Though we don't make a habit of covering the Inside Baseball tedium of the local media scene, given that this is a year that's seen multiple publication shutdowns in SF, it seems noteworthy to touch on a dustup this week concerning the San Francisco Media Company, the home of SF Weekly, The Examiner, and SF Weekly's new cannabis-only publication, SF Evergreen. Former SF Weekly scribe Joe Eskenazi broke a story in SF Mag about a brewing battle between the editorial side of the company and the business side, most notably publisher Glenn Zuehls. Eskanazi reported that several staffers had already fled the place, and the latest tension had to do with Zuehls dictating to the staff that they would need to do a "make-good" cover story on Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park after the casino threatened to pull $68,000 worth of ads from the paper over an unfavorable description in an early story. (That would be this humorous look at the long bus ride and "counting cards" experience at the casino by Matt Saincome in last week's edition.)
The best bit, leaked to Eskanazi, was a quote from a meeting in which Zuehls was excoriating the editorial staff for whining about having to write advertorial, saying "There’s not a wall” between the paper’s editorial and advertising departments, and adding that the writers should find a way to come up with the $68,000 themselves if they were so worried about their integrity. The kicker: he allegedly screamed, "You’re not the New York Times. Just so you know."
Today the Columbia Journalism Review picked up the story after Zuehls decided to back off that "make-good" cover story and apologize.
He says that while Saincome's piece "unfairly maligned a key advertising client," he saw the error of his ways following all the backlash amongst media folk on Twitter.
I realize in subsequent discussions with my editorial leadership that there are better ways to try and resolve this situation with an unhappy advertising client. We made a mistake in writing the story and the mistake was compounded by my approach to remedy it. Emotions were high in the office last week, as they always are when a news organization has to deal with editorial layoffs and cost-cutting measures, as we were. We will continue to work together to produce the best possible papers we can.
Meanwhile Michael Howerton, the vice president of editorial at the company, said he was "proud" of the staff who stood up for their journalistic integrity in this situation, and he says "this was a wake-up call to the publisher that this is not the way to do business."