By: M.L. Stein
Weekly newspapers protest the small space allocation, compared
to the dailies,’ that they received in new city hall pressroom sp.
CONSTRUCTION OF A press facility in San Francisco’s temporary city hall has stirred up a controversy over the space allocation to weekly newspapers and the bill that they got for it.
Bruce B. Brugmann, editor and publisher of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, is enraged by what he calls private “condo” facilities for the daily San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle, while the weeklies were given open counter space.
What irks him even more is his contention that the Guardian was not consulted on the plans but was billed $303.33 for its share of the counter, plus an optional $75 for the paper’s logo above the counter.
Brugmann has refused to pay.
Ted Fang, publisher of the San Francisco Independent, the city’s largest weekly, said that when he went to inspect the new press facility, he found it locked, with only Examiner and Chronicle employees having keys.
“It’s not an equitable arrangement,” Fang commented in an interview. “We run more City Hall news than both dailies. But there are dozens of other weeklies, including many ethnic ones, that have no space at all there.”
Along with Brugmann, Fang said he is holding up paying his tab for the facility, suggesting that the entire construction plan be reevaluated by a committee representing all of the city’s news media.
The entire city government operation has moved across the street to the War Memorial Building, while the stately City Hall is being renovated. With city approval, the San Francisco Newspaper Agency (SFNA), the business arm of the two dailies, built the pressroom, which contains two enclosures with doors for the Examiner and Chronicle, and a desk for KCBS radio. The counter construction was farmed out to a private builder at a cost of $1,820, which was to be divided among six users, including Bay City News, a local wire service.
The construction was designed and supervised by Kathy Noble, an Examiner payroll accountant, who has a master’s degree in architecture.
She said the Examiner and Chronicle were allotted more space because, as dailies, they each have three or four reporters covering City Hall on a full-time basis.
Their private enclosures within the pressroom, she explained, are to safeguard the papers’ computers and other equipment.
She also pointed out that despite their joint operating agreement, the two papers compete editorially, “so they can’t very well have their phones side by side.”
Retorted Fang: “But it’s all right to have competing weeklies with phones next to each other on the counter.”
Noble asserted that she contacted a representative of each occupant of the pressroom, including the weeklies, and all agreed to the arrangement.
“I wouldn’t have put myself out on a limb unless there was an agreement,” she said.
“I didn’t want to wind up paying for the counter myself. I have no prejudice in this matter. My only thought was to build a cohesive pressroom, and I did that to the best of my ability,” noble added.
Pamela Brunger Scott, the Examiner’s managing editor/operations, backed up Noble’s statement, saying, “Everybody signed off on [the pressroom]. I’m surprised that Mr. Brugmann is unhappy. We believe everyone has been treated fairly.”
Bay Guardian managing editor Tim Redmond confirmed that he was contacted by Noble, but said he told her the paper would not approve the pressroom until it received a floor plan from her.
“I asked her to fax it over, and it never came,” he said. “I don’t know of anyone in the press, other than the Examiner and Chronicle, who was consulted about this.”
Fang said the Independent was contacted about the pressroom plan but never endorsed it.
“It’s ridiculous for her [Scott] to say everybody signed off on the project, without showing written proof,” he added.
Brugmann, ever ready to take on the dailies, fired off a memo to “The Non-Condo press: all the reporters and their editors and news directors who cover City Hall ? without condos.”
The missive was headed, “A Tale of Two Kinds of Press in City Hall: The Condo Press and the Non-Condo Press.”
Brugmann charged in the memo that at a meeting of the Board of Supervisors’ government efficiency committee, “Nobody from the City or Condo Press could adequately explain why a long-standing representative committee on the pressroom was ignored, how the Examiner/Chronicle could take over the process, use their own contractor, build private condos and then try to bill other news organizations for counter space to cover their costs . . . .”
The publisher further accused the SFNA of “reneging” on a deal with the city to foot all of the press facility’s costs, including the counter.
“How in the world could any of this happen on public property inside City Hall, just a few paces from the Board of Supervisors’ chambers?” Brugmann asked in his letter.
He urged the other papers not to pay the assessment and to demand their money back if they had paid.
Brugmann told E&P that his reporters used available desks in the old City Hall pressroom.
“The city cannot turn over public property to a private newspaper to build a pressroom,” he said in the interview. “I can’t find anyone who had oversight on this.”
Joan Lubamersky, a city employee who acted as a liaison with SFNA on the pressroom project, had taken time off to be treated for a back ailment and was unavailable for comment.
She was quoted in a Guardian story, however, as saying she did not learn until after the pressroom had been built that the Examiner had billed other media for part of the work.
“I thought they [SFNA officials] were paying for the whole thing,” she reportedly said.
Jack Shafer, editor of SF Weekly, the Guardian’s alternative competitor, said he had reservations about the pressroom’s accommodations but was low-keyed in his criticism.
“In his typical fashion, Brugmann has inflated this issue,” Shafer said. “Brugmann may or may not have a case. Maybe the Chronicle and Examiner did go off half-cocked and bulldoze this thing through, but there must be a simpler solution to the matter than overheated rhetoric about condo conspiracies.”
Shafer said he had not seen a bill for the counter space but acknowledged having received a pressroom floor plan from Noble before construction began.
Another party seeking an “amicable” solution was Dick Fogle, president of Bay City News, which numbers the Chronicle and Examiner among its subscribers. Fogle, who said his organization has paid for its counter share, observed: “We want to get along with everyone.”
?(“The city cannot turn over public property to a private newspaper to build a pressroom. I can’t find anyone who had oversight on this.”) [Caption]
?(? Bruce Brugmann, editor and publisher of the San Francisco Bay Guardian) [Photo}