City of Lost Children

Ghosts of magazines past

Conventional wisdom says out-of-towner Tom Hartle and his Detroit-style city magazine will have a difficult time winning over fickle, neighborhood-centric San Franciscans. But considering the run of failed city mags attempted here by consummate insiders, maybe an outsider could shake things up in the right way.

On the other hand, one might argue that if local celebrity filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola's millions couldn't sustain a successful publication here, whose could? His venture was called City of San Francisco (which most people just called City), and it lived and died in the 1970s. We also had another City, plus the original San Francisco -- itself different from San Francisco Focus, which would become the San Francisco we know today. SF also had a run (not to be confused with an idea for a new SF currently being peddled about town). Finally, there have been lots of zine-type rags published by local activists, subversives, and all-around jokesters. And who could forget Frisko? Plenty of us, apparently.

That last title was the work of infamous editor and scribe Warren Hinckle, the eye patch-wearing newspaper columnist of the Independentand the new Examiner. Frisko was purposefully named to irritate San Francisco's other legendary columnist, Herb Caen, who made it a crusade in his Chroniclecommentary to dissuade people from calling the city by that moniker. Of course, Hinckle was looking for his own project after losing the editorship at Coppola's City of San Francisco. A 1996 SF Weekly profile of the man ("Hinckle, Hinckle, Little Star") describes a chaotic City where staff had to scour the town to find their editor and drag him out of bars at deadline. Still, it was a colorful and provocative publication that got national attention. Cover stories like "Why Women Can't Get Laid in San Francisco" often sold out. But as Hinckle famously burned through Coppola's cash, the magazine headed for extinction -- though not before the filmmaker pushed the editor into a swimming pool at one hot-tempered party.

Current San Francisco State University School of Journalism Dean John Burks also had a hand in editing -- and trying to save -- Coppola's City. Later he helped transform the KQED program guide, San Francisco Focus, into a real magazine. Focus was the precursor to today's San Francisco, which shouldn't be confused with the original San Francisco, itself dead in the early 1990s after decades of socialite ownership and mismanagement that ran the magazine into the ground.

Back in 1975, Burks made what could be now construed as a prophetic remark to Newsweek magazine. Its writer wanted to know why City had done a cover story on how to beat the collective malaise of the pre-disco, energy crisis-depleted, inflation-laden, Towering Inferno time. "When a service magazine is faced with an Apocalypse," then-Editor Burks asked the reporter, "what do you do?"

In San Francisco, it seems, you start a new city magazine.

 
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