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The All-Mandel Team or How to Staff One Great San Francisco Newspaper 

Wednesday, Mar 1 1995
Before I unveil my dream team to staff the One Great San Francisco Newspaper the city could have if our two JOA-hobbled dailies wisely melded, this statement:

Although as a journalist I've covered ugly, dangerous, profoundly depressing stories -- drug-war shootouts in Valencia Gardens and Frank Jordan's inauguration -- as a reader I'd rather be tickled than mugged. The writers I've picked for the All-Mandel Team can cover the hardest news with San Francisco wit and elegance without taking themselves too seriously.

I hate self-seriousness. Remember all the self-dramatizing, sackcloth-and-ashes breast beating printed in both papers after last November's newspaper strike? You'd think striking writers had barely survived the siege of Stalingrad, not walked picket lines for 12 days.

The Columnists
Will Hearst once asked me, "If I could hire just one person away from the Chronicle, who would it be? And don't say Jon Carroll."

(Will hated the idea that Carroll can write a popular column in his pajamas while Hearst's the kind of guy who wears $1,500 European suits and by noon his shirttail is billowing.)

We quickly settled on Chronicle society writer Pat Steger. Steger would bring with her the 400 rich, fashionable, powerful readers whose endless rounds of balls, lunches and air-kisses she covers plus the many thousands who relish Steger's droll dissing of the Upper Crust.

What Steger writes may seem like straight reportage to irony-proof socialites, but to the rest of us she's an ace satirist.

Herb Caen remains the class of Bay Area journalism. Sure, he'll be 80 soon and he sometimes writes like a lecherous, crotchety 60-year-old, but he makes nocturnal rounds like a curious puppy of 25. Caen does something very hard so gracefully that he makes it look very easy. (See: "Not taking yourself too seriously.") There's always talk that Caen's many assistants actually write his column, but in fact he has just one assistant, Carol Vernier, and only Caen himself can wrap so much varied material into a seamless read.

Caen seems melancholy that he'll finish his career as "only" Mr. San Francisco, not the 20th-century Mark Twain. But his readers know he's magic: Caen defines San Francisco's legend to itself. When he's not in the Chronicle, the paper seems hollow.

As long as Herb Caen wants to write his column, I want him on my newspaper, but San Francisco is no longer the small town Caen could cover in a night of quick stop-ins. I'm starting a second people/items column by Leah Garchik, who now writes the "Personals" feature in the Chronicle. Though "Personals" is drawn from published sources -- magazines, wire services and the like -- Garchik has the wit and enthusiasm to develop original material with a younger, more ironic flavor.

Jon Carroll, the best pure writer currently working for a San Francisco daily, is on my One Great San Francisco Newspaper, but with these provisos: Get out of those pajamas. Get off the WELL a few hours a day. Cut down on Mondegreens, funny fractured foreign attempts at English and cat stories. Get out of the house.

I'm bringing back Alice Kahn. The Chronicle was wise to hire this brilliant, satiric social critic -- the woman who coined the word "yuppie" -- but not wise enough to use her properly, and eventually lost her. She understands the passion, humor and desperation of everyday life and can write about it all with laughing horror.

Tales of the city shouldn't be confined to Tales of the City, and for that reason I'm offering a column to Armistead Maupin. In the same way Herb Caen burnishes San Francisco's legend, Maupin illuminates secret chambers of the city's soul.

Speaking of soul, here comes Examiner columnist Stephanie Salter. Against a rising tide of cynicism, Salter manages to value values without being a scold or a bore. She loves San Francisco with a transplant's misty-eyed reverence, so pure and strong no one can dismiss it. She unashamedly champions goodness with lithe language that can tickle or sting.

Every newspaper needs a tough-guy news columnist who stalks the city's back alleys in a trenchcoat state of mind, writes his columns with a tomahawk, knows where all the bodies are buried and out-cops the cops. My candidate is the Examiner's Scott Winokur.

I'm giving Warren Hinckle the same deal he had at the Chronicle: Whatever you write, I'll print, and print splashy. But I'm not expecting anything from you, Warren, so you don't have to screw me over just to honor your pathology.

Finally, whatever happened to that wonderful, funny, versatile, brilliant, soulful, unpredictable, nearly psychic Bill Mandel?

The Critics
The 1978 death of Chronicle Yber-critic Jon Wasserman left a gap in San Francisco's critical array that has never been filled. (Certainly not by his putative successor, Gerald Nachman, whose mind was as closed as Wasserman's was open.) I'm upholstering the Jon Wasserman Critic-of-the-World Chair for Cintra Wilson, the playwright, performance artist and advice columnist whose "Cintra Wilson Feels Your Pain" dish-fest runs in each Friday's Examiner Style section.

No slave to Generation X's seen-it-all dismissive exhaustion, Wilson, who is in her late twenties, bridges the gap between irony and wisdom. And she's viciously funny.

Joyce Millman, the Examiner's television critic and a Pulitzer finalist in criticism, will expand her focus to include any form of culture or stimulation that can be consumed in the home, from new telephone technologies to frozen food. Millman is my Queen of Cocooning.

John Carman, the fine Chronicle TV critic, keeps his job.
Ben Fong-Torres, a founding editor of Rolling Stone, host of KQED-FM's Fog City Radio, managing editor of the radio newsletter Gavin and the guy who invented magazine rock-and-roll journalism, is my radio critic/reporter. People care a lot more about "their" radio station than about "their" TV station, yet neither newspaper assigns someone full-time to radio. I will.

In Barry Walters, we have the clinically insane rock critic. When Walters first started reviewing for the Examiner, some were put off by his ultra-personal point of view, his dating life revelations and his injection of a radical queer stance into nearly everything he wrote. Over time, though, Walters has emerged as that rarity: a critic who can cover a scene and shape it.

About The Author

Bill Mandel


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