Issue:  Vol. 44 / No. 29 / 17 July 2014
 

Queer man becomes San Francisco Bay Guardian publisher

Marke Bieschke

Marke Bieschke

A self-identified queer man has been named the new publisher of the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Marke Bieschke’s promotion to the alternative weekly’s top post is believed to make him the first out publisher of a non-LGBT paper in San Francisco.

“I’m stoked to bring a different energy and openness to innovation to the Guardian, while respecting our legacy and strengthening our bonds with the progressive, alternative community,” Bieschke, 42, said in a news release Thursday (July 18). “Obviously, [newly named Editor] Steve Jones and I stand on the shoulders of giants, and we’re so grateful to our Guardian family, past and present, for blazing a trail for world class progressive journalism, arts and culture coverage, and community-building in the Bay Area. In that spirit, I’m eager to reconnect with our readers and partner with them to amplify the Guardian voice and continue to change the Bay Area for the better.”

The Guardian will hold a forum from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 31 at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market Street. The event is designed “to solicit input and discuss the Guardian’s unique role in the Bay Area’s political and journalistic landscape,” the paper’s news release said. “…The forum and subsequent discussions will form the basis for a strategic plan that will help guide the Guardian into a new era.”

The release was upfront about some recent controversy involving the paper.

Canadian businessman Todd Vogt and a team of investors bought the Guardian last year. Vogt’s San Francisco Newspaper Company also owns the San Francisco Examiner and SF Weekly.

In June, longtime Guardian Editor-Publisher Tim Redmond abruptly left the paper during a dispute with the owners over layoffs and autonomy. Years of cutbacks had already left the weekly publication with a skeleton crew of reporters. The loss of Redmond raised concerns about the paper’s future as a progressive institution. He said Vogt fired him. Vogt insisted that Redmond had resigned.

Asked in an email whether he’s the first out publisher of a non-LGBT publication in San Francisco, Bieschke quipped, “… I think Phil Bronstein was basically an honorary A-gay – and let’s not rifle through that musty Hearst closet.” Bronstein is the former editor-at-large for the San Francisco Chronicle and other newspapers owned by the Hearst Corporation. He was also once married to actress Sharon Stone.

“I do think that, on the alternative as well as mainstream press scene, there’s long been a need for diversification in any form in the upper echelons,” Bieschke said. “Perhaps I’m not the first, but I’m from a generation that had a lot more freedom in terms of expressing and defining queerness, so I think that’s what’s really unique here in terms of operating as a queer outside the defined LGBT sphere.”

The Guardian already regularly covers queer issues, arts, and other topics. Bieschke said the paper “will always have a queer bent, mostly because of the San Francisco audience we serve. That said, I would love to better serve not just the queer community in all its awesome diversity but all the other communities of the Bay Area that I feel could use a lot more representation, and give them a larger voice as well. In terms of media representation, even with the proliferation of online outlets, I feel like communities of color, the economically disadvantaged (including the homeless and mentally ill), and even our vibrant youth have fallen off the map in terms of having a voice in today’s media environment. It’s really weird, and I want to dedicate myself to fixing that.”

In the Guardian news release he said he’s “excited to help diversify San Francisco’s media environment by bringing two decades of queer Arab-American activist experience to the role.”

After Redmond left, Stephen Buel, the San Francisco Newspaper Company’s vice president of editorial operations, had been named interim Guardian publisher and Bieschke, who’s been with the paper since 2005, had become interim editor.

“Heeding concerns in the community about whether the Guardian would remain an independent, progressive voice in San Francisco,” Bieschke and Jones negotiated terms with Vogt “that guarantee them full editorial control, the addition of three new advertising sales positions and another staff writer, and guaranteed minimum staffing levels during a rebuilding period,” the news release said.

Helping to coordinate the July 31 forum is Guardian writer Rebecca Bowe, who has accepted the position of news editor.

Jones, who’s been with the paper since 2003 said in the release, “Losing Tim’s leadership was hard on all of us at the Guardian, and we struggled with what to do next. But ultimately, the Guardian plays such an important role in San Francisco – particularly now, at a pivotal moment for this gentrifying city and its progressive movement – that we wanted to find a way to keep that voice alive, maintain our credibility, and reach out to a new generation of Bay Area residents.”

Vogt stated, “I’m happy about this. I think it’s appropriate that two recognized leaders in the progressive community are in charge of the Guardian and I look forward to seeing what they do with it.”

As for the biggest challenge he sees for the paper in his role as publisher, Bieschke said, “The Guardian has had a rocky few years in terms of business environment and staffroom cutbacks – that’s a mere blip in our long and fabulously tumultuous history, but it’s something the new editor Steve Jones, our excellent staff, and I certainly want to move away from, so we can concentrate on what we do best: covering the Bay Area from a progressive perspective and moving the conversation forward in terms of politics, culture, and arts. …We also have an incredible set of advertisers that we value deeply – despite the economy and changing landscape of advertising, they realize the enormous value of our dedicated and growing print and online audience. Our challenge is to push ourselves to serve them better while expanding our revenue sources, developing online and mobile excitement, and expanding our reach. But, just like San Francisco, we’re a scrappy lot that will continue to flourish, or at least be very interesting, despite the ups and downs. Plus we look great.”

Bieschke, who joined the paper as culture editor, became part of the staff after covering nightlife from a queer perspective in his Super Ego column. He’s also worked at CitySearch and PlanetOut Partners, and he’s managed a bookstore in the Inner Richmond. He lives in San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighborhood with his husband, David Schnur.

Bay Area Reporter deal finalized

In April, the Bay Area Reporter announced a restructuring effort in which Vogt and Patrick Brown, chief financial officer of the San Francisco Newspaper Company, will own 49 percent of the paper, collectively.

The paper’s top management told staff recently that the deal has been finalized and the new company, BAR Media Inc., will be operational August 1.

Michael Yamashita, the B.A.R.’s general manager, will own 31 percent of the company and will become the paper’s publisher. The Bob Ross Foundation, which is named after the B.A.R.’s founder and currently owns the paper, will own 20 percent.

The majority of the paper’s ownership will still be gay, and the paper isn’t being sold. Vogt and Brown have said repeatedly that the new partners will not try to interfere with the paper’s editorial operations, a pledge they repeated Thursday in a meeting with B.A.R. staff.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, July 18, 2013 @ 4:24 pm PST
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