Dog Bites

Ex Big Gun Shoots Opera
Sure Allan Ulrich's paean to the refurbished War Memorial Opera House ("Days will soon be charged with anticipation") in last Sunday's Examiner was a bit swoony. But even fluff can require some journalistic grit -- and in the case of the Opera House article, the Ex apparently thwarted a plot to prevent it from photographing the rehab. To hear an insider at the paper tell the story, the publicity firm handling the Opera House reopening, David Landis Communications, stalled the paper and ultimately refused access to a photographer shooting the planned Sunday story.

The plot: Sources at the Ex say that Landis was carrying water for the Chronicle, which had some sort of exclusive deal with the Opera House board. Not so, says Landis Communication's Mary Carbonara. "Construction delays" dictated that no media were allowed in the structure that week, she assures Dog Bites. Carbonara also says that she's helped the Ex with Opera House shoots in the past.

Enter Ex Executive Editor Phil Bronstein, who just after 5 p.m. last Friday showed up in the paper's photo department. He grabbed Katy Raddatz, a 20-year Examiner vet, and together the pair headed off to the Opera House. A guard at the stage door let them in without comment, and Raddatz went to work. She got the vertigo-inducing full-color shot that eventually appeared in the paper by lying on the floor at extreme stage right.

"We breezed on in and breezed on back out," says Raddatz. "There was no construction; the lights were on. It was all complete bullshit."

Bronstein is more circumspect. "It was appropriate for us to have a photo and there was no reason for us not to have it," he says. On the way back, says Raddatz, she noticed a plume of smoke over South Van Ness. "I said, 'Phil, we're going to go shoot a fire.' He said, 'Fine.' Then we went back to the office."

-- B.W.

Dave Eggers, Esquire
Our Smarter Feller! colleague Dave Eggers had a reason for the garage sale he announced in his strip a couple of weeks back. He's moving to New York and a new job as editor-at-large at Esquire.

"I asked for that title," Eggers said last week, "so I wouldn't have to go into the office every day and edit a lot of other people's stuff."

Sounds good so far.
His first big project is the magazine's annual Dubious Achievements of the Year Awards, which come out in January.

Eggers, who's 27, says he grew up admiring Esquire and took the Dubious Achievements close to heart. They were "the kind of thing I was doing at Might," his magazine, which folded recently.

Eggers is part of a drastic overhaul at the stuffy men's journal, which practically went comatose in recent years under the aegis of Ed Kosner, formerly of New York. "He bored everybody to death," Eggers says. The magazine has a flock of new editors, in addition to Eggers. "Esquire had come to embody the aging, yellow-toothed, hunched-over, the-good-days-are-lost-forever kind of man," Eggers says, flashing a hint of the nasty wit that made Might such fun to read.

The transition to New York City isn't as extreme as one might think. "Might always had a bigger presence in New York than here. Our sensibilities were harder and mean versus here, where it's softer."

Might was a cult hit among NYC media mavens, including Eggers' new boss, Esquire Editor in Chief David Granger. "God, if I'd known people were reading it so closely, I would have tried a lot harder," Eggers says now.

The last Smarter Feller! will run in the Aug. 20 SF Weekly.
-- P.O.

Blaming the Messenger ...
By now, both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Examiner have reported on how Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich's humorous advice to college graduates became grist for a widely broadcast Internet deception. Someone falsely labeled her essay as an MIT commencement speech by author Kurt Vonnegut and disseminated it over the Net. What neither paper said is how thoroughly they themselves were snookered -- all for want of following the simplest journalistic advice embodied in this old j-school chestnut:

"If your mother says she loves you, check it out." Seems a few professionals missed the lesson.

Examiner columnist Rob Morse began his Aug. 5 column on knee surgery with a quote attributed to the bogus Vonnegut commencement speech, adding that he had heard about it from his sister (!). By the time Morse's column hit the streets, the Internet was already abuzz with the news that the "Vonnegut" address was really Schmich's column. So Morse responded with another column mention on Aug. 8, the point of which seemed to be that this whole thing just goes to show that you can't believe what you read on the Internet, starting with the rhetorical "So how was I supposed to know ...."

With all due respect Rob, DUH. May we suggest a little exercise in basic journalism?

Meanwhile, the Chron finally ran a front-page story on Aug. 8 about the mix-up. What the Chron failed to mention was that it had been snookered too. The Vonnegut/Schmich column was included in a package of materials -- completely sincerely -- for an upcoming professional development retreat, according to sources at the paper.

It would seem that no one in either newsroom ever bothered to, say, call MIT to verify the fact that Vonnegut had delivered the speech.

And then, when they found themselves caught by the ruse, they didn't own up to their mistakes, but blamed the messenger.

--

 
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