Dog Bites

Mercury News redesign; Chronicle rumors; Gavin Newsom

Forget Muni! Rescue the Merc!

Oooh! Aaah!It's a redesigned Mercury News! Yes, it's hard for Dog Bites -- as it will be, doubtless, for many of our readers -- to imagine anything more exciting, especially as the heat has already left us nearly prostrate. But there it is, complete with its own new typeface, ready to play in the big leagues.

"We're improving the Weather page, adding road closures around the state," Executive Editor David Yarnold told the breathless masses; we noticed this was the second bullet in the bulleted list of enhanced features at the Merc, and wondered how the rest of the list could possibly fail to disappoint readers. But in fact, we very nearly fell off the edge of our seat when we saw the next item: The paper will now feature a new index on Page 2A -- along with the lottery results.

Some reorganization is also in the works. "We're moving some of your favorite features to create more helpful clusters of content," Yarnold wrote. Clusters of content! Why couldn't we have thought of a phrase like that? Then we could be a consultant, and make lots of money, and speak at conferences, and maybe even have one of those really nice Coach business card holders. Life is not fair.

What intrigued us most is that the section formerly known as Silicon Valley Life will apparently now go by the more prosaic name Arts and Entertainment. But it makes perfect sense: If the Merc really is going to go after the Chron's subscriber base, it's going to have to drop its most irritatingly parochial mannerisms; though San Francisco may, increasingly, serve as a bedroom community for Redwood Shores, it does seem more tactful of the Merc not to remind us of the fact.

So, meeting this gesture of goodwill with a gesture of our own -- perhaps that didn't sound quite right -- Dog Bites is willing to admit we took some cheap shots at the Merc's San Francisco edition last week. And yes, it's easier to criticize than it is to be constructive. But because we want to make up for our past lack of sensitivity to the geographically challenged challenger to the city's newspapers, Dog Bites has decided to use our powers for good, not evil, and help the Mercto beef up coverage on its San Francisco Page, or whatever it's called.

Granted, the Merc has covered a number of important city stories lately: We believe we've mentioned the Strybing quail exposé, and the paper's new San Francisco bureau has also done groundbreaking work on the subjects of parking (not much of it!), dot-com development (not everyone likes it!), and the Presidio (not all of it will become parkland!). Still, we think it's time for those of us who actually live here to pitch in and suggest topics for future features. Reader Gary Parsons -- Gary! What are we thinking now? OK, just testing -- suggests, "Fog: San Francisco's Natural Air-Conditioning," but we're sure there are many others that have thus far been overlooked.

What we have in mind is a reader contest, a chance for members of Dog Bites' vast public to contribute their own story ideas. The pitch we deem best will win its author a copy of the Silicon Valley Handbook, by Martin Cheek, an "all-encompassing guide that showcases the region's many attractions." However, we will be sure to forward all proposals to our colleagues at the other end of the 280, and meanwhile, we have a few suggestions of our own, just in case the Mercis running low right this minute.

"Willie Brown: San Francisco's charismatic mayor has long political history." Recognizable by his frequently worn fedora, well-dressed Willie Brown is the city's first black mayor. He is also a Democrat, and, sources have hinted, served in the state Assembly for some time.

"The Golden Gate Bridge: Not just an icon." Though it's best known toMerc readers as a picturesque tourist attraction, dozens of drivers actually use the 1937 landmark, which is constructed entirely of low-tech materials, to commute to work each day.

"Flying High: San Mateo schoolkids build colorful kites." While this isn't exactly a San Francisco story, San Mateois north of San Jose, and actually fairly close to San Francisco; if, as often happens, there is no news from the city on a given day, this can run in the San Francisco section instead.

We Make Total Idiots of Ourselves So You Don't Have To

Meanwhile, rumors are flying that a new publisher for the Hearst-owned Chron will be named at the beginning of October, giving the organization almost a full two months to, um, organize before the first issue of the new Chron appears Nov. 22. (For those keeping track, sources had told us earlier that a publisher would be named at the beginning of September.) The name Dog Bites had heard most recently was John Oppedahl, publisher of the Arizona Republic. But both Matthew Wilson, executive editor of the Chron, and Phil Bronstein, executive editor of the Examiner, said that's an old rumor. "It's been around for weeks," said Wilson, thus making Dog Bites feel queasily embarrassed about having to call people up and ask them dumb questions.
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