San Francisco ‘Examiner’ Becomes Free Daily

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By: Michael Liedtke, Associated Press Writer

(AP) The publishers of The Examiner of San Francisco fired most of the staff Friday and said they will start distributing a smaller, free newspaper Monday. Home delivery will no longer be offered.

James Fang, the son of publisher Florence Fang, broke the news to the staff at an afternoon meeting, reading a one-sentence statement saying the paper could no longer continue in its current format.

About 40 people lost their jobs, said Examiner Executive Editor Zoran Basich. The paper will continue with about 15 reporters, editors, and photographers and use more material from other free papers owned by the Fang family, Basich said.

“It’s a tough business climate,” Basich said. “We had to make some tough decisions to ensure the long-term health of the paper.”

The average severance package will be about eight days of pay, Basich said.

As the employees were informed, the Examiner held a press conference to announce its plan to stop charging 25 cents per copy and switch to free distribution at news racks and stores around San Francisco.

The Fangs took control of the paper from the Hearst Corp. in November 2000, in a deal that helped Hearst gain antitrust approval of its $660 million purchase of the much-larger San Francisco Chronicle.

The deal provided the Fang family with a $66.7 million subsidy from New York-based Hearst, spread over three years. The agreement was broken into three payments of $16.7 million the first year, and up to $25 million in the each of the next two years. Basich said he didn’t know whether this year’s $25 million subsidy had already been exhausted.

Friday’s layoffs marked the latest chapter in the Examiner‘s melodramatic history dating back to 1887.

In its early years, the paper often served as a bully pulpit for the agenda of newspaper legend William Randolph Hearst, known as “The Chief” or the “Old Man” around the Examiner newsroom.

The paper thrived for years until switching to afternoon publication as part of a profit-sharing agreement with the rival Chronicle in 1965.

The arrangement made money for Hearst, but spelled the beginning of the end for the Examiner as a widely read paper.

Circulation dropped from 303,000 in 1965 to 96,000 when Hearst turned over the paper to the Fang family. The Fangs haven’t submitted audited circulation figures. Basich said the paper sold between 40,000 and 50,000 weekday copies.

The Fangs’ previous experience in publishing had been concentrated in a group of free papers under The Independent name that often trumpeted the family’s political views. The Independent is home delivered. The Independent group will now help produce stories for the Examiner.

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