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Jewish World Review June 15, 2000 / 12 Sivan, 5760

Chris Matthews

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Consumer Reports

Citizen Kane, 113 years later -- AFTER MY TWO-YEAR STINT in the Peace Corps, I flew home from Africa on a jumbo jet that was weirdly empty. I crossed the Atlantic that night in a cavernous world of vacant cabins, a few out-of-sight stewardesses and the movie playing on the big bulkhead screen: "Citizen Kane."

While it's always vain to claim personal premonitions, let this be mine. For the past 13 years I have worked for The San Francisco Examiner, the newspaper this great Orson Welles film made famous.

It was at The Examiner that young William Randolph Hearst began his swashbuckling, empire-building career in newspapers. It was in the wild San Francisco of 1887 that this man, still in his early 20s, burned forever into American myth what it means to publish a newspaper.

"My three ambitions, as you know," young "Will" Hearst wrote his dad from Harvard, "are law, politics and journalism and under favorable circumstances it might be possible to combine all three."

While neither his stars nor his discipline gave him the right trajectory for the first two career targets, the name Hearst and the very notion of American newspapering quickly became and remain in this third century of his empire inseparable.

I write this column now because of a big, fast-paced new book by David Nasaw. What strikes me reading the early chapters of "The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst" is how much zest and spirit the true story shares with the Orson Welles triumph, which was so obviously based on it.

What strikes me looking back on my years at The Examiner, where Hearst made his start an even 100 years before me, is how much real newspapering feels, smells and looks like the world that boy-genius Welles rendered in the movies.

"I don't get to bed until two o'clock and wake up at about seven in the morning and can't get to sleep again," Hearst wrote his mother, "for I must see the paper and compare it with the Chronicle."

That crazed seduction of deadline and newsprint is still alive today in The Examiner newsroom. It's the professional lust pulling men and women toward the next story, to getting it first, to writing it better.

I write this at a poignant time: Hearst hopes to sell the evening Examiner and buy the morning Chronicle.

With luck and pluck, acquiring the Chronicle will do for The Examiner what the great William Randolph Hearst did: expand its distribution reach, grow its circulation, upgrade its operation — and enable it to brag about each new advance on its front page. It will have the ambition to build and the moxie to make the reader part of the action.

"To North! To South!" the May 23, 1887, Examiner screamed as it expanded into the outer, younger counties of Northern California. "The bond is wielded which knits together in unity and brotherhood the great metropolis of the West and the country around it."

Now that's newspapering!

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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