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Chronicle Shopnotes — what is this strange place, and where’d they move the newsroom?

The Great Newsroom Spring-Cleaning-in-Autumn saw dumpster after dumpster filled to overflowing with the dog-eared contents of dozens of office filing cabinets.  Into the dustbins of history (where they’re keeping the former Metro cars company) went notebooks full of data about the Zodiac, Synanon, Scientology, the Occupy Movement, felonies great and small, AIDS, S.F. City College, Indian casinos, and other things that make life worth living.  Throw it away or have it thrown away for you, said the memo from on high.  Lots of framed journalism awards got tossed (anyone need a used John Swett award or a Casey medal?), along with bookends, the books that went between them, decades-old soy sauce packets, at least one yo-yo  — and a giant stuffed dolphin.  The luckiest free-table find of all might have been by Mark Lundgren, who snapped up a Richard Nixon-Spiro Agnew wristwatch said to be worth three figures.  The watch didn’t keep time or otherwise do what it was supposed to, but neither did Nixon and Agnew.  Not long after that, the free table itself disappeared.  Meanwhile, coming down from newsroom walls were scores of pictures, maps, historic Chronicle front pages and “Justice for Lea” posters — all in advance of yet another announced newsroom remodeling that may even happen, someday.  (Veterans recall the exciting staff meeting a few years ago revealing plans to relocate the newsroom to the first floor, compete with tiny work stations, shared phone booths instead of desk phones and a bowl-shaped “amphitheater” meeting area.  Those plans fortunately reside in the dustbin of history, too.)  Meanwhile, which top-ranking editor was spotted strolling down Mission Street carrying the discarded newsroom globe beneath her arm? …

Does somebody know something?  Hearst’s own spam detector automatically marked as spam and deleted from inboxes the ubiquitous 95-cents-for-three-months Chronicle subscription offer e-mail. … Meanwhile, company health emails to staff were warning of the dangers of sunburn, with a link to a pricey line of cosmetics.  The “Supergoop” sunscreen that HR was pitching costs $32 for 1.7 ounces.  At that rate, a typical 8-ounce supply of sunscreen would run $150.  Thanks! ….

A few copies of Frank Bennack’s autobiography left on the table.

Steamy excerpt from “Cowboy Up,” former reporter-turned-romance-novelist Stacy Finz’s latest bodice-ripper:  “Yet Jill Tucker was still the most beautiful woman in Dry Creek.  Long, silky blond hair, big brown bedroom eyes and great shoulders.  No one rocked a tank top like Jill Tucker.”   FYI, there are no coincidences in Stacy’s tales, which often incorporate characters named for and perhaps based on Chronicle colleagues.  Get your copy today!   Put it on your bookshelf next to your free copy of the autobiography of former Hearst CEO Frank (“Leave Nothing on the Table”) Bennack, who has great shoulders, too.   And if you need a convenient spot to store your Bennack book, Trapper Byrne’s desk is the place.  One day it had about two dozen copies piled on it. A mystery benefactor also stuck a copy in the home mailbox of Steve Hornbostel, retired from a Chronicle career, most recently as sports copy desk slot. …

Nanette Asimov and husband Hugh Byrne went to Sweden to pick up their new Volvo at the factory and drive it around for two weeks, while Orson the wonder corgi stayed with a Section 8 colleague.  Orson, the colleague reports, likes to eat Kleenex.  It’s not the print product, but it’s paper. … FYI, to all non-geezers, what management calls the “print product” was once known as a “newspaper.” …

Joe and Fi ‘s indispensable cafe was closed for a whole afternoon after a health inspector said they had to fill a thin crack that had opened up under their food prep counter.  Countless caffeine addicts waited patiently while Joe and Fi, who can do anything in the kitchen, adroitly fixed the problem and the inspector signed off. … The Chronicle building used to vibrate when the basement printing presses sprang to life.  Now it vibrates when the pile drivers and bulldozers of the 5M construction project spring to life.   “The battle outside ragin’ will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls,” said Mr. Dylan, “for the times they are a changing.”   He got that right.  The battle outside is ragin’ over all the Chronicle parking places that are no more. …

