The Pending Sale of the Bay Guardian to the Examiner Makes Sense



News that the owners of the San Francisco Examiner are on the verge of buying the San Francisco Bay Guardian was met with surprise and shock last night. But that’s probably because many people are under the mistaken impression that the Examiner is still owned by conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz. And so the idea that a right-wing mogul would purchase the ultra-left Guardian seemed bewildering, if not some kind of reactionary media conspiracy.

However, Anschutz sold the Examiner to a group of investors last year, and the new owners have already steered the paper toward the political left. They installed longtime former East Bay Express editor Stephen Buel as editor-in-chief of the Examiner, and the paper’s editorial pages are now positioned to the left of the Chronicle — although the Ex is still not as liberal as the Guardian.

The pending sale, if it goes through, also makes financial sense. Guardian owner Bruce Brugmann has made no secret of the fact that his paper has been losing bucketloads of money for years. And the paper’s executive editor, Tim Redmond, told the Express last night that the Guardian has been looking for a buyer for some time. As such, the Examiner’s new owners offer the Guardian a viable opportunity to stay in business.

The sale, for example, will allow the Guardian to achieve cost savings, because the two papers will be able to eliminate redundancies. The papers won’t need two circulation departments, and they’ll be able to share production, advertising, and editorial costs. The Guardian’s arts and culture coverage could be a boon for the Examiner. And the Examiner’s hard-news coverage could sharpen the Guardian’s news pages. The Examiner also brings printing expertise to the deal; in fact, the Examiner’s printing press in San Francisco prints numerous Bay Area publications, including the Express.

There’s also no reason to believe that the Guardian’s politics are going to suddenly change with the sale. The Examiner’s owners have already shown that they’re comfortable with having a paper whose politics are left of center. And from a business perspective, it would be a mistake for the Examiner’s new owners to abandon the core, and loyal, readership that the Guardian has built up over the years. Likewise, Redmond has established a solid reputation for being a good newspaper editor, and the Examiner would be smart to keep him on.

The Guardian’s editorial weakness over the years has been its investigative/in-depth reporting. But the paper’s intense financial problems are at least partially to blame for that. Hopefully, the savings achieved from the sale will allow the Guardian, and the Examiner, to reinvest in enterprising journalism.