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Things Have Gone From Sad to Worse at the San Francisco Media Company

 The volatile publisher of the Examiner and SF Weekly goes ballistic.


Friday was a wretched day for the San Francisco Media Company. The parent organization of SF Weekly and the San Francisco Examiner parted ways with three editorial employees (two of whom, Jessica Kwong* and Giselle Velazquez, are on the Examiner's ubiquitous BART ads), in anticipation of today's debut of new, alarmingly thin Examiners.

But, for SF Weekly, it was even worse. According to multiple staff members, Glenn Zuehls, the publisher of the Weekly and Examiner, unleashed a vicious tirade in which he reiterated his much-stated belief that there is no separation between the alt-weekly newspaper's advertising and editorial departments. He bypassed Michael Howerton and Mark Kemp—the company’s vice president of editorial operations and SF Weekly’s editor, respectively—and directly assigned an article to an SF Weekly writer. The task: Craft a fawning story to appease an indignant advertiser in two weeks' time, and then put it on the cover of SF Weekly.

At issue was this short, humorous story in the paper’s current edition, a light tale of counting cards whilst surrounded by elderly drunks at a blackjack table at Graton Casino in Rohnert Park. This little yuk, it seems, spurred Graton to pull some $68,496 worth of ads. And that prompted Zuehls to offer up an SF Weekly cover story as a make-good, as it's known in the publishing trade.

A formal letter penned by the staff protesting this mandate was greeted derisively by Zuehls. “There’s not a wall” between the paper’s editorial and advertising departments, Zuehls lectured the editorial staff at a high-decibel meeting. “You’re not the New York Times. Just so you know.” (Full disclosure: I worked at the Weekly from 2007 until March of this year, a tenure which included several months under Zuehls.) 

He went on to demand that if the Weekly staff refused to run the positive Graton cover story, they should work among themselves to find $68,496 among their salaries to make up the difference: “You don’t want to take it off? You do it my way,” he said. Told by a staff member that he was crossing the line, Zuehls shouted, “I can make the line. If you want to resign, you resign.” One staffer did just that. Another was fired for insisting that reporters should not write “advertorial copy.”

Zuehls has not yet returned messages left on his work and cell phones; VP of editorial Howerton declined to comment. But many current and former staffers recount instances of troubling behavior from Zuehls in his year atop the San Francisco Media Company. Multiple sources confirmed to San Francisco that he once asked a female executive to not attend a work function that the publisher had opted to hold at a strip club (Zuehls purportedly felt that her presence would make the male executives uncomfortable). On another occasion, according to staffers present, he made a joke during a meeting about his desire to punch one of his employees—a pregnant reporter.

Zuehls has also told the staff that it’s only his presence that has prevented his higher-ups from doing away with most of them. This would make the papers even less like the New York Times. Just so you know.

* A previous version of this article stated that Kwong was laid off
. In actuality, she resigned prior to Friday's layoffs and is now at the Orange County Register.