San Francisco insider Phil Matier retires Chronicle column, brings more scoops and reporting to ABC7

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Sunday marks the end of an era for Bay Area news junkies. After 35 years, Phil Matier is putting down the pen and publishing his final column in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Fans of Matier's signature blend of reporting and commentary shouldn't fear; this is less of a retirement and more of a reinvention. Matier joined ABC7 in October 2019 with regular appearances on newscasts, reporting on topics featured in the station's Building a Better Bay Area coverage. He plans to keep up the work with what he calls a "television column."

"There's no retiring from this job," Matier says. He's in way too deep for that.

Locally, the economic struggle is ever-present, affecting employment, education, housing, transit and just about every aspect of life in the Bay Area. San Francisco is reeling from a massive city corruption scandal, while also facing an enormous budget crisis caused by COVID-19. Gov. Gavin Newsom is facing his own set of pandemic-related challenges in Sacramento with a possible recall.

"That's going to keep me busy," he jokes.

Looking back on such a long career can be challenging. His first big scoop seems insignificant now, his old columns overshadowed by the next big story.

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"It's this never stopping ride on a roller coaster. You say, 'Which one was your favorite up? And which one's your favorite down? By the time you remember, you're already going in a new direction."

Still, a few stories really stand out in his mind: the sinking Millennium Tower, broken bolts on the Bay Bridge, the cracking transbay bus terminal -- a literal approach to "breaking" news, if you think about it.

His columns often focused on the Bay Area's many eccentric personalities and politicians, served up with a dose of perspective.

"Covering Dianne Feinstein is like covering a freight train," he says. "She's on track, she knows where she's going, and she's going to get there. You cover Jerry Brown, he's on track. He's not sure exactly where he's going to go, it stops and starts. You cover somebody like London Breed, a young person in there for the first time."

All fascinating characters, but picking between local politicians isn't like choosing between children for Matier. He has an obvious favorite to write about: Willie Brown.

"Every time Willie Brown would do three things right, he would do one thing that was very wrong," he says. "And every time he did three things wrong, he turned around and did one thing right and that would amaze you again."

Still, Matier is the first to say not to listen too much to the politicians. They'll tell you what they want you to hear, he says, but that's not where the story is. The story is often buried deep -- and we mean deep -- in a boring report.

"Nine times out of 10, the truth in the story is sitting right in front of your eyes. But people just don't see it because they get glossed over by the shorter version."

Never one to take the easy or expedient route through journalism -- if there is one -- Matier doesn't see a reason to start now. His column may be ending, but his work is far from over.

"This business doesn't go for fireworks. You don't get medals, you don't get flag days. Nobody puts a day in your honor. That's it."

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"You walk in, you walk out, you pick up the phone, you read the reports, you talk to people, you walk the walk, you find the story. You put it out there and then you go and do it again."

Matier vows to keep digging and telling it like it is on ABC7 News.

"I do know where the bodies are buried, if you want to say so -- and I know who's burying them," he says. "We can sit down and we can figure it out. And we can bring that to the viewers."

Check back regularly for his commentary and insight on all our ABC7 platforms.
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