The Tardy Times

His purges didn't staunch 
   the Chronicle's bleeding,   

   but Phil somehow survived

A Gazoot Report                                                             by Lynn Ludlow

HEN troubleshooter Ward Bushee came out of the desert in February to take command, the stumbling San Francisco Chronicle had been stripped of any top editor who could give directions to UCSF, identify Joshua Norton I or explain anything whatsoever about the O’Shaughnessy Dam.  
   At the start of this, Year VIII of the Hearst Takeover at 901 Mission St.,  editor Phil Bronstein could count at least 40 news executives and deputies  who cleaned out their desks and waved goodbye between 2000 and 2007. And some, including veteran editors rooted in the complexities and unique history of the Bay Area, might have been candidates to take his job.  
    Instead, Phil himself was the last man standing. He didn’t exit the premises. Anointed with a nice but apparently meaningless title as “editor-at-large,” he moved from the third-floor newsroom’s executive suite to a lonely first-floor room amid the advertising and circulation offices. At his three-cake farewell to what remained of the once-huge editorial staff, reporter Kevin Fagan composed and performed a song (and claims he didn't steal the title from Dan Hicks):
  How can we miss you when you won't go away?
  We were ready to be sad, but then you just had to stay
  There would have been some cake and tears, and a top-10 list today,
  But then you went and you fucked it up,
  You didn't go away

THE FIRST to go away was Matt Wilson, the Chronicle's executive vice president for news. A likeable man, he was so inexperienced with corporate intrigue that, yes, he actually wore a bowtie.
      The newspaper's top job went to his ambitious Number Two, handsome Phil Bronstein, who doesn’t wear bowties. He wears size-13 cowboy boots.
     That was in 2001, one year after the Hearst Corp. bought the rival Chronicle for a reported $660 million (plus published reports of $66 million to dispose of the Examiner, $6 million to its ousted publisher Tim White and who knows how many millions in years to come for buyouts, severance pay, lawsuits by Clint Reilly, etc., etc.) The unsentimental corporate overseers in New York then sold the Examiner, first paper of William Randolph Hearst the Original. Its editorial staff was combined with that of the Chronicle, where daily circulation jumped to an average of 530,000 four months later. Bronstein talked proudly about creating “a world-class newspaper.”
     Seven years later, “world class” applies derisively to an oft-reported $322 million deficit (said to be about $1 million every week), a documented collapse in daily circulation to 370,345 (as of March 31) and a cutback in editorial jobs from 525 to about 300. To make things worse, the abandoned Examiner was revived as a free home-delivered six-day tabloid, 150,000 papers with just enough news and sports to siphon off Chronicle readers by the thousands (nobody knows how many). The loss since 2003: 147,406.
THEY CALLED  him Ward, not Ward H. Bushee III, when he was sports editor of the Marin Independent-Journal and led an I-J team over the hill to Stinson Beach for an informal outdoor basketball game. He had a nice jump shot. After the would-be jocks at the Examiner lost by a couple of buckets, he had a polite question for a not-so-springy opponent.
    “Uh, how old are you?”
    “Well, you're an inspiration,” he said, “to all of us.”
     He would have been about 33. It was a nice thing to say.
    Twenty-five years later, after Phil introduced him to the staff, Ward (at left) walked into the third floor to take possession of Phil's big office.
     It was the start of a brand new ballgame with a new manager on a team where the assistant coaches, one by one, had been sent to the showers.

