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SF Chronicle in Trouble?

By Tim O'Reilly

I hate to play Valleywag, but I'm hearing rumors that the San Francisco Chronicle is in big trouble. Apparently, Phil Bronstein, the editor-in-chief, told staff in a recent "emergency meeting" that the news business "is broken, and no one knows how to fix it." ("And if any other paper says they do, they're lying.") Reportedly, the paper plans to announce more layoffs before the year is out.

It's clear that the news business as we knew it is in trouble. Bringing it home, Peter Lewis and Phil Elmer Dewitt, both well-known tech journalists, were both part of layoffs at Time Warner in January (they worked for Fortune and Time, respectively), and John Markoff remarked to me recently that "every time I talk to my colleagues in print journalism it feels like a wake."

Meanwhile, Peter Brantley passed on in email the news that "a newspaper newsletter covering that industry publishes its own last copy":

"The most authoritative newsletter covering the newspaper industry issued a gloomy prognosis for the business today and then, tellingly, went out of business.
Many newspapers in the largest markets already "have passed the point of opportunity" to save themselves, says the Morton-Groves Newspaper Newsletter in its farewell edition. "For those who have not made the transition [by now], technology and market factors may be too strong to enable success."

We talk about creative destruction, and celebrate the rise of blogging as citizen journalism and Craigslist as self-service advertising, but there are times when something that seemed great in theory arrives in reality, and you understand the downsides. I have faith both in the future and in free markets as a way to get there, but sometimes the road is hard. If your local newspaper were to go out of business, would you miss it? What kinds of jobs that current newspapers do would go undone?

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