Examiner ends 113 years as a Hearst-owned newspaper

SAN FRANCISCO - The new San Francisco Examiner missed its first deadline Wednesday.

The Examiner, which ended a 113-year run as a Hearst Corp.-owned afternoon newspaper a day earlier, is now owned by publisher Ted Fang, who hired a new staff and switched the paper to morning publication.

He hoped to offer at least 100,000 copies, but only half that number left the presses in a limited home delivery Wednesday. Examiner vending boxes stood empty on downtown sidewalks for seven hours. The paper's Web site also was blank, with no fix expected for days.

''There have been problems with just about everything, but all those problems have been solved and we plan to be out on the streets bright and early tomorrow morning,'' Fang said.

Several blocks away, former Examiner employees worked side by side with workers for the San Francisco Chronicle after more than a century of intense rivalry, the last 35 years spent in an uneasy joint operating agreement. The Chronicle had psychologists on hand in the newsroom for ''aid and comfort.''

''This isn't going to be entirely pleasant for everyone,'' said Rob Morse, who frequently roasted the Chronicle in his 15 years as an Examiner columnist. ''If they end up turning me into a police reporter, well, I have had a good run as a columnist.''

Hearst's long-delayed, $660 million purchase of the Chronicle, family-owned since 1865, compelled it to relinquish control of the Examiner, the paper that launched the publishing empire of William Randolph Hearst in 1887. To satisfy antitrust concerns, Hearst agreed to give the paper and other assets to Fang along with a $66 million subsidy to be paid out over three years.

Fang's new Examiner is vastly overmatched numerically with an editorial staff of 40 fighting in a city circulation war that recently was joined by Knight Ridder's San Jose Mercury News.

Fang's solution is to cover local news more intensely than his bigger, regional rivals. The first edition led not with the presidential recount, but with a city housing probe and a picture of Mayor Willie Brown honoring San Francisco Giants Manager Dusty Baker.

''Our pledge is to be a voice for those whose words have been muted in the past,'' Fang wrote in a front-page letter. ''Now the real work begins: preserving a second daily newspaper voice for the city.''

Hearst's Examiner thrived until entering into a profit-sharing agreement with the Chronicle in 1965. The arrangement made money for Hearst, but switching to afternoons doomed the Examiner. By Wednesday, the paper's circulation had fallen from the 1965-level of 303,000 to 96,000. The Chronicle grew from 363,000 to 457,000.

Hearst guaranteed its Examiner employees jobs at the Chronicle without assurances duties would be the same. With a vast staff under one roof, Chronicle management hopes to get its money's worth with the publication of an afternoon street-sales-only edition.

''Combining two newsrooms with a history of fierce rivalry is a tricky business, and building a new paper will be an evolutionary process,'' new Chronicle Publisher John Oppedahl wrote in a front-page letter to readers.

Oppedahl became publisher over expectations the job would go to Timothy O. White, who served as the last Hearst chief at the Examiner. Instead of taking over, he was bought out. Hearst spokesman Paul Luthringer wouldn't comment on published reports that White had been paid between $6 million and $10 million.


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