Mar 23

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

SF Chronicle in Trouble?

I hate to play Valleywag, but I'm hearing rumors that the San Francisco Chronicle is in big trouble. Apparently, Phil Bronstein, the editor-in-chief, told staff in a recent "emergency meeting" that the news business "is broken, and no one knows how to fix it." ("And if any other paper says they do, they're lying.") Reportedly, the paper plans to announce more layoffs before the year is out.

It's clear that the news business as we knew it is in trouble. Bringing it home, Peter Lewis and Phil Elmer Dewitt, both well-known tech journalists, were both part of layoffs at Time Warner in January (they worked for Fortune and Time, respectively), and John Markoff remarked to me recently that "every time I talk to my colleagues in print journalism it feels like a wake."

Meanwhile, Peter Brantley passed on in email the news that "a newspaper newsletter covering that industry publishes its own last copy":

"The most authoritative newsletter covering the newspaper industry issued a gloomy prognosis for the business today and then, tellingly, went out of business.

Many newspapers in the largest markets already "have passed the point of opportunity" to save themselves, says the Morton-Groves Newspaper Newsletter in its farewell edition. "For those who have not made the transition [by now], technology and market factors may be too strong to enable success."

We talk about creative destruction, and celebrate the rise of blogging as citizen journalism and Craigslist as self-service advertising, but there are times when something that seemed great in theory arrives in reality, and you understand the downsides. I have faith both in the future and in free markets as a way to get there, but sometimes the road is hard. If your local newspaper were to go out of business, would you miss it? What kinds of jobs that current newspapers do would go undone?

tags: rumors  | comments: 71   | Sphere It

Previous  |  Next

2 TrackBacks

TrackBack URL for this entry:

» Losing the Local from Burningbird

I wrote in comments to Dan Gillmor's post yesterday that David Lazurus sounded frustrated and perhaps even frightened, and then today I read from Tim O'Reilly that the San Francisco Chronicle is in trouble. This follows on from ValleyWag, whi... Read More

There was a funny story in tech circles this week, summarized well in this headline: Microsoft Sends Secret Dossier on Reporter, to Reporter. ...Plus... Peep show!, Unfried fish, And the amazing flying Imams Read More

Comments: 71

  martin [03.23.07 06:15 AM]

Hi Tim,
Couldn't find any obvious place to report this bug to, so I thought I'd go right to the top.....
Your RSS feeds for O'Reilly Network Blogs do not appear to be including the body of the article / entry anymore (at least when viewed via google reader).

Of course, this may be a "feature" rather than a bug; if so, I'll have to pull out my scraping skills. Another (less attractive) alternative would be stop reading those pieces altogether.

  Chris [03.23.07 07:21 AM]

My wife is an ad director for our medium sized local area newspaper, and we talk about this often. I'm a major consumer of news-feeds and other online sources of news and data, and I believe that as local area bloggers and web based info sources continue to thrive, one of the newspapers biggest strengths will be its reliability as information source.

Many local papers like ours have been around for years, are widely known in their respective areas, and people realize that they have a real office, with photographers and reporters that go out and really work for the stories. As much as I love blogs and news feeds, a lot of it is just chatter and even some sites that carry some value are still just regurgitating someone else's reporting work. So I think this brick and mortar reality of the print news industry should be a major front they take this fight to survive to.

Integrate that with a very generous and robust online offering, and try their best to provide valuable content through current technology trends. Once you build your online community, you can use that as another potential way to pull web only viewers to the paper product with targeted premium content only available in print.

  deepak [03.23.07 07:25 AM]

As someone who ran to grab the newspaper in the morning since I was 6, the demise o the paper saddens me a little. This despite not having read a paper to get the news in years. What I do like reading in papers is commentary and opinion. the problem is that the design of the online versions of most papers leaves a lot to be desired. I do thank that traditional news medi can adapt to an online world. Perhaps a mix of a blog network and real time topical customized news, including audio and video. They need to think about content AND user experience. If the chronicle can continue to provide good op-ed I would read it.

  gnat [03.23.07 07:30 AM]

Our local newspaper was sold to an Australian conglomerate that proceeded to slash the editorial staff and pump up the ads. As far as I can tell, the local newspaper is already dead. The real question is: what do we want to replace it?

  Don MacAskill [03.23.07 08:23 AM]

This saddens me, but I'm not sure why. You see, I'm probably partly to blame.

