January 21, 2015
Screenshot from 48hillsonline.org

Part of the cover from the Guardian’s commemorative issue. Screenshot from 48hillsonline.org

After being told they’d just published the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s final issue, and after they were fired, Guardian staffers met up for a drink.

They weren’t done yet. Former editor Steven Jones suggested staffers publish one last issue — a commemorative edition — to end the Guardian on their own terms.

“It was cut off so abruptly, and we were given no options, so we were like, ‘Well, we’re going to take it upon ourselves to say goodbye to our readers,’ you know?” said Marke Bieschke, former publisher of the Guardian.

But how? They were without a printing press and an editorial budget, lacked a distribution network and didn’t have the money to get another issue independently printed.

Before staffers left the office of the alt weekly, a progressive gadfly that had been raising hell for nearly half a century, calls started coming in from concerned readers, said Bieschke. State senators. California assembly members. Families who’d read the paper for generations. They were disappointed that the paper had come to such an abrupt conclusion and wanted to know what they could do to help.

“So we knew that we couldn’t just walk off the job,” Bieschke said. “We couldn’t just let this progressive, alternative, independent publication die.”

The Guardian staff got a break when Jones convinced San Francisco Public Press, a local nonprofit publisher, to run the issue as an insert in its Jan. 22 issue. They also partnered with Gumroad, an electronic publisher, to release an online version of the issue.

Now that they had distributors lined up, Guardian leadership now had more than two months to put together an issue by the January deadline. But Bieschke and the others were still faced with one big obstacle: They didn’t have any money to pay contributors and were without a business team to sell ads against the commemorative edition.

A solution came in the form of a “Save the Bay Guardian” crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. In a little less than two months, the former Guardian staffers raised upwards of $26,000 to print a 24-page issue filled with stories and columns from Guardian reporters and writers. The issue’s contributors started working in October, and they all hit their December deadlines.

Finally, earlier this month, Bieschke invited his colleagues over to his apartment to put the issue to bed. They ordered pizza and opened bottles of wine as they copyedited the Guardian’s final issue.

“Knowing that this might be the last time we got to pour over proofs late at night was — it was a wonderful experience, but there was also a little bit of melancholy in there,” Bieschke said.

The resulting edition is a callback to the weekly’s legacy, with remembrances from founder Bruce Brugmann and longtime editor Tim Redmond. It also features previews of new restaurants, a lookback at the year’s best movies and an article on the way forward for progressives in San Francisco.

“So it’s not a gravestone,” Bieschke said. “We wanted to have enough in there that shows people the lively look-ahead writing and engagement that we came to symbolize, especially when it came to arts and culture as well as news.”

The issue was made available via Gumroad Tuesday, and the print edition will be available at select newsstands in the Bay Area Thursday.

There are no immediate plans to continue publishing the Guardian after the commemorative issue is released, Bieschke said. He and his colleagues are still in negotiations with the weekly’s parent company over what will become of the Guardian’s paper archives and the rights to its name.

“I would love it if there was a way for the Guardian to continue,” Bieschke said. “I think what we’re going to do is get this issue out, have the party, sleep a couple days and then figure out our next step.”

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
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