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The Examiner Is Set to Roll Out a New Look, Expanded Coverage

The San Francisco paper, under new ownership, will unveil a makeover this week aimed at ending decades of decay.

March 15, 2004|From Associated Press

The Examiner, once a prosperous San Francisco newspaper under the reign of magnate William Randolph Hearst, is setting out to end decades of decay after being bought by billionaire Philip Anschutz, another empire builder with an enormous appetite for success.

The 124-year-old paper is unveiling a new look and expanded news coverage this week, marking the first significant changes since Anschutz completed a deal last month, reportedly for $20 million, that included a printing plant and another paper published three days a week.

The makeover represents the latest attempt to save the Examiner, a free tabloid scrounging for readers.

"The Examiner is dead," said William Dean Singleton, chief executive of MediaNews Group Inc., whose holdings include a group of Bay Area papers. "The paper has very little news, very little advertising and very few readers. So, the question becomes: Can you create something from nothing?"

The paper's destitution contrasts sharply with Anschutz's fortune, which the billionaire built largely from investments in oil, railroads, telecommunications, movie theaters and sports.

Anschutz, 64, declined to discuss his plans for the Examiner. His reticence is nothing new. He hasn't given an interview in 30 years.

Anschutz is prepared to spend some of his money rehabilitating the Examiner, said Robert Starzel, an attorney who will oversee the San Francisco paper while Anschutz remains at his Denver headquarters managing his other investments.

Anschutz's portfolio includes major stakes in Union Pacific Corp., Qwest Communications International Inc., Regal Entertainment Group and the Los Angeles Lakers.

"Phil is an entrepreneur," said Starzel, whose father once ran Associated Press. "He likes to start with a small organization and build it up."

Starzel and the Examiner's president and publisher, P. Scott McKibben, said the paper's skeletal staff of 50 employees probably would be expanded as it tries to emulate the Chicago Sun-Times and the Boston Herald -- metropolitan dailies that have managed to survive against much larger rivals.

Anschutz's wealth has raised hopes that the Examiner might be better equipped to compete against Northern California's largest paper, the San Francisco Chronicle, helping to elevate journalism in the nation's fifth-largest media market.

The paper had been on life support for years, kept alive from 1965 through 2000 under a profit-sharing arrangement with the Chronicle.

The joint agreement relegated the Examiner to afternoon delivery, a restraint that wiped out nearly 70% of its paid circulation during those 35 years.

The Examiner's longtime owner, Hearst Corp., was ready to pull the plug in 2000 when it bought the Chronicle for $660 million. Instead, Hearst paid an additional $66.7 million to keep its old paper afloat under a small publishing company controlled by Florence Fang and her sons.

After the subsidy ran out, the Fangs decided to sell the Examiner, which now lists a free circulation of 76,000. The Fangs also sold the Independent, a free paper delivered to 360,000 homes three days a week, McKibben said.

"It's a great opportunity," McKibben said. "[Anschutz] understands it is going to take some work, patience and investment."

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