February 25, 2004

Dissection of a Resurrection

Philip Anschutz's infusion of cash into the moribund San Francisco Examiner (my old newspaper) hasn't yet revived the newspaper, but it has resurrected the voices of those once connected to the paper.

 Rob Morse, a longtime (and now ex-) columnist for the Examiner and later the Chronicle, writes in an essay for Grade the News: "If the death of any newspaper diminishes all of us, what can be said about a newspaper that goes from resuscitator to resuscitator and remains a daily of the living dead?"

 David Weir, a former editor at Salon and many other places who once waltzed with the idea of being an Examiner editor and not teaches at Stanford, welcomes the purchase. He writes in the Cardinal Inquirer, a campus paper, that "for informed San Franciscans, living under the tyranny of a one-newspaper monopoly these past few years has been a nightmare" because of the Chronicle's biased political coverage.

Weir does praise some of the changes at the Chronicle, including what he sees as a new-found freedom by beat reporters to go deep, but concludes by urging the Chronicle to hire a public editor ala Daniel Okrent because the paper's current ombudsman "is nothing more than an apologist for management."

The ombudsman, Dick Rogers, whose title is readers representative, responds in Romenesko's letters by noting that Weir's criticism of the Chronicle's coverage of the recent D.A.'s race failed to dislcose that Weir endorsed the candidate he felt was slighted by the Chronicle.

 Dave Burgin, the only man to hold the dubious distinction of having been editor of both the Hearst Examiner and the Fang Examiner, asks, also at Grade the News: "What does Mr. Anschutz really want?" Burgin's answer is, as always, creative:

"Well, he's quite a sportsman with all his basketball and soccer enterprises. He paid $20 mil for all he got from the Fangs, reportedly. That's chump change to this Denver gent. I say he wants to be a good San Franciscan, wants a voice in town, wants to be admired here, wants to own the 49ers and wants to build a new football stadium. You read it here first."

Burgin, who's never met a punch he wouldn't throw, tosses in a shot at the Hearst Chronicle:

"The old Chron also has been, well, revamped under Hearst management. Whatever the Chron brass' strategy is, it isn't clear. And it isn't good. No, I take that back. It is okay by eastern standards maybe, but it has lost its San Francisco flavor. It's no fun anymore. Un-clever. Un-San Francisco."

 Willliam Woo, a former editor turned professor and onetime part-time columnist for the Hearst Examiner, says he sees no redeeming journalistic qualities in Anschutz's purchase of the paper and it's time to kill it off. He writes:

"In the absence of any of these, it’s time to hold the wake, shed a few tears, toss down a drink or two and give the corpse a dignified burial. The old Examiner deserves to be put to rest."

Finally, proving that no one is more interested in news media stories that the news media itself, the Chronicle today profiles Bob Starzel, the longtime Anschutz associate who will run the renewed Examiner.

The story reveals three interesting facts about Starzel:

1. His father was a general manager for the Associated Press and for a time gave refuge to an AP reporter named William Oatis, "who had been imprisoned by Communist authorities in Czechoslovakia while covering that country in 1951."

2. In the 1960s, Starzel worked as a foreign service officer in Bogota.

3. In the '70s, Starzel went to work for Anschutz "trying to obtain mineral rights in Paraguay."

Let's see: Journalism, communism, Colombia, Paraguay. Sounds like Starzel has the right set of credentials for some San Francisco newspapering. Even Burgin might approve.

Posted by Tim Porter at February 25, 2004 08:51 AM