bay area newspaper blues
March 18, 2010 5:07 PM   Subscribe

The Bay area, a pivotal center of technology, finance, home to CAL, Stanford, and many, many literate folks does not have a semi-decent local newspaper. How and why? Can anything be done? ps: the local "news" blogs are really no better (SFist, beyond chron, etc)

oh and this question could be expanded to the whole state and maybe the whole west coast.
posted by macadam9 to Media & Arts (13 answers total)
Well, partially it's because it's getting pretty hard to make money on newspapers lately. People want their news online and they're used to getting things online for free. But it's also because San Francisco banned all individually owned and operated news racks, which I suppose is a barrier to entry into the marketplace.
posted by sharkfu at 5:19 PM on March 18, 2010

This is not an answer but it should be noted that has a LOT of fans around these parts and is generally better regarded than the Chronicle itself.
posted by ORthey at 5:54 PM on March 18, 2010

ORthey, I read sfgate too but their news content and analysis (especially bay area) is pretty slim.
the local "bay area" page usually has wire or non-local stories in it. digital gruel but heartier than the paper? I dont believe so.
posted by macadam9 at 6:09 PM on March 18, 2010

Oh, the tear I shed for the old Examiner vs. Chronicle wars...
posted by effugas at 6:29 PM on March 18, 2010

I hear you. Oakland North may not cover what you're looking for, but it is a fantastic "on the ground" local news project created by the U.C. Berkeley School of Journalism. It reaches through a lot of East Bay stories. It's a world away from things like SFist or even sfgate--it's real news.

Obviously it doesn't have the resources of a large paper, but in some ways it reminds me of what local papers were like before consolidation.

As for "what can be done", I truly hope that there will someday be local, in-depth news sites like Oakland North covering... everywhere. I thought that was kind of an obvious use for the internet. Maybe it is just taking awhile.
posted by quarterframer at 7:05 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seattle's The Stranger has an article this week discussing the fifteen year battle between the SF Weekly and the SF Bay Guardian. It also discusses the genesis of New Times, the company that owns SF Weekly, LA Weekly, the Village Voice, Seattle Weekly and many other weekly papers in large cities.
posted by GregorWill at 7:49 PM on March 18, 2010

The San Jose Mercury News is the Bay Area's best paper. They don't have a lot of coverage, and of course it's San Jose and Silicon Valley focussed. But what they write is excellent.

Most of the current state of SF's sorry newspaper scene can be traced directly to the shady deal that resulted in the SF Examiner being gutted. Long story short: we used to have two papers, the SF Chronicle and the SF Examiner. The powers running the two papers wanted to merge them but were prevented to by anti-trust legislation. In 2000 Willie Brown brokered a deal for his friends the Fang family to buy the Examiner and keep it running as a second paper (with a generous cash subsidy), while all the real journalistic assets were consolidated into the SF Chronicle. The new Chron then ran into the 2000 bubble burst, the recent economic downturn, and the general malaise of the newspaper business. The Fangs quickly ran the Examiner into the dirt, as predicted, and then it was sold to some fake newspaper company where it litters our doorsteps unwanted twice weekly to this day.

Long story short: SF is a great example of the failure of the economics of the newspaper business, coupled with good ol' fashioned local corruption and incompetence. Sorry for the lack of followup references, most of the articles I know aren't readily online anymore.
posted by Nelson at 8:25 PM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

In the "what can be done?" arena, MediaBugs is aiming to hold Bay Area journalism to high standards of accuracy.
posted by brainwane at 8:40 PM on March 18, 2010

I'll add to what Nelson said. The current death spiral of The SF Chronicle is directly linked to the Fang deal. In 2000, The Hearst Corp. paid the Fangs 66-million dollars to take the Examiner off their hands so they could buy the Chronicle. Hearst stupidly did this before the anti-trust court case was decided. From that point until layoffs began in 2005, The Chronicle was 66-million dollars in the hole every year. Coincidence? The sad thing is that the courts ended up deciding that The Hearst Corp. could have just bought The Chronicle without giving the Fangs 66-million dollars or The Examiner. OOPS! Had they just waited and not blown that 66-million dollars there's a good chance The Chronicle would still be doing the quality work they were doing before the sale thus lessening the need for so many many layoffs they've had over the past 4-5 years that have resulted in a skeleton editorial staff and a lack of funds for quality journalism. Sure the internet had a part in this as well as a massive drop in circulation, but the real problems started with that flush of 66-million dollars down the toilet.

And before anyone says The Chronicle was the weaker of the two papers, The Chronicle made 75% of the money while The Examiner only contributed 25% to the JOA. The Hearst Corp. should have had massive lay offs at the time of the sale, but instead decided to keep everyone on staff, which also contributed to the recurring annual deficit. When they finally came to their senses about the absurdity of having multiple reporters and editors and columnists and managers for the same beats in a shrinking newspaper it was too late. Massive layoffs ensued. The Chronicle has never recovered and is now a shell of what it was before the Hearst Corp. ruined it. The Hearst Corp. took a money-making machine and ran it into the ground in less than 10 years. There's a very good chance that The Chronicle won't be around much longer. Why else would they have celebrated the 144th anniversary last year? Seems year 145 will likely be the last.
posted by wherever, whatever at 10:22 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

2nding Oakland North. i'm east-bay-ist so less read-up on the SF side of things, but i also like .
posted by apostrophe at 10:29 PM on March 18, 2010

thanks for the input and I want to apologize if my question came off as snarky or against the grain of the friendly confines of metafilter.
posted by macadam9 at 12:46 PM on March 19, 2010

Don't apologize: your premise is absolutely true. It's generally understood in U.S. journalism that the Bay Area news media are weak. As Nelson said, the San Jose Mercury News has the best reputation in the region. The LA Times used to have a good reputation, although it's now widely seen as flailing.

I didn't know the Chronicle history and am grateful to Nelson and wherever, whatever for posting it.
posted by Susan PG at 5:59 PM on March 19, 2010

I totally agree with what Nelson and wherever whatever have said. The Chronicle/Examiner crisis led to a complete downward spiral in SF coverage. The Examiner turned into birdcage liner, and the Chronicle turned into a toothless shadow of its former self (which wasn't that hard-hitting in the best of times). The weeklies, meanwhile, have more often than not been vehicles for their owner's idiosyncratic agendas (Bruce Brugmann's unceasing muckraking about PG&E to the detriment of other coverage comes to mind) and then, more recently, in the case of the Weekly, purely another one in a series of interchangeable cookie-cutter New Media/Village Voice Media clones. The San Jose Mercury News, the Contra Costa Times, and the Oakland Tribune, along with other local papers, try -- or tried in the past -- to do good jobs of covering local news, but many of them now are owned by another conglomerate, MediaNews Group in Denver, which means that many of the same articles are recycled in each of the papers owned by the conglomerate, resulting in watered-down and not-truly-local coverage.

There is far more worthwhile SF political news in local blogs, and even, frighteningly enough, on the websites of the area's TV network affiliate news operations, than there is in the Chronicle or most of the other area newspapers.
posted by blucevalo at 9:59 AM on March 20, 2010

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