IT HASN’T BEEN been pretty. Since the millennial merger, at least 40 department heads and supervising editors – many  recruited and handsomely paid – have left the paper to pursue, as the saying goes, other opportunities. And that's just the coaches, not the players (See "SIDEBAR; The Massacre.")
     Among the casualties, escape artists, defectors, buyouts and retirees who headed out the door in the past seven years:  
  •  SIX key department heads and editors: Gary Fong (photo), Linda Strean (metro desk), Pam Reasner (graphics), Hulda Nelson (art director), Paul Feist (Sacramento bureau), Joe Brown (Datebook, etc.).  
  •  FIVE highly regarded section editors: Paul Wilner (Style), Liz Lufkin (features and critics), Ken Howe (business), Jim Finefrock (Insight), Wendy Miller (Sunday).
  •  FOUR high-ranking editors: John Curley (news), Leslie Guevarra (copydesk, minority recruitment), Steve Cook (investigations), Narda Zacchino (“content”).
  •  THREE nationally respected newsroom veterans: Managing Editors 'R' Us – Roberts (Jerry), Rosenhause (Sharon) and Rosenthal (Robert).  
  •  TWO well-paid publishers: John Oppedahl, Steve Falk.
  •  AND . . . a partridge: Phil Bronstein.  
                          … in a pear tree.
THE FLIGHT was considered routine. The South Dakota Air National Guard would suit up the executive ed-itor of a local paper and take him soaring through the sky aboard an A-7K jet fighter. The editor would soon see there was nothing to the National Guard flyovers. Maybe after the flight, the South Dakota Argus-Leader would lay off on the criticism. Sure, the pilots would toy with the editor a little. But he'd be back down in no time, undoubtedly convinced of the jets’ inherent safety. Maybe not.
      Thus did Alicia C. Shepard of the American Journalism Review kick off an article in 1999 on the Cincinnati Enquirer and its new editor.
     “The flight began uneventfully, and for a while Executive Editor Ward H. Bushee III was enjoying the scenery 20,000 feet over Iowa farmland. Suddenly, with Bushee watching so closely he could see the whites of the other pilot's eyes, the two jets collided in mid-air. The din was incredible: As the other plane clipped the tail of Bushee's jet, it sounded like a train wreck. Then there was a fireball.
    “ ‘I ejected out of the plane on fire,’ recalls Bushee. ‘It was a surrealistic experience. I got to the top of the ejection and poof, the flames went out. You look down and it's completely quiet. All these pieces of the plane are shimmering down near you and you think, ‘Wow. I'm still alive.’ ”
     He suffered severe burns and a fractured neck bone. Nine years later, he took a positive view when he talked to Shepard  in his new corner office on the 19th floor of the Cincinnati Enquirer, a newspaper with a lot of stress.
    “ ‘If you get really close to a life and death situation, it changes your outlook,’ he says. ‘I’m not scared of flying anymore. I’ve had my accident. It's given me a perspective on how to behave in key pressure situations. Any stressful situation can’t be worse than what I went through.’ ’’
ON MOST daily newspapers, the top job is almost always filled by cautious introverts more comfortable with cursors than curses. Phil Bronstein is not an introvert.
    He was born in Atlanta in 1950, the son of a social worker. His father’s jobs took him to Toledo, Montreal and other cities. After graduation from high school in Montreal, Phil moved to Los Angeles to contemplate moviedom. But he soon enrolled instead at UC Davis, then derided as a cow college. He wrote film reviews for the Davis Enterprise. He dropped out of college and moved in 1970 to San Francisco and a series of low-paying jobs. He free-lanced for magazines and for KQED-TV. He landed a reporter's job at the Jewish Bulletin. In 1980, he was hired by Examiner city editor Jim Willse, today the editor of the Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.
   Phil (at right) was assigned to crime stories, the courts and the Federal Building. He got along with the reporting staff. He was best man at the wedding of his pal, Jim Finefrock, and he discussed liberal politics with columnist Stephanie Salter. He played his resonator guitar (diffidently) at a party of an Examiner reporter in a Stinson Beach apartment, probably in about the same year that Ward came to the seaside village to shoot hoops.
    An interview in 1982 with Benigno Aquino sent Phil in 1983 to the Philippines. The exiled leader's assassination brought him back to Manila.  He covered events and politics that cumulated in the People Power revolution in 1986. Even Phil’s critics concede that he did an outstanding job as one of the first U.S.-based reporter on the story. Inexplicably, probably because the judges had an anti-Hearst attitude (not uncommon), he didn't a win a Pulitzer.
    He later ventured on and off into Central America’s civil wars. He went to Israel in 1991 to write sidebars on the first Gulf War. His reports as a foreign correspondent (parachute division) were notable for unflagging energy, difficult-to-get interviews, undistinguished prose and the famous revelation that Imelda Marcos had a surfeit of shoes.
    He was a quick learner – and very persuasive. In 1990, without knowing an FOI request from a fishing expedition, he directed the Examiner's investigative team. A year later, without knowing a slotman from a pica pole, he convinced Will Hearst, then the publisher, to name him managing editor for news. Five months later, he took over as the Examiner’s boss.
   He married film star Sharon Stone in 1998. He was now a celebrity.
  In the millennial year, his cowboy boots clomped through the third-floor composing room. It connected the Examiner annex to the newsroom of the Chronicle. No longer billed as “San Francisco's only home-owned newspaper,” the Chronicle was now the property of the Hearst Corp. On the new masthead, beneath the name of the editor, Matt Wilson, Phil kept his title of executive editor.                           
WITHIN a week of the shotgun marriage, the Chronicle's  newsroom was crowded with dubious celebrants. Too many journalists; too few cubicles. People had to wait for computer terminals. The combined staff had swollen to 550 (estimates vary). In shifts, the grunts gathered in the basement auditorium for simulated love fests led by a threesome:  Matt, Phil and the Chronicle's popular go-to managing editor, Jerry Roberts.
    Digression: In retrospect, we are reminded of Yalta in 1945 when Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt posed for pictures. That's the history of triumvirates. Plutarch didn’t exactly enshrine Marcus Crassus and the Great Pompey, two men in togas who thought they could co-rule with Julius Caesar. Few recall the names of the two partners who governed revolutionary France with a First Consul who would become, six years later, the Emperor Napoleon. If we can’t remember Zinoviev and Kamenev, it's because Stalin executed his former triumvirs along with most of his old Bolshevik comrades.