I've never subscribed to a newspaper and can't think of a single person in my generation who has. Why would we, when the Web was in full swing by the time we left high school?

@martin: Google Reader is picking up the whole body for me. *shrug*

  John Dowdell [03.23.07 08:36 AM]

The Chron's been broken for decades -- it has tried to program its readers, rather than serve them.

Oddly, the Bay Guardian and SF Weekly are still putting massive amounts of paper advertisers onto the streets of San Francisco... I don't know their internals, but they're managing to stay around, despite Craigs List.

btw, I've been hearing rumors that you haven't actually been hearing rumors.... ;-) (iow, those "sources say" articles actually *make* news, and don't report it.)

  BenNC [03.23.07 08:43 AM]

I don't read any print news anymore other than a few magazine subscriptions. This is mostly due to financial and time constraints (online news is free and immediate). The exception is the free alt weekly.

I do read print news when looking for a job, a house, etc. Craigs list is excellent but many local resources will only list in their local paper. That type of local flavor of information and frankly news coverage I can see diminishing when news goes online only. Citizen coverage of local news may be an excellent alternative but not if at the expense of the Herb Caen, Hal Crowther's, etc.

  cody [03.23.07 09:28 AM]

The industry should be paying attention to what's going on with the World Company. Check out the Lawrence Journal which seems to be their flagship:

Of particular interest is their implementation of hyper localism.

  Paco NATHAN [03.23.07 09:36 AM]

Perhaps the trees will thank us one day.

Another question would be: can the local print journalism transition to web-based reporting, while maintaining their reliability?

In our small community of San Luis Obispo, the local newspaper's web site seems much more lively and useful than its print edition. Arguably much more in touch with the community as well, thanks to reader feedback, polls, and forums.

I'm wondering how many other communities have already navigated that kind of transition already?

  Henrik [03.23.07 11:42 AM]

Personally I never liked newspapers much. Its not a good format for the sort of entertainment I enjoy so the content has to be informative to give me value, and journalists are crap. I have no faith in their ability to report a story. Whenever something is reported on a topic that I happen to know something about I find it superficial at best and usually misleading. If I spend an hour or two to properly read a newspaper I want to learn something, and I rarely learn more than trivia. I guess most people find that trivia is what gets them through the day, but I see it as a poison that takes away my focus from the intereresting, challenging, valuable stuff. Sadly I have little more regard for TV journalists. The notion of objective journalism is really bad the way it has obviously been taught over the past decades, because all I see journalists doing when they are interviewing is to pit two opposing sides against eachother and call it a draw. When added up this constant picture of conflict creates a feeling of hopelessness. That is definately not the mental picture I want to nourish.

  michael schrage [03.23.07 01:24 PM]

i love print; i love [good] journalism; and i love healthy, vibrant and innovative marketplaces...alas, the real reasons so many newspapers are suffering is that they are not very good as reporting media, journalistic media and advertising media...competition of the web has made them - on average -worse, not better...they've done an even worse job than detroit in rising to meet the competition...
..but why should we be surprised? the big three were an oligopoly for decades and most newspapers have been de facto monopolies in their smsas...they don't know how to compete; they don't know how to innovate...the decline in their quality is obvious; their economic decline is deserved...

  Bob [03.23.07 02:10 PM]

This is interesting as I just read David Lazarus' column on this same issue (online, of course). David is a Chronicle columnist that I read frequently. He has another column on the issue, responding to comments to his original column.

I do all my news reading online because I don't have time to sit down with a newspaper, I find RSS and searches much better ways to find articles of interest and lastly because I don't want to have to put all that paper in the recycle bin. The latter seems such a waste when I'm only going to read a small portion of the paper. I suppose I should pay for a subscription to the online news sources that I read but I can't afford to subscribe to all the ones I read. Also, I don't read every source every day, again due to time constraints.

I don't know what the solution is but I would hate to see these news sources go under. They are still the most reliable source for news, as flawed as they sometimes are.

  Tim O'Reilly [03.23.07 03:22 PM]

Martin -- if true, it is a bug. (If you're referring to Nat's post not all coming through, that's a known bug, which should be fixed -- our MT installation changed, and in the process, the extended entry field stopped propagating to RSS. But we want it to.) If you're talking about something with this entry, I'm not sure what could be causing your problem.

