Despite its booming economy and population, the Bay Area is hemorrhaging media outlets either through outright closure or severe staff cuts. The San Francisco Bay Guardian, Oakland Tribune, East Bay Express, Vallejo-Times Herald and even SF Weekly itself are among outlets simply unable to tell the stories they once did.
But this is not a story about another local newspaper lost to lack of investment. This is the story of the new print publication-that-could in a post-internet ad apocalypse.
Amid the dreary local media landscape, The San Franciscan valiantly printed its first issue in July 2019, sold out, and put out its second issue in mid-February. The New Yorker-style magazine came from two women, Erica Messner and Amanda Legge, who devote their free time and personal funds to the passion project in between full-time jobs.
“Some people have dogs and some people have hobbies and some people have a magazine,” Messner says. “Something amazing about San Francisco is that people just make the things they want to see in the world.”
Messner, a research and policy analyst at Stanford University, and Legge, a San Francisco native who works at Nubank, are self-described fans of the New Yorker. But the esteemed magazine rejected a San Francisco tech company-themed cartoon of Legge’s and got the pair thinking about the untapped potential of a San Francisco version.
The two approached their networks of writers and artists to compile the first glossy issue with an independent, tongue-in-cheek voice. What eventually followed is a literary love letter to San Francisco, one that elevates Baghdad-by-the-Bay with locally-inspired poetry, nonfiction, political profiles, and its own crossword puzzle that’s both impossible and mentally necessary to walk away from.
“We have complete respect and admiration for the New Yorker,” says Messner. “We think San Francisco is worth celebrating and critiquing and engaging within its own right.”
The Winter 2020 issue is littered with illustrations of Muni-related tweets and Bay Area scenery in between the resilience of Hyde Street Studios (“Listening Through the Walls”) and revisiting the Zodiac Killer upon the murders’ 50th anniversary (“Inkblots, Riddles, and Rabbit Holes”) among other pieces. Bridging one medium to the other is a curated Spotify playlist code that enhances a profile of silenced female singers around the world belting out in San Francisco (“Forbidden Voices”).
A notable change for the second issue rests in the logo, altered from the same Art Deco sans serif style of the New Yorker logo after a “surprisingly congenial” talk with the latter’s legal team, Messner says. She was even gifted a one-year New Yorker subscription after the exchange.
Reddit also noticed their first issue, prompting it to sell out. Without divulging the number of copies, Messner says they made their investment back and more than doubled production for the Winter 2020 issue due to demand.
Legge and Messner plan to print two issues a year to retain the quality and grow under their small operation. They can be found in San Francisco bookstores like Green Apple Books and Russian Hill Bookstore as well as Pegasus Books in the East Bay, among others. They’re also planning a release party for March 7 at General Assembly and a panel on March 12 at Shack15, with details to be posted later on their website.
The San Franciscan joins the crop of local media new kids on the block, like investigative nonprofits San Francisco Public Press and San Jose Spotlight, as well as Berkeleyside’s expansion. But Messner says the goal is to create an approachable literary magazine for everyone, more in line with The Bold Italic, and to bring print back to millennials.
“We’re obviously very small at this state, so it’s about creating something we can be proud of and does San Francisco justice,” Messner says. ”There’s appetite for it.”