   Let's look at the triumviration timeline for what happened to Bronstein-Wilson-Roberts  to Bronstein-Oppedahl-Falk to Bronstein-Rosenthal-Vega.

     2000: Goodbye, Rosebud
WITH “Goodbye!” as its last screaming banner, the Hearst Examiner died on Dec. 21. Phil watched the last press run of the onetime Monarch of the Dailies, then told Chronicle reporter Carl Nolte, “Now we move on into a new world.”
    No lie.
    The Hearst Corp. had just ended its 35-year joint operating agreement with the Chronicle family. It paid a reported $660 million in 2000 for the morning daily, circulation 468,000. The afternoon Ex, noted as the first newspaper of William Randolph Hearst's empire, had shrunk from a pre-JOA morning circulation of  303,000 in 1965 to 120,000 (or less) in 1999. It was discarded like Charles Kane's old snowsled.
     Because of a federal court's concern over granting a newspaper monopoly, the Hearsts sold their faded flagship to Ted Fang and his mom. The Fangs, who published the weekly Independent and the Asian Weekly, had agreed with enthusiasm to accept a three-year Hearst subsidy of $66 million to keep the Examiner nameplate going. It was assumed that the paper would fold as soon as the money ran out.
    Not included in the purchase were the Examiner's 217 battered refugees who, until the last copy of  “Goodbye!” rolled off the press at the Army Street plant, had sourly regarded the Chronicle's 375 journalists as snooty patricians in tweed. Now they were co-workers. It was worse for the patricians. For 120 years, “Hearst” had been a sneer, a pejorative. Now it was the name on their paychecks.
   None other than William Randolph Hearst III, grandson of the original, stopped by and confidently predicted the merger could create “a kind of supernewspaper.” In an odd choice of words, he added, “The congress should make the new paper the equivalent of the New York Times and the Washington Post.” Then he wisely disappeared into the world of venture capital, seldom seen again at 901 Mission St.
   In the newsroom, the former competitors exchanged solemn vows of mutual admiration. Pizza was served. Desks were moved around. Glass offices multiplied.
   A lively afternoon version of the Chron, called the PM, gave work to some of the displaced persons. Consultants came and went. Kenn Altine, a former Sunday editor at Hearst’s San Antonio Light, remade the Sunday edition. Roger Black redesigned the paper with bold sans serif headlines, some in all caps. It didn't look much like the Chronicle.
   Hearst bigwigs surprised the cynics. Their choice of a new publisher didn’t come, as usual, from advertising or circulation. Instead, cynics cheered. John Oppedahl, who was editor and publisher of the Arizona Republic before it was swallowed up by Gannett, had grown up in the Bay Area. He edited the Daily Cal in the 1960s, earned a master's in journalism from Columbia and had an impressive newsroom career at the Detroit News and other papers, including the old Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. He cautioned the Chronicle's readers: “Combining the talents of two newsrooms that have long been fierce rivals is a tricky business, and building a new paper will be something of an evolutionary process.”
   The evolutionary process included Matt. He was family. His father, the late Ken Wilson, spent 35 years as the Chronicle news editor and associate publisher. He retired when his son became managing editor, then executive editor.
    After Oppedahl and Bronstein came aboard, Matt was soon promoted to associate publisher for special projects. We know what that means. It’s like “editor-at-large.”
    Pam Scott and Jim Sevrens, key executives from the Examiner, soon cleaned out their desks. Jerry continued to run the day-to-day operations.
     That left Phil to do whatever executive editors do. He told the troops, “We're all one now.” Hold the applause.

