“You get what you pay for,” was the opinion of one reader looking at the first edition of the “new” San Francisco Examiner. The first few editions of the newspaper had so many mistakes that a message on the website www.mediagossip.com called it the “joke of the journalism profession.” The errors and other problems could have been overlooked if this were the Fang family’s first publishing venture. But the Fangs are experienced newspaper publishers who have printed the San Francisco Independent three times a week for a decade, and the award-winning Asian Week for about the same period.
Ted Fang knew for months that one day he would be running a San Francisco daily, but it’s apparent that he did little to recruit a quality staff that would be committed to producing a paper that could equal or surpass any daily in the Bay Area. Booker T. Washington had a saying, “Cast down your buckets where you are.” Fang should have looked to the extensive talent right here in the Bay Area for reporters, editors, and multimedia artists who would love to create a San Francisco paper that would be considered one of the best papers in the country.
If Fang really wanted to publish a world class paper, he should have recruited local writers like Bill Wong, Austin Long-Scott, Tim Redmond, Helen Zia, Larry Bensky, Davey D, Emil Guillermo, Dennis Bernstein, Gary Webb, Lee Hubbard, Marie Harrison, Wendell Harper, Jon Ross, Ishmael Reed, Africa expert Walter Turner, and Van Jones. While some say that a line up like this is a journalistic dream team, the fact is that all of these folks have written for newspapers and would surely give more than a passing thought to helping build a world class San Francisco newspaper. However, the “new” Examiner didn’t invite them. Furthermore, it is a non-union paper and does not pay the kind of salaries that would attract top writers, editors, and columnists.
Currently, an average edition of the Examiner is heavy on wire stories from the Associated Press, the Washington Post, and the London Independent, when it could easily have formed alliances with the Spanish and Chinese language media to get original coverage of Latin America and Asia. Graphically, the paper is beginning to look more like the pre-Fang Examiner, but much of the layout and type is hard on the eyes.
There have been numerous allegations that the Fang purchase of the Examiner was nothing more than a sham deal to allow Hearst to purchase the Chronicle, but Fang promised he was serious about publishing a newspaper that could compete with the Chronicle and the region’s other newspapers.
Is there hope for improvement at the San Francisco Examiner? Maybe. Since the horrible editions of the first few weeks, the paper has brought in more reporters, graphic artists, and editors with some daily newspaper experience, and the Ex is beginning to look a little better. A spate of front page stories covering the San Francisco housing crisis and responses by the newly elected Board of Supervisors might indicate some attempt to atttract readers of a progressive bent. But it’s apparent that Fang is not willing to devote the money and time necessary to produce a world class daily. And if one headline could illustrate the state of the 2001 San Francisco Examiner, it would be “Great City Forced to Read Swill.”
* In the print edition of MediaFile, Ted Fang’s name was incorrectly published as James Fang. We regret the error. But hey, the Chronicle didn’t give us $20 plus million a year for copy editors and such.