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Dog Bites 

Mercury News redesign; Chronicle rumors; Gavin Newsom

Wednesday, Sep 20 2000

Forget Muni! Rescue the Merc!

Oooh! Aaah! It's a redesigned Mercury News! Yes, it's hard for Dog Bites -- as it will be, doubtless, for many of our readers -- to imagine anything more exciting, especially as the heat has already left us nearly prostrate. But there it is, complete with its own new typeface, ready to play in the big leagues.

"We're improving the Weather page, adding road closures around the state," Executive Editor David Yarnold told the breathless masses; we noticed this was the second bullet in the bulleted list of enhanced features at the Merc, and wondered how the rest of the list could possibly fail to disappoint readers. But in fact, we very nearly fell off the edge of our seat when we saw the next item: The paper will now feature a new index on Page 2A -- along with the lottery results.

Some reorganization is also in the works. "We're moving some of your favorite features to create more helpful clusters of content," Yarnold wrote. Clusters of content! Why couldn't we have thought of a phrase like that? Then we could be a consultant, and make lots of money, and speak at conferences, and maybe even have one of those really nice Coach business card holders. Life is not fair.

What intrigued us most is that the section formerly known as Silicon Valley Life will apparently now go by the more prosaic name Arts and Entertainment. But it makes perfect sense: If the Merc really is going to go after the Chron's subscriber base, it's going to have to drop its most irritatingly parochial mannerisms; though San Francisco may, increasingly, serve as a bedroom community for Redwood Shores, it does seem more tactful of the Merc not to remind us of the fact.

So, meeting this gesture of goodwill with a gesture of our own -- perhaps that didn't sound quite right -- Dog Bites is willing to admit we took some cheap shots at the Merc's San Francisco edition last week. And yes, it's easier to criticize than it is to be constructive. But because we want to make up for our past lack of sensitivity to the geographically challenged challenger to the city's newspapers, Dog Bites has decided to use our powers for good, not evil, and help the Merc to beef up coverage on its San Francisco Page, or whatever it's called.

Granted, the Merc has covered a number of important city stories lately: We believe we've mentioned the Strybing quail exposé, and the paper's new San Francisco bureau has also done groundbreaking work on the subjects of parking (not much of it!), dot-com development (not everyone likes it!), and the Presidio (not all of it will become parkland!). Still, we think it's time for those of us who actually live here to pitch in and suggest topics for future features. Reader Gary Parsons -- Gary! What are we thinking now? OK, just testing -- suggests, "Fog: San Francisco's Natural Air-Conditioning," but we're sure there are many others that have thus far been overlooked.

What we have in mind is a reader contest, a chance for members of Dog Bites' vast public to contribute their own story ideas. The pitch we deem best will win its author a copy of the Silicon Valley Handbook, by Martin Cheek, an "all-encompassing guide that showcases the region's many attractions." However, we will be sure to forward all proposals to our colleagues at the other end of the 280, and meanwhile, we have a few suggestions of our own, just in case the Merc is running low right this minute.

"Willie Brown: San Francisco's charismatic mayor has long political history." Recognizable by his frequently worn fedora, well-dressed Willie Brown is the city's first black mayor. He is also a Democrat, and, sources have hinted, served in the state Assembly for some time.

"The Golden Gate Bridge: Not just an icon." Though it's best known to Merc readers as a picturesque tourist attraction, dozens of drivers actually use the 1937 landmark, which is constructed entirely of low-tech materials, to commute to work each day.

"Flying High: San Mateo schoolkids build colorful kites." While this isn't exactly a San Francisco story, San Mateo is north of San Jose, and actually fairly close to San Francisco; if, as often happens, there is no news from the city on a given day, this can run in the San Francisco section instead.

We Make Total Idiots of Ourselves So You Don't Have To

Meanwhile, rumors are flying that a new publisher for the Hearst-owned Chron will be named at the beginning of October, giving the organization almost a full two months to, um, organize before the first issue of the new Chron appears Nov. 22. (For those keeping track, sources had told us earlier that a publisher would be named at the beginning of September.) The name Dog Bites had heard most recently was John Oppedahl, publisher of the Arizona Republic. But both Matthew Wilson, executive editor of the Chron, and Phil Bronstein, executive editor of the Examiner, said that's an old rumor. "It's been around for weeks," said Wilson, thus making Dog Bites feel queasily embarrassed about having to call people up and ask them dumb questions.

"I hope you're not going to have to do this job forever," said Bronstein.

"Just till November 22," we answered, as another significant part of our self-esteem withered and died.

Still more rumors abound. "I've also heard Dick Cheney and Will Hearst," said Bronstein. "There have been lots of names. But let's not forget Tim White is still the publisher."

And, in further rumor news, Bronstein said he took issue with rumors we reported here a couple of weeks ago that he'd be taking a rumored corporate post with Hearst. "Have you met me?" he asked. "Do I look like a guy who'd be working at corporate headquarters?"

Where Can a Gavin Find a Home?

Lately we've been feeling pretty worried about Supervisor Gavin Newsom. First he had to move out of the Pacific Heights fixer-upper he and Billy Getty bought in 1997 for $1.2 million; the business partners just sold the house for $4 million. This has left Newsom, who's frantically searching for an apartment, without a permanent address in District 2, where he's currently running for re-election. "You think you have [a place], and then two hours later you find out it went to someone else," he said, when, alerted by an item in a Matier & Ross column, Dog Bites called him up to ask about his troubles. ("They're not troubles -- they're challenges," said Newsom.)

Newsom has been living in the Hotel del Sol down on Webster just to stay in his district, but even that has added to his problems. "It looks like I'm going to move out," he said; it turns out he has a stalker, who's been dropping by the hotel's front desk almost every day.

We offered to put up an apartment-wanted flier for Newsom at our gym, which happens to be in District 2; graciously, he insisted nobody should feel sorry for him. "I can afford to find a place," he said. "But it makes abundant sense that we refer to the housing crisis, because it really is a crisis."

About The Author

Laurel Wellman


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