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IN APPRECIATION OF THE SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER
by chance martin (streetsheet [at] sf-homeless-coalition.org)
Wednesday May 1st, 2002 11:00 AM
That was the moment I knew — in spite of my self-imposed stigmata — I would never, ever be the biggest fuckup who ever edited and proofed a San Francisco newspaper.
IN APPRECIATION OF THE SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER

by chance martin

Since the infamous sale and all its disreputable backroom “horse trading” became lost among the many examples of what little regard San Franciscans hold for ethics in business OR politics — the word on the street has been that the Fang family took a $60 million plus payment from the Hearst Corp. to kill the EXAMINER, leaving San Francisco a “one Hearst” town. We even joked around the office that we would organize a pool to bet on the date we predict that the new EXAMINER will go under.

But I do remember eagerly purchasing the first edition of the Fang’s EXAMINER at the corner store near the COH offices. I was intrigued because I had only begun editing the Coalition’s paper, and I was curious to see what changes would be evident once Hearst’s corporate tentacles were pried from the EXAMINER’s pages.

It looked a little rough — poor resolution on the front-page photos and some minor registration errors. But I could appreciate how difficult it can be to take the reins of a community institution like the EXAMINER and produce something consistent with the former paper’s look and feel. After all, that’s what I was hired to do here at STREET SHEET.

Then I started to read.

Maybe it would be appropriate to point out that I’m formerly homeless, that I was still collecting SSI for a psychiatric disability*, that I have a history of drug addiction, and that my confidence in carrying out editorial duties at STREET SHEET was, at that time, pretty shaky. The first year I sat at this desk was marked by many moments when I felt like a deer caught in someone’s headlights. There’s nothing like becoming ill and losing a prosperous contracting business, spending a few years in and out of mental hospitals, being treated like a malingerer for applying for disability, and all the general scorn and indifference from cops, GA workers, elected officials, etc. for making a serious dent in one’s self confidence. I was only hoping I could hang on and not screw the pooch — again.

So I pored over that first-edition Fangzaminer, looking to find any little trick I could steal to improve the STREET SHEET, but what I found instead was an unexpected gift.

For those who also dropped two bits in search of novelty that day, you’ll remember that the lengthy lead story on Page One was supposedly continued on another page. But as we turned to the page where the rest of the story was promised, what we found instead was a full-page ad for one of the major downtown department stores. The conclusion of the inaugural issue’s lead story was nowhere to be found.

That was the moment I knew — in spite of my self-imposed stigmata — I would never, ever be the biggest fuckup who ever edited and proofed a San Francisco newspaper. And I haven’t looked back since.

Before long, I found myself fielding frequent (bordering on desperate) calls from some guy named Zach in the EXAMINER’s circulation department. It seems this fellow had fixated on a scheme to use STREET SHEET vendors as EXAMINER hawkers. Attempting to be as conscientious as I knew how to be, I explained repeatedly and at great length why our vendors were exempt from vending permit requirements. The SF City Attorney had found that, as an “opinion tabloid,” STREET SHEET had “no intrinsic value other than to convey a message,” and, because we didn’t carry commercial advertising or charge our vendors any portion of the cover price, our vendor’s activities were protected by the First Amendment. And because the EXAMINER is (reputedly) out to make a profit, selling it on the street would require a vendor’s permit for each hawker.

Zach was determined, however, so when he finally grasped that we weren’t budging, he thought to take his pitch to our director. A couple of days later, Paul Boden’s asking me why I didn’t explain to this guy that he couldn’t “go over my head” because our staff shares all decision-making at COH. No one can really fault Zach there; non-hierarchical organizations like ours tend to truly baffle folks who toil in top-down fiefdoms like the Fang’s.

The Zach saga concluded when he called again on the very day that the Fangzaminer’s once venerated, currently wet-brained hack Warren Hinckle wrote a hit piece directed at Supervisor Chris Daly and COH director Paul Boden. When I pointed this out to Zach he didn’t have a clue about it. We can only surmise from this episode that the EXAMINER’s circulation department, like most of San Francisco, doesn’t actually read the EXAMINER either.

But EXAMINER sales must have been an issue, because the EXAMINER was soon to revive the fine old Hearst tradition of yellow journalism. In a stunning bit of irony, an Asian-American owned newspaper began a propaganda crusade to demonize homeless people in precisely the same manner old William Randolph Hearst promoted a frenzy of hatred and distrust directed at San Francisco’s Chinese immigrant population. The life-and-death issues of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens were reduced to a part of “the Mess on Market” (with some considerable strategic assistance from the Mayor’s press office and its “fifth Beatle,” Homeless Coordinator George Smith), and journalistic objectivity on homeless issues was completely lost from the EXAMINER’s pages.

Labeling every homeless person in San Francisco with such choice epithets as “bums, deadbeats, junkies and drunks” hasn’t done much to actually help solve homelessness (and surely couldn’t do much for the self-esteem of the third of our homeless population who are children), but it does seem to attract a pretty specific audience. Funny thing — judging from the correspondence we receive from fans of the EXAMINER’s editorial bent, most of them prefer to remain anonymous, as do those downsized dot.commers with too much time on their hands who created an online gathering place for a lot of similarly anonymous hate-spewers at http://www.streettreats.com.

I really can’t blame them; I wouldn’t want public recognition as a fecal connoisseur, either. And as long as we’re discussing feces, am I the only person who finds it positively bizarre that Mayor Brown — who has spent most of these past years in City Hall shitting in his own back yard — would travel all the way to Paris only to whine to their press about what a mess San Francisco is?

For folks truly concerned about the mess on our streets, I would recommend asking the Fang family to print their three-times-a-week throwaway INDEPENDENT on paper that biodegrades before their unsolicited coupon-bombs can blow wantonly around our neighborhoods, as they are always doing in my Western Addition neighborhood.

And for anyone who wants to learn anything factual about homelessness, I would suggest getting their information from a newspaper that doesn’t suffer a higher staff turnover rate than most emergency homeless shelters in San Francisco. If you ever wondered why STREET SHEET costs a dollar, it’s because we figure accurate, documented facts have some actual value (for their novelty, if nothing else) in our local media market.


* I no longer collect SSI, which means the Social Security Administration officially determined that I’m sane as the next person, and in this town that ain’t saying much.

--
Originally published in STREET SHEET
A Publication of the Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco
468 Turk Street, San Francisco, CA 94102
415 / 346.3740-voice • 415 / 775.5639-fax
streetsheet [at] sf-homeless-coalition.org
http://www.sf-homeless-coalition.org

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