Behind the Chron's paywall


I wish the Chronicle luck at its experiment with a “paywall.” Once upon a time, we used to call that a “subscription” -- that is, you pay money and someone delivers to you something worthwhile to read. Since nobody much likes to pay to read anything any more, it’s considered risky and a bit radical for a newspaper to charge money for access to the work that it pays a staff a fair amount of money to produce.

Let’s do the nice thing here, shall we, and set aside the question of whether the journalism the Chron produces is of such high quality that people ought to pay a premium for it. I have my gripes with the Chron, and always have, but seriously: Having a local newspaper that tells you what’s going on in town -- even if it doesn’t always do it well -- is worth a dollar a day. Which is what the print version costs.

Writers need to get paid. Reporters are necessary to the function of democracy, and if they can’t make a living doing the job, it’s not going to get done. Since most young people aren't used to paying to read anything these days, the only option has been selling (more and more) ads.

That’s actually a model the alternative press has followed for decades, and it’s worked fine. In the days before cable, that’s how TV worked, too -- it comes in free, and you pay for it by watching (annoying) ads.

But it’s a problem on the web, where ads don’t bring in the revenue they once did in print, so everyone’s scrambling to find a way to pay the bills. If you’re Markos over at Daily Kos, you build a huge, huge community that loves what you’re doing, and keep the staff fairly modest, and sell enough ads and bring in enough donations to pay for it all. If you’re Nick Denton’s Gawker Media Empire, you keep costs very low by hiring very limited staff (certainly not a lot of reporters) and sell ads ads ads everywhere, including “sponored posts.”

But if you’re the San Francisco Chronicle, with 280-plus reporters who need health care, and lots of editors and executives, and the Hearst Corp. demanding impossible profits, you’re kind of SOL.

Thus: Paywall.

These things don’t tend to work very well. Sfgate had a paywall for “premium content” years ago, and it just sort of faded away. The Wall Street Journal and the Business Times pubs get away with it, because people who read biz pubs are used to paying for information. I’m not sure how many truly loyal Chron readers there are who are willing to pay to read Matier and Ross and Chuck Nevius on the web. Most of those people already pay for a print subscription.
The other problem is that it’s really unclear what the identities of the two sites, sfgate and sfchronicle, will be. They look different (sfgate looks like a newsy website, sfchronicle looks like a print newspaper), but where do you go every day for news? If you read sfgate, you’re missing stuff that only appears on sfchronicle, but if you read sfchronicle, you’re missing stuff that appears on sfgate. It’s not like you get a “premium” edition of the paper in one place; you have to check two sites to get your local news, not one.

For example, today you can get The Chron’s own Carolyn Lochhead on the same-sex marriage case at sfgate. If you pay extra, you can go to sfchronicle and get an AP story that’s not exclusive and will run in lots of papers.

Why does this make me want to pay?

So I don’t know; it’s going to take a lot of evolving to make this work. Again, I wish them luck; anyone who’s trying to find a way to keep paying a news staff deserves credit. But at this point, it seems like a pretty dubious plan.


these days unless it is business info that gets paid by your employer, or libraries.

Imagine how many SFBG's would be taken from the boxes if you had to stick a buck in the slot. wouldn't happen.

SFBG has it's hooker ad's and, historically, such implicit support of illegal activities has been ignored for the greater good. But you are right that the business model is flawed.

The Chron should go the other way and become free like your sibling paper, the Examiner. Remembering always that you get what you pay for.

Posted by anon on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 2:32 pm

Good newspapers and magazines, like The Economist, never gave it all away for free to begin with. You want quality? You're gonna have to pay for it. $15 a month is not a lot to ask.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

(s)he gives her opinions for free, therefore they lack any quality.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 4:25 pm
Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 4:29 pm

both enjoy the same rights in certain situations.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 4:40 pm

we pay for them?

Let's face it, nothing coming out of the SF press organs is worth paying for.

London Times, New York Times, Economist, WSJ, Washington Post? Sure.

SF BG, Examiner and Chron? Don't make me laugh.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 4:31 pm

People who want to know what's going on in San Francisco will pay. I'm not going to know that by reading the non-SF newspapers you mentioned.

The way it works is if you want something to continue, you have to support it in some way. If not and you could have, then you didn't really want it to continue.

As for the Chron, I have my gripes about it - no doubt - but to think there's anywhere else where I can find the info I get there about what is going on in SF - without going to several sources - is not being realistic.

If you are perfectly happy living your life ignorant for the most part about what goes on in SF, that's fine. But others' aren't perf happy with that and will pay - despite it's shortcomings - because there's no alternative that comes close to matching it when it comes to knowing what's going on in SF.

The Ex and the SFBG play an important role in filling some of the things the Chron misses and providing different viewpts but to think they provide the info the Chron does about SF is some faulty thinking.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 9:07 pm

Must we? I think not.

Mention of even a completly *gratis* piece by Carolyn Lochhead brings to mind the question of why, even at that price, anybody would want to read it.

Posted by lillipublicans on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 4:08 pm

there are 1,000 who read the Chron.

Ignore it at your peril, free or not.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 4:18 pm

Perhaps he can apply part of his Social Security disability income to being a member at the new Chron site. Surely they wouldn't ban the poor dear if he paid something?

