MEDIA: Chronicling business in the heart of San Francisco - The folks at the San Francisco Chronicle’s business section are open to pitches, but you’d better know your business - and theirs. Chris Barnett stops by for a lively visit

Kenn Altine, the San Francisco Chronicle’s business editor, roars into the parking lot on his huge Harley-Davidson Electraglide, strides through the lobby past the late, legendary city columnist Herb Caen’s enshrined ’Loyal Royal’ typewriter (14.1 million words written in 58 years), sits down at his PC and starts deleting e-mailed press releases without reading past the headline.

Kenn Altine, the San Francisco Chronicle’s business editor, roars into the parking lot on his huge Harley-Davidson Electraglide, strides through the lobby past the late, legendary city columnist Herb Caen’s enshrined ’Loyal Royal’ typewriter (14.1 million words written in 58 years), sits down at his PC and starts deleting e-mailed press releases without reading past the headline.

Kenn Altine, the San Francisco Chronicle’s business editor, roars

into the parking lot on his huge Harley-Davidson Electraglide, strides

through the lobby past the late, legendary city columnist Herb Caen’s

enshrined ’Loyal Royal’ typewriter (14.1 million words written in 58

years), sits down at his PC and starts deleting e-mailed press releases

without reading past the headline.



’Look at this,’ he says to a visiting reporter. ’’Second round of

funding.’ So what? No story there. B-to-c story pitch? B-to-c’s dead.

Merger story?



Better be ’B’ as in billion and not an ’M’ as in million, though I am

interested in Bay Area mergers. Look at all this techie

gobbledegook.’



Altine prints out a press release and says, ’Listen to this: ’TriZetto

Joins Citrix Ibusiness ASP Program to Facilitate Delivery of ASP-Hosted

Healthcare Applications. TriZetto Derives Cost-effective, Accelerated

Infrastructure Connectivity and Enhanced Technical Support.’ Now, I ask

you, what does that mean? What are they trying to say?’



(TriZetto’s PR counsel, Jerry Schranz of CPR Communications, Teterboro,

NJ, says, ’good point’ when asked why he didn’t take time to rewrite the

release in English for a non-tech publication.)





A PR sympathizer



Altine is no PR basher. ’I’m pretty sympathetic to PR,’ he says. ’I know

they’re just doing their job. I tell them all the time, ’Make me care

about your story.’’



Altine is ’interim’ business editor, replacing Kathleen Pender, who

voluntarily stepped down to write a personal finance column. He is an

editorial consultant and is looking for a successor. He’s been brought

in to beef up the business news department for the 475,000 circ daily,

California’s second-biggest newspaper after the Los Angeles Times.

Indeed, PR pros give the section high marks for being receptive to

tailored story queries - and not just Bay Area practitioners.



Dan Brunelle, PR manager for Zoom Telephonics in Boston, pitched a

wireless networking story. ’We provided reams of tailored information

up-front,’ he says. ’Much of it got in the story. Although our company

only got a few lines, we got a three-by-four color product photo, which

made it all worthwhile.’



Angela Jackson, PR director of the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco, says

coverage didn’t pan out when she pitched an exclusive on a new resort

hotel in nearby Half Moon Bay to assistant business editor David

Tong.



’At least he was receptive and excited about the story,’ Jackson

says.



In pitching the Chronicle’s business section, know the players and the

playing field, Altine stresses. The section has a different editorial

theme daily: technology trends on Monday, personal finance on Tuesday,

entrepreneurs on Wednesday, personal technology on Thursday and

workplace issues on Friday. Saturday is a small section with mostly wire

stories.



For the combined 600,000 circ Sunday paper, the Examiner produces the

business section.



Essentially, the section is divided into two teams of reporters, each

with an ’assigning’ editor. Tong oversees the money team and Marcus Chan

directs technology coverage. The Chronicle has had its technology staff

plundered by other publications, but Altine insists the current lineup

is stronger and savvier than the tech team at arch-rival San Jose

Mercury News, in the heart of Silicon Valley.



