The Chronicle applies their "be fair to PG&E" news principle to a major study on the beneficial impact of small business in San Francisco


By Bruce B. Brugmann

Last Thursday May 23, as I was preparing my introductory remarks for our third annual small business awards ceremony at Anchor Steam Brewery, I found a timely article buried in that day's business page of the San Francisco Chronicle that helped illustrate what I call the Chronicle's "Be Fair to PG&E" news principle.

The article Local merchants reinvest in city, I pointed out, reported on a major $l5,000 study that was specially commissioned by the San Francisco Locally Owned Merchants Alliance and provided valuable ammunition to independents in their endless battle with the chain stores. The group made the study available exclusively to the Chronicle in hopes that the paper would do a major story, play it up, and give the small business community a much needed boost to a large number of readers.

Instead, I noted, the Chronicle, owned by the Hearst chain out of New York and a champion of big business and big development and big chains, gave the story its patented "let's be fair to PG@E" approach or in this case "let's be fair to the chains." The Chronicle buried the story in its prime burial spot at the bottom of the right hand page of the business section where it buries stories it doesn't like: for example, the Reilly story on his settlement with the Hearst and Singleton chains, which we called a Reilly victory (see Guardian coverage and other blogs.)
I held up the page and noted that AMD and the Gap and IBM all got the big heads above the fold.
And the small business story got the "let's be fair to PG&E approach" with a much smaller head below the fold, "Local merchants reinvest in city, their study says." Then, right there in the subhead was the clinker right out of the PG&E/big chain playbook that read, "Retail federation spokesman skeptical of survey's claims," buttressed further down in the story with some nice counter quotes, and a telling phrase that, gosh, golly, gee, those tricky merchants out there in the neighborhoods "acknowledged they see the study as a competitive weapon." Wow! Pow! Wow!