Wednesday, February 25, 2009

San Francisco Chronicle: The First of the Last Papers?

Read a 3/10/09 update on this story: Tentative union agreement in Chronicle case

In 2007, UC Berkeley Professor of Journalism William Drummond challenged a Commonwealth Club panel on journalism with this: "It's always been a great puzzlement to me [that] in an area where people are intelligent, affluent, sophisticated -- how come even now, how the LA Times is still a major newspaper of considerable import, and San Francisco has never produced that kind of product?"

If that was a long-standing question of Bay Area media watchers for years, the answer is not likely to become any easier now. The San Francisco Chronicle could be sold or even closed if owner Hearst Corp. is unable to get significant cuts to operating costs in the next few weeks. Yes, weeks -- not months, not years. The cuts might be unachievable; some estimates are that the company would have to cut as much as 47 percent of staff.

But others are suggesting that San Francisco could soon become the first major U.S. city without a paid daily newspaper (we do have, of course, the free daily SF Examiner and a number of local news and opinion blogs, in addition to broadcast media). Even if the paper survives, if it loses so much of its staff, will it be able to cover the city and region the way it historically has? (Hearst's Seattle Post-Intelligencer is also facing a Chronicle-like end.)

With losses of $50 million a year, and more predicted for 2009, the Chronicle was in serious trouble even before the economy went off a cliff in 2008. (For a good overview of the challenges facing newspapers and other local traditional media, listen to audio of Professor Drummond's Sept. 27, 2009, Commonwealth Club panel discussion, "The State of Journalism," with industry pros Leslie Griffith, Robert Rosenthal, Kevin Keeshan, and Steve Wright.)

If we are about to enter a post-Chronicle era, that does not mean there is less news to report and be interpreted. The Commonwealth Club hosts a wide range of speeches and panel discussions by newsmakers, and this blog is just one effort we undertake to try to get this news out into the public consciousness, making connections between speakers here with timely issues in the news.

There are also, of course, many blogs, written by everyone from teenagers to laid-off newspaper reporters, and these blogs do everything from highlighting important news that is overlooked by the major media, to pushing partisan agendas. We will likely see a continued multiplication in blogs covering our local scene, and we will likely see some aggregation of blogs into super-blogs (hyperblogs? can we coin a term here?) like Huffington Post. Michael Kinsley, former editor of The New Republic and, and the former editorial page editor of the LA Times, recently recanted somewhat on his earlier criticisms of news bloggers and offered a more optimistic assessment of their value, during a speech at The Commonwealth Club December 9, 2008 (listen to audio; see the video).

What will the future of Bay Area journalism be?

Where do you get your news? How good is it? Leave a comment and join the discussion.


Anonymous said...

Some mayoral intervention is needed. It would be a collassal embarrassment for such a well read city and region as the bay area to be newspaper-less.

Anonymous said...

I subscribe to the Chronicle even though I find it does not cover a number of issues with anything approaching even-handedness...for instance the opinion pages pro and con on Proposition 8 were both con. Unfortunately, that also seeps into most of the news coverage so that the Catholic Church is regularly bashed, as are most religions unless they fit the political belief parameters.
This problem makes it hard for the newspaper to actually get the news because reporters are often so limited by what they are willing to see.
Can that change and give us all, liberal and not quite as liberal, a solid newspaper that we would all love to read, and at times love to hate but feel as though there were an even shake possible?

Kimo C said...

News Pros Gather for SPJ's 'Conversation About the Chronicle'

Tuesday, March 17
5:30 - 7:30 p.m.
Koret Auditorium
San Francisco Main Library
100 Larkin St.

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