February 20, 2004

Examiner Sale Examined

As expected, the San Francisco Chronicle, now led by Phil Bronstein, former editor of the S.F. Examiner, went big on coverage of the Examiner sale to tycoon Philip Anschutz.

The main story quotes the new chairman of the paper: "Philip Anschutz is committed to strengthening and building the Examiner newspaper."

It also quotes newspaper analyst John Morton saying that commitment will require money to make a reality. "He would have to put in tens of millions of dollars to create a paper that would be in a position to compete against The Chronicle," said Morton. "I can't imagine he's looking at this as a great business opportunity."

The L.A. Times story is more specific, saying "the papers at best break even on revenue of about $12 million a year" and quoting Morton as well saying Anschutz would have been better off buying a certificate of deposit.

And, Dean Singleton, who knows a lot about making money with newspapers while not investing in newsrooms, told the Times this: "Phil is a friend so I hate to say this, but I wonder if he had a senile moment or something. One of the rules of living in Colorado is that you never bet against Phil Anschutz, but this one just blows my mind."

So what does Anschultz, who the Chronicle reports "hasn't given a substantive interview since 1974," want with the Examiner?

Anschutz is politically and religiously conservative, and has financially supported measures and organizations that are anti-gay and crusade against "overly sexualized" magazines, the Chronicle reported. Could it be that Anschultz wants to establish a conservative media voice in San Francisco to cater to that part of the city who is not thrilled, for example, to see gay couples lining up by the thousands to married in City Hall?

Bob Starzel, a longtime executive for Anschutz and now chairman of the Examiner, hints at this when says, as the Chronicle put it, that the paper "will concentrate on local news, business and sports coverage, with an emphasis on neighborhoods."

"People in San Francisco live in separate neighborhoods, but to a degree they do not know each other that well," said Starzel, who lives in the outer Richmond district.

"Neighborood coverage" is a code phrase used by San Francisco's conservatives -- and, yes, there are some, enough, in fact, to rise up occasionally and elect one of their own mayor -- when they decry front-page stories about gay rights or the homeless. Conservatives, of the moderate variety, are generally thought to represent about a third of the San Francisco electorate and most live on the west side of the city, Starzell's neighborhood.

Perhaps Anschutz intends to take one of journalism's core tenets and give voice to those San Francisco conservatives, who regularly complain they are voiceless in the Chronicle.

Anschutz was waged a proxy campaign for decades against gays. What better place is there to make that battle more personal through the pages of a newspaper than in San Francisco?

Posted by Tim Porter at February 20, 2004 08:10 AM