Wednesday, February 25, 2009

San Francisco Soon to Be Chronicle-free?

The word today is that Hearst may sell or close the San Francisco Chronicle if it can't drastically cut costs over the next few weeks. So discussion among the media set is that San Francisco could become the first major U.S. city without a real daily paper.

But essentially that's what we've got. Whether the paper goes through a Sam Zell-like shrinking in stature and status, or it closes up shop altogether, the show's over. The amount of staff reduction would have to be so large (up to 47 percent, according to Newsosaur) that the paper that would remain would be a shell of its current self. Which ain't exactly a grand paper to begin with.

The "city without a paper" isn't quite true, of course. SF has the Examiner, a small daily that is distributed free. It is not a paper to revive one's faith in journalism. There are also free dailies down the peninsula, as well as free weeklies and a slew of online news and opinion sources.

What we might get -- and a tip of the hat to my Commonwealth Club news intern, Steve Tavares, here -- is a multiplicity of small, localized news publications, in print and online. The good news is that it would multiply the voices represented, as well as give dedicated reporting for certain locales that aren't adequately covered by the giant newspapers we've all grown up with. But I think the downside is that we'll lose those deep pockets of the news giants, the huge budgets that allowed them to do long-term investigative reporting, to take on controversial subjects and withstand the backlash, and to enforce standards of professional conduct.

Show's over. Move along. Nothing to see here.

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