  Steven Hodson [03.23.07 04:03 PM]

I remember reading somewhere not to long ago now about how this change in the newspaper world could actually see the return of local newspapers as a valuable resource of the communities. As it is the majority of community newspapers are just extensions of the chains that now own them.

While the youonger generation don't seem that interested in print journalism I know my generation still loves the feel of newsprint over coffee but once the local papers were aquired by the larger chains they didn't hold the same informational appeal and lost readership. My wife for example doesn't like computer but loves the local paper and I know she isn't alone.

  Thomas Lord [03.23.07 06:29 PM]

Hey, Tim....

I like the Chron a lot (not least because I think their editorial slant is whack). I'm guessing you do, too.

Buy some ads! Put a coupon in there, perhaps in the business section (i.e., do the ad as a business experiment in the long run, not charity)? Encourage yr friends to do the same.


  Josh [03.23.07 06:47 PM]

The Chronicle is just not that good. The NYT, Wall Street Journal, LA Times, and Washington Post are doing fine. A 32 year old san francisco resident I get my news from a Sunday NYT and online. I lament the lack of a high quality paper to do the kind of in depth reportage that New York gets.

A great regional paper would have very interesting subjects to cover. San Francisco is a world center for science, physical product design, software, electronics, and food and wine. We've got pretty interesting things going on in finance and media. Sacromento's not too far away and it runs the 8th largest economy in the world. When the Energy Crisis came around the only good coverage was in the Economist and Frontline. The Chron just flailed around baffled for 4 months. Imagine if the Chron had Tech section comparable to the NYT's Fashion section. Any one of Radar (you), GigaOm, or TechCrunch is much more extensive than what they've got.

Many of the interesting San Francisco stories get broken by the sfist and other bloggers. I do wish for the greater attention span that print seems to engender, but the Chronicle isn't filling that need either. I'm afraid I'm one of those hoping for the market to kill the Chronicle.

Even if the lower quality main city papers are doing worse, I wonder how bad off reporters are. It seems like the market for reportage is much bigger that it was. Concurrently there are a lot more people doing it. Which trend is moving faster?

  Mick Gregory [03.23.07 07:18 PM]

Mr. O'Reilly, excellent coverage of the drastic death spiral of the newspaper industry.

W.R Hearst III, is letting "friend" Phil Bronstein
run the show out of loyalty and some damaging info they share about dropping the Examiner, the "horse trading" and political king making in SF.

There is a total lack of best practices business management. The Chronicle will survive. It will continue to be stripped of head count and page count until it hits a break even point.

  Ciaran [03.23.07 07:22 PM]

If papers must cut costs, tech journos should be the first to go. Most of it is sloppy regurgitation of pr releases in exchange for free gear.

What papers can give us that isn't available online (except from themselves) is investigative and news reporting. Unfortunately the pressure for them to give all this (expensive) content away free online may end up killing it. Then where is it going to come from? Fox News?

There was a good program on KCBS recently with a prof from Berkeley talking about this - I'm too lazy to look up a like just now though.

  Joe [03.23.07 09:20 PM]

It is true that the Chronicle is not that good. It is *not* true that the NYT, Wall Street Journal, LA Times, and Washington Post are doing fine.

  Dave Winer [03.24.07 07:41 AM]

Tim, thanks for the excellent piece.

I have some ideas for publications that want to make the transition to decentralized news. It's not good that it feels like a wake -- I strongly believe there *are* opportunities in the transition.

Thanks again!

  Tim O'Reilly [03.24.07 07:52 AM]

Good thoughts, Dave -- I recommend that those interested in this topic follow the link to Dave's ideas about how to improve the news business.

  Tim O'Reilly [03.24.07 07:55 AM]

I hear all you guys saying that the Chronicle isn't that good. You may well be right (I don't read it -- I'm in the Santa Rosa area, and read the Press Democrat, which I enjoy for local news, and the NY Times, which I enjoy for national news and its good arts and science coverage.)

And I also know about the Lawrence Journal-World (see our posts about Adrian Holovaty, who built a lot of their online stuff.) But for those who aren't familiar with it, see .

But the real issue isn't editorial. It's the business model. The price of a daily paper doesn't pay for much of its budget. It's mostly subsidized by advertising. And due to competition from ebay, online advertising, and free classifieds from sites like Craigslist, that advertising is plummeting. Even papers like the NY Times, which do well online with paid services, note that their online revenue isn't enough to support their news operations.

