Magazine article Editor & Publisher

My Four Years with Fang

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

My Four Years with Fang

Article excerpt

When I first met Ted Fang during a 1992 interview for a reporter's job at the San Francisco Independent, I couldn't believe he was the publisher. The skinny, boy-faced boss who lobbed questions at me seemed barely old enough to be a reporter himself, let alone top dog of the whole operation.

During the next four years, I learned not to judge him by his youthful appearance. While covering City Hall for The Independent from 1993 to 1997, I saw many sides of Fang - from his driving ambition to give alternative voices a chance, to his competitiveness for power and political access, to his fierce loyalty to employees and friends.

One day, he might be screaming mad about some proposal from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to allow a major chain store in the city that would likely drive mom-and-pop shops out of business. Such an issue would prompt him to bang out an angry editorial against it, order a reporter to write a Page One story, and get columnist Warren Hinckle to rail about it as well.

On other days, he would announce that coverage in the city's two daily newspapers on a topical issue seemed to lack any kind of opposing viewpoint or in-depth analysis. A reporter would quickly be called on to present the other view or dig up the "real" story, no matter what it took.

"Tell them you'll be fired if they don't give you what you need," Fang once said to me when my initial inquiries into a San Francisco International Airport project went nowhere. I eventually got the story, and, instead of getting fired, I got a raise.

Such incidents were typical of how Ted wanted his newspaper to be viewed. Unlike the city's two dailies - which had been locked in a joint operating agreement that all but killed any incentive for competition - Fang saw The Independent as a tool to shape public opinion and "fight the good fight." And he wasn't shy about letting people know it.

Often that good fight would mean flooding the paper with stories aimed at supporting his chosen candidate for office or swaying voters to his side on a controversial ballot measure, sometimes to the point of overkill. Although I can't recall ever being ordered to write a story a certain way, there were times when he wanted an issue placed upfront with as much commentary as possible.

And if another publication dared take shots at one of his political friends, Fang would be the first to fire back. One such case involved a negative San Francisco Examiner profile years ago of Bay Area political consultant Jack Davis, a longtime friend of Ted's. …

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