Let's be fair to PG&E, says the Chronicle, and applies its news principle to a study on the value of small business over chains in San Francisco

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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 "Let's be fair to PG&E" news principle.

The article, 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 study was made 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.
It was timed for Small Business Week San Francisco 2007 (May 5-12), but the Chronicle was more interested in putting out a special ad supplement with no mention of the study, stuffed with deadly proclamations and boilerplate. Significantly, there were virtually no ads from small business. The rates were too high and the format too boring.

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 plot 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 because he forced the chains to compete (see Guardian coverage and other blogs.)