   As of Sept. 30: Daily circulation, up 13 percent after the Examiner went into Fangland, 530,112; Sunday: 536,616.

2001: Goodbye, Matt
BY MID-SUMMER, Matt was shown the door. So much for family. (He later became executive editor, now the publisher, of the Marin Independent-Journal.)
    The dot-com boom had gone bust.
    The five-zone experiment ended.
    Sharon Rosenhause, former M.E. at the Ex and now editor of PM, left to become M.E. of the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. (In June this year she quit the paper, owned by the layoff-crazed Tribune Co., saying, “I don’t want to go through any more cuts.”)
    At the Chron in 2001, buyouts and layoffs cut 220 jobs from advertising, circulation, production and editorial departments. (Among the liberated: The founder of the Geezer Gazoot.)
   Jerry became a vice president. He kept his post as managing editor.
   Phil moved into Matt's old office.

   As of Sept. 30: Daily circulation, 512,042;  Sunday: 523,096.

       2002: Goodbye, Jerry
NEXT to go was Jerry Roberts, hugely popular with the Chronicle stalwarts (and with most of the displaced persons from the Ex). Joining the Chronicle in 1977, he had been a reporter, political editor (author of “Dianne Feinstein: Never Let Them See You Cry”), city editor, editorial page editor, columnist and, since 1997, the managing editor.
   “The Chronicle will miss him,” Phil said in his official announcement, “not only his wealth of experience, but his extraordinary good humor and his enormous dedication.”
    Jerry (at left) departed in March but landed on his feet, or so he thought, as editor of the Santa Barbara News-Press (see “...Jerry Roberts?”).
    Oppedahl and Bronstein recruited a new managing editor, Robert Rosenthal, with an impressive résumé. He had quit as editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer because of cuts in the news staff. (The irony would not become apparent for another five years.) Rosenthal (at right) wasn't called Robert or Bob. He was called Rosey. Things were looking up.
    Phil brought in Narda Zacchino, a 31-year senior editor at the Los Angeles Times, as assistant executive editor in charge of  “content.”
    "Content"?  Geezers wheezed.
   The Chronicle PM edition, lively but anemic (8,000 circulation), was jettisoned.
    In December, according to the Chronicle's boastful web site, daily circulation hit 525,000.
   The hard-hitting new publisher instituted a weekly section – on wine.
   Stephanie Salter didn't “resonate” with Oppedahl, so Bronstein dutifully canceled the popular column of his longtime friend.  She had been an eloquently liberal voice on an op-ed page otherwise notable for its tedium. Never before had fans of a columnist organized a protest outside the office, but 200 demonstrators showed up. They shouldn't have bothered. Stephanie, demoted to features, soon quit  (see “...Stephanie Salter?").
    Bill German, the Chronicle news editor in its rise to dominance through the 1950s to the 1990s, had enough. He called it a day. It was probably voluntary. “Editor emeritus” vanished from the masthead.

