San Francisco: Far Out on the Publishing Continuum
From its counterculture days to its present position on the cusp of Silicon Valley, San Francisco has nurtured a number of prestigious publications and the employees who make them run. Media stalwarts Rolling Stone and Wired were birthed in the Bay Area, and many magazine and tech media entities call this slice of the Left Coast home.
Kaitlin Quistgaard, who until recently was Editor-in-Chief at Yoga Journal, grew up in San Francisco, and returned to the city in 1997 to work at Wired. She describes a thriving media community in those "wild dot com days," one that was "really fun and super interactive. There were lots of events all the time where everyone got together." Even now, says Quistgaard "the San Francisco magazine community is small so you do know everyone, and everyone is friendly and supportive."
Another publisher who is very tied into the city is Ali Ghanbarian. Once a self-described "bored engineer looking for something different to do," he is now 27 years into his role as Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of SOMA magazine, a stunningly visual publication which he launched "to create a platform for the cultural community to have a voice."
"Most great magazines start in San Francisco," says, Ghanbarian, mentioning Rolling Stone, Wired and Parenting. "I love San Francisco. It's a beautiful piece of heaven on earth with cultural diversity, great weather and within three hours the most beautiful nature you can dream about." (A restaurateur as well, he also raves about the local cuisine and access to fresh ingredients.)
As to what feeds this thriving world of local publishing, he explains: "San Francisco has always been an intellectual city." The city, he says, "is a breeding ground for creativity and innovation, not just in technology but arts and culture." And as for the techies in town? Ghanbarian says: "they grab my magazine to be cool!"
Danny Della Lana, NW Sales Manager at Sunset magazine, enjoys the collegiality of his west coast community. "It's a pretty friendly city. There's a great client base here, really strong: great agencies, really creative. People are generally open to meeting with me. It's just a nice place."
Della Lana's past jobs have included Esquire, AARP: The Magazine and Veranda, but his current position at Sunset increases his connection to place. "Luckily I'm in on a great book that opens doors. Everybody in the west has a story about Sunset—their grandparents got it or their parents gave it to them when they got their first apartment. There's enough business here to make it really interesting and really fun."
He finds the overlap with the tech community to be helpful. "Because we're so close to Silicon Valley, a lot of tech, digital and emerging tech such as mobile are part of the conversation now."
The importance of the infusion of technology into the media scene is a common theme, as is the "not New York-ness" of the place. Jacob Ward, Editor-In-Chief of Popular Science, spends time on both coasts and describes the difference. "New York has an incredible amount of literary talent, incredible content ideas, and a very refined sense of process. But the blessing of spending half my time in the Bay Area is that here I get to learn about great tools. I can walk a few blocks in any direction from my office and see a mind-blowing example of an incredible new tool for connecting readers, for visualizing information, for distributing content."
He continues, "It's not just that the technology is useful in an incremental sense, either. Very often the people and ideas I'm exposed to here hint at the bigger, global ways our industry is going to change in the next year or five years, and so being here allows me to keep track of the ways the plates are moving under our feet."
Claudia Smukler at Mother Jones is another long-time participant in local publishing. "I've been working for 25 years in magazines here from my beginnings at a typesetting business then with computer publishers like IDG and PC World."
"I work with colleagues now that I've known for 20 years," continues Smukler. "Each of us has forged a different path: working for the big computer publishing companies of the 90s, leaving for startups, joining internet companies, going freelance, returning to newly fashioned media companies, and otherwise finding opportunities that nurtured skills and experience that are valuable in 2013. The upheaval has helped build a resilient community that pollinates the Bay Area ventures with a creative and seasoned workforce. That creates a lot of fertile ground for innovation.
"It's a small and very well developed community," she continues. "The feeling today is that there are a lot of seasoned people who have come up through large companies that have transformed and may not be as big as they once were but the developing technologies and the internet and the dot com really infused people here with the idea that there was a lot of opportunity to expand what the meaning of publishing was."
New media publishing is a large part of the local scene. Facebook, Twitter and Google all have their headquarters in the area. And while these entities may not seem to be publishers in the traditional sense, they are very much a part of the publishing industry. (For more on this, see Bo Sacks's column on page 34.)
"The feeling that I've had," says Smukler, "is that it is this little gem and crucible of creativity on the publishing scene. A lot of times it's sort in the background, the little sister of Los Angeles and certainly of New York, but…it's pretty potent. There's a constant recycling and new energy created." One senses from the many contented content workers in the Bay Area that the artistic foment will continue to keep them on the edge of exciting new developments.