Monday, May 21, 2007
The Chronicle layoffs: who's staying? Who's going?
I forgot to mention the highlight of yesterday's Bay to Breakers: Meshugga Beach Party. Performing in Golden Gate Park, there they were: a bunch of guys dressed as Orthodox rabbis playing surf music versions of traditional Jewish songs. I should've just quit running and listened to them. Seriously, how cool is that?

All of San Francisco is a-twitter about the upcoming layoffs at the Chronicle. 25 percent of the newspaper's newsroom staff is going to be cut. I like the Chron and am sad that it will have to take such drastic measures to survive. It's inevitable that every Chronicle reader will wind up losing a favorite. Here are the people I really, really hope will be sticking around:

Don Asmussen. The wildly funny, irreverent and imaginative cartoonist doesn't fill a lot of column inches -- he does two cartoons a week -- but he's so brilliant, I can only hope someone at the Chron knows what they've got and keeps him on.

David Lazarus. Newspaper business sections tend to be pretty snoozy, but Lazarus's columns on topics like identity and data theft, deceptive advertising and corporate greed are always eye-openers.

Neva Chonin. Her Sunday Live! Rude! Girl! columns are always must-reads for me. They're the kind of cranky, first-person articles you'd expect to find in an alt-weekly, but there they are in the Chron. Let's keep them there.

Tim Goodman. Judging from the comments on his blog and the packed houses at his annual TV Hootenanny, Goodman is more than just a TV critic -- he's got his own cult of personality. I'm proud to be one of the cultists.

Aidin Vaziri. Perhaps the most hated member of the paper's arts staff, Vaziri writes a weekly Q&A called "Pop Quiz" where he asks impudent questions like "Are most of the songs on [your new] album inspired by prostitutes?" (to Adam Levine of Maroon 5) or "How high did you get with Willie Nelson on the set of 'The Dukes of Hazzard'?" (to Lynda Carter). Since he's fairly new, he might be considered expendable, but his byline shows up an awful lot, so perhaps the overlords will figure they get a lot of bang for their buck with him. Plus, the Letters to the Editor section of the Sunday Datebook wouldn't be the same if he were gone.

Peter Hartlaub. Hartlaub's official title is "Chronicle Pop Culture Critic," which for some reason means he gets tasked with reviewing every really, really horrible movie that comes along. If something is not screened for critics -- "Delta Farce," "Kickin' It Old Skool," etc. -- count on a Hartlaub critique in Monday's paper, always with a wacky parental-advisory warning. (From his "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" review: "
This film movie contains every horrible thing you'd expect from a movie with the words 'Texas,' 'chain saw' and 'massacre' in the title, plus a few you never would have thought of.") He's also the go-to guy for video game commentary, Super Bowl ad reviews, the Anna Nicole Smith obit, etc. He's funny and needs to stay.

Leah Garchik. Love her back-of-Datebook column, which is sort of a gossip column, but also about the ordinary people of San Francisco -- who are, of course, often quite extraordinary.

Places where cuts should be made:

Mark Morford. According to a quote on his web page from the Detroit Metro Times: "His twice-weekly column routinely features jaw-dropping, unflinchingly liberal prose so biting and sweet and innovative it amazes us that a mainstream daily would keep this guy on the payroll." Not for long, I bet.

The movie section. The Chron currently has two full-time film writers: Mick LaSalle and Ruthe Stein. LaSalle has been "extending his brand" recently with a podcast and a blog. The funny thing is that even though I frequently disagree with his reviews, I have become an avid reader of the blog and faithful listener to the podcast. Is it all part of a diabolically clever plan to show management that he's a team player? (Apparently, Chron staffers get no extra payment for doing blogs and podcasts.) Who knows, but I'd be kind of surprised if both LaSalle and Stein are allowed to stick around. If one has to go, my bet is that Mick's job is safe, and we'll be seeing more wire reviews in the Friday paper.

Jon Carroll. I suspect if the Datebook staff was cut down to one person, Jon would be the last man standing. What can I say, people love those cat columns.

ChronicleWatch. I'm on the edge of my seat; will that dry fountain in downtown Berkeley ever see water again? It's Day 1,192, dammit!
posted by 125records @ 3:04 PM  
  • At 4:53 PM, Anonymous Josh said…

    Like many a young Bay Area boy who liked mean girls, I had a desperate literary crush on Leah Garchik when she wrote the "Dog Bites" column in the SF Weekly. When she vanished from the masthead, with the column title given to someone else with no explanation, I quickly realized I had no other reason to seek out that free weekly every Wednesday afternoon. But when her Asmussen-drawn avatar appeared in the Chron a few months later, the prose beneath it never had quite the same zing for me, and her column slowly dropped off my radar.

    Now, more than five years after I left the region, despite the fact that "We Read Jon Caroll so you don't have to," despite the fact that he was borderline rude in our one e-mail exchange, I am sheepish to admit that Jon Carroll is the only Chron columnist who still sits in my RSS feed reader. I guess I can't say no to those damn cat columns.

  • At 4:56 PM, Blogger 125records said…

    Josh, I fear that you've mixed up Leah Garchik and Laurel Wellman. Laurel was the "Dog Bites" columnist who moved to the Chronicle, albeit briefly. Last I heard she had moved back to her native Canada. I had a literary crush on her too.

    Leah has been at the Chron since at least 1995, which is as far back as the paper's online archives go.

  • At 4:57 PM, Anonymous Josh said…

    Er, that previous column should have read:

    despite the fact that "We Read Jon Caroll so you don't have to" was one of my favorite features in the Garchik version of Dog Bites...

    I regret the error. Speaking of which, I also used to be a fan of the Chron corrections column. My very favorite ever: "In yesterday's Datebook story about the Gavin Report, the word 'mayor' was incorrectly inserted in front of Willie Nelson's name." Hee hee.

  • At 5:01 PM, Anonymous Josh said…

    Good lord, Sue, you're right! Ack! My crush is so long in the past that I have her mixed up with someone else! How embarassing. I do remember Leah Garchik, too, though.

    Who was the woman who wrote the "Social Scene" column (which if I recall correctly had its title shortened to simply "The Scene" in the late '90s in a desperate attempt to make it seem not like a horrific social relic)? My roommate and I used to constantly quote our beloved Don Assmussen's spoof off of her, which went something like "Charlotte Maynard Swig, looking resplendent in a beaded Versace gown, threw the party to end all parties." This is when Don wrote for the Ex and could poke fun at the Chron writers...

  • At 5:09 PM, Blogger 125records said…

    Josh, you may be thinking of Pat Steger. The current equivalent is "Swells," which runs in the Sunday Style section. It's also on the web, but without the glamorous photos, who cares?

  • At 6:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Word is that John Curley got the ax today. His flickr site:

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