While the Bay Guardian, The Examiner, the Onion, and SF Weekly may be the widely known and widely available free papers around San Francisco, they are by no means the only free newspapers to pick up and read in the City by the Bay. Other free papers, which are usually weekly or monthly and in the tabloid size format, include the Noe Valley Voice, Bay Times San Francisco, Marina Times, San Francisco Bay View, The Potrero View, and the Bay Area Reporter (aka BAR). There are numerous other free papers found around San Francisco but I just want to take a quick overview of these ones and the aforementioned Bay Guardian, Onion, Examiner, and SF Weekly. Please add in COMMENTS below any omissions that you see.
The daily San Francisco Examiner (which has gone through a lot of changes over the years) is currently in a tabloid size format and is free. While it gets critiqued for running stories from other papers and wire-services, overall it's not such a bad read on the bus or train, as it offers a decent blend of local and national news (usually accompanied by clever, eye-catching headlines) with a pretty decent San Francisco entertainment guide, often doing stories on SF events not covered by the Guardian or the Weekly. Meanwhile the always fun to-read Onion, the parody newspaper that publishes in ten US cities, including SF, offers a really good local entertainment listing in its (straight-faced & serious) A.V. Club section.
The SF Weekly, while owned by New Times (the Clear Channel of the 'alternative weeklies'), is not all bad and offers some strong investigative pieces on local politics in addition to some excellent music reviews/interviews (especially local San Francisco/Bay Area artists). But like many of the New Times imprints, the Weekly is often given to smart-ass editorializing that seems more geared to getting a reaction than making a concrete point. That aside, it is a good read overall with good entertainment listings. Additionally, their website is really good with up to the minute reports on news items that eclipse the paper's Wednesday street date. For example after MF Doom's pathetic 12 minutes (possibly lip-synced) show at San Francisco's Independent club last Wednesday night that had concert goers demanding refunds, the SF Weekly online version the next day around noon, based on an email from a reader, opened a discussion group about MF Doom's SF-diss. Good stuff!
Meanwhile the San Francisco Bay Guardian, which also has a recommended website is, in my admittedly biased opinion, the best of all these papers. (Full-disclosure: I am a contributor to the Bay Guardian.) An integrated part of San Francisco's liberal, left-wing culture since 1968, the independent paper, under the leadership of publisher Bruce B. Brugmann, has been tirelessly delivering an investigative, alternative look at what's happening in local San Francisco politics and culture. And while some (haters) may grow tired and complain of its muckraking approach to journalism -- especially with such targets as PG&E and certain local SF politicians over the decades who are quick to buddy up with big-business and sell out SF to gentrification and corporate interests, I say Thank God for Bruce Brugmann and the Bay Guardian! We need more voices of this kind of reporting, nowadays more than ever. And if, heaven forbid, the Bay Guardian were to go out of business (as was rumored before due to pressure from New Times etc.), all I can say is that San Francisco would sorely miss the institution which, to me, is a vital part of San Francisco's core culture.
With that said, however, one of the great ironies I find with the Bay Guardian as well with the SF Weekly or the LA Weekly or the Village Voice in New York and just about every other US 'alternative weekly' (all of which appear to pride themselves on being politically progressive and pro-human rights/pro-women's rights) is the fact that they include pages upon pages towards the back of the paper of classifieds advertising sex-for-sale -- even if it is under the heading of something worded like "Adult Bodywork." Call it what you want, it is still pimping or taking ad money to promote prostitution. One editor of a California weekly paper once confided in me that, while he had inner moral conflict with running these ads in his paper, that if it weren't for the revenue they generated it would be difficult for most weeklies to keep their head above water.
Meanwhile, other San Francisco papers include several that cater to specific target groups or 'hoods and include The Potrero View -- a 24 page monthly "serving the Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, Mission Bay, and SOMA neighborhoods since 1970" -- and offering editorials, local news, entertainment listings, classified, and a police blotter (found in almost all of these neighborhood papers and a good read, especially if you live in that part of town); The Marina Times, a 20 page monthly publication with local themed stories, sports coverage, and a "Pet Page" (actually two pages), and its Crime Report.
In comparison to these two, the bi-monthly Noe Valley Voice has a lot more substance and more investigative leaning stories. It also has a good letters page, a "school report" and a lot of advertising in its 60 pages, and a "Police Beat" (their crime report page).
In terms of hard journalism that really tackles topics affecting their target audiences, the semi-radical and distinctly pro-black Bay View and both the GLBT-geared Bay Area Reporter (BAR) and Bay Times all deliver the goods. For example, the current issue of the 24 page monthly BAR, which has been serving its community since 1971, has an exhaustive report on the current crystal meth situation within the SF gay community, while the San Francisco Bay View has a report on the "alarming growth in incarceration" and another titled "How to destroy an African-American City." Both of these stories, like others in the current issue of the "National Black Newspaper," come from sources outside SF, California, but are still relevant to its target audience, just like the column by Mumia Abu-Jamal. It also offers many locally oriented black news stories, including a good deal of music reporting (usually Bay rap), such as stories on G-Stack and Black C in the new issue. The weekly Bay View comes in newspaper size and is usually about 12 pages, full color. The 24 page, bi-weekly GLBT Bay Times includes columns such as "Trans Nation" and "International News," plus a letters page, and a pretty good entertainment calendar that includes comprehensive "Club Scene" listings.
There are many, many more free publications found around San Francisco (some found in the bins near the front door of the Amoeba on Haight St.), but this listing is just of the most available ones I found in a few spots around SF one day last week. Feel free to add any others that we should know about or any input in the COMMENTS box below. Thanks!