Specializing in feature stories, the Reader covers San Diego life in general, with emphasis on politics and the arts and entertainment. The Reader also publishes listings of movies, events, theater and music, restaurant and film reviews, and free classified advertisements for its readers. Its "City Lights" section contains short investigative reports into the dealings of the city, while the "Calendar" section highlights local society, things to do, places to eat, and the local music scene.
Notable cover stories have included in-depth overviews chronicling San Diego history and pop culture, such as Before It Was the Gaslamp: Downtown’s Grindhouse Theater Row in the ‘70s, Gompers School Takes a Bow, The Rise and Fall of San Diego’s Pacific Comics, Pussycat Theaters – a Comprehensive History of a California Dynasty, Field of Screens: San Diego Drive-In Theater History 1947–2008, and Africans, Asians, Hispanics, and Hipsters: Changes in City Heights. The March 28, 2012 cover feature People Will Tell You That You're Late and You'll Hate Them for It., with confessions of a San Diego USPS mail carrier, earned national coverage on TV programs like 20/20 (U.S. TV series).
Among the website's most-viewed and most-commented stories are its profile of Jack Ruby’s rabbi, The Kennedy Assassination's Last Insider, an account of a local chalk-graffiti artist's arrest The Mad Chalker, The La Jolla Cove is a Sea Lion Cesspool, Hikers Discover Marijuana Plantation in Local State Park, Mitt Romney’s San Diego Connections, and Surfers' Incurable Obsession.
The paper has also become increasingly known for its local political coverage, due in no small part to the addition of columnist Don Bauder to the staff. Bauder become financial editor and columnist for the daily San Diego Union paper in 1973. When the Union and rival Tribune merged in the early 1990s, he remained at that post; in 1995, he was named senior columnist at the Union-Tribune. In 1985 and 1986, Bauder wrote Captain Money and the Golden Girl, a book about a local San Diego Ponzi scheme which stayed on the L.A. Times best-seller list for more than two months. He retired from the U-T in March 2003 and began writing his weekly column for the Reader in April 2003. He started his blog Scam Diego in September 2007, regularly engaging so many local readers that the comment section frequently racks up to a hundred or more comment posts for each blog post.
Among the Reader’s political and sociological cover features are Soho VS Developers: What’s Worth Saving in San Diego, Obama Taps Alan Bersin to Cover the Border, It’s Getting Ugly Downtown, What’s Wrong With Balboa Park?, San Diego’s Secret Missile Testing Sites, and a whistleblowing feature Just Save My Life, exposing how clinic trials of an experimental blood substitute called PolyHeme were being conducted on city medical patients without their knowledge.
Beginning around 2003, a political comic strip also began running in the paper, "Obermeyer’s Cut," by Neal Obermeyer. Other well-known comic artists who've served as staffers include Jim Cornelius, who illustrated Matthew Alice's long-running "Straight From the Hip" column from the earliest issues until being replaced by Rick Geary in the later 1970s, as well as famed surf artist and California landscape painter Jeff Yeomans (whose wall murals on San Diego buildings included the Unicorn Trading Company on India Street), political cartoonist J.D. Crowe (previously with the San Diego Union Tribune until drawing for the Reader from 1992 to 2000), underground cartoonist Spain Rodriguez (co-founder of Zap Comix), and Revolutionary Comics Managing Editor Jay Allen Sanford.
In the editorial staff, the paper’s longtime editor Judith Moore was an American author and essayist best known for her 2005 book Fat Girl: A True Story, published by Hudson Street Press. Joining the Reader staff in 1983 and subsequently known as “Mother Reader” for many years, she specialized in book reviews (especially food writing) and offbeat, whimsical feature subjects. Once, she visited a San Diego sausage factory and described it in lurid detail, in order to test the cliché that no one wanted to see sausage being made. She mentored dozens of writers still contributing to the paper to this day. Moore died of colon cancer after three years of treatment in May 2006. A memorial feature about Miss Moore written by several staffers ran August 16, 2007, called She Hated Adverbs.