There’s nothing quite like riding Muni, reporters are finding out, after the fleet of company Metro cars was scuttled.  Take advantage of our excellent public transit system, said the memo announcing the change.  “Excuse me, driver, does this bus go to the fire?” … Shopnotes Fun Fact:  At Warren Pederson’s first newspaper job, he had to mow the publisher’s lawn. (in Minot, N.D., when he was in high school). … Yet another great newsroom performance by the Cal Band during Big Game week, a Chronicle tradition dating back to the Middle Ages.  As always, the tuba and the bass drum players rode up the elevator and everyone else took the stairs.  We’ll drop our battle ax on Stanford’s head, as the old song says — which Cal proceeded to do in the Big Game. … 

Be sure to drop by the bathroom at the Guild office to view the latest museum-quality artwork — a framed original Herb Caen column from the 1990s, just as it appeared when it rolled out of his manual Royal typewriter.  Herb (who died in 1997, months after getting married, winning the Pulitzer Prize and turning 80) would have gotten a kick out of seeing his column hanging in the can, where he always said half of his readers did their reading.  News update: The artworks have been moved from the bathroom to wall space more befitting their station. … Meanwhile, two floors below in the Guild basement, the floor and walls have been severely damaged because of construction mistakes by the contractors working on Hearst’s massive 5M project across Mary Street.  The contractor fessed up to the goof, and the adjusters are adjusting.  At 12 feet below street level, the basement disaster could be a new low in Guild-Hearst interactions. … 

The great letter-writing campaign is history, but the forearm cramps may not be.  As you recall, a couple of dozen staff members valiantly took up pens to write longhand thank-you letters to new subscribers.  Each volunteer, led by Bill Nagel, churned out two dozen-plus. The letter-writing session, said the volunteers, was something like writing “I will not talk in class” over and over.  The letters got placed in another fond relic known as a mailbox (the blue thing on the corner of Fifth and Mission), each one adorned by a rectangle known as a “postage stamp.”   Getting into the spirit, the editor in chief later sent to all subscribers printed thank you letters (which also urged them to switch to the harder-to-cancel electronic payment plan). … As long as everyone is thanking everyone, Curiouser and Curiouser thanks his fellow Guild members for their patience in the long lag between editions of Shopnotes.  We’ll do better. …

“The Wig Diaries,” a remarkable new book on fighting cancer written by former Chronicle food writer Mary Ladd and illustrated by Don “Bad Reporter” Asmussen, is out and, like Frank Bennack’s book, it leaves nothing on the table.  It’s a great read but, alas, the staff doesn’t get free copies of this one.  Among Don’s pictures is one showing a cancer patient picking out wigs, with the caption, “Choosing wigs is like choosing a puppy.  Wait for that ‘connection.’ “ …Extra Hot off the Presses Dept.:  Lizzie Johnson’s sure-to-be-terrific book of wildfire tales is coming soon, and former reporter Vivian Ho — now a reporter for the Guardian — is on the author speaking circuit with her book “Those Who Wander: America’s Lost Street Kids.” … Shopnotes Fun Fact:  Our own Kurtis Alexander used to be a National Park ranger on Alcatraz, complete with Smokey the Bear hat. … Speaking of choosing puppies, Peter Fimrite’s new one is Gus, and Elizabeth Burr’s is Jedi. …

The Race to Chase was yet another in the fabled history of Chronicle stunts.  This time seven staff members competed — on foot, bike, scooter, car, ride share and Muni — to see who could get from Powell and Market to the new arena in Mission Bay the fastest.  Naturally, the pedestrian won.  Modesty prevents Curiouser and Curiouser from revealing the name of the pedestrian.   Afterwards, all the competitors — Demian Bulwa, Greg Griffin, Megan Cassidy, Trisha Thadani, Kevin Fagan, Rachel Swan and Steve Rubenstein  — celebrated with beer and calamari at a nearby watering hole, and the tab was about what Kevin and Greg had paid for their Chase parking space and pedicab ride.  Megan on her bike actually arrived first, but, under the rules, she was required to park her bike with the bike valet, and by the time she did that, the turtle (we’ve been called worse) had crossed the finish line. … Speaking of races, the amazing Trisha and Megan may not have beaten a pedestrian to Chase, but they did compete recently in a half marathon together — on a whim and without training. 

