Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Chronicle In Trouble

My local paper is in financial trouble and its owner Hearst Corp. wants 'significant' cuts
The Hearst Corp. on Tuesday announced an effort to reverse the deepening operating losses of its San Francisco Chronicle by seeking near-term cost savings that would include "significant" cuts to both union and nonunion staff.
In a statement, Hearst said that if the savings cannot be accomplished "quickly," the company will seek a buyer, and if none comes forward, it will close The Chronicle. The Chronicle lost more than $50 million in 2008 and is on a pace to lose more than that this year, Hearst said.
I know that I will lose my anti-liberal bias credibility if I say this, but...I like the Chronicle and would be sorry to see it go. It does a pretty good job covering state and local news. The Bay Area always has a couple spectacular murder cases going at any one time, and the Chron does a great job covering the legal and law enforcement issues arising from these. Its sports and arts coverage is usually very good, although music coverage is spotty, which is not good for a town with dozens of major acts coming through every week. And, the business section is excellent. Their coverage of local tech issues is especially good ... for a daily newspaper. Its website SFGATE is a great resource and one of the best newspaper sites in the country.

Of course, the Chron is hopelessly progressive in the worst "close Gitmo," "Bush Lied," "Republicans are evil" way. Their editorials are so predictable as to be little more than pro forma. It gives Robert Scheer column space, another disgrace. But, I don't read their editorials, or Scheer, so that's a wash.

A worse problem: they give waaaaay to much space and coverage to two progressive "issues:" the environment (especially open space and clean air) and gay rights (especially gay marriage). There were times in 2004 when it seemed like they had a front-page story on every gay marriage related court filing, along with the inevitable grim-faced press conference by various LBGT activists. It's not so much the coverage I object to, it's the uncritical nature of it. I am sure that the Chron would say that "our readers are interested in these issues," which is true, I'm sure, but there are plenty of readers who could really care less.

Their coverage of the recent budget fiasco was also weak. The Chron's approach to covering politics is to emphasize the "horserace" aspect, whether its the latest poll or the governator's efforts to find the "last Republican vote." Their coverage of substantive policy is spotty at best, unless there is a scandal or some other breakdown. This is undoubtedly because covering such matters would inevitably shine an unflattering light on their preferre policy choices, such as when an illegal alien who was a ward of SF's "sanctuary city" policy killed a local butcher and his teenaged sons.

Given the savings the Chron is trying to achieve, it's inevitable that further jobs will be cut, although the total staff is just a little north of 1500. This guy from the local teamsters is simply whistling past the graveyard:
Rome Aloise, secretary-treasurer at the Teamsters, added, "It remains to be seen what they think is needed. I'm a bit skeptical that any further cuts on the wage side and the staffing side will make up the difference that's needed when revenues are nonexistent. The problems are on the revenue side. The solution is not necessarily on the worker side. I'm hopeful they have some ideas, but I'm not optimistic."
Rome, ifee theree be no revenuee, then theree be no jobsee.

There was a strike about 10 years ago, back when the Chronicle and the Examiner operated under a joint operating agreement, and there were hundreds of union jobs at stake. The highly educated, middle class progressives on the staff had a ball playing at Harry Bridges for several weeks. They even published a wildcat edition of their newspaper, which even got delivered to my house a couple times (can't say the same for the "real" Chron). Now, however, there's not enough staff to mount a decent sit-in, let alone a major strike.

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