Altine has a couple of holes on his beat list - tourism, hospitality,

commercial real estate. But those will likely be plugged, he says, when

The Chronicle acquires the Examiner’s reporters in a donnybrook of a

merger now being fought in the courts. Once the merger is completed, the

business news staffs will be combined.





Rules of engagement



Still, knowing the players isn’t enough, insists Altine. ’You need to

know the rules of our game.’ Rule number one: ’Don’t even bother to

pitch a story to us if you’ve given it to The Wall Street Journal or The

New York Times first,’ warns Tong. ’We won’t touch it, even if it’s a

story on a local company. And God forbid you give it to the Mercury News

and call us.’



Altine, Tong and Carolyn Said, a technology reporter, offer some good

tips. Never send an attached file as part of an e-mailed pitch; it will

be automatically returned because of virus fears. Story pitches that are

too short or too long - and anything overly technical and cloaked in

argot - will be trashed. Single-company profile pitches don’t have a

prayer.



’Give us the bigger picture and how your company fits in, plus name some

competitors,’ Altine advises.



Personnel items should go to Altine’s assistant, Colleen Benson, who

compiles the People in Business column. The person must be a vice

president or above, working for a Bay Area company; no

out-of-towners.



To suggest a major story, there are two routes. Query two to three weeks

in advance. If it’s a technology story, e-mail it to technews@sfgate.com

and Marcus Chan will evaluate and route it. For non-tech ideas, e-mail

the individual reporters. For news, use either the PR wires or call

between 9 am and 11 am or 1 pm and 2 pm. ’By 3 pm, unless it’s a huge

breaking story, we’ve mapped out the paper for the first edition,’ says

Altine.



’The real estate has been sold.’ The three-star, or ’state,’edition is

essentially closed for most news at 5:30 pm and the five-star local

morning paper can take news until 7:30 pm. Still, for routine PR calls,

do not ring the department after 2:30 pm or you’ll annoy the person at

the other end of the line.



Altine and his team are surprisingly open to face-to-face meetings for

backgrounding, but they are choosy. An exec attending a convention who

wants to meet the local business editor to feed his own ego isn’t

welcome.



But if a local or a visitor with a real germ of a big-picture story - or

a marquee headliner - wants to meet, Altine is open to it. ’I do try to

meet with as many people as I can because they may start me down the

path to a good story,’ says the genial Altine. ’Just make sure the

person can answer the tough questions and doesn’t say ’no comment’ when

I ask him about profitability or customers.’



Asked how he feels about a PR person sitting in on the interview

meeting, Altine doesn’t totally object but wonders why the person needs

a mouthpiece.



’If the guy or woman can’t handle an interview, someone shouldn’t be

giving him millions of dollars in venture capital or a company to

run.’





CONTACT LIST



San Francisco Chronicle



901 Mission St.



San Francisco, CA 94103



(415) 777-1111 (main number)



(415) 512-9166 (business desk fax)



E-mail: firstinitiallastname@sfgate.com (exceptions noted below)



Web: www.sfgate.com



Acting business editor: Kenn Altine, kennaltine@sfgate



Assistant business editor: David Tong



Technology editor: Marcus Chan, technews@sfgate.com



Assistant to business editor: Colleen Benson, benson@sfgate.com



Technology-beat reporters (but send pitches to technews@sfgate.com):



Tom Abate (biotechnology)



Benny Evangelista (consumer tech, online entertainment)



Dan Fost (technology media)



Henry Norr (Tech21 column)



Carrie Kirby (consumer tech)



Verne Kopytoff (Internet)



Carolyn Said (b-to-b e-commerce)



Todd Wallack (telecom, computer networking)



Kelly Zito (software)



Send all non-technology stories and queries to individual beat

reporters:



Carol Emert (retailing and advertising)



David Lazarus (general assignments; davidlaz@sfgate.com)



Arthur Louis (investment markets, Moneybag column)



Kathleen Pender (personal finance columnist)



Peter Sinton (entrepreneurs and small business)



Sam Zuckerman (financial institutions).



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