and has not been for many years. When SFMC took over the publication, the company believed the publication’s finances could rise out of the red and benefit from joining forces with the Examiner and the Weekly. We have tried hard to make that happen over the past few years. I joined SFMC in June and was hopeful that I could make good on that potential. I was excited to see if the Guardian could be a part of the long-term stability and growth of this unique media partnership.
Since then, I have come to realize that this isn’t possible and that the obstacles for a profitable Bay Guardian are too great to overcome. The amount of money that the Bay Guardian loses each week is causing damage to the heart of the company and cannot justify its continued publication. The success of this company, providing the highest quality journalism for our readers along with superior results for our advertisers, is my sole priority.
I am a huge fan of the Bay Guardian and of the talented journalists that work here. This is the hardest decision that I have had to make in my 20 year Newspaper career.
I am saddened to say good-bye to a member of our media family and colleagues here in this office, many of whom I have come to respect and admire. I wish them all well.
Glenn G. Zuehls
And one Bay Area mayor, at least, is bummed ...
Saddened today by the closing of @sfbg. Vibrant, investigative alt-weeklies are a hallmark of strong political discourse. We'll miss them.
Update: KQED's Ted Goldberg spoke with Guardian Editor-In-Chief Steven Jones this morning. Jones said he and his staff were told that the weekly was shutting down at 10 a.m. today. Edited transcript:
TED GOLDBERG: Was there any indication recently this would happen?
STEVEN JONES: No. We know that the entire San Francisco Media Company was having financial problems. The Guardian was breaking even. We knew that there were some changes that were going to be made, but we were surprised by this. They have immediately shut down everything. They shut down our Twitter feed, they shut down our Facebook, they shut down our website, they shut down our passkeys, they shut down our phones.
They’re aware that there’s a large community out there that’s interested in the Guardian. A year ago when Tim Redmond got forced out, we exposed everything with these owners, and we called on that community. And that kept us strong for the last year. And I think the new corporate owners are wary of us doing something like that again.
GOLDBERG: What are we losing in the Bay Area by not having the Bay Guardian every week?
JONES: You’re losing an important progressive media voice that's operated in San Francisco for 48 years. You’re missing what I’ve always considered to be one of the few papers that’s willing to fight for the soul of this city at a time when money and a different set of values have overtaken the city. We were really committed to fighting for the San Francisco that we believed in.
GOLDBERG: Are you getting any sort of severance package?
JONES: We’re right now being called into a series of individual meetings about what that severance package is going to be. I haven’t gotten mine yet.
They’ve also offered to sell us the paper if we can find buyers; we’re going to look at that. We have an interest in trying to get our website online, because we’ve just put a ton of time into our annual (election) endorsements. And a lot of San Francisco voters rely on our endorsements and we’d like to see that get back online.
Right now we’re trying to keep our cool and assess what’s the biggest step forward.
GOLDBERG: How many people are losing their job?
JONES At least five of us, two Guardian newsroom employees have tentatively been offered spots with the company. They’re assessing whether they are going to take it or not. I think their first allegiance is to the Guardian. We will respond as the Guardian with a statement later today. We’re still deciding what we want to do. I think it’s in everyone’s best interest that if there is a way for the Guardian to continue, that we remain civil now. If it looks like it’s just dead and there’s not going to be any more hope of bringing it [back], then we decide whether or not we want to go to war.
GOLDBERG: Go to war ... What would that entail?
JONES: We’ll see. We have a large, supportive community out there; I think progressive San Francisco really values the Guardian. They don’t feel like there’s anyone else out there whose going to be raising these issues. They can be very creative in their responses to setbacks.
Update 2: Ted Goldberg later spoke with San Francisco Media Company Publisher Glenn Zuehls. Here's an edited transcript:
TED GOLDBERG: Why was the decision made to shut the Bay Guardian down?
GLENN ZUEHLS: It was something we’ve been looking at for the last year or two because it’s losing money. It has been for years. The marketplace has changed totally, you’ve got digital, you have more of everything. This isn’t what it was 20 years ago, this isn’t what it was 10 years ago. So there’s just a fragmentation of media and the cost of printing a paper, you really have to have a bigger sea of fish to go after as advertisers, and that was limited.
I think the voice of the Guardian, strong and passionate, but with that same voice it limited how many advertisers we could get to support it. But we’ve tried and we’ve looked, and our other two products (SF Weekly and Examiner) have more possibilities in the future. And it’s not just the decline in revenue for the Guardian, it’s also what could happen in the next three years, who could we bring in as advertisers?
GOLDBERG: Do you think the Bay Area’s going to lose something important now that the Guardian is no longer going to be reporting?
ZUEHLS: I know it’s going to lose a lot of heart and soul, and in fact I wish someone would pay for it to be published, but it’s an expense. My phone is open and if anybody wants to take it on, I would love to see the voice live on because it was incredible, it did things for San Francisco over the last 40 years that nobody else could say they did.
GOLDBERG: Is there any indication that there could be a buyer?
ZUEHLS: My phone hasn’t rung yet, but it’s open.
GOLDBERG: Are you expecting any cuts or any changes to the other publications?
ZUEHLS: Everything is a step-by-step thing. I couldn’t call any of that out right now. Every day you look and say, hey, what can we do different?
GOLDBERG: When I spoke to the editor of the Guardian this morning, he mentioned things seemed kind of abrupt, that employees were kind of surprised. Did you guys prepare folks in advance?
ZUEHLS: How do you prepare for this in advance? We have to look at our company moving forward and take the proper steps to secure it, and the numbers. For the last four months we were looking for where [there] could be some big possibilities to make it work, and we finally just came to the conclusion that we can’t.
GOLDBERG: Do you expect any blowback from the employees? Are there any preparations underway for any sort of conflict, because I know folks were unhappy that this happened.
ZUEHLS Again, our financial records state why it was done. It’s an easy process in that. It’s [also] an emotional one, and I can understand something like that could happen, but we don’t prepare for something that we don’t believe would happen.
Listen below to Mina Kim's extended interview with Bay Guardian Editor Steven Jones.