If Dog Bites, who's not very good at Quark and has only the barest familiarity with Photoshop, were to lay out a newspaper at our kitchen table, we doubt it would look worse than the new Fangxaminer.
Not that we're hung up on looks. Oh, no, no, no. OK, maybe a little. But when you're reading all the big-city daily that millions of dollars of ill-gotten cash can buy, it really is embarrassing to contemplate the mis-set headlines, the scrambled photo captions, the random place-holding characters apparently overlooked by proofreaders, the words that run together or overlap, the distorted and pixelated photos, and the even more distorted and pixelated ramblings of Warren Hinckle.
In fact, Dog Bites won a bet we had with ourselves (nobody else we know ever wants to get involved with these little obsessions, which, sigh, sometimes makes the world a lonely place) when Hinckle used his second column to expose District 7 supervisorial candidate Tony Hall's pact with Satan. Oh, wait. We just read over some of the more convoluted passages, and it's actually a pact with Clint Reilly. Still and all, to the Hinckle-phile that's basically the same thing.
Those of you who -- perhaps in some paid capacity -- were regular readers of Hinckle's column in the Independent will know he's had a bee in his comb-over about Hall for a while now; the only thing that really surprised us was that Hall wasn't the subject of Hinckle's premiere Fangxaminer column. Actually, why Hall merits 1,200 words in the first place is a mystery to Dog Bites, but we suppose he's a more newsworthy subject than the 1963 circulation battle between the Chronicle and the Examiner -- the topic Hinckle chose for his first column in the First New Metro Daily of the 21st Century.
Then there's the prose itself. Though much of the Fangxaminer is composed of wire copy, some of it, regrettably, is actually written by editors and staffers. "As the standoff in Florida goes on and anger soars to a fever pitch, there are mumblings on the street that either Al Gore or George W. Bush should consider what is "best for the country' and throw in the towel in favor of the other," began Sunday's editorial. Honey, rinse out the blender -- we finally a-caught us some of them metaphors!
Still, we wondered how readers less inclined to fault-finding were, um, finding the Fangxaminer, so we headed over to our favorite news agent -- Fillmore Street's Juicy News -- and staked out the newspaper rack. Unfortunately, nobody we spoke with had bothered to read the new paper.
"I haven't seen it," said the first woman we asked.
"I haven't actually read it," admitted the second.
"I haven't looked at it," answered a spiky-haired man.
Now, the pessimist might see these responses as a bad sign for the paper. But considering that the staff at the Fangxaminer still doesn't quite have the hang of using the image scanner, and that copy editing is a lot harder than many laypeople think -- well, Dog Bites wonders if this journalistic slow rollout isn't actually a lucky break. In our more conspiratorially inclined moments, we even wonder whether the Fangxaminer hadn't planned it this way all along. Then again, that wouldn't explain why the paper's Web site still doesn't work -- though, to be fair, it's pretty hard to find anyone in San Francisco who can put text online. And you would think the paper might want to have at least a few copies available in strategic retail locations. "The first couple of days we didn't get it," said Juicy News owner Gretchen Rogers. "I don't know what the problem was."
Her customers didn't seem to be missing it. "I'm a Chronicle guy. I like the writers -- Jon Carroll, Herb Caen in the old days," answered an overcoated thirtysomething man, eyeing Dog Bites warily before refusing to disclose his name. At our instigation, he gave the Sunday issue of the F-Ex front page a skeptical once-over. "It's all about that hard-hitting content the Fangs are famous for," he said with a slight smirk. "I guess that's why I haven't picked it up."
A woman exclaiming over Maison Française said she had no plans to pick up the Fangxaminer; the man she was with said, "I barely read one newspaper a week and that's the Chronicle."
His friend added, "A lot of people get it free, and they hate it because it clut-ters up the door." Cough, cough: Dog Bites explained that the paper of which he was thinking was, in fact, not the Fangxaminer but the Independent.
0 for seven! In hopes of finding someone -- anyone! -- who'd actually read the Fangxaminer, we pressed on. Besides, it was such a perfect amber November afternoon that we didn't feel like going in to the office quite yet, and, well, we hadn't been to La Boulange in a while either.
Over at Polk Street's Smoke Signals, Justin Desmangles said his clientele hadn't been impressed by the new paper. "People seem to be disappointed by it," he said. "They said the editorial seems to be a little flimsy, without a focus. The reception is pretty negative. But I'm sure it will get itself together."
Not everyone was quite as, uh, optimistic. "It's a disgrace," said one enraged man, who identified himself as a photojournalist. "It should be taken off the streets. It's worse than the Independent. They should pay the public -- they should give them a quarter to buy it."
Of course, we reflected, considering that Hearst gave the Fangs $66 million to buy the paper in the first place, that's really not such a far-fetched idea. Spread the money around! Heaven knows, it's not being spent on Guild-level salaries! We forked over for a copy of Martha Stewart Living and were about to break for a brioche au sucre when another patron approached the cash register. What did she think of the Fangxaminer?
Surprise, surprise: She hadn't looked at it yet. "But I'll go check it out," she volunteered helpfully. We trailed her to the newsrack. "It's kind of ... lame," she said, after a few moments of silent, aghast contemplation.
Still, there have been some kind words for the Fangxaminer: "We've long needed a good high school newspaper," said one Dog Bites confidante, "and now we have one."
Anarchy in the U.S.A.
OK, George W. Bush has announced he's putting his transition team into place, but naturally enough not everyone has quite so much confidence that the outcome of the election is truly finalized. Even after three weeks of not knowing who the next president will be, though, things seem to be rolling on about the same as ever -- the garbage is being collected with the usual undue racket; schools appear to be in session, though we're not an expert there; and we just saw the police pull someone over for running a light at Seventh and Brannan. Constitutional crisis or no constitutional crisis, the business of the nation is business as usual.
So in a bizarre kind of way, isn't this the ultimate vindication of everything anarchists have been saying all this time? "I guess I can't speak for the anarchist world in general" -- hey, isn't that the point? -- "but it sounds like you've got a perfectly clear view of it," says Craig Gilmore, of San Francisco anarchist publishing collective AK Press.
Doing without a president probably wasn't quite what Bush meant when he talked about the need for smaller government, but Gilmore is predicting full-on, well, anarchy. "I'm waiting for the crisis of legitimacy to send more people into the streets," he says. "I'm looking to the nursing homes of Miami Beach."
Meanwhile, Obsessing Some More
This week's Fangxaminer motto, "Keeping San Francisco a Two Newspaper Town" -- oh, those civic-minded Fangs! -- fairly begs the question, "Yes, but for how long?"
At the same time, we note that a number of people have been wonder- ing why the new paper insists on rendering the date as, "Wednesday: 00.11.29," and so on. "Are they trying to be European or something?" asks reader Tom Jamgochian.
"It looks goofy," commented one of our friends.
OK, the date may be goofy-looking, but it gave Dog Bites an idea. We think the Fangxaminer could use a similar format for a front-page feature most San Franciscans would find far more entertaining than anything else the F-Ex could ever print: a countdown from, say, $66 million -- all the way to zero.