`The Chief' Lives on at Hearst Castle

Article excerpt

At this summer's political conventions, the reporters and commentators for newspapers, TV networks and dot-com sites chafed over the dearth of sensational news.

One day the protesters chased several of us past the grand old Los Angeles Herald Examiner building in downtown L.A., which stands boldly astride a street now grown tatty and forlorn. With its Moorish detail and majestic cupola -- in which William Randolph Hearst often slept -- the building bears silent testimony to another time and, indeed, another place.

No more sensational headlines or front-page editorials written by Hearst thunder from the printing presses. No lights burn through the night above men in green eyeshades, reading dispatches from correspondents flung across the globe. The building serves mainly now as a backdrop for movie and TV commercials, a mocking reflection of its former self.

Hearst, known in his day as "The Chief" wouldn't believe the changes that have taken place in the newspaper business. In the Los Angeles of the 1920s he owned both the Examiner in the morning and the Herald in the afternoon. He had proved his mettle years earlier when he took over the San Francisco Examiner and doubled its readership -- and then doubled it again.

"A hundred years ago, before anyone used the word `synergy' Hearst put the concept into practice," writes David Nasaw in a new biography, The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst.

Hearst not only ran 28 newspapers and frequently dictated editorials to all of them, but created a magazine empire -- Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping and Harper's Bazaar. He produced newsreels, bought radio stations, ran a successful movie studio and introduced the first moving-picture serials, including the classic Perils of Pauline. His newspapers practically invented Billy Graham.

Hearst believed that to make a good newspaper you had to spend money -- lots of it -- to advertise and to buy the best talent. When he bought the New York Journal in 1895 he ran it like an impresario of news and entertainment. Bands marched through streets announcing the new paper. Posters were everywhere teasing its stories -- on billboards, wagons, streetcars and elevated trains. He stole top writers, editors, cartoonists and graphic artists from competing papers, raising their salaries until the competition fell away.

So where better to go, after the dearth of sensational news in Los Angeles, than to Hearst Castle, 180 miles north on the California coastline at San Simeon, to soak up a little of the man, the myth and even a little of the reality of better times than these, at least for newspapers.

Some of us grew up on Citizen Kane, the magnificent movie made by Orson Welles in 1941, and we'll always imagine Charles Foster Kane as the real William Randolph Hearst. …