Claire Johnson, CEO of San Diego Magazine

Claire Johnson, CEO San Diego Magazine
For anyone who might not know you, will you tell us about you?

I was born and raised in the suburbs of New York. My father is a politically conservative, arts-loving, adventure-seeking, family-devoted man, and my mother is an intellectual, feminist, lesbian, environmental activist, and attorney (they are very divorced). Both have uniquely paved the way for me to think for myself, challenge the status quo, work hard, and have faith. I am one of nine siblings before counting in-laws. It’s a beautifully blended mix of full, half, and step-siblings but at the end of the day — they are all my brothers and sisters. Every one of them shaped who I am today.

I graduated from Loyola University Maryland in 2009 with a journalism major and mediocre grades and then moved to Manhattan, where I started working for NBCUniversal in advertising. I spent the next 12 years working my way up and around the corporate ladder, with my final position being in ad technology before I resigned. I moved to San Diego from Brooklyn in 2019 for a man with fabulous hair and a career in food writing. One wedding, one global pandemic, one baby, and one joint business venture later, here I am giving an interview trying to explain it all. 


You’ve found yourself as an owner and leader of San Diego Magazine. What is your vision for the longevity of the company? 

The billion-dollar question: What is the future of media? It’s no secret that traditional media companies with an ad-based business model have faced enormous challenges competing against the Facebooks and Googles of the world. We’re not immune to those challenges. In order to succeed and stay around for the next 75 years, we must do two things. 

1. We must be experts. San Diego is a city thriving in food, arts, culture, wellness, fitness, and real estate. It’s a border city. It has an idyllic climate rivaled only by other countries abroad, but it faces significant environmental adversity. We are and will continue to invest in storytellers who have their ear to the ground in all things happening so we can deliver content San Diegans can’t find anywhere else. Stories that connect San Diegans to each other. 

2. We also must be nimble. Social media algorithms change, the economy is in constant flux, and we’re still navigating our way through a pandemic. We can’t just react to these changes — we have to anticipate them and prepare. 

Because one thing is true in perpetuity:  humans crave connection. We crave being connected to our community, environment, and culture. Our mission is to create a media company the communities of San Diego are proud to call their own, and that sees themselves reflected in our pages. 


What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership? 

I believe this country has yet to recognize the potential of its genius. If all Americans believe there is room at the table for everyone, we could start to break down systems of oppression. The same barriers that exist for female leadership are those that prevent the eradication of racism. The irony is that the belief that success or opportunity is finite actually limits our collective ability to grow. 

Whenever my family has expanded, there’s always the fear there won’t be enough love to go around. But I’ve learned through my own experience growing up in a blended family, becoming a stepmother, becoming a mother, and even through adopting a dog that love is additive and expansive. Your success should not depend on anyone else’s oppression. 


What do you want your legacy at San Diego Magazine to be?

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….” Just kidding. I want readers, clients, and employees to feel like they belong to something special and that they are connected to their community and this city in a way they never had before.


What is one lesson you have learned from your leadership experience that you can share with the audience?

Surround yourself with people smarter than you.


You’re a new mom who just bought over a 74-year-old publication. How do you balance your career, personal life, and passions? Is there such thing as balance?

If there is such a thing as balance, I have yet to find it. The only way to pursue it is to do what sets you free. It pains me on a molecular level to leave my son but I love what I do and am devoted to contributing what I can to society in my short time here on earth. I have faith that will make him proud and challenge him to do what scares him and lead with love.


Follow Claire’s journey:  

Instagram | NAPP Podcast | | LinkedIn

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