‘S.F. Chronicle’ Won’t Reinstate Columnist

By: Dave Astor

The San Francisco Chronicle won’t reinstate longtime columnist Stephanie Salter despite a reported 1,200 e-mails from upset readers, a protest rally, and canceled subscriptions.

“Newspapers say they want to connect with readers,” Salter told E&P Online. “I would stack my connection with readers against any Op-Ed columnist.”

Salter, with the help of union protection, was transferred to a new Chronicle job as a reporter for the Sunday “Insight” section. But she feels bad for readers that no longer have a left-of-center, twice-weekly Op-Ed column like hers representing them in the paper. “They’re being dissed,” said Salter, who has been nationally distributed by the Hearst News Service and Scripps Howard News Service.

There have been reports that Chronicle Publisher John Oppedahl wanted Salter, 52, to stop writing her 16-year-old column because it was too liberal and feminist for his tastes. “I was told it didn’t resonate with him,” said Salter.

Chronicle Editorial Page Editor John Diaz said ideology was not a factor, noting that there are still liberal views in the paper’s opinion mix.

So why was Salter’s column ended? Diaz said the Chronicle is committed to making changes in various departments, including the one he heads. “Editorial pages have a tendency to become predictable,” he said. “We want to find new ways to become less predictable.”

Diaz, who said Salter has not been replaced with a specific columnist, did emphasize: “I like Stephanie very much personally and I respect her professionally. There is no question she had a readership. It was a difficult decision.”

National Society of Newspaper Columnists President Mike Leonard is not pleased with what the paper did. “There are any number of disturbing elements to the Chronicle‘s decision to ax Stephanie Salter’s column, from the wisdom of the decision itself, to the callousness with which the Hearst Corp. dealt with a dedicated employee, to the company’s inability to be forthright in telling the public of its decision to terminate Stephanie’s column,” said The Herald-Times of Bloomington, Ind., writer. “If the Chronicle had decided to yank a cartoon strip and it received the kind of reader reaction it did when other news sources reported on the plan to eliminate Salter, I feel pretty confident that the newspaper would capitulate. It’s too bad that Stephanie didn’t get the kind of respect the Chronicle likely would have given ‘Nancy.'”

But Chronicle Director of Public Relations Joe Brown (to whom E&P Online was referred after it called Oppedahl’s office) said: “Newspapers can’t make decisions based on campaigns, threats, or boycotts. If they did, another group could come along the next week and use the same tactics.”

The exact number of canceled subscriptions could not be ascertained. The Aug. 28 rally drew about 130 people, according to a story in The Examiner of San Francisco.

Salter is not the first person to lose or stop a Chronicle column this year. During the winter, the paper ended Adair Lara’s 12-year feature column and reassigned her as a reporter covering generational issues. Is there a connection between the decisions? “All I know is that two high-profile women over 50 got columns killed,” said Salter.

Also, Chronicle/United Media commentator Chris Matthews wrote his farewell column Sept. 1 after a 15-year run. He could not be reached for comment, but Brown said: “It was his decision. He decided to increase his TV workload.”

Matthews, who recently had a serious bout with malaria, is the host of “Hardball” on MSNBC and is scheduled to start a Sunday-morning show this fall on NBC.

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