I remember reading a few years ago (don't remember where or exactly when) that the NY Times online had Internet readership 50x the print edition (74 million uniques/month) but only $66M in revenue, 7.7% of its total. Current revenues (after About acquisition and for all properties in their empire, not just the Times), is projected at $350 million, about 10.6% of their total of $3.3 billion.

  Philip Elmer-DeWitt [03.24.07 09:55 AM]

Tim, you wrote:

"Bringing it home, Peter Lewis and Phil Elmer Dewitt, both well-known tech journalists, were both part of layoffs at Time Warner in January..."

Thanks for the plug, but reports of my demise are, as they say, premature. I'm delighted to have left TIME Magazine in advance of the layoffs for safer -- and more lucrative harbor -- at Josh Quittner's Business 2.0.

We're neighbors! Let's have lunch.

  Louis Gray [03.24.07 11:13 AM]

The biggest problem with the print media market is the delivery, and I'm not talking about kids on bikes... it's that by the time it hits your doorstep, it's yesterday's news. Even the local news in the evening is rehashing news we already read about earlier in the day. There's no reason for local TV personalities to report live from the scene of where something happened hours ago, and if the newspaper folks aren't reporting net new data, they haven't added value.

Unfortunately, by my not taking a paper for a decade, there are occasionally big features in the Chronicle and others that we've missed. Would the BALCO scandal covered by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams have been covered as well or better by blogs? I don't think so, and by seeing print dissolve, that element will have a problem surviving unless the whole model changes.

  Riley [03.24.07 03:42 PM]

Print newspapers accelerated their own decline when in the 1960s they responded to television's encroachment on their grip on the news by trying to become appealing to people who don't read.

IF newspapers can't keep pace with television or the Internet for immediacy, AND neither television nor the Internet are as conducive as reading to the sort of long, uninterrupted reflection of a story, THEN newspapers need to quit trying to imitate electronic distribution channels and instead stand alone as information of, by, and for customers of above-average literacy.

Stated another way, once upon a time I read two print newspapers a day, but stopped when newspapers became exceptionally poor reading. Despite this, I always have a book or higher-literacy-level magazine somewhere nearby...

  Andrew [03.24.07 04:46 PM]

It is interesting in this time of doom and gloom for newspapers some are actually making progress, such as the Washington Post. The Post online division is a trend setter, with nearly 50 blogs running by the Post reporters and daily 'chats' with reporters and other figures. They just started a radio station in DC, a free daily, and more and more are expanding beyond just the traditional print delivery system of news.

And they're making money at it apparently.

  Mike [03.24.07 07:27 PM]

This has little to do with their delivery method and everything to do with the content of their product. I quit my subscription to our local Houston Chronicle years ago after their anti-American slant got to be too much. From what I can see 40% of the country is on the left and 40% on the right but these guys play to the farthest left that probably makes up 20% of their market. Well guess what - you appeal to only 20% of the market and your business will fail. Combine that with the fact that news is available everywhere on the web (and almost always free), there's no reason to buy their product. None at all. The major network nightly newscasts are failing for the very same reason. Good riddance to them all.

  phil shapiro [03.24.07 07:37 PM]

newspapers don't have the courage to innovate. they celebrate their small innovations without seeking out the innovations that will keep them in business.


i'm waiting for the new york times travel section to do a travel piece about the icebergs of the north atlantic. "you've really got to see those icebergs up close to appreciate them."

an appropriate metaphor for the newspaper business...

  Mark [03.24.07 08:48 PM]

When most mewspapers are daily organs for DNC press releases, they deserve their decline. And, sadly, they don't realize that's their main problem and look to something else to explain the downward trend.

And it's not just local newspapers, but local television stations as well. When they look at their gross news rating points decline survey after survey, they can't fathom any other reason except that the viewer is stupid.

  Joe Duck [03.24.07 10:14 PM]

I would not miss local papers if the local news job was handled online by citizen journalism. Since that is not happening right now for many areas it remains to be seen how this will all shake out.

I'd rather the oxymorincally named "Network TV "news" die than newspapers, but I think it's a generational thing and the papers will go first.

The potential is enormous - millions of citizens from all over the world covering their neighborhoods in real time.

But TV sure has not lived up to it's potential so who knows about online?

