Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Fang Builds Clout from S.F. Weekly

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Fang Builds Clout from S.F. Weekly

Article excerpt

IT WAS TO be a big day for Ted Fang. Sears was interested in signing an advertising contract with his San Francisco Independent and he had flown to, Chicago to meet company officials.

But he had to fly back without the contract because of some hesitation by the Sears people that he didn't understand at the time.

Shortly after his return, however, he discovered the reason. Someone from Sears headquarters had phoned the Independent's ad rep to express dismay at Fang's attire at the Chicago meeting. The Independent's editor and publisher had breezed into the room wearing a dress shirt and tie but no jacket.

Actually, the tie was a major concession for the 32-year-old entrepreneur. His usual office garb is a sport shirt and jeans. He bought his first suit when his brother got married a few years ago.

Fang eventually got the Sears business, as he has gotten almost everything else he has gone after in the contentious world of San Francisco journalism. He also has become a statewide figure in the newspaper industry since his elevation to the board of the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

The free, thrice-weekly Independent has an audited circulation of 209,150 in San Francisco -- 95% of it home delivered -- and is growing as it attracts major advertisers such as Lucky and Safeway supermarkets, Toys R Us, Montgomery Ward, Walgreens and Ace Hardware. Classified ads frequently run five or six pages.

The paper also is a powerful political force in the community, reflecting Fang's intense interest in the doings at City Hall. The Independent's backing was considered a key factor in the election of Mayor Frank Jordan, and the paper is expected to jump into the upcoming mayoral race, but probably not on Jordan's side.

The Independent was a tiny neighborhood tabloid when Fang's parents bought it in 1987 and installed him as publisher as a birthday present. A University of California, Berkeley, graduate with a degree in ethnic studies, the son had been working in his father's job printing business.

The gift recalls the beginning of another San Francisco newspaper dynasty. In 1887, a young William Randolph Hearst's father gave him control of the struggling San Francisco Examiner, a job that turned out to be the first step in building the Hearst empire.

Fang, a native San Franciscan, modestly shrugs off dynastic ambitions, but since acquiring the Independent, his family's business, Pan Asia Venture Capital Co., has bought seven other weeklies, with a total circulation of 163,500, in the suburban San Francisco Peninsula.

Fang, the key man in the purchases, did not dismiss the possibility of one day creating a daily.

"I'm still a young guy and I have a lot to learn" he answered. "When I've learned a little more, we can better decide on a daily."

Fang started college as a pre-med major to please his parents. But a strong family newspaper background eventually won him over to journalism.

His father, the late John Ta Chuan Fang, was a Shanghai newspaper reporter in pre-communist China and fled with Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist forces to Taiwan when the communists took over the mainland.

In Taiwan, he founded the Young China Daily, which later established a U.S. edition as the voice of Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang Party.

After emigrating, the elder Fang started a printing company in San Francisco. Along with the Independent papers, it now prints 40 other newspapers and magazines, including some in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Russian and other languages. Also begun by the father was Asian Week, a nationally circulated, English-language paper covering Asian-American affairs.

Ted proudly shows visitors the "Treasure Wall" -- a display of 56 art objects dedicated to his father -- in San Francisco's famed Asian Art Museum. The wall was created with funds donated by his widow, Florence, Ted, and his brothers, James and Douglas. …

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