By Mark Hanzlik, AWN Executive Director
The public announcement of the impending sale of the San Francisco Bay Guardian was not a total surprise to some of us but the news arrived somewhat unexpectedly to many others this week.
The alt media stalwart known for its progressive politics and dominant coverage of the alternative lifestyle in the 6th largest market in the country has had a key role in the development and sustainment of this cooperative network. So, it follows that we might have a comment or two to add.
It seems like I’ve always had a relationship with the Bay Guardian. It began in the 70’s when I settled in San Francisco and became an avid weekly reader while living in the Haight and Western Addition. I even tossed an ad or two their direction while buying media for ad agencies in the late 80’s. I met Bruce Brugmann, the legendary publisher of the Bay Guardian at a C.N.P.A. conference around that time. He was the towering figure buying drinks for everyone and bursting about his paper and his latest beef about the daily newspaper JOA’s.
The Bay Guardian‘s founders (Brugmann and Jean Dibble) played a role in creating CAL-AAN which enabled a head-strong consortium of California publishers and editors to share in the increasing commercial success of Alt Weeklies in the early 90’s. When AWN began to reach across the country, as a charter member, SFBG was often at the table. Bruce was always there to cheer us on but remind us who the enemies were and he continues to do so today.
The Bay Guardian held several leadership roles with AWN and fielded numerous sellers nearly since AWN’s beginning in 1994. AWN board members from SFBG through the years included Mike Ellerin, Scott Hassenflu, Nancy Hui, Jody Colley, Dan Brugmann and Bruce himself. Hui and Mary Samson were perennial sellers for AWN. Even AWN’s Communications Director Sarah Billingsley had a stint at the Bay Guardian before eventually settling in Sacramento.
I still have a magnet on my refrigerator with Bruce’s visage. My kids liked the slogan “Read my paper Dammit” so we kept it around for another decade.
There were years when Brugmann was battling daily newspapers and other weeklies (well before New Times came to town and turned SF Weekly). By the second half of the 90’s, national ads were dropping into their laps (and most other alt weekly newspapers). Every sales chart had an upward trajectory and every discussion was about opportunity and development.
What occurred in the years since has been well-documented in this industry (Bay Guardian’s case against SF Weekly and New Times). At the same time, the drab economy and change in the public’s consumption of media contributed to a steep decline in national advertising, and slower decline in local ad dollars for alt media.
Now, a dozen or so years later, SFBG has a new home and ‘guardian’. This is not an obit for the Bay Guardian, but more an acknowledgement of changes within our industry. We anticipate little will be different between the SFBG and AWN in the short term, and we welcome the new ownership by The Examiner and Todd Vogt. Bruce and Jean will continue to contribute in some form or another. Thanks for your many years of support and cheer!