The Chronicle death watch - Page 3

Hearst's threat to shutter the San Francisco Chronicle sends shockwaves through an industry in crisis

"If you want to make $20–<\d>$30 million profit over the long term, that's not a good outcome for a business that has lost $1 billion in recent years."

Michael Stoll, director of the Public Press project, which seeks to launch a nonprofit daily paper, told us he thinks it would be "a real tragedy" if Hearst followed through on any of its Chronicle threats.

"Most San Francisco journalism is generated by reporters at the Chronicle, and its few competitors would be ill-prepared to step in and immediately fill the void," Stoll said.

Concerned that Singleton's MediaNews could try to make the case that there is a crisis and that the Department of Justice should therefore waive antitrust prohibitions against monopoly ownership, Stoll warned that "the expansion of MediaNews ownership to nearly every other paper in the Bay Area in the last two years has proven to be an unmitigated disaster in terms of a less independent voice from Santa Cruz to Santa Rosa, and from San Mateo to Contra Costa."

The Society of Professional Journalists is calling for a public discussion of Hearst's threats.

Worried that additional cuts to the Chronicle "will only exacerbate what SPJ perceives as an already growing vacuum of credible reporting and will further limit scrutiny of our public institutions," Northern California SPJ board president Ricardo Sandoval observed that closing the Chronicle "would mean losing the largest source of news for hundreds of thousands of readers in the San Francisco Bay Area."

Asking Hearst to participate in "a high-profile conversation with its community based on the imperative of reinvention," Sandoval said, "We urge journalists, foundations, corporations, the public, and public officials to join us in finding solutions to this increasingly urgent civic challenge."

As University of California at Berkeley journalism professor Bill Drummond warns, "this is not just the decline of the industry. If the mainstream media, which is supposed to be balanced and fair, goes away, if that scrutiny is no longer there, everything will be more partisan and narrower.

"And in this atmosphere where everyone is begging the government to fund their industry, what about the fourth estate?" Drummond said. "Maybe we need the newspaper equivalent of public broadcasting, with pledge drives and bake sales."