    As of Sept. 30: Daily circulation, 512,129; Sunday, 539,563.

     2003: Goodbye, John
ONE DAY Oppedahl was  editor and publisher. The next day, March 4, he was resonated.
     Insiders whispered that he left with a million-dollar purse just for going away and keeping his mouth shut. Rumors flew. (Five years later, the 65-year-old disappointment was still out of a steady job. He appears to have addresses in San Francisco and Phoenix.)
     The publisher’s title went to Steve Falk (at left), the CEO-in-waiting. Back in 1996, Falk's background in circulation led him to the presidency of the San Francisco Newspaper Agency, which handled non-editorial functions for the Chronicle and Examiner's JOA.
     “The challenge today is to fix the business of the Chronicle," Falk said in the Chronicle's announcement.
      Advertising continued to spiral downward, particularly in the lucrative help-wanted ads, but Sunday circulation hit an all-time high.
      Nobody was named editor, so Phil was The Man. He added senior vice president to his nameplate and widened his job to break down the firewall that separated the newsroom from the ivory tower. In other  words, he assumed control of the editorial pages, previously outside his domain.
 He filed for divorce from the Hollywood star.
      “I think he likes the idea (that) he is a personality; I think he brings some of it about,” said radio host Ronn Owens, who was quoted in a profile by Joe Strupp of Editor and Publisher. “He is the face of the Chronicle.””
     With so many new mid-level editors, carpenters were needed in the cityroom. Reporters’ cubicles were sacrificed for glass-windowed offices.

    As of Sept. 30: Daily circulation, 516,640; Sunday: 561,118.

2004: Goodbye, Steve
STEVE FALK was next. The circulation guru (USA Today, Newspaper Agency) had presided over a drastic downturn in his specialty, a 15 percent drop. (A year later, he was named president of the Greater San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and sentenced to a grim life of business banquets.)
    The new publisher was Frank Vega (at right), the Detroit News CEO who took credit for ending the long strike by the newspaper's unions. He won the battle – and lost the war. Daily circulation at the News dropped from 680,000 to 220,000, and its Sunday paper vanished. In the old Army, the relevant acronym was FUMU (fuck up, move up), but surely that wouldn’t apply to civilian muckymucks. Would it?
   Phil began to meet with advertisers, hoping nobody would misconstrue his efforts to see what the merchants thought about “the vision of the paper.” Some said the newspaper's ad income had declined 15 percent in four years. Analysts claimed that Craigslist and Ebay siphoned $50 to $65 million in 2004 from classified ad revenues at Bay Area newspapers. (The edition on March 20, 2008, had  four pages of paid classified ads. Four!) One study reported that Craigslist had 12,200 job listings on its San Francisco site in November 2007; in the Chronicle, only 1,500.
    Expense accounts were scrutinized. No more free coffee. The Christmas party was pathetic.
    About 75,000 people stopped buying the paper. The editors blamed the Internet's free news blurbs, blogging, the decline of curiosity among the younger generation and/or the turnoffs occasioned by bad news from Iraq. (Bronstein couldn’t do much to control the Internet or incurious youth, but reports from Iraq and Afghanistan soon vanished from a front page now devoted to backgrounders, features and a lot of pap. One of the laid-off editors told us that Phil made it explicit: “I never want to see an Iraq story on the front page, ever.”)
    In the meantime, the Examiner rose from the dead. Colorado billionaire Phillip Anschutz bought the zombie from the Fangs. They had eaten the $66 million. They sold the paper to him for a reported $10 million. Hoping to begin a national chain of Examiners that would resound with his ultra-conservative politics, Anschutz made it  the first mass-circulation free home-delivered newspaper in U.S. history. The tabloid-sized papers, unevenly written but competently edited and crammed with bite-sized stories, began to land on doorsteps of an estimated 150,000 single-family homes and apartment buildings throughout most of San Francisco’s middle-class neighborhoods.
    Chronicle executives, most of whom are commuters, tended nonetheless to act as if the reborn Examiner didn't exist.

