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San Diego Magazine acquired by longtime food writer Troy Johnson and his wife

Troy and Claire Johnson, seen here in Ocean Beach, are buying San Diego Magazine.
Troy and Claire Johnson, seen here on Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach, are the new majority owners of San Diego Magazine, a 73-year-old publication.
(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Johnson, who has frequently appeared on Food Network TV shows, is taking over as publisher while continuing to occasionally cover the food scene in San Diego.

San Diego Magazine, which temporarily ceased publication early in the pandemic last year, has been acquired by longtime food writer Troy Johnson and his wife Claire, they announced Friday.

Johnson, who has been a food critic and editor-at-large for the magazine since 2010, is assuming the role of publisher and chief content officer. Also known for his frequent appearances on such Food Network shows as Guy’s Grocery Games, Johnson said he plans to continue his TV work, which also includes co-hosting Campus Eats on the Big Ten Network, but intends to work full-time overseeing the city’s longest-running magazine and writing the occasional restaurant piece.

The San Diego couple are acquiring a majority stake in the 73-year-old publication and all of its media affiliates from Palm Springs-based Desert Publications Inc. for an undisclosed price. Jim Fitzpatrick, who, up until Friday had been publisher of San Diego Magazine for most of the last 27 years, will retain his minority ownership. He also will stay on in an advisory role.

Troy, 48, and Claire, 34, said they financed the deal with a combination of personal savings and capital from an investor who wishes to remain anonymous. Johnson said his passion for San Diego and his concern for the businesses that were hit particularly hard during the COVID-19 crisis initially inspired him to consider purchasing — and leading — the magazine.

“Basically, I’ve spent 25 years covering this city part-time and realized during the pandemic I wanted to really invest in San Diego and turn my full focus to telling the stories of the people here,” said Johnson. “I was confident I had the concepts I could monetize to make enough of a living and make a difference in my native city.

“I was going to do it on my own, but we approached Jim with the idea to purchase San Diego Magazine and it turns out the timing was right.”

Johnson, who started his journalism career in music, serving as editor-in-chief for SLAMM and music editor for CityBeat, says he wants to expand on San Diego Magazine’s multimedia platforms with the addition of more video. He also wants to create an in-house creative studio to help brands and companies communicate their stories and then share them through the magazine’s various channels.

The publication’s area of coverage will also likely expand to such areas as real estate and development, architecture and home design, technology, culture and philanthropy, and wellness.

The changes that Johnson hopes to make seem in keeping with what most media organizations are trying to do as they adapt to an ever-evolving world of engagement, which is increasingly online, said Dean Nelson, director of the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University. He worries, though, about magazines’ ability to thrive as they continue to cut, rather than expand, their resources.

“All magazines now are a fraction of their former selves, whether it’s Time magazine or Esquire,” said Nelson, who occasionally writes for San Diego Magazine. “Because of the business model and advertising model they’ve depended on for so many years, they have had to cut their staff, their product, and come up with different means by which they get revenue.

“But they’re doing podcasts now, additional branding, I admire what they’re trying to do and I want them to succeed, I really do. They have done great journalism in the past and I hope they continue it and provide deeper coverage.”

The lifestyle magazine, which describes itself as San Diego’s “guide to the good life,” has had very little turnover in ownership since being founded in 1948 by Ed and Gloria Self. Fitzpatrick purchased it from the founders in 1994 and sold it 11 years later to Malibu-based CurtCo Media, only to reacquire it in 2010, in partnership with Desert Publications.

“It’s just great timing for both of us,” said Fitzpatrick. “I’m 75 years old and should start thinking about retiring. The magazine is coming out of this COVID crisis very strongly, and it’s great for Troy and Claire and for the magazine to have some young leadership come into the magazine. It’s also great for San Diego because I’ve always believed it’s important to have a vibrant city magazine.

San Diego Magazine’s temporary shutdown in March of last year was short-lived. By June, it had resumed operations and was easing back in with a few bi-monthly editions. It had laid off about three dozen staffers, but over the last year has been ramping up its payroll. It’s up to 23 salaried positions and the magazine relies on a stable of up to a dozen freelancers, said Claire Johnson, who plans to continue working full-time at her current product management job at NBCUniversal.

The monthly publication has 41,000 monthly subscribers and boasts more than 800,000 unique readers and nearly 400,000 followers on social media

The idea to purchase San Diego Magazine germinated last year when Troy Johnson decided to launch early in the pandemic a nightly Instagram Live show that allowed people in the restaurant industry to share their stories.

“Troy was at a crux in his career,” Claire Johnson recalled. “I saw what he got out of connecting with the local community, and I’ve always had a passion for media and importance of local journalism, so I came to him one night on our patio said, what if we approach the magazine about taking it over. Troy is such a creative person and has such a vision we felt our best value could be to use the platform of San Diego Magazine to continue to build off that.”


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