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California and the West

Glitch Delays Debut of New S.F. Examiner

Journalism: The morning newspaper isn't on streets until 12:30 p.m. Officials downplay problems on first day under new owners.

November 23, 2000|JOHN M. GLIONNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — America's newest big-city paper arrived in this literate town Wednesday, trumpeting that "The new Examiner is out and on the streets, being read in cafes, on the L-Taraval [trolley] and on breakfast tables and in offices across the city."

That, however, proved to be a bit of wishful thinking.

The new Examiner missed its first deadline and it was closer to lunch when the morning edition finally landed.

A computer glitch late Tuesday caused delays in printing the paper, which is under new ownership, making the new Examiner as hard to find here as a parking spot or a $2 latte.

By 12:30 p.m., when the first editions appeared on the street, the newspaper--or the confounding absence of it--had become news itself.

"Where the heck are those Examiners?" complained newspaper vendor Richard Nano, co-owner of Nick's newsstand, shuffling stacks of the Oakland Tribune and San Jose Mercury News. "I could have sold hundreds of them already. I'm losing money out here."

Ending a 113-year run as a Hearst Corp. daily, the Examiner was acquired this fall by local publisher Ted Fang, who hired a new staff and switched the paper to mornings to go head to head with the longtime rival Chronicle.

The Chronicle, now owned by Hearst Corp., and featuring a new afternoon edition, was published on time Wednesday.

The Examiner had planned to publish 100,000 copies, but only 50,000 were available for limited home delivery and news boxes stood empty for much of the day. The paper's Web site was also blank and was not expected to be fixed for days, officials said.

Examiner spokesman Ken Maley said workers struggled for hours early Wednesday to solve a glitch with the computers that send text and photographs to the paper's presses. "We weren't able to receive the computer output at the printers," he said. "For a while, there was nothing to print."

Maley downplayed the snafu, saying that the job of establishing the mechanism to publish a 100,000-circulation daily in the three months since Fang purchased the Examiner had been a daunting task.

"This is just one day in the future of a potentially great new newspaper," he said. "I don't take it as any bad omen."

He added that the story about readers enjoying the paper over the kitchen table wasn't exactly inaccurate. "It depends on how late they had their coffee," Maley said.

The Hearst-owned Examiner bade readers goodbye Tuesday with a banner headline that read simply "Goodbye."

Bram Goodwin was one of many San Franciscans who anxiously awaited the new paper. Wrapped in a scarf on a chilly November morning, the 49-year-old freelance photographer stood for an hour outside Nick's newsstand to no avail.

"Even with the advent of TV, there are still a lot of people interested in reading scrappy little newspapers, thank God," he said. "When I was younger, I always ignored the Boston Globe for the tabloid Boston Herald.

"I loved the screaming columnists and wild sports coverage and I hope that's what the new Examiner brings me. Why can't we have a little more diversity in our news?"

And so Wednesday became a paper chase in San Francisco. David Nasser was one of the lucky few by 1 p.m. to score an Examiner.

"This is my paper," he said, standing by a downtown cable car stop, admiring the paper's lead story about a city housing department audit.

Then he paused. "But this one looks kind of different."

The new smaller broad sheet had its critics Wednesday, readers who complained that the paper lacked a crossword puzzle and was missing the signature American eagle featured on the old Examiner's masthead.

"But I guess this will be OK," Nasser finally decided. "As long as it gives me a strong dose of local news every day, like the old Examiner did, I'll be fine."

Even fans of the old Examiner admitted that this new version was in for a David vs. Goliath battle against the established Chronicle.

For one, the new Examiner now employs an editorial staff of only 45 employees, compared with the Chronicle's 540--including 200 who moved over from the old Examiner when Hearst shed the paper and bought the Chronicle this summer.

"It's going to be an uphill battle," said Nano, who offers 200 different newspapers and magazines each day from his kiosk near Market Street. "They might get overwhelmed, swept by the wayside like a lot of other upstart papers. But I hope not. The more newspapers we have out there, the better."

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