See Me, Peel Me

The Onion to buy the SF Chronicle, slash budget, staff, salaries, and write editorials endorsing war, torture, famine, and greed.

Executives from The Onion, the much beloved New York-based weekly humor newspaper, were in San Francisco last week interviewing potential sales managers for the paper’s upcoming Bay Area debut. That’s right, The Onion is coming to town — the print edition, that is. No doubt many Feeders out there are regular readers of the online version, which this week features headlines such as “Supreme Court to Break Up If Rehnquist Leaves” and “Study: Watching Fewer Than Four Hours Of TV a Day Impairs Ability to Ridicule Pop Culture.”

“We just think it’s a great fit culturally,” company prez Sean Mills told Feeder, adding that the online edition already attracts a “huge readership” from San Francisco. Mills says he hopes the paper will debut here in the spring with a circulation of about 70,000. It will mostly be found in Frisco newsracks, though Mills promises that it also will be available in Oakland and Berkeley. The bay edition will have local event listings and show reviews, but the satirical fake news stories will be the same ones that appear online.

To an extent, The Onion, as a free weekly, will compete with other Bay Area freebies like the Bay Guardian, SF Weekly and, yup, the Express. However, Onion execs like to think their readership skews younger (to use the awful marketing parlance) than typical alt-weeklies.

The humor paper began in 1988, the product of two University of Wisconsin students who penned stories like “Pen Stolen from Dorm Study Area.” It went online in 1996, and the company moved its operation from Madison to Manhattan in 2001. The Onion now is distributed in New York City, Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee, Denver, Boulder, and the Twin Cities.

Since December the company has posted help-wanted ads on Craigslist for sales and distribution managers. The ads read like something The Onion would make fun of. Consider the one for the sales manager slot: “This position requires leadership, energy, commitment, and an aggressive approach to sales. … We are looking for a leader and a driver. Making certain that each sales rep is productive and reaches their specific call, meeting and revenue targets.”

Sounds hilarious.

Back in December 2001, incidentally, ran a column titled “San Francisco Is My Favorite Market” by fake marketing executive Flip Casper. “I’ve been there probably a dozen times in my life,” Flip concludes, “and I still love everything about it: the sights, the sounds, the white-collar professionals who make up 59 percent of its purchasing base. I swear, I know the market so well, I feel like I network there already.”

These guys have a knack for foreshadowing.

Recycle This Item
By the time this column hits the stands, the Alameda County Waste Authority will have wrapped up its ten-day, $100,000, antijunk-mail campaign. Along with other Bay Area agencies that promote recycling, the authority has been cosponsoring newspaper ads and spots on a dozen or so radio stations including KCBS, KGO, and KBLX, exhorting consumers to get a free “stop junk-mail kit” by calling 1-877-STOPWASTE. “Are you fed up with junk mail?” the ad asks, then goes on to say that nearly one hundred million trees in the United States alone are made into junk mail each year. Todd Sutton, the waste authority’s resident propagandist, says the ad has inspired hundreds of phone calls all the way from Santa Cruz to Penryn, a town outside Sacramento. “This is the most successful outreach campaign we’ve ever been involved in,” he boasts.

By now, dear Feeder, you are probably wondering why the hell I’m telling you about a nice little government program condemning a contemptible thing like junk mail. Where, you ask, is the government waste in waste reduction?

Okay, here’s the rubbish: The waste authority is itself guilty of sending out junk mail to Bay Area households. This past fall, it mailed an unsolicited brochure promoting its compost-bin sale to seventy thousand Alameda County residents. When asked about the apparent double standard, Sutton argued that the brochure wasn’t junk mail. Well, Feeder is sure that Publishers Clearing House doesn’t consider its missives junk either. Sutton says the diff is that he works for a public agency not selling any product, just environmental goodness. “I don’t know if we’re guilty of the same thing,” he says. “We don’t bomb people every month with a sale.”

Bidding Jerry Springer Adieu
After seven years of presiding over what affectionately became known in the downtown Oakland courthouse as the Jerry Springer Show, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Julie Conger has quietly let go of her lively Friday morning program. The weekly restraining-order calendar earned the Springer moniker for its regular lineup of domestic disputes, petty feuds between neighbors, and catfights over loser dudes. “It was chaos,” recalls family law attorney Hannah Sims, who for a few months volunteered in the Springer court as a mediator. “It was always two women arguing over the same baby-daddy, getting restraining orders against each other. And he was never there — he was in jail.”

Courthouse regulars all seem to have a Jerry Springer story. Some of the tales are so strange they border on urban myth. Take the tale of the tenant who asked her landlord to check her plumbing — the landlord purportedly complied by grabbing the tenant’s crotch.

Conger herself provided some of the entertainment with her funny, if biting, comments. Sims remembers one particularly cutting quote. Right after Conger issued a restraining order against a man, the guy asked what he should do if his ex continued to spread “false truths” about him. “Is that an oxymoron,” Sims says the judge retorted, “or am I looking at one?” Sims says Conger burnt out on the Springer calendar after all these years.

When Feeder called the judge promising to be “short and sweet,” Conger grumpily reminded him that this column could never be described as “sweet.” She was coy as to why she was dropping the Springer Show. The judge said she’ll still hear elder-abuse cases, but won’t weigh in on any new domestic violence or civil-harassment disputes, which were the heart of the show. A couple other brave jurists will now be in charge of issuing those types of restraining orders. “I’ve decided I’ve been selfish too long,” she joked, “keeping other judges from [experiencing] the delight of that calendar.”


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