Dog Bites

A Little Crazy

Last week, our favorite source at the Chronicle told us the Chron newsroom was abuzz with rumors that Examiner Executive Editor Phil Bronstein had asked his staffers to indicate which positions they'd prefer when the sale of the Ex to the Fang family is completed, and the current staffs of the two daily papers merge into the Chronin November.

Dog Bites was all agog. "Bronstein isn't in any position -- believe me -- to make any of their wishes come true," said our source, who hails from Chronicle-land. "And to do it in a vacuum, without consultation with any department heads from this side or their side -- well, it's something we'll have to do all over again, anyway."

Of course, that was pretty intriguing. But then things really got interesting: One Ex reporter took Bronstein's request as an invitation to write a long memo expounding on all the reasons she should be given the "chief/senior" reporting job in her area -- over her opposite number at the Chron. Then she went on to detail her opinions of her colleagues at the Ex and her soon-to-be colleagues at the Chron: Examiner columnist Rob Morse is "not social enough" to replace Herb Caen, while Chroniclecolumnist Ken Garcia, she said, is "worthless and generally negative."

Had these opinions remained between the reporter in question and Bronstein -- well, but they didn't. Someone obtained a copy of the memo, that someone sent it to someone else, and pretty soon everyone in the two newsrooms had seen it. A parody version began to circulate, while the original document became a lightning rod for staffers' free-floating anxiety over the impending merger.

Julian Guthrie, the Examiner's education reporter and the author of the now-infamous memo, hasn't returned any of Dog Bites' numerous phone calls or replied to our e-mail; still, we want to congratulate her on having the, uh, courage -- that isn't quite the word we're looking for, but we're on deadline, so it'll have to do -- the courage to stick her head up, and get it blown off.

Bronstein told us he'd solicited feedback from his staff on assignment preferences because, under the terms of the sale agreement, he is the only person at the Ex officially allowed to speak to his counterparts at the Chron. "We'd had a lot of staff meetings, and I'd asked people to tell me their thoughts about what makes a great paper," he said. "I simply wanted the Examiner people to feel that they at least could be heard by the one person who is authorized to speak on their behalf."

Reporters and columnists at the two papers are quite naturally already jockeying for their preferred positions and beats. After all, how many, say, film critics does one newspaper really require? "There's been over a year of this stuff," one Chron source said, referring to the lengthy, court-battle-complicated process of selling the afternoon Examiner. Most of the Ex's current staffers will join the Chron, where they have been guaranteed jobs, when the widely disliked Fang family assumes control of the Ex. "The one-on-one competition for jobs is going to give rise to a lot of anxiety."

Anxiety, hell! Backstabbing is more like it. "First off, I'd like to say that I want to be the chief/senior education reporter at the Chronicle," read Guthrie's opening salvo. "I'm not interested in joint bylines. I'm not interested in collaborating on investigative pieces or longer-term projects. If a story is breaking, and I haven't heard about it, I'd jump in and share that story. However, any story that I come up with is mine. I am fiercely competitive ... I want to win a Pulitzer Prize."

Yikes! We're backing off! "I realize that I don't have the seniority of say, [Chronicle education reporter] Nanette Asimov, who's been trying to cover education for two decades," Guthrie continued. "I have been covering education since 1996. By most accounts, I have dominated the beat."

Dog Bites, who has been covering, well, Dog Bites, since 1997, and by most accounts is dominating the beat, is awestruck. In fact, it belatedly occurs to us that, if only we'd put the same level of effort into scheming for career advancement as we have put into, say, organizing our shoe wardrobe, we could be running this place -- John Mecklin who? -- by now. Of course, we'd have to be subtle about it, perhaps taking as our inspiration Guthrie's tactics: "I would propose that Asimov be named a columnist on education and I be the main reporter. (That way, she doesn't feel slighted ...)," Guthrie suggested.

Her other proposals included being sent to "learn about education in remote parts of Africa, Egypt, the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and the Far East. This could be an incredible project. Actually, it's worthy of a Pulitzer Prize."

Then there's the small matter of seating preferences. Guthrie, a former girlfriend of Willie Brown who, while senior editor of Frisko magazine, was described by the Chron's Ruthe Stein as San Francisco's "It" girl, has a lot of them. Preferences, that is. "I don't want to sit next to another education reporter," she wrote. "I don't want to be anywhere near Ruthe Stein or (you knew this already) Cynthia. I'd love to stay near Jane ...."

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