   As of Sept. 30: Daily circulation dropped to 431,721; Sunday, 540,320.  
                         2005: Goodbye, Circulation
PHIL’S JOB had its ups and downs. No Pulitzer for the Balco investigations, but Deanne Fitzmaurice won one for feature photography. (In June this year, she quit.) A November series on suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge included passages inadvertently stolen from the New Yorker. Bloggers said cruel things about the Chronicle, some of them true.
    The Newspaper Guild, now renamed as the Northern California Media Workers Guild, made a pro forma demand to ask Vega for the books to back his claims of losing money. He surprised the union by complying. The union paid for independent auditors who authenticated losses of $64 million in 2004. The membership caved in and voted for a ruinous take-away contract. It would lead to more than 200 layoffs and resignations over the next two years. Ninety staffers took buyouts.
   Phil told an interviewer that he wears cowboy boots because they are comfortable and not as an emblem of machismo.

   As of Sept. 30: Daily circulation, 386,564; Sunday, 461,997.  

                          2006: Goodbye, $322 million  
NARDA ZACCHINO (at right), the “content guru,” in an interview with Michael Stoll, said,  “I think we think of ourselves not just as a newspaper anymore, but as a multimedia provider, not just in print but on the Web. I think that we’ve had a fairly seamless transition compared with a lot of other newspapers, and it has a lot to do with Phil’s vision.”
    The vision included the hiring of Meredith White, a deputy M.E. (for feature sections) without newspaper experience. She had been a magazine writer and editor before spending 16 years as a TV producer for ABC News (last job, a Martha Stewart show). The writers seem to like her.
    Estimated deficits since 2000: $322 million, or more than $1 million per week. No other newspaper comes close.
    As of March, a 15.6 percent circulation decline in just one year – almost twice the loss of the nearest daily in similar despondency, the Boston Globe (8.5 percent), with most dailies shrinking by about 3 percent.
     Phil has custody of Roan, the boy that he and Stone adopted. He married Christine Borders, and they became parents of a little boy, Caleb, and moved to Mill Valley. 

   As of Sept. 30: Daily circulation; 373,805; Sunday: 432,957.

                                  2007: Goodbye, Narda and Rosey
“THE NEWS business is broken,” Phil told his staff, “and no one knows how to fix it.”
    This desperate remark came from a desperate man who took a further step into desperation with another desperate hire. Phil reached into the blogging world to name a deputy M.E. for online coordination: Eve Batey (at right), a former PR executive and co-founder of the website. Back then, she once wrote that San Francisco would be much better if “we had a better mainstream newspaper.”
    The newsroom reaction: Dismay.
    About the time that Eve walked in, nearly 100 traditional news workers and editors walked out, cut from the payroll.
    Included were Robert Rosenthal and Narda Zacchino.
    Few readers would notice the purge of about 18 editors, including half a dozen with enough standing to be considered as a replacement for Phil. Rumor-mongers speculated about who, if anybody, would take over if Phil were to vacate the top job. None of the new editors could find Mission Dolores without a map, and who, exactly, was Dolores anyway?
    In the meantime, Phil  began talking to Vega, according to what told Editor & Publisher, about changing his role with the Chronicle. That was the official story. It could be true. Or not.
    “When you've got two kids at home, you've got a great family life,” Phil told E&P’s Joe Strupp. “It causes you to think about what you are doing. You mix that with the opportunity you have to do new things.”

