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Once Magazine, an iPad photojournalism app, launches in San Francisco

There are promising media startups all over the Bay Area, and one experiment in high-quality photography is based in San Francisco and launches today.

It’s an iPad app called Once Magazine, and it’s founded by our very own Jackson Solway, who designed the first print edition of the Public Press last year and also directed photography for local publisher McSweeney’s on its 2009 San Francisco Panorama newspaper project.

Solway has been slaving away with a handful of ultrabright colleagues in the company’s sparse Dogpatch headquarters focused on creating what they say is a first — an app for the iPad that takes photojournalism to a new level by giving it the attention and design sensibility it deserves. There are many undereployed but brilliantly talented photographers out there with too few paying outlets.

Once Magazine is unique in that it relies mostly on app sales through iTunes, so you know it will be very attentive to the response it gets from its audience. There are other players ostensibly in the field, including the Guardian in the UK and National Geographic, but none that we know of with the kind of focus of Once.

The idea is simple, Solway explained in a recent chat: Gather the best photojournalists from around the world and display a rotating gallery of narrative photography shot with a journalistic sensibility — telling a story about a subject somewhere in the world that could be thought of as news, with short well-edited summaries and some multimedia add-ons.

We think it’s a promising model, and one that deserves immediate downloading by anyone with an iPad. Check it out: The first issue is free. Next month’s issue is $2.99. Makes me want to run out and join the iPaderati.

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The launch was a silver lining of sorts that came a day after the Bay Area News Group announced that it would “improve” its coverage by consolidating more than a dozen newspapers that are already owned by one mega Denver-based company into three newspaper titles — leading to “efficiencies” that would allow the MediaNews group to lay off about 120 people. Oh happy day. Except for residents of the East Bay and the Peninsula, who will lose the venerable centenarian mastheads of the Oakland Tribune and the San Mateo County Times.

In the spring 2011 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press we focused on the woes of the downsizing commercial press over the last 10 years. As contributor David Weir wrote, the picture for a robust Fourth Estate may appear grim with the layoff of hundreds of local journalists, particularly in newspapers, but there are about 5,000 media startups right now in and around San Francisco working hard to shake things up — mostly through new platforms and novel technologies. San Francisco, meet Once Magazine.