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Final Edition

A farewell from longtime San Francisco editor Gary Kamiya.

This issue of San Francisco is a somewhat momentous one for me. It’s the last issue that I will ever work on—not only of this magazine but of any publication. Print rag, online zine, coffeehouse broadsheet, samizdat mimeo, cuneiform tablet—I’m done with them all. After 30 years as an editor, I am bidding farewell to the green visor, the bluelines, the purple prose, and the red ink. (Actually, those last two are almost certain to loom even larger in my life, but at least it’ll be my purple prose and my red ink.)

I’m not feeling particularly melancholy about it. I’m leaving by choice, to write. Writing is my first love, and I’m overjoyed at the prospect of being able to do it full-time. Still, you can’t walk away from the profession you’ve engaged in for most of your adult life without having some bittersweet thoughts. So I’d like to take this opportunity to deliver a valediction to the deeply underappreciated yet vitally important craft of editing.

Most people have only the vaguest idea of what editors do. That’s understandable, because editors do so many things that they themselves can’t keep track of them all. In a 2007 piece for Salon.com, where I spent most of my career, I wrote, “Editors are craftsmen, ghosts, psychiatrists, bullies, sparring partners, experts, enablers, ignoramuses, translators, writers, goalies, friends, foremen, wimps, ditchdiggers, mind readers, coaches, bomb throwers, muses, and spittoons—sometimes all while working on the same piece.”

Editors don this Homeric list of hats in the service of one thing and one thing only: the piece they and the writer are working on. No matter what their relationship is with the writer—and as that list implies, it is by nature fraught—their sole allegiance is to the work. This can make the job stressful, but it’s also why they have the right to take pride in their craft. If they do the job well, they will have improved the piece, and in the process shed a little more light on some aspect of the world.

In a larger sense, editors can also help inspire important cultural and political conversations—and, at the risk of overusing that inflated term, even help create community. For better and for worse, newspapers and magazines no longer possess anything like the near-hegemonic cultural power they once did, but they still play a role in shaping civic discourse. After working for years at a national publication, weighing in on issues like the Iraq War, it was a big shift to find myself addressing the burning passions around whether a high-rise should be built at 16th and Mission. But after some mental recalibration, I came to understand the vital importance of local issues and to embrace the challenge of covering them fairly and thoroughly. It was a great privilege to be an editor at this magazine during these past five tumultuous, gilded, sordid years in San Francisco, and I’m proud of the work we did. We tried to portray this dizzily transforming, magnificently unchanging, elegant and repulsive city unflinchingly, from the heights of Salesforce Tower to the depths of the Tenderloin’s heroin-addled streets. If future observers trying to figure out what the hell happened here find any of our reporting and writing useful, that’s all we can ask.

Making a magazine is a schizoid pursuit, at once solitary and collaborative. You do a lot of work alone, but it’s ultimately a team effort. When I look back at this demanding, not very well paid, but deeply worthwhile profession, I will remember the countless hours I spent alone, poring over sentences and words. But mostly I will remember my colleagues, my teammates and friends, who shared the editorial trenches with me all these years, with whom I laughed and cursed and sometimes cried, who belong to a fraternity of which I am proud to be a member. We did a lot of damn good work together and had a lot of good times. Thanks to all of you for your hard work, your talent, and above all your comradeship. It has been a great ride.

Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco

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