By: Joel Davis

Larger Paper Will ‘Hit the Ground Running’

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by Joel Davis

Stand back, lock, and reload.

That seems to be the Bay Area press war mantra as the San Jose
Mercury News rolls out a San Francisco edition to great fanfare.

At the minimum, the Mercury News can expect some heavy counterpunching
from the revitalized Hearst Corp.-owned San Francisco Chronicle. ‘Our
intention is to make the Chronicle one of the nation’s great
newspapers on par with The Washington Post, The New York Times, the
Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times,” declares Hearst
spokesman Paul Luthringer, adding that the reborn Chronicle will hit
the ground running with 550 editorial employees. ‘We will make a
quantum leap in dedicating resources to this effort.”

The newspaper is set to change hands from the de Young family’s
Chronicle Publishing Co. to New York-based Hearst the weekend
after Thanksgiving Day. Editorial staff at both the Chronicle and
the current, Hearst-owned Examiner have been offered jobs with
the new Chronicle. The revamped paper will have a formidable
presence, particularly with its stable of talented columnists.

Hearst officials say they have big plans, but are reluctant to
reveal them until mid-September at the earliest. The top editor
will likely be chosen from among current Examiner Executive Editor
Phil Bronstein, Chronicle Managing Editor Jerry Roberts, and
Chronicle Executive Editor Matthew Wilson. Despite the uncertainty
of the past several months, Roberts and Wilson have overseen
numerous improvements at the existing Chronicle and expect more.

The Mercury News’ San Francisco rollout is ‘like a salmon trying
to swim up Niagara Falls,” Wilson says, contending that the San
Jose paper is ‘badly outsold despite decades of spending lavishly
to gain circulation north of San Jose. … Readers simply prefer
the Chronicle.”

Whether or not they will prefer the new San Francisco Examiner
remains to be seen. New owner Ted Fang, whose heavily subsidized
purchase of the Examiner from Hearst has been praised, mocked, and
everything in-between, is taking the task at hand very seriously.
This, despite widespread suspicion that he and his family, who also
own the thrice-weekly Independent, are merely playing out the string
so as to pocket a good chunk of its unprecedented three-year,
$66-million subsidy from Hearst.

Recent Fang hires include newspaper veterans Martha ‘Marty”
Steffens, 47, executive editor/vice president of content; and
Robert McCray, 42, vice president and general manager. Steffens
hails from the Los Angeles Times and the Binghamton, N.Y., Press
& Sun-Bulletin. McCray most recently was general manager of The
Blade in Toledo, Ohio. Fang has also hired longtime political
ally Darrell Salomon, who recently resigned as San Francisco
District Attorney Terence Hallinan’s chief deputy, to be general
counsel for the reborn Examiner.

The Fang Examiner will have a new look as well. It is being reshaped
by Roger Black Consulting, which recently redesigned E&P.

Even the competition seems impressed with Fang’s moves so far.
‘They’re hiring some good people up there,” Knight Ridder CEO
Tony Ridder says. ‘So I think they are trying to be serious.”

Like his contemporaries at the Chronicle, Fang doesn’t mince words
when talking about his plans, or the competition. ‘Daily newspapering
in San Francisco has been the most pathetic and boring in the
country,” he asserts. ‘The Independent’s acquisition of the Examiner
is the first thing that has generated excitement about newspapers
here in decades. Finally, we’re sparking some strong emotions and
getting people to talk about us.”

Fang added that the Mercury News’ San Francisco campaign is more
sizzle than steak. ‘If the Mercury News thinks they can drop ‘San
Jose’ from their masthead and fool the people of San Francisco,
they have a lot to learn,’ he predicts. ‘The sum total of their
entire effort is a 10-page supplement, with only four local stories
and not a single local advertiser to support them.” The new
Examiner, by contrast, Fang boasts, is ‘ going to break all the
rules and have a blast doing it.’


Joel Davis ( is West Coast editor for

(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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