Read Pelosi's letter, attend Chron forum, reaffirm love of newsprint.


Discuss the future of the Chronicle and other print media organizations at the SF Public Library, TONIGHT!

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder, seeking changes to the antitrust restrictions that govern newspapers, is a revealing document.

Pelosi states that her decision to write Holder wasn’t just prompted by the economic challenges facing the San Francisco Chronicle and other Bay Area news organizations, “but also by major news organizations across the country.”

“I am sure you agree that a strong, free and independent press is vital for our democracy,” Pelosi continues, noting how newspapers have been, “the indispensable source of public information and a check on the abuses of government and other powerful interests,” for more than two centuries.

And then she signals that the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy, which is chaired by Rep. Hank Johnson, (D-Ga.) will soon hold a hearing and discuss the implications of newspaper survival for antitrust policy.

Pelosi acknowledges that “antitrust laws have been an essential protector of competitive choice in the newspaper business,” and that, “the antitrust laws are every bit as vital in this industry as elsewhere in the economy, and perhaps more so given the First Amendment issues that are also at stake.”

But then she asserts that she is, “confident" that the AntiTrust Division, "in assessing any concerns that any proposed mergers or other arrangements in the San Francisco area might reduce competition, will take into appropriate account, as relevant, not only the number of daily and weekly newspapers in the Bay Area, but also the other sources of news and advertising outlets available in the electronic and digital age, so that the conclusions reached reflect current market realities.”

“This is consistent with antitrust enforcement in recent years under both Republican and Democratic administrations,” Pelosi concludes. “And the result will be to allow free market forces to preserve as many news sources, as many viewpoints, and as many jobs as possible. We must ensure that our policies enable our news organizations to survive and to engage in the news gathering and analysis that the American people expect.”

Pelosi reportedly released this letter, which you can read here, after meeting with Hearst general counsel Eve Burton and Chronicle at-large editor Phil Bronstein in D.C. last week, where they discussed the future of the Chronicle as well as federal media shield legislation.

Her letter immediately fueled rumors that Dean Singleton’s MediaNews chain, which already owns the San Jose Mercury News, the Contra Costa Times and the Oakland Tribune, and Hearst, which has a one-third stake in Singleton’s non Bay Area papers, are hoping to consolidate operations.

If so, that’s doesn’t bode particularly well for newspaper workers, who have only lost jobs, suffered pay cuts and seen reduced investigative reporting under both regimes. But maybe they can use Pelosi’s letter to open up a much needed public discussion of the future of newsprint.

Ironically, that discussion is already going on within the blogosphere. And judging from the comments, some folks don’t give a toss if print newspapers die, right here, right now.

“So some old, computer-illiterate folks won’t get their share of liberal propaganda thrown onto their driveway every morning? So what? Let it die! All you environmentalists can then hug a tree, knowing you protected it from the incessantly churning presses,” ‘eastbayclay’ blogged, in response to the Chron’s coverage of Pelosi’s letter.

But such comments harsh folks such as myself, who love the look, feel and smell of newsprint, and see ways in which its production doesn’t lead to the cutting down of trees.

For me, life without newsprint will be like “trees without leaves,.”

Or, as one of my more poetic friends, Tai Moses, wrote today, “cats without whiskers.”

But the renaissance of print will only occur if those of us who are in love with this particular medium find ways to, dare I say it, market it, more effectively.

To that end, folks interested in the future of print should get themselves to tonight’s free public discussion, sponsored by the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, about the cutbacks and the threatened closure of the San Francisco Chronicle and the impacts these developments have on readers.

That forum takes place from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the Koret Auditorium of the San Francisco Public Library, 100 Larkin St.

The SPJ says the forum, “will give citizens a chance to ask questions, offer suggestions and express their feelings about the situation in a unique format designed to reflect the Bay Area’s strength as a center of innovation.”

Expect to see business leaders, journalists, media innovators and publishers speaking their minds in what is billed as, “a lively 90-minute conversation” to be aired over public radio, TV and the Web, with KALW anchor Rose Aguilar moderating the event.

Hell, this event could go down in history as the start of the Newsprint Renaissance of 2009. But only if you, dear reader, deign to show up. So, be there. Because, together, as the Obameme goes, we can.