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Not so coincidentally, after an extremely brief conversation with a representative of the Bank of America about an auto loan, Dog Bites called Johnston to ask who was demanding what, and whether they were going to get it.
Johnston said that part wasn't really up to him. "Traditionally the press room reporters work it out for themselves," he explained. "They don't have the Mayor's Office or City Hall stepping in."
At the moment, three of the offices are used by Chronicle reporters, one is occupied by KCBS's Barbara Taylor -- the semiofficial real estate allocator of the press room -- and two are vacant. "There have been other papers expressing interest, most notably the Mercury News, which is having a push for a stronger presence," said Johnston. "But they don't seem to have someone working here full time."
Well, not yet, anyway. "We definitely are trying to get in there," said Merc San Francisco Bureau Chief Robin Evans, adding that it will be interesting to see how amicably the space dispute can be settled. "This'll be a test to see how well we can get along," she said. "It seems like it's always been a war of words at the top, but on the ground the journalists are all friends and all know each other."
Meanwhile, the Fangxaminer has also been hoping to be assigned a private office, and according to Matt Isaacs, assistant metro editor of the F-Ex, someone from his paper could be arriving with a cardboard box full of office supplies any day now. "We've been offered [an office] by Barbara Taylor," he said.
So everyone should be -- well, if not happy, then more or less on the way to happiness, right?
"I think it's baloney," announced civic landmark and Bay Guardian Editor and Publisher Bruce Brugmann. "You've got Barbara Taylor and her friends at the JOA deciding for everyone. Everyone in there -- they're all part of the same inside City Hall institutional machine."
Brugmann is particularly annoyed at the moment because, with the absorption of the old Examiner's staff by the Hearst-owned Chronicle, the Chron has "commandeered" what he thinks is more than its fair share of space. "The Chronicle has three luxurious offices," he complained.
Could Brugmann be sensing a possible real estate vacuum now that the Ex and Chron staffs have merged -- and trying to move to fill it? "I think that's basically it," said Johnston, noting that the Guardian jefe seemed to be laboring under the delusion that office space is assigned "according to how blustery Brugmann could get with folks on the phone."
Even though the Guardian has been publishing a San Francisco-based newspaper longer than the Merc or the F-Ex, it's a weekly, and historically the press room's private offices have been reserved for reporters who file stories directly from City Hall every day. "It's not a status thing," said a somewhat-frustrated-sounding Johnston. "[The daily reporters'] computers are hooked up here. They work here every day. [The Guardian]'s reporter seems to be in here less than once a week."
As it happens, Brugmann's beefs with the press room go back years. "Bruce Brugmann made us put in a pay phone in the other press room," reminisced Chron City Hall reporter Rachel Gordon. "No one ever used it, except once he came in and used it."
"The pay phone may have come up," conceded Brugmann. "But our main point was that if you have a press room the allocation of space should be handled fairly."
Who gets to decide how fair is fair is something Brugmann would rather see thrown open to public discussion; other members of the press think this is unnecessary. "It never seems to occur to people in San Francisco that if instead of fighting they came in here and talked nicely to Barbara this could all be worked out," said ChronCity Hall reporter Ed Epstein, who works out of one of the coveted private offices. "It's always, "It's a fight, it's a conspiracy, it's the end of the world, dig in your heels.'"
Brugmann, though, doesn't want to talk nicely to Barbara. "She refuses to hold a meeting," he claimed. "It's not just an issue of who gets what rooms -- it's a larger issue of a more friendly press room. As far as I'm concerned the press room is as unfriendly as it's ever been."
Honesty compelled us to observe that as far as we're concerned, everyone at the press room is extremely pleasant and welcoming.
"Well, that's because you're a nice-looking young lady and you prance around," said Brugmann.
Anyway, Dog Bites -- or, since it's almost Christmas, you can call us Prancer -- has decided to interrupt our busy schedule of obtaining personal validation by calling rival publishers and walking past construction sites in order to lobby for a private office of our very own. After all, the fact that we don't file stories from City Hall now is no reason to assume we wouldn't, if we could.
"I'd come over there to see you," promised the ever-gallant Brugmann.
Actually, wait. On second thought, we're fine right where we are.