Whew! What a Best of Party last night!

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What a splendid Best of Party last night at Club Six down in the inner Mission in San Francisco. Almost all of this year’s Best of winners were there, more than 300 of them, to pick up their Best of certificate, and to pose in a group photo that will stand as one of the year’s most eclectic gatherings in San Francisco and certainly the Best San Francisco photograph of 2006. (We will publish the photo in next week’s Guardian).

There was Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White, Kathi Kamen Goldmark and Sam Barry from the Rock Bottom Remainders, Chris Middlestadt of the Fruit Guys, the best beer-soaked bingo brigade, local heroes Tony Kelly of thick Description Theater, Barry Hermanson and the Greenaction Gang of closing-down-the-Hunters-Point-power-plant fame, (Marie Harrison and Bradley Angel), the best drag queen who plays the accordion, Breda Courtney of the Best Bloomin' Thespians, Robin and Joe Talmadge and Cinder Ernst from World Gym, the Primitive Screwheads (best goofy gore), Press Secretary Peter Ragone and other reps from the mayor's office (yes, Mayor Gavin Newsom did win an award, the best mayor we love to hate), best neighborhood newspaper publisher (Ruth Passen of the Potrero View), and scores more of the city's best and brightest and most diverse.

The Keeping it Real with Will and Willie gang were there from the Quake (Comedian Will Durst, Ex-Mayor Willie Brown, producer Paul Wells) to accept their award as the “Best Herb Caen column on the radio.”
They exemplified the spirit of Caen by being “visible” at the party (a key Caen quality in his man about town role at the old Chronicle) and by talking genially to everyone who came in range in the massed crowd, including some who have tilted politically with Willie through the years. Caen had to do that, whether he liked it or not, because he was a target and a celebrity wherever he went. One key difference is that Will and Willie, out on the town regularly, can comment and do their reviews the next morning. Caen’s nocturnal adventures were always in his column a day later in the morning Chronicle. Caen also had l,000 word columns. Will and Willie have three hours every week day morning, from 7 to l0 a.m. in prime time, and can handle lots of live interviews in the studio or on the phone. Most important, Caen could only hint at his political proclivities, but Will and Willie announce they are Democrats and go after Bush and the war and local sacred cows with great glee.

This morning, Will and Willie led off their show on 960 the Quake with a report on the event, which they obviously enjoyed. My journalistic point: There will most likely never be another Herb Caen in San Francisco, or probably on any other daily paper, because he was a creature of another era, the hell-for-leather competitive newspaper wars in San Francisco, which were some of the most colorful in the country. Once the old Hearst Examiner and the old Chronicle formed a JOA in l965, they had no more real use for Caen but the Chronicle kept him on because of his ability and reputation. The Chronicle family owners were always nervous and often agitated about Caen and his enormous influence but they really couldn’t do much about him. Now, with the new Hearst Chronicle as the dominant daily here, with the coming of Singletonland in the Bay Area, no publisher has any use for a powerful independent talent such as Caen, particularly a strong union voice. Al'as.

The Caen formula lives

Will and Willie demonstrated the point again in this morning’s show with a snapshot of Caen’s San Francisco with a nostalgic interview of Mort Sahl, who Caen helped make a celebrated fixture at Enrique Banducci’s Hungry I. They were making the most of the fact that Sahl was reemerging in San Francisco and opening tonight at the Empire Plush Room (Willie said he would in the front row). And Sahl responded with some good political jokes: The Democrats are proving they can defeat Democats, he said of the Lieberman race. But can they defeat Republicans? Jerry Brown is putting Oakland “up for adoption.” On the Mel Gibson incident, Sahl said there was talk in Hollywood that he would now be boycotted. But Sahl quoted Jack Warner of Warner Brothers about an earlier star: "He'll never work in this town again-- until we need him." And Sahl mused at one point, "Just how many wars are we fighting today."

Sahl also had some news. Banducci was alive and well in Hayward, sharp as ever. Sahl lived in San Francisco and Sausalito for many years and is now living in LA and working regularly. The I in Hungri I stood for Intellectual. ON and on, making the point on the show that Sahl is back. Hurray!

Back on the monopoly journalism front

Just in: story from the Mercury News by Pete Carey with the arresting head: “Area’s new media king is having fun, industry leader started with one small paper at age 20.”

He quoted Singleton as telling a meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Seattle in April, on a podium he shared with McClatchy’s Gary Pruitt,
“We do a lot of things because they’re fun.” Impertinent questions: who else is having fun as Singletonland comes to town? Is there no way that any of the reporters covering Singleton on any of his papers can utter a discouraging or realistic word about his form of discount journalism, or find someone who can do? (Carey, incidentally, a veteran reporter, has done the best job of covering the sale of Knight-Ridder and subsequent developments).

The newspaper unions have been quiet and have not even commented on what happened to their offer to buy the Merc and the other McClatchy castoffs. And the few statements they have issued took the line of the Hearst unions in San Francisco in dealing with its monopolizing issues: lay low and wait till negotiations on the next contract (when, from my point of view, it may be too late.) The Merc employees are working without union contracts. The crunch will come when Singleton starts “consolidating” and making the deep cuts in production and newsrooms and quality that he must do, sooner or later, probably sooner, with his mountains of debt, his unmanageable forest of papers and presses, and his “lean Dean” cost-cutting modus operandi. Stay tuned. B3