  Jeff Gould [03.24.07 10:23 PM]

Big city newspapers got big on the strength of de facto distribution monopolies. The costs of printing and circulation (and union workforces) created huge barriers to entry, which gave the publishers tremendous pricing leverage over the local retailers who (along with the classifieds) were their customers. The Internet took away the monopoly. Now anyone can publish news or "news-like" content (or just rip off other people's content). That's why the big dailies can't get the same same revenue per reader from the web that they got from print. Cable TV did the same to the old guard broadcast news operations, and now You Tube et al. are about to take down all of television. These huge operations with cruiseship-sized overheads can't survive unless they're protected from competition. Gigawatt datacenters and rocket-science algorithms are the barriers to entry for search, but unfortunately for the scribes journalism (even when it's good) just isn't rocket science.

  Lee Davis [03.25.07 04:51 AM]

I used to subscribe three newspapers - WSJ, NYT, & local - but have not subscribed to any this millenium.

While I do miss them a bit, I find that them increasingly passing things as reporting that I think are more appropriate for the editorial op/ed section. So when reality strikes, expecially at the Chron, I also feel that justice has been served.

  pit [03.25.07 05:10 AM]

the quality of the supply of information by local newspapers is debatable. most people today prefer subjective commentary instead of dry "information". in the end of the day there will be still a need for reliable news feeds, as sources for blogs. if you break the news you´ll become the source. reuters has local news of the major global cities and is quite popular in blog ratings. on the other hand there is still a need for well written essays, only a few bloggers happen to be good writers, see how often the NY times appears on techmeme. in terms of printing, new hybrid formats need to get developed, see moleskin or hipsterPDA. customized, on demand print in small circulation to follow the structure of audiences. newspapers are there to stay but need to change and decentralize, there never has been printed as much as today...

  Jose Moreno [03.25.07 08:29 AM]

"What kinds of jobs that current newspapers do would go undone?"

I risk an answer: None...?

I totally agree with Tim: no matter how you turn it up editorially, it's still a business model problem. There's going to be drama in the news and media industries as jobs and companies cease to exist. As for credibility, who cares for newspapers: I trust some individuals a lot more than I trust any organization. That's why in the end there will still be journalists, but no important newspapers. In the end there will still be musicians, but no big record companies. In the end there will still be video stars, but no studio giants.

I am in the magazine business (far away...) and I too forsee an uncertain future. I don't know what I will be doing in five years. But there's a lot I would like to do. So, I think I?ll be fine.

  Wayne Martin [03.25.07 10:18 AM]

Several of the posters have hit on the key issues here. The business model has to change. When technologies change, the old-tech companies die and new-tech companies come along. Spinning wheels gave way to power looms, sun dials gave way to analog (windup) clocks that gave way to digital clocks. Buggies and buggy-whips gave way to cars. We are going through a change in the print-media world that has not been seen since the invention of the steam-press around 1860.

The questions that need investigation are: What functions do print newspapers provide in a ìwiredî country/world? And how many print newspapers does the world need?

History points out that we should expect a downsizing of the number of players, coupled with an increase in the productivity of the organizations through increased automation. It may be fair to say that news organizations are unaware of American industrial and economic history. But there are resources around that can provide that history.

While the Industry may not look forward to smaller, more productive, organizationsóparticularly the labor unionsóthere simply is no other future to expect, based on our past.

  Erica [03.25.07 12:58 PM]

I do livejournal, and myspace, but mostly to have my own soapbox (i'm a logic nazi and do economic analysis) and I use networking sites, partially to keep track of all of my friends in DC or find cute guys. For the most part to get news I still find newspapers to be pretty decent and I find it interesting to track when stories that I follow independantly, such as the AIDS epidemic in China, hit the popular press. I like to keep a good track of what people are likely to know around me.

While there are some good blogs and debate communities it can be hard to find them and most of them have a political slant which is tedious, debate communities are also prone to trolling, flame wars, angst and insecurity. Other people are doing endless meme's and quizes and while its fun to have friends in different states and countries, having someone write about their job as a new teacher navagating parent-teacher conferences, or how foxes got into an English friend's garden, isn't exactly coverage that I can get good international news from. A lot of blogs are personal rather then professional.

Do I get all my information from newspapers or blogs? No. Most of my friends in RL are professionals, lawyers, government or graduate students, or who have close contact with these types of people (like their kids). I find many publications with a more national/international reputation are geared towards people who are college educated non-professionals. If I want something in a specific subject then it makes sense to find a publication that tracks those issues. The internet also makes it easier to read international papers, occasionally I'll do searches on subjects and I can get back an article from a publication in South Africa, which of course is interesting as it provides local views to international problems.

