Santa Barbara’s publishing world was taken by surprise last Wednesday when the editor in chief of the online magazine Pacific Standard announced the national publication was closing. Founded in 2008 by SAGE Publications, which is owned by Santa Barbara philanthropist Sara Miller McCune, Pacific Standard had mustered a decade’s worth of in-depth pieces covering social and environmental justice and public policy. The editor, Nick Jackson, tweeted on August 7: “Today is an extremely difficult day, the worst day—and I’m heart-broken and devastated. We learned this morning, without any warning, that our primary funder is cutting off all charitable giving and that our board is shutting down.”
The magazine’s 24 employees, including several recent hires, had nine days to tie up loose ends at their Santa Barbara offices, which closed August 16. Many of its freelancers turned to Twitter to express their sadness over the loss of the publication and frustration that the stories they’d been working on might not see the light of day. Jackson stated he’d known about the closing since Monday and had been trying to negotiate better compensation packages for his employees.
“It was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made,” said SAGE Publications’ CEO Blaise Simqu. “I am enormously proud of what Pacific Standard accomplished as a magazine, and its journalists, in terms of reporting, not just the awards, but the stories they created.” Simqu said he’d recommended on July 30 the closure of Pacific Standard as it had just enough money left to form compensation packages for the employees who would be laid off. A month’s delay would change that picture, he said.
Today is an extremely difficult day, the worst day—and I’m heart-broken and devastated. We learned this morning, without any warning, that our primary funder is cutting off all charitable giving and that our board is shutting down @PacificStand, effective next Friday.— Nicholas Jackson (@nbj914) August 7, 2019
The relationship between SAGE and Pacific Standard is somewhat at arm’s length. Pacific Standard was operated by the Social Justice Foundation, a nonprofit that has also dissolved and was funded largely by SAGE Publications, a publisher of educational and academic research founded by Sarah Miller in 1965; she was joined in the project by the man she would later marry, George McCune. Pacific Standard cost SAGE about $30 million during its run; the corporation’s revenue was $300 million-$400 million in 2014, according to the Los Angeles Times. The publication was intended to pay some of its way, but it was only ever able to make $200,000 a year at most. It was also unable to get funding from other foundations, Simqu said.
Jackson told the Independent the magazine’s operating expenses were funded by SAGE, and Pacific Standard was to cover rising costs like wages and health care through advertising, subscriptions, and other grants. Financial issues had never been broached previously, he said. In fact, the Social Justice Foundation board had approved Jackson’s 10-year plan late last year.
Simqu explained that SAGE was in the midst of transferring from print to digital, much as Pacific Standard had the year before, and was unable to continue footing the bill. “You cannot provide that sort of funding for a journalistic endeavor unless you’re a successful corporation,” Simqu said. SAGE was at an “inflection point,” he said. The pressures on publishing were formidable, he said, and SAGE needed to devote more resources to its core businesses.
This story was updated on August 17 after further information on funding and timing was obtained.