When I was hired as SF Weeklyeditor-in-chief of the arts by March 2015, pretty much all of the staff had left over a six-week period, starting with the surprise dismissal of editor-in-chief Brandon Reynolds. “It will be gone in three months,” said a bitter ex-employee who had resigned a week before and who regularly takes 500 words to get to the point. I was like, “Well, that’s going to be three fun months, then. Can someone tell me what I’m supposed to do?
That was six and a half years ago. Now the newspaper has been placed on “indefinite hiatus” by its new owners.
This meshugass arrived just a few months after SF Media Company bought SF Weekly and torpedoed its Manichean archnemesis, the SF Bay Guardian, which, of course, continues to live on with its annual political backers, Best of the Bay, and a book imprint. Print is dead, but it’s also immortal.
I was hired because I had worked freelance for Anna Roth, the savvy and warm food writer, who very rationally calmed down when her colleagues were fired and her workload doubled. For me, the reward of having to do everything was to do everything. I wrote about everything I could, often filling the book with an excessive amount of my own work. Faced with endless budget cuts, it seemed better to surpass myself rather than access a thinner product or, worse, lower the rates of freelancers. It was comically arrogant and ultimately futile, but let me tell you, this paper stayed 64 pages much longer than it could have. In two years, I was directing the series. We were the same age, 36 at the time.
I reviewed the restaurants. I wrote about electoral politics. I interviewed Salman Rushdie and Grace Jones. I wrote long pieces of culture. I wrote a satire. I wrote an Amyl Nitrate love letter, all because we had an almost unknown level of editorial autonomy. I got away with this title and also this one, and especially this one. My Twitter handle was @wannacyber and no one ever said not to.
When I say I did it all I don’t mean all-all; you can’t maintain this kind of thing without many great colleagues who support the world by your side. They don’t need my flattery, but I have worked with many outstanding writers, like Chris Roberts, Julia Carrie Wong, Stuart Schuffman aka Broke-Ass Stuart, Katy St. Clair and (for the briefest of times) Emma Silvers. I am most proud of a hard core that has lasted exceptionally long: Nuala Sawyer, Ida Mojadad, Eric Pratt and finally Sophia Valdes. It is not about diminishing incredible freelancers like Zack Ruskin or Sherilyn Connelly or Jonathan Curiel or Adrian Spinelli, or our colleagues in the Examiner, although I was a little cranky when we got run over in the same room. These people help keep the news in the news. Many of them are my friends. Some of them are the smartest people I have ever met.
Yes, there were problems, one of which was a working archive. You might as well look for cuneiform tablets in the Euphrates. Multiple moves and a few ownership changes mean nothing until 1995 seems to exist nowhere, and the hard-to-find online version is incomplete until the mid-years. Lots of juicy traditions can’t be confirmed either, like that of the sidewalk window where sex workers would quietly pay for their ads in cash. Former editor Andrew O’Hehir wrote a fascinating look at the Weeklyintermediate years for Salon, and I learned more from reading it than from working on it.
SF Weekly was fun, and it was also a brutal place during an industry-wide time of contraction. Good journalists have been sidelined, some by management, others by the terribly evil Canadians who were the bosses of our bosses. Most of the other printing properties owned by Black Press Group serve rural communities in the interior of British Columbia. These are important resources, but tiny. The company did not understand why the Weekly need more than one full-time employee, or Examiner more than three. It was frustrating to turn down great writers and cover more stories.
But it wasn’t these myopic men who killed SF Weekly. The locals did. This is what an independent media company did, not a foreign-owned company.
The end came two years after I resigned to become another independent contributor. The price of doing it all is having to do it all, and that level of agitation was doomed. The New Yorker publishes 47 issues per year and SNL airs 21 broadcasts one season, but 52 issues per year without sufficient resources or without any redundancy in the system is exhausting. I’ve made countless mistakes, big and small, three of which I take with me now and probably always will. Not having a single writer dedicated to cooking or music to bounce ideas off of was probably the most destructive obstacle to my personal production. This strange isolation might make me a little paranoid. I was a pretty prolific writer, but around 2019 that reservoir started to dry up on me and never fully recovered.
I also never stopped to think about the ramifications of an alt-weekly voice. Historically, it is a very masculine voice and a very white voice, more Norman Mailer than Roxane Gay. We have worked hard to diversify the editorial staff, but never enough. Also, in light of the epistemological urgency of civilization and white America’s growing descent into absolute madness, I don’t view alt-weeklies just as simple victims who did their best. Yes, the decline of the “old media” is mostly macroeconomic. But it’s simply true that SF WeeklyIts history has been filled with examples of provocations for their own good, hipster racism and disaffected postures, above all. None of these things have aged well at all, and meanwhile, the world is flush with its necks in a combustible lie, and billionaires have their own space.
But a lot of work has taken. The cover stories in particular are what enlightened me. I don’t often like the breaking news or the pace of daily blogging, and longer articles are my jam. I myself have written nearly 50 covers – three in a row twice – on topics ranging from human dogs to Impossible Burgers to the Modern Primitives movement, and have contributed to at least 50 other group projects. on karaoke or the Portola district. .
The satisfaction of seeing your work in sidewalk boxes all over town for a few days at a time was a joy that never faded, even as you walked through Powell BART to see 100 copies strewn across the floor, albeit many. of them soon -the disappearing boxes still have “Free every Wednesday” even though SF Weekly has been out Thursday since about 2014, when there were still staples. It’s the deepest connection to San Francisco a writer can have, I think. Glad I got my last two covers under my chosen name, the last of which is one of the best things I’ve ever written for any outlet.
Infuriatingly, I spent the Labor Day weekend writing what I thought was the first iteration of a new LGBTQ + column in SF Weekly. Then Nick Veronin, the last editor, the one who guided him through COVID, called me to share the news. Can I really complain, though? I ate very well for several years, and these are the trivia I will dine on forever. Above all, I’m proud of what my colleagues and I have accomplished in the last phase of maddening foreshadowing, a full quarter of a century since Craigslist began to undermine the viability of the business model. Back then, I think there was even an assistant calendar editor, a luxury as unfathomable today as a newspaper erecting its own mid-size Art Deco or staples.
Last Friday, a group of us got run over at the Lone Palm complaining about the news and the despicable disregard of the phrase “indefinite interruption”. (Damn, kill him if you wanna kill him.) We would have drunk at Lucky 13 if Lucky 13 was still there, because it was still the Weekly‘s place. The night kind of sucked, but we shared a lovely feeling of gratitude that something as cool as this was given to us for as long as it was. We did our best while it lasted. And it lasted so long, so much longer than we thought.