Another exciting All Hands meeting!  “We’re having a good year (and) we’re financially strong,” said Jeff Johnson.  “Others are in a difficult spot; we’re not.”  Digital subscriptions are up 38%!  Datebook ad sales are up 10%!  Newspaper production costs are down $8 million!   So why, inquiring minds want to know, is the average annual salary raise only 2%? … Shopnotes Fun Fact:  The Chronicle advertising presentation mentioning Sun Valley said the ski resort summit was 9,150″ instead of 9,150′.  Shades of the “Spinal Tap” movie!  In which, as you recall, the onstage Stonehenge set was tiny because someone specified inches instead of feet!  Oh well, we prefer Squaw Valley anyway.  … Just don’t go to Fresno, Modesto or Merced, where some daily Chronicle print editions are no longer being delivered, according to the circulation folks, or to Mendocino, where you can no longer get a copy at all. …

After a months-long break, the Irish Newsboys band was back in action at Chief Sullivan’s bar in North Beach, directly across the street from a major San Francisco undertaker (coincidence?).  The audience included Bill Nagel, Demian Bulwa, Greg Griffin, Chronicle columnist Willie Brown, former editor Jan Goben and the legendary 1960s medical columnist Eugene “Dr. Hip-pocrates” Schoenfeld.  They all sang along with the Newsboys on “Haul away, Joe!” and many of them were on key.  Fun fact: Along with its past and present Chronicle contingent — Kevin Fagan, Jay Johnson, Steve Rubenstein, Ellen Huet, Richard Geiger, Josh Zucker — and non-Chronicle members Bob Loomis and Catherine McSharry, the Irish Newsboys include two performers from the Woodstock era — Barry “the Fish” Melton, of Country Joe and the Fish, and Peter Albin, of Big Brother and the Holding Company.  …  The Newsboys will be back at the Guild holiday party on December 18, bidding a fond farewell to the incomparable union bigshots-turned-restaurateurs Carl Hall and Kat Anderson.  With any luck, Carl will join in on the harmonica. … Which Chronicle veteran walked away unscathed from a 60-to-0 freeway crash that totaled his new car? …

Science editor emeritus “Dr.” Dave Perlman, who turns 101 in December, was awarded a top prize by the American Geophysical Union, a round plaque that looks not unlike one of the newsroom pizzas served up on election night.   Dr. Dave spends his retirement at home in S.F. with his main squeeze, Gladys, and the Chronicle and N.Y. Times competing for his attention every morning.  Also nearby are the scores of other awards, plaques, trophies and citations that the AGU plaque is fighting for space alongside.  Dr. Dave, who recently completed a Chronicle podcast with Peter Hartlaub and Leah Garchik about his coverage of the Apollo moon landings, fondly welcomes visits from his colleagues. … Fun fact: Few people have dogs named Greenberg, but Leah does. … 

Dept. of Getting Our Four Cents’  Worth:  The contract says staff members who use their cars for work are to receive the IRS mileage reimbursement rate, which last January increased from 54 cents a mile to 58 cents a mile.  But the company’s rate didn’t go up until the Guild reminded HR about the lapse over the summer.  Oops, said HR, our bad.  It took the company more than three months to cough up the all the 4-cents-a-mile retroactive reimbursements.  Could that be why production costs are down $8 million?  In God we trust, like it says on the four pennies, and with anyone else best keep your eyes open.

– Curiouser and Curiouser 

Pacific Media Workers Guild

Pacific Media Workers Guild

We are the Pacific Media Workers Guild, Local 39521 of The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America. We represent more than 1,200 journalists and other media workers, interpreters, translators, union staffs and freelancers.

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