The paper's local music coverage reportedly earns some of its heaviest website traffic, including columns and staff blogs like "Blurt", "Lists", "Musician Interviews", "Record Release Roundup", "Here's the Deal" (local venue reviews), "Rock Around the Town," "Jam Session," and "Out and About." The magazine's massive online "Local Music Database" chronicles the histories of over 4,000 San Diego bands and 10,000 local musicians, from the 1940s through today, with discographies, biographies, interviews, article links, videos, and playable MP3s. The music section comic strip "Overheard in San Diego" has been running since late 1995, spinning off an omnibus book collection in 2012 containing over 700 strips.
With an average of over 104 pages each week, the Reader reportedly has the largest circulation of any alternative publication in the nation. It is the second-largest circulation newspaper in San Diego, currently (as of summer 2014) claiming a single-issue circulation of 115,000.
As a free publication with high circulation figures, the Reader generates high advertising revenue. A quarter-page color ad sells from $1421 for one-time open rate to $711 for 24-time rate.
Editor and publisher Jim Holman, a conservative Catholic who also publishes the online California Catholic Daily, has reportedly spent more than $5 million of his own money on three separate ballot measures (Props. 73, 85 and 4) that would require a doctor to notify the parents of a minor female before performing an abortion. The most recent measure, Prop. 4, which would have amended the state constitution, was defeated 52 percent to 48 percent on Nov. 4, 2008.
Julia Davis is a member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, an executive member of Women In Film, a member of the Screen Actors Guild, a member of the Independent Filmmakers Alliance and a member of Film Independent. As a contributing writer for the San Diego Reader, she has authored several articles, including Murder in Las Vegas.
Richard Meltzer is a music critic whose first book, The Aesthetics of Rock, was one of the earliest rock-focused literary efforts. In the 1980s, while writing for the Reader chain, Meltzer’s articles for the L.A. Reader on the ugliest buildings in Los Angeles were published as a book. After moving to Portland, Oregon in the 1990s, he continued contributing to the Reader, mostly music columns and autobiographical stories.
Paul Williams is an American music journalist and writer. Williams created the first national U.S. magazine of rock music criticism Crawdaddy! in January 1966. His Reader features include profiles of local bands Riot Act (March 9, 2013) and Powerdresser (July 24, 2003). Williams died in March 2013, at the age of 64.
Duncan Shepherd is a longtime film critic whose pithy, incisive, and very often negative reviews began running in the Reader on November 2, 1972, continuing through the November 10, 2010 issue, where he announced his retirement. Originally, Shepherd had no rating system, but he was persuaded to institute a four star system, later expanding that to five. Five-star reviews have become rare: only two movies since 2000 have received the highest rating: Mystic River (2003) and Stevie (2002). Less than 100 films are listed as 5-star films, while nearly 2,000 have had the black spot, his lowest rating, bestowed upon them.
Jay Allen Sanford is an author and cartoonist best known for his work with Revolutionary Comics and Carnal Comics. He co-created the comic book Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics with Todd Loren in 1989, which is still being published by Bluewater Productions. The publishing company he founded, Carnal Comics, is known for launching the movie and cartoon character Demi the Demoness. His Reader comic strip "Overheard in San Diego" was launched in late 1995, while a second weekly Reader strip, "Famous Former Neighbors" debuted in 2002. Both reality-based strips are still running. Besides writing several full-length cover features per year (many autobiographical), he writes columns, music features, DVD reviews, and various interview Q&As.
Rick Geary is a cartoonist and graphic novel writer best known for his contributions to the Heavy Metal and National Lampoon magazines. The National Cartoonist Society awarded Geary its Magazine and Book Illustration Award in 1994. At the Reader, he has been illustrating the staff-written advice and trivia column "Straight From the Hip" - aka "Ask Matthew Alice" – since the late seventies, as well as contributing spot illustrations throughout the newspaper.
