Dog Bites

Fangxaminer; Mourning the Passing of the Arts; Looking for the New Bohemia

In Space, Nobody Can Hear You Scream

You just never know when terror will strike. Sometimes you think you're heading out for a pleasant -- or at least informative -- evening, and then, well...

Thursday night Dog Bites dropped by the Marines Memorial Club to hear Marty Steffens, executive editor and vice president of the Fangxaminer, talk about her plans for the new paper. We arrived to find Steffens -- most recently executive editor of the Binghampton, NY Press & Sun-Bulletin, and formerly of the Dayton Daily News, the Los Angeles Times, and the Orange County Register-- holding forth in the back of the room. Nibbling a sandwich, we listened as she described her past journalistic successes and answered questions from a large cluster of people, several of whom wanted to know where civic treasure Warren Hinckle will fit in at the Fangxaminer.

Steffens said he'll be on the masthead as associate editor -- "that's a title they often give to columnists" -- and that if Hinckle doesn't turn his column in on time it won't run. Of course, we were dying to ask whether this is a clause in Hinckle's contract, but right around then, it was time for everybody to find a seat so Steffens could begin her lecture.

The very blond and very forceful new editor led by tossing her hair and complaining about having been hounded by a TV news crew and by reporters who "hadn't done their homework"; then she asked which audience members were writing stories about the event, and waited to see hands before proceeding. Dog Bites, with an instinct for self-preservation honed in eleventh grade algebra, raised a tentative pen as Steffens' gaze raked the room.

So okay, she seemed a little cranky, but the speech was free of shocking revelations. For the most part, Steffens stuck with generalities: the Fangxaminer will be "cheeky without showing too much cheek," "unique as the city," "classic but fun," "intensely witty," and "the first metro daily of the 21st century." The paper's new look is a closely guarded secret, but it's been reworked by design guru Roger Black, and the paper's sections will "borrow their names" -- Steffens paused -- "borrow their lively names from dot-coms."

Oh, you mean like the Priceline Potstickers and Yahoo! Thai beef salad at Venture Frogs? Sounds ... fun.

Then Steffens invited questions from the audience: Yes, there will be a Sunday edition of the Fangxaminer; no, the paper won't have a Sacramento bureau; no, the paper won't be known as the Monarch of the Dailies anymore; yes, she's already hired a large number of the 50 editorial staffers the paper will have to start, "most of whom" are not from the current Examiner.

Someone asked about the Hearst Corporation's $66 million subsidy of the Fangs' purchase of the Examiner. Steffens grew visibly tenser; though nobody had actually uttered the words "Fricke-Parks" or "antitrust, " she said testily, "Every dime of the subsidy goes to the Examiner."

And then, ignoring what Fangxaminer employees will no doubt quickly come to recognize as, um, warning signs, Exreporter Marianne Costantinou ventured to ask a further question about the subsidy. "You clearly don't know how it works," snapped Steffens. "If you'd done your homework you would know." Leaning over the podium and staring down at Costantinou, Steffens sounded out the syllables individually: "The sub-si-dy is paid out on a mon-thly ba-sis au-di-ted by Ar-thur An-der-son."

A stunned silence fell, followed by a collective gasp. Steffens glared at the assembled scribes. "I gotta tell you, I've had more reporters call me without doing their homework," she said. "It's a shame."

Later, she made an attempt to re-ingratiate herself by assuring those present from the Ex and Chron that she understood this is a tough time for them. But when someone asked her what had made her decide to take the job at the new paper she answered, "After nights like tonight I do wonder," and complained bitterly that "people might comment on what I wear, or something I might say in an off moment, and blow it into something."

Whatever.

Afterward, we saw our chance to introduce ourselves and ask Steffens how she feels about the Fricke-Parks lawsuit. "You're writing a story?" she asked. We said we were. "And yet you didn't raise your hand when I asked who was doing a story," she snapped.

We think that's when we panicked and ran for the elevator, but everything got kind of blurry, and all we really remember is speeding up Sutter in a cold sweat, checking and re-checking the door locks, terrified that Steffens might follow us home, shrink herself into our apartment through the kitchen vent like this really scary human-liver-eating mutant we saw in the X-Files marathon last Thanksgiving, and kill and eat us before hibernating under an escalator in a papier mâche nest made of old newspapers and bile.

Sure. We know it sounds crazy. But we're looking under the bed, just in case.

Mourning the Passing of the Arts

Compared with this experience, a mock funeral march to protest the death of San Francisco culture struck us as a fun day out, so we headed down to Union Square. In an e-mail, Bryan Lee of the Stain Gallery had said he'd "watched this unique city's culture, built on diversity and a thriving art community, being strangled by blindly managed growth in recent years." On Saturday Lee, the principal organizer of the event, was looking elegantly dead in pallid makeup and a somber black suit under a tattered black umbrella.

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