The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

It's hard to believe that the San Francisco Examiner, once the flagship paper of the global Hearst publishing empire, has fallen so low. It's current incarnation is as a freebie weekly, almost like an alternate but not quite, and a pale shadow of its former self.

It was predictable, though. When Hearst finally got to buy the crosstown rival San Francisco Chronicle, thus getting a more valuable newspaper property, it had to sell off the Examiner for regulatory reasons. Everyone knew they would try to sell it to an owner that couldn't possibly succeed, especially with the discontinuation of the two papers' Joint Operating Agreement. Enter the Fang family, publishers of a handful of rinky-dink news weeklies in northern California. They bought the Examiner for the token sum of $1 in 2000, thus doing Hearst a favor.

As predicted, the Examiner has been tanking ever since, and San Francisco, like many U.S. cities, is down to one hometown paper (although there are other Bay area papers, like the San Jose Mercury News, for the market).

Now, the Examiner is getting a shot at revival from billionaire Philip Anschutz, who bought it for around $20 million.

Can he resurrect the Examiner to something close to its former glory? It'll be tough. Hearst isn't going to sit back and let its Chronicle dominance wither. It also depends on how Anschutz wants to play this game: Does he want to invest a ton of capital into this venture, perhaps making it a foundation for broader media holdings? I'm thinking he'll have to take some unconventional routes to building the paper back up again.