Bart Mendoza is a musician and journalist who has written for numerous publications, including San Diego’s Axcess Magazine and local editions of The Reader and San Diego CityBeat, as well as The San Diego Union and its weekly arts insert Night & Day. National publications include the second series of Crawdaddy!. International publications he has contributed to include British Time Out Guides for Southern California and the Spanish rock magazine Ansia De Color. He has also penned liner notes for recording artists including Phil Angeloff, Ray Brandes, Ryan Ferguson and The Lolas, and for music compilations such as This is Mod Volume 6, from Cherry Red Records.
Bernard "Buddy Blue" Seigal, a founding member of The Beat Farmers band, was a music critic in the late 1980s, continuing to contribute into the 1990s.
Connie Bruck wrote cover stories from 1973 through 1977, with subjects ranging from a witches’ coven (November 1, 1973) to a Carmelite monastery (February 3, 1977), and others. Bruck became staff writer at the New Yorker in 1989, and is the author of The Predators' Ball (about Michael Milken and junkbond raiders, 1989) and Master of the Game (concerning Steve Ross and the creation of Time Warner circa 1994).
Stephen Dobyns wrote cover features from 1998 through 2008, including one on illegal boats in San Diego Bay (August 3, 2000) and local amputees (July 9, 2008). Dobyns’ poetic works count among them 1971's Concurring Beasts, a National Poetry Series award winner (Black Dog, Red Dog), and a Melville Cane Award winner (Cemetery Nights). Dobyns’ novel Cold Dog Soup has been made into two films, the American Cold Dog Soup and the French Doggy Bag.
W. S. Di Piero has written art reviews for the Reader since 2000 and has published many collections of poetry and essays, in addition to his translations. In 2012, Di Piero received the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for his lifetime achievement, in addition to earning Guggenheim Fellowship (1985) and NEA awards. His poetry collection Nitro Nights was published in 2011 by Copper Canyon Press, while When Can I See You Again: New Art Writings (2010, Pressed Wafer) contains many of his Reader columns.
Thomas Lux wrote cover features from 1999 through 2009, with subjects ranging from the San Diego-Coronado Bridge (March 16, 2000) to a man who loves bugs (April 11, 2002) and more. Later becoming the Bourne professor of poetry at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Lux is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and three National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in poetry. From the Southland, a collection of the essays written for the Reader, was published by Marick Press.
Caitlin Rother, former reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune, has written features for the Reader including La Jolla Cove is Becoming a Sea Lion Cesspool (January 15, 2014). Rother co-authored a memoir of Scott Bolzan, a former NFL player, titled My Life, Deleted (2011). In July 2012, Rother wrote the book Lost Girls about convicted killer and sexual predator John Albert Gardner.
Cathy Scott, a true crime author and journalist best known for writing the biography The Killing of Tupac Shakur, was a contributing reporter for the Reader in the late 1980s and early 1990s, covering crime, courts and features, until she relocated and went to work as a full-time reporter for the Las Vegas Sun.
Alexander Theroux’s best known novel is Darconville's Cat (1982), with his most prominent nonfiction works being Primary Colors (1994) and Secondary Colors (1996). His Reader stories include a portrait of his father (November 9, 1995), a Grammar of Rock and Roll (July 20, 1995), a defense against plagiarism in Primary Colors (June 1, 1995), an essay on the Black's Beach nudist hangout (June 13, 1996), and descriptions of his novelist brothers (October 3, 1996).
In 1983 Charles Holloway of San Diego created a 32-page parody of the Reader called Not The Reader. This parody (circulation 20,000) resembled its source publication in many ways, including front page format, page layout, and style of advertising (mostly all advertisements were fictional). Stories and articles were mostly attempts at humor. The editor of the real Reader (at that time, Jim Mullin) gave Not The Reader "top review grades."