On Guard

The story behind the Bay Guardian's new ownership and the departure of Editor-Publisher Tim Redmond

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Read the unabridged online version of this story here.

steve@sfbg.com, rebecca@sfbg.com

Longtime Bay Guardian Editor Tim Redmond left the newspaper last week in a dispute with its new owners over personnel changes and his autonomy within San Francisco Print Media Company, which also includes the San Francisco Examiner and SF Weekly.

Redmond led the Guardian newsroom for most of his 31 years with the newspaper and engineered last year's sale to Todd Vogt and a Canadian ownership team. As part of that sale — which Redmond cast to staff as saving the Guardian from bankruptcy and closure — Bruce B. Brugmann and Jean Dibble, the couple who founded the Guardian in 1966, retired from the paper, its Potrero Hill office building was sold, and the Guardian moved into the Examiner's downtown office in June 2012.

Redmond was the Guardian editor and publisher, the name at the top of the masthead and the person solely in charge of Guardian operations, and he told staff he had been guaranteed full autonomy by the new ownership, which was important to the Guardian staff. As such, he resisted Vogt's periodic efforts to control the newspaper, including early threats to fire City Editor Steven T. Jones for unspecifed reasons.

Nonetheless, Vogt did make some successful incursions on the Guardian's independence, initially by encouraging layoffs, later by interfering with Guardian endorsements in the November 2012 election.

Then, on Oct. 26, 2012, without consulting Redmond, Vogt named Examiner Editor Stephen Buel to be vice president for editorial overseeing both newspapers, announcing that Buel would "oversee the editorial direction, content, tone, and voice of our newspapers and web sites."

Shortly after the purchase of the longtime Guardian rival SF Weekly two months later, Vogt similarly appointed Weekly writer Erin Sherbert to oversee online communications at all three papers.

Neither Buel nor Sherbert directed or reviewed any Guardian editorial content prior to publication, although some stories from the Guardian and the Weekly began to appear in the Examiner's newspaper and website, often edited by Examiner editors but giving credit to their original source.

The Guardian's weekly revenues continued to remain flat or decline, at least partially because of the departure of two of the Guardian's commission-based advertising representatives, positions which remain unfilled. The Guardian's sales staff remains significantly smaller than that of the other two publications.

Vogt, Buel, and Chief Financial Officer Pat Brown began a conversation with Redmond about the need to cut expenditures, focusing on the newsroom, which until June 14 had seven full-time Guardian staffers and a part-time art director, who also works for the Examiner.

Redmond expressed a willingness to make cuts while also emphasizing the need to hire more ad reps to boost revenue, Redmond and Buel both told us. "He made it very clear that we need more salespeople," said Buel, who also told us that he supported Redmond's stance with Vogt and Brown that he should be allowed to choose where the cuts would be made.

"Todd and I were in the middle of difficult and ongoing negotiations for how to cut costs. My position is that it is entirely appropriate for the owner to ask us to cut costs, and then I would come back with a plan," Redmond told us.

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