’Tis the season to acquire local media companies.
Just a week after Clint Reilly Communications purchased SF Weekly and the San Francisco Examiner, yet another local paper has found a new owner. The 37-year old Marina Times has been acquired by Street Media, the parent company of LA Weekly, Irvine Weekly, and, as of yesterday, New York City’s vaunted Village Voice.
Street Media publisher and CEO Brian Calle says he plans to expand the “hyper local” paper’s coverage area, and improve its online presence. “I want to sustain the print edition of the Marina Times, and I also want to grow its digital footprint,” Calle says. The San Francisco market is a significant addition to his burgeoning media empire, he says, because it’s “incredibly important as a cultural trendsetter of California and globally, it’s also the tech capital of the world. I thought having some opportunity to participate in local journalism in the Bay Area would be important.”
The print edition of the Marina Times is published monthly and distributed in 50 locations across the city’s “affluent northern neighborhoods,” according to its press kit, including the Marina, Cow Hollow, Pacific Heights, Polk Gulch, and North Beach. Its coverage areas include local news, crime reporting, commentary, and lifestyle journalism. Until Street Media’s acquisition, the paper was jointly owned by editor in chief Susan Dyer Reynolds and publisher Earl Adkins. “I am confident the paper is in good hands,” Adkins wrote in an email. “Personally, I am looking forward to retirement. After 40 years of publishing, it’s time to hang up my spurs.”
As part of his plan to “redevelop” the publication’s website, Calle intends to create a directory of neighborhood businesses and points of interest. He’s also planning to revamp the paper’s social media presence, and make it more appealing to young people. Street Media’s acquisition of the Marina Times was announced the same day as its acquisition of the much higher-profile Village Voice. Calle has hired back at least one former editor there, and will restart the defunct publication’s website in January, with quarterly print editions to follow.
The Marina Times was in the headlines earlier this month after members of the Board of Supervisors, led by Dean Preston and Hillary Ronen, voted to stop buying city-funded ads in the paper due to what they described as biased and inaccurate reporting. “[T]he Marina Times regularly pushes hate-filled rhetoric and lies that routinely violate numerous provisions of the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists… including a threat to the family of a public official,” the supervisors wrote in a Dec. 7 joint statement.
The vote caused heated debate among supervisors, with Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who represents the Marina, saying her colleagues’ criticisms “could have been said by Donald Trump.” Reynolds, the paper’s editor in chief, told the Chronicle, “They just want to enforce the First Amendment when it benefits them.” Following backlash from other journalists, Ronen, Preston, and their progressive allies all voted to authorize the city’s contract with the paper a week later. However, they vowed to continue the debate when the contract comes up for reauthorization next year, by putting “objective standards in place to ensure that City funds are not supporting misinformation.”
The Marina Times’ new owner is no stranger to controversy. When Calle’s ownership group purchased LA Weekly in 2017, they fired most of the staff, sparking a boycott movement. Former staffers were particularly concerned that Calle, who previously ran the libertarian-leaning Orange County Register’s editorial page, would take the historically progressive publication to the right. “What was missing from that story,” Calle says, “was that alt weeklies throughout the country were on a downward trajectory, and many of them were already on the path to closing.” The layoffs were “painful, and I didn’t like to do it, but I didn’t feel like I had a choice.” Calle says that no layoffs are planned for the Marina Times, and that they may be hiring as they expand their digital presence.
In 2018, Calle and other members of LA Weekly’s ownership group were sued by a fellow owner, who alleged that Calle was mismanaging the paper and making ethically questionable editorial decisions, like providing favorable coverage to a cannabis brand he was involved with. The suit was settled in 2019. Though he cannot discuss the suit, Calle insists he has never given anybody “favorable anything.” (LA Weekly, SF Weekly’s former sister brand under previous ownership, occasionally sells ads for SF Weekly when its clients ask for opportunities in the Bay Area.)
At the Marina Times, Calle says he intends to publish reporting that is “narrative free and perspective free,” providing “unbiased and unfettered news to the public.” The paper’s detractors, like Supervisors Preston and Ronen, would argue that that is not currently the case. They’ve specifically criticized the paper’s activity on its Twitter, which Reynolds uses as her personal account.
“I’m mildly aware of some back and forth on the Marina Times Twitter and some of the, let’s call it squabbling or fighting on there as well,” Calle says. “So I think that’s certainly something that I’ll look at. Will it be the first thing that I look at? Probably not.”