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 4:30 pm

to circumvent a "ban" which can only be based on either an email address or an IP address.

Although I guess if they start charging for the ability to troll there, then they can ban his credit card number as well.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

Don't let that mountain of social security $$ you've been collecting, while you prattle on on this site, go to waste!

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2013 @ 11:38 am

The Chronicle has gotten really bad. I hardly read it anymore. In my opinion, they seem to re-publish press releases from city hall without doing any investigative work. E.g., they don't ask any hard questions about the unfunded liabilities facing the city. The only investigative reporter in this town seems to be Joe Eskenazi at SF Weekly.

Posted by The Commish on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 5:14 pm
Posted by matlock on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 5:52 pm

I agree. Eskenazi is the only report around here who digs into topics in depth.

Posted by Troll the XIV on Mar. 27, 2013 @ 4:43 pm

They take everything City Hall gives them and regurgitates it for the public. Once in a great while they will do some digging and get their own information - see Henry Alvarez. We have no idea why a City with a $7.4 billion budget over 47 miles cannot fix potholes.

Redmond is spot on here. Overall the paper is an enjoyable read - the print edition is worth a buck.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 9:34 pm

can't come soon enough.

"Having a local newspaper that tells you what’s going on in town -- even if it doesn’t always do it well -- is worth a dollar a day."----Tim Redmond

You're supporting the right-wing/conservative agenda (hiding behind the word "moderate") by your dollar a day. Ugh.

Hopefully this scheme will be the end of The Chronicle and sfgate and that rabid backwater cesspool comment section on there. Both The Chronicle and sfgate are useless and I don't know why anyone would pay for any of that garbage, especially people who pretend to be "progressives." What gullible people.

I take it that either the Bay Guardian and/or Tim Redmond are giving that racket $1 a day for garbage (that's $30 a month).

It's hopeless.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 6:21 pm

I'm glad they're doing it. It'll make the Comical even more irrelevant than it already is to most San Franciscans.

Most people will probably read an article or two in the beginning, just to get a kick out of getting around the paywall, which can easily be done. But once the novelty wears off, I predict their readership will drop dramatically.

Truth is, people are always willing to pay for good sources of news. KPFA has been getting people to pay their way without advertisers, and that's completely voluntary! You can get all their content for free either on the radio or on the web, but people pay, because they value having that resource. I just renewed my own subscription last month. But the Comical? Yeah, good luck with that. I agree with Steve that journalists should get paid. If only they had any actual journalists working there!

Posted by Greg on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 9:53 pm

The reason for my never having sought to circumvent my bannishment from that site was to avoid indirectly supporting it. I'd certainly never pay a dollar a day there.

The SFGate comment section is engineered to slant rightward by a censorship algorythm which favors those who have zero intellectual integrity.

I'm just going to act as though the whole mess is behind the paywall as it will continue to have no effect on my news-surfing habits.

Posted by lillipublicans on Mar. 27, 2013 @ 7:35 am

any viewpoint that doesn't fit with your own skewed agenda?

Thereby further polarizing your world view, and making you even more irrelevant to the majority of ordinary people?

The Chron comments are not particularly right-wing at all. You should see the ones in Texas. They are simply fairly typical SF moderate viewpoints, which only appear extreme to you because of your own innate extremity.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2013 @ 7:51 am

We are all bombarded with "conventional wisdom" propaganda masquerading as "news," just like we're all bombarded with "the good news of Jesus Christ."

Just because Texas has fallen off of the right wing cliff does not mean that the Chronicle's comment section is "moderate" as it is far, far to the right of California and San Francisco's political center of gravity.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 27, 2013 @ 8:17 am

Oh how noble, of you , Oh Tim! Pay the writers!

But when you and Bruce were in charge you fired or laid off anyone who was of worth for your "newspaper" long ago in the early 2000s because they were "expensive" (i.e. cost more than 30,000 a year).

You're the worst of the lot - a leftist who gouges people for "the cause" all the while conspiring to fire people because they get too "old" or have a pension or a salary that deserves more than the shit wages you pay.

Fuck you. You sold out Bruce to the Examiner and claim you are the "publisher" now. You're not. And you have so little balls thanks to all the time with the kiddos you have no balls to print a comment that dissents from your asshole party line. Fuck you, Tim, Fuck you and fuck Steve and FUCK Bruce for taking a 40 year legacy of honesty ad shitting on it like the way a monkey shits on its mothers grave, ASSHOLE!

Rot in hell, and die. Because you suck all the balls ever and don't even give a reach around, you lying leftist scum. at least Willie makes sure that if he lets someone go they get a new job unlike you who force manual labor and then laugh as you fuck people over.

Fuck you. You're the problem, not that shithole at the Hearst Lying Bullshit Corporation.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 11:16 pm

coffee (or meth) for you, Guest. But the monkey shitting on its mother's grave was the best thing I've read here in a while. Most monkeys don't even know where their mothers' graves are!

Posted by Chromefields on Mar. 27, 2013 @ 7:56 am

it would be best for the city and its people when no one pays for shitty garabage chronicles and they go out of business. believe it. i don't want their shit, much less pay for it.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 01, 2013 @ 12:18 am