Talk about Chron's demise, binge on green beer

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Text by Sarah Phelan

Just kidding about the binge drinking. But the Northern California Society of Professional Journalists has chosen St. Patrick’s Day to sponsor “A Conversation about the Chronicle," a public discussion about the severe cutbacks and threatened closure of the Chronicle, and the impacts those developments will have for Bay Area readers.

And it's likely that this meeting, (5:30-7:30 p.m, Tuesday, March 17, Koret Auditorium, San Francisco Main Library, 100 Larkin St.) will leave folks tempted to hit the bottle, given the grim situation that newspapers face nationwide.

Or maybe it will be an upper, in which folks will come together, figure out a way to buy the Chron and every other hurting paper in the nation, and we can all go drink champagne, along with our green beer. Which brings me to my dream of a world where everyone is literate and able to digest newspaper articles, online and in print.

Before we get to that, it’s worth reading David Carr’s analysis of the newspaper industry's current problem. (Or at least, read Carr's first suggestion, since research suggests that online readers only read part of an article before jumping to another link.)

Carr’s first suggestion--that there should be “no more free content"--is a tempting, but unlikely prospect, given that folks are already sucking for free on the Internet’s ever ready teat. Not unless someone sells the next generation and their parents on the need to pay for the news equivalent of an iPod-- the “iPad," if you will--if they want to avoid being brainwashed and brainshrunk by PR firms, Fox News and other celebrity news outlets.

Take, for instance, today's second most read online story. It's about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's 18 year-old daughter Bristol breaking up with the father of her baby.

Now, while it's true, as TMZ's celebrity news guru Harvey Lezin points out, that stories about Rihanna raise "all kinds of issues about domestic violence," (and therefore Bristol's breakup raises all kinds of issues about the inefficacy of politicians who promote celibacy and oppose birth control, n'est-ce-pas?) does this mean that the future of the news industry hinges on the reality that most people really just want to sit and look at pictures and articles that prove that the stars really are just like them, black eyes, teenage pregnancies, and dating boys who aren't ready to be men, and all?

And what about those folks who can't afford a computer at home? Or like to read the newspaper in the bath? Can't the newspaper industry find ways to reduce the cost of newsprint, so that print products remain fiscally viable? California is already talking about legalizing cannabis, so why not talk about hemp as a low cost, environmentally friendly alternative to cutting down trees for newsprint?

If you are reading this and thinking you have a better idea, great: come on down to the SF Public Library on Tuesday and share your hopes and fears. Journalists the world over will be glad to hear that you cared.