The San Francisco Independent was a free newspaper distributed several times per week in San Francisco, California and owned by the Pan Asia Venture Capital Corp., which also owned the AsianWeek newspaper. The newspaper began as the Lake Merced Independent before being purchased in 1987 by John Fang, who had been a Chinese journalist in pre-Communist China before moving to California where he ran a printing business. Fang gave the newspaper to his 24-year-old son Ted Fang as birthday present. When the established neighborhood newspaper San Francisco Progress folded, Fang gained advertiser and increased circulation, becoming a city-wide newspaper.
The Independent, widely regarded as a mouthpiece for the political views of the Fang family, focused primarily on neighborhood news. The newspaper declared in a full-page "open letter to the readers of the Independent" in 2000, "The Independent believes in advocacy journalism."
The Independent received a significant source of revenue from legal notices, which brought in an estimated $917,670 per year.
As of December, 1998 the Independent was distributed four times per week. As of 2000, it was distributed three times. As of March, 2001, the Independent had ceased delivering to homes on Saturdays, being distributed only at newsstands and as an insert into the San Francisco Examiner. The newspaper has since stopped publication.
In covering the sale of the Examiner to the Fang family, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Carolyn Said conducted an informal poll of people in San Francisco's Financial District and revealed complete dismissal of the Independent. Said Brian Antonio, a clerk at the Pacific Stock Exchange of the Independent: "Oh, that's the one nobody reads. That's the one that goes right in the recycling bin."
The Fang family heavily protested the proposed purchase by Hearst, owner of the San Francisco Examiner, of the San Francisco Chronicle, saying it would hurt the Independent. Eventually, the Examiner was sold to the Independent by Hearst to avoid anti-trust litigation. The deal led to Ted Fang receiving a salary of $500,000 per year, four times his salary at the Independent. In addition, under the terms of the deal, the Fang family could pocket half of every dollar over $15 million of the $25 million subsidy they received from Hearst.
The Independent was widely considered to reflect the political biases of the Fang family.
In 1991 Independent columnist Warren Hinckle wrote a booklet attacking then-mayor Art Agnos, which was published and distributed by the Fang family's printing company.
The Fang family was active in fundraising for Willie Brown and Terence Hallinan and the family's printing company printed campaign literature for Hallinan. Ted Fang was named to Hallinan's transitional team after he was elected, and James Fang was named to Brown's.
More criticism centered around city loans given to Pan Asia Venture Capital Corp., owned by the Fang family. The company was given a $650,000 loan from the Mayor's Office of Community Development, which came with stipulations against political use. However, in 1999, the Coalition of San Francisco Neighborhoods and Harvey Milk Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Club both passed resolutions calling on the Independent to cease advocating for Brown and Hallinan and criticizing their opponents.
The newspaper was also criticized in 1996 for taking sides in a San Mateo County Board of Supervisors race, working to defeat incumbent Mary Griffin. Ted Fang denied the accusations that he was slanting his newspaper's coverage against Griffin, and said, "I've expressed my personal opinion. That has nothing to do with editorial coverage." Adding, regarding Griffin's refusal to be interviewed by editorial board of the Independent: "Anytime a politician becomes so powerful they can choose which newspaper they want to talk to, or don't want to talk to, I think that's when the citizens of the county should be afraid."
Ted Fang has defended his newspaper's actions, saying, "We fight for what we believe in."
The Independent was known for its animosity toward the Examiner. The Independent sued the Examiner in 1993 over the right to publish the City of San Francisco's legal notices. The newspaper also ran a weekly comic called "Mr. Sharon Stone," a dig at Phil Bronstein, who was executive editor of the Examiner and married to actress Sharon Stone. Independent columnist Warren Hinckle, who had formerly worked at the Examiner, described the Independent's coverage of his former newspaper "a holy crusade".