     As of Sept. 30: Daily circulation, 365,274.  
                                        2008: Goodbye, Phil
THE ANNOUNCEMENT took the rumor-mongers by surprise. Phil would become an “editor-at-large” for community outreach and digital expansion. Or, as one blogger put it, “a corporate figurehead.”
    The Hearst press release said Phil, who kept his title as executive vice president, “will continue to represent the Chronicle in the community as a principal public face of the paper.” Moreover, he will “shape the role of the paper and its Web site,” work with other Hearst papers on joint investigative projects, collaborate with the lawyers on First Amendment issues and put his finger into Hearst's plans for “digital media.”
    His first appearance as “the public face of the paper” (on SFGate, not the paper) was a clumsy video interview with erotica columnist Violet Blue. His blog, labeled  “Bronstein at Large,” appeared  with a mystifying cartoon logo by Don Asmussen. It doesn’t resemble Phil or anybody else except, perhaps, Groucho Marx with a thyroid condition.
    As of mid-June, he had contributed about 40 blogs, mostly brief, breezy and badly edited. Typical is a commentary, in which he misspelled “complementary,” on the death of Tim Russert: “There's never been, in my lifetime, a dirge quite as broad and protracted for a newsperson as this one has been.” 
    To be fair, which isn't easy, remember that it’s been almost 20 years since Phil wrote much of anything but memos. His unresonated prose will probably improve (he should call Indiana and ask Stephanie Salter for tips).  
    The big receptionist’s desk from the third-floor lobby was commandeered and plunked into Phil's new digs in the first floor. He has a highly paid assistant, the blogger flogger Eve Batey, now the ex-deputy managing editor. She disappeared from the masthead in June, left the newsroom and reappeared downstairs as a “multimedia producer” for Phil’s “multitude of projects.”  Perhaps she will help him with his online video interviews, which have been amateurish, sloppy and soft.  
   How long will he stick it out? At the Tempest, where the Chronicle's few remaining barflies gather to talk nonsense, you could get even money by betting that Phil will say goodbye within a year to his window-dressing job.
    But he’s old news now. What about the new guy, Ward, with his odd surname?

