Gone at the Chron

The paper loses a managing editor but gains a lot of nervous tension

Local news junkies were hardly shocked by this week's departure of the San Francisco Chronicle's managing editor, Jerry Roberts. (He and his boss, Executive Editor Phil Bronstein, had had an uneasy truce ever since the Chron/Examiner merger in November 2000, when Hearst Corp. installed the Ex's Bronstein as top dog, directly over his former rival.) The real intrigue is over 1) who will take Roberts' place, and 2) whether this is the start of a larger bloodletting.

The idea that Hearst would merge two newspapers into one without casualties, especially during a recession, was Pollyanna-ish at best. In an already jittery newsroom, Hearst is clearly dancing carefully to quell unrest in the ranks.

Roberts, who had been at the paper for 25 years, was beloved by Chroniclestaffers, who represent more than half of a merged newsroom still operating with an us-vs.-them mind-set. (Roberts reportedly received a standing ovation during his last walk through the newsroom.) Now, not only is Phil undeniably in charge, their Jerry is gone, rumored to be looking into a job at KPIX.

Enter Narda Zacchino, longtime FOP (Friend of Phil), who arrived from the Los Angeles Timesjust in time to clean up the Chronicle's book section mess, after the paper redesigned, squished, and buried the section, much to the outrage of local literary types. At least temporarily, she's been named assistant executive editor. A former ombudsman in Los Angeles, Zacchino is expected to be a fixer for Hearst, or at least keep the revolt to a minimum.

Meanwhile, all are waiting for the next shoes to drop. To some surprise, Bronstein stated in his announcement about Roberts that Deputy Managing Editor for News Linda Strean, who defected from Hearst some years ago to work for Roberts, will continue to run the news operation.

But rumors continue to swirl that others may be on the chopping block (mostly midlevel management from the pre-merger Chron).Stay tuned.

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