By: Joe Strupp

Staffers Say Editors Fought

Only three weeks after the launch of the “new” San Francisco
Examiner, Executive Editor Marty Steffens resigned amid
reports of high-level staff infighting and myriad signs of an
organization in shambles. Mocked by local competitors for a
welter of embarrassing typographical errors and plagued by
technical and delivery problems, the remake of the paper seemed
to have rubber legs.

“I have extremely serious concerns – and sometimes
nightmares – that this paper is not going to make it,” said
one Examiner editor, who requested anonymity. “This paper
is in danger of losing half of its staff.”

Other newsroom staffers disagreed, citing the paper’s ability to
pick up good, local stories that the rival San Francisco
Chronicle had missed, while working slowly through the
computer glitches and delivery delays that they say would be
expected with any new publication. “We have great talent here,”
said Features Editor Fred Dodsworth, who oversees three weekly
sections. “I think this paper is going to be around for a while.”

The mixed feelings and uncertainty about the paper’s future were
heightened after last week’s departure of Steffens, a 30-year,
Gannett Co. Inc.-trained newspaper veteran. Examiner
Publisher Ted Fang, who acquired the paper earlier this year
through an unusual arrangement with the Hearst Corp., immediately
hired veteran San Francisco newsman David Burgin, 61, to become
his paper’s chief editor. Burgin was the top editor of the
Examiner from 1985 to 1986 under Hearst, and has served as
a key editor at a number of Bay Area papers, including The
Oakland Tribune.

At the same time, Fang said he would directly oversee his paper’s
“news-gathering and editorial operations.”

“It was one obstacle after another that came up,” Steffens, 47,
told E&P. “There was incredible stress. It was tough to
keep putting in 18-hour days, have all the unanticipated
technical problems and physical problems, and get a whole new
newspaper started.”

One of Steffens’ biggest obstacles, local journalism watchers
agreed, was the paper’s acerbic associate editor, Warren Hinckle,
a raucous, veteran columnist in the city. Steffens declined to
comment on the issue, but Hinckle, true to form, did not hide his

“She didn’t understand San Francisco,” said Hinckle, who had
lobbied for her job. “You can’t import an editor.”

Confirming this bitterness, Features Editor Dodsworth said,
“Warren and Marty were definitely at war. They didn’t like each
other at all.”

Several sources said the friction came to a boil two weeks ago
when the paper ran a major story on political-action-committee
money influencing the city’s board of supervisors election, which
drew criticism from a Fang political ally, Mayor Willie Brown.

Fang acknowledged that Steffens had a lot of pressure to
overcome. “It was very stressful for her and her family,” said
Fang, who said he will keep Steffens on as a consultant. “She
will not have to take all of the burden on her own now.”

Several Examiner staffers, who requested anonymity, agreed
that Steffens had a lot to handle with the start-up paper, but
said she may not have been ready for the challenges of running a
major metro. “There seemed to be a pretty big leadership vacuum,”
said one newsroom worker. “Things were pretty poorly organized.”

Another staffer agreed, but said Steffens’ problems stemmed from
the paper’s poor overall setup – from publishing-system
glitches to difficulties getting direct Associated Press feeds.
“Marty’s a sharp woman, but there were some problems that were
overwhelming,” the employee said. “Trying to keep everyone happy
and keep the paper coming out was too much to handle.”

Steffens’ departure was preceded by that of highly regarded
Editorial Page Editor Susan Herbert, who had worked for Fang in
the past.

Steffens, who signed a three-year contract when she joined the
newspaper, said she planned to stay in the Bay Area and serve out
the remainder of her contract advising on content. “It is a
terrific opportunity to stay involved,” she said.

Burgin, in an interview with E&P, said the Examiner
can improve without increasing staff or expenses. “It cannot
compete on the traditional level,” said Burgin, who left his last
editing job five years ago to run a book-publishing company that
he still owns. “It has to be something so different and unique
that it isn’t seen as competition, but as something new.”

Saying he probably would not stay on the job more than a year,
Burgin vowed to put out a “fun and interesting” paper. “In six
months, every editor will be stealing our ideas,” he said.
“Either that, or I’ll be in a funny farm.”

Burgin is known for his innovative spirit. While editor of The
Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel, he launched a column on
insects. And, as sports editor of The Washington Star in
the early 1980s, he ran an eye-opening series on gays in sports.

Joe Strupp ( is an associate editor for E&P.

Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher.

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