2008: Hello, Ward
IN THE NEWSPAPER business, it doesn't matter that Ward's family name puts the stress on the second syllable, like standee or parolee. It’s an English version of Boucher (boo-SHAY). In newsrooms, everybody goes by first names, even the top editors and publishers under the age of 95. The egalitarian tradition began in the hotly competitive 19th century, when newspaper bosses realized that their careers rested on the skills and energy of their reporters, copy editors and photographers.  We'll know that the Chronicle is at death’s door when the boss insists on being addressed as Mister Bushee, but it won’t happen.
     At the same time, Ward might raise an eyebrow if he hears “jar” instead of the Spanish “haw” in the second syllable of Pa-haw-ROH-nee-un. Ward grew up with the 7,000-circulation Register-Pajaronian in Watsonville. At nearby Fort Ord in the 1950s, draftees didn't associate the little trade center with its fields of strawberries and the apple orchards that fill Martinelli's fancy bottles with carbonated cider.  Among the Army recruits, the city was notorious instead for its card rooms, backroom casinos and what one private soldier from the Midwest called “the Line.” (Before whorehouses gave way to escort services, men who asked cabbies for “the Line” were dubbed “liners.” The taxi drivers still use the term, but its provenance is largely forgotten.)
    In  1955, when Ward was a first-grader,  heavy pressure came down on his father, Ward H. Bushee Jr., the little newspaper’s managing editor. It came from an unexpected source, Charles L. Moore, the young Santa Cruz County district attorney and anti-vice campaigner. Bushee’s dad and the editor, Frank Orr, went ahead with photographs and documents showing payoffs from a gambling boss to, you guessed it, the D.A. himself. Moore resigned and became a priest (he died last year at age 80). The gambler went to prison. The Pajaronian became the smallest newspaper ever to win a Pulitzer Prize (for public service).
    Ward’s father eventually took over as the editor, a job that lasted until he retired in 1988. He died in 2002, a one-newspaper guy.
WARD took the opposite track: Ten newspapers in six different states.  
    He began by sweeping the floor at the Pajaronian and covering local sports. After majoring in history at San Diego State, where he could surf without the wetsuits so necessary in Santa Cruz’s colder waters, he landed in 1973 at the Gilroy Dispatch as a triple threat (reporter, photographer and sports). His 32-year career with Gannett began in 1975 on the sports page at the Salinas Californian (where Eric Brazil was then city editor). He was sports editor at the I-J until 1982, when he was among the Gannetoids drafted to launch USA Today. They were billeted at first in studios they called Stay-Free Mini-Pads. Most went back to their own newspapers in the Gannett chain, but Ward stayed on for three years as assistant sports editor for content. For a year or so he had a similar title at the News Journal in Westchester, N.Y.  In 1985 he was shipped from the East Coast to take over as editor of the Argus-Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Next stop:   Editor of the News-Gazette in Reno. Then he was tapped to take over the badly bruised staff of the Cincinnati Enquirer in the fallout from the Chiquita Banana slip-up.
    The editors had hoped to win a Pulitzer for an 18-page investigative report on bribery, exploitation of workers and other violations of the laws in Central America by Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands. Instead, the exposés backfired when the reporter confessed that he tapped into company phone lines and listened to scores of voice-mail messages. Gannett fired the writer, settled out of court for $10 million, transferred the chief editor and called Ward from Reno to fix things.
    No sooner did things get fixed than race rioting broke out. The newspaper won awards for its Neighbor-to-Neighbor Project, which led to 145 facilitator-led community sessions involving more than 2,000 citizens to discuss race relations.
    Next for the traveling editor was the Arizona Republic. Its staff had been  discombobulated when Gannett acquired the paper. When he left, the chain’s senior v.p. for news, Phil Carrie, said about Ward: “He holds the most Gannett honors of any editor in the company – having been named Editor of the Year three  times and a President's Ring winner 12 times.  He was involved in virtually all the task forces that helped develop key Gannett programs, and he helped build many ground-breaking local programs at the newspapers he served.”
   Then came a personal observation decidedly uncharacteristic of corporate sendoffs: “He did all this and more in a very special way – fair but firm, genuine and genteel, thoughtful and thought-provoking, creative and caring.”
WARD and his wife, Claudia, are parents of two adult children who have already settled in the Bay Area.
   When he assembled the Chronicle staff in late January, Phil introduced Ward as “a great journalist.” His successor said he was “thrilled” to take the job, called the Chronicle “a great staff” and labeled himself as a “straight shooter.”
    He was slightly more forthcoming in a hometown-boy-makes-good interview by Jondi Gumz of the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
    Here are excerpts:
    Encouragement: “Most newspaper people want to do good journalism. If you give them opportunity and encouragement, they will. If they are doing things they like doing and serve the readership, you have a winning combination. I've worked with some of the best and I've learned from them.”
    Changing times: “You have to constantly be looking at what readers want and how they want their news and information. More mature readers will stick with the habit of reading a daily newspaper; younger readers are more capable of getting their information on the Internet, which would be their preference. They will coexist.”   
    Old habits: “For so long, newspapers thought everybody would read them, no matter what. People know changes have to happen now. The world is not going to go back to way it was when my father put the paper out.”    
  NINE years have gone by since the American Journalism Review interviewed Ward about the near-fatal jet collision. 
   “I know what you are thinking," he told the writer. "That it’s given me good training for this job. . .”

As of Sept. 30, 2008: Daily circulation, 339,430; Sunday, 398,116.


The Geezer Gazoot
Updated: October 2008

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