The demand for newspaper articles shouldn't have to decline I just think there are more ways to deliver it. That and I can tell the difference between a professional and an amature, most people should be able to tell the difference if they try. While occasionally amatures can be edgier they are also a lot more replacable. It all comes down to reputation, newspapers that are seen as just another hack will probably fail, others that have cultivated reputations as a gold standard or for quality will likely continue. If people read their papers online, prices might have to fall to keep connecting journalists and readers. So try to bulk up on reputation and advertisements?? (Maybe also on culture and suduko?)

Branding is important too: I'm busy so the New York Times, BBC, Washington Post and the Economist are ussually reliable places to pick up news summaries. If something particularly interests me I can google it.

  Raymond Chuang [03.25.07 01:07 PM]

I personally think there are these factors that are starting to hurt newspapers:

1. Alvin Toffler's prophecy of "de-massifying the media" (e.g., where as communication technologies improve, the power of mass media companies falls) has become 2007 reality. Since Toffler wrote about that idea in THE THIRD WAVE back in 1979, the rise of cable/satellite TV and the public Internet has done an end-run around the newspapers, the over-air network evening news show and and newsmagazines. Indeed, the public Internet is -killing- newspapers, especially with the Craigslist web site, which has seriously cut into newspaper classified ad revenue.

2. The public Internet has exposed many news sources for their personal and political bias. Sure, the New York Post and Washington Times are overtly conservative-leaning, but they say it openly and yet have not suffered in circulation. Meanwhile, people posting on the Internet has exposed the sometimes far-Left bias of many maninstream news sources (despite the protests of the newspapers of being "unbiased"), and that has really hurt much of the mass media (does anyone remember how weblogs effectivedly ended the careers of Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd at the New York TIMES, Dan Rather and Mary Mapes at CBS News, and Eason Jordan at CNN?).

3. Too many news organizations still report the news slowly, which are major problems for newspapers and news magazines. With the public Internet being able to transmit information in near-real time, breaking stories are now more likely to come from web sites and 24-hour news channels. Indeed, two of the more important scandals in sports, the recent bust of online pharmacies selling illegal performance-enhancing drugs and former USC running back Reggie Bush getting illegal benefits while at USC, were both reported on Sports Illustrated's web site and Yahoo! Sports web site first.

  bowerbird [03.25.07 08:46 PM]

it was never all that ethical for newspapers to
soak classified advertisers to subsidize news...

they did it because they could. and now they can't.

so find another business model, or fold your tent.


  Entroporium [03.26.07 10:02 AM]

Yes, of course The Chronicle is in trouble. Witness yesterday's front page above-the-fold headline: "Food bloggers dish up plates of spicy criticism - Formerly formal discipline of reviewing becomes a free-for-all for online amateurs"

That's not exactly selling the paper edition, is it.

  Victoria [03.26.07 10:40 AM]

Print journalism is part of the problem, but the real "problem" is that newspapers can't charge faked advertising rates for online click-through ads. Print ad rates have always been inflated, as have readership numbers (through counting complimentary issues and other means). The papers have been overcharging for years for display ads, and that is finally coming to a well-deserved end.

  Alan Bostick [03.26.07 11:41 AM]

Your link to the Chronicle,, is a dead link. Don't you check your links when you post blog entries?

  Wai Yip Tung [03.26.07 04:26 PM]

My concern about the decline of newspaper is not on the printed media itself. It is the decline of professional journalism and the institution that concerns me.

The paper v.s. the web is not really an issue for me. I read SF chronicle 95% of time on the web and about 5% of time on paper. For me it is the same information with a different delivery mechanism. Both media are text based is are quite compatible. In contrast TV format tend to condense issues into sound bite. I seldom watch news video, neither on TV nor from the web.

Theoretically the newspaper can be transformed into online publishing and be equally success (assuming printing is their problem). The true problem is they are coming out from an monopolistic business environment into the internet era with competitors everywhere. It is tough for them to envision their role.

  Joshua Wait [03.27.07 09:23 AM]

The SF Chronicle played an important role in my formative years as a college student. Much of the cooking that my friends now rave about --some 15 years later--owes its much of its flavor to my reading of the Wednesday food section of the Chronicle during those years.

While I haven't subscribed to a newspaper in years--simply because I find too much of it repetitious and too much of it ends up being recycled unread--I still love print media. In fact, I still buy the Wednesday Chronicle from the news stand or pick it up recycled on the local transit system. And I still buy O'Reilly books despite free information on the internet.

I love the tangible aspect of paper. I enjoy squishing the paper up against a steaming kettle of something, folding it so I can view the information just so, and don't mind if that garlicky orange sauce drips on it. I don't see computers reaching that kind of plasticity any time soon.

Additionally, curling up in a hot tub with a magazine and a hot cup of tea is inifitely more enjoyable than craning my neck to stare at a laptop screen in a noisy cafe--for which I must take a constant stream Advil just to feel normal.

So from my perspective, print media has some real, tangible advantages over digital media. So how can print take advantage of the physical nasture of a document to deliver compelling content--the critical element of any form of publishing--and capture the dollars necessary to remain a vibrant contributing member of the news world?

  Miss Moxie [03.30.07 01:54 PM]

Chronicle needs to take a lead from MSN's citizen journalist corner and empower its reader to be the reporter. It hasn't done the news justice in awhile and it would behove the paper to look to the power of its audience for influence. Would be bad to see our hometown paper go, but something needs to be done so we're not relying on the Merc.

  S.H.A.M. Scam sam [03.30.07 11:00 PM]

I've read all these posts - and I LOVE newspapers - but the truth is The Chron blew it when they merged with the Examiner and, then, fired many of the best writers (film reviewer Wesley Morris comes to mind) and added offensive idiots like Mark Morford. And, yes, the editorial position - anti-Bush, anti-American, in wartime - is defeatist and brain dead. Hell, they've even destroyed the comics page! (A real accomplishment)

And it gets worse:

Why would I want to read ANYTHING POSITIVE about new age stuff? Stupid useless crap, like homeopathic water, is sold in Health Food stores all over the Bay Area - Whole Foods has a whole section dedicated to it and Rush Limbaugh advertises it - but does The Chron cover it as a scam? Nope. That water's "medicine" - and whether "water" is "medicine" is left open to debate.

Where's the front page story, asking why the government allows this scam to continue? On, that's where.

Every "spiritual" asshole is treated like a genius - never as out of touch with reality:

You've made up your own religion? The Chron will cover you,...and act like you're a savior.

Therapeutic Touch in the hospitals? The Chron is there - to applaud. (Even though TT was debunked, years ago, by a nine-year-old girl.)

Reiki being practiced at Stanford? Hoo-ray! Send a photographer!

UCSF is bringing woo into the hospital? The Chron doesn't even notice.

All of this nonsense should be treated as crimes against science, medicine, and rationality - a BIG multi-issue story - but don't expect a peep from The Chron. They "believe".

Music coverage? What music coverage? When SF has more bands, per square inch, than any city in the country. And, if you do get coverage, it's because you're mainstream and anti-war (say, The Dixie Chicks or Micheal Franti) not because you're unique and good (Cat Five or Uncle Ray) or unique and have anything original to say (The Crack Emcee). Artists that have payed their dues in this town go wanting. It's just a mess.

Good riddance.

  Rick [03.31.07 09:38 AM]

Look for the Chronicle to outsouce printing in 2009 when current labor agreements expire. (follow ANG developements in East Bay and Canadian Print Conglomorate). Shortly after that, I see a JOA between the Chronicle and MediaNewsgroup (a.k.a. ANG Newspapers and California Newspaper Partnership). That will leave the bay area with one paid print voice and a host a free publications clamoring for respectability.

  Denny Gill [04.01.07 03:09 PM]

Lost in the various laments, re: local newspapers falling by the wayside and why, oh why, is such a thing happening to our cherished institution? Blogs? Craigslist? Oh, why?

Try examining the political/philosophical outlook of these newspapers. (Yes, I'm thinking of the LA Times in particular, but the argument applies across the board.) "Big" newspapers have become so separated from the day-to-day, real life concerns of their readers that readers in turn have no alternative but to write CANCEL on subscription notices. Can you find a large metro newspaper today with a majority of registered Republicans on its reporting/editorial staff? Can one even find a 50/50 mix, anywhere? Anyone? Despite what the mainstream media would have us all believe, no, we don't all blame Bush, Republicans, and the "vast right wing conspiracy" that they would have us believe exists.

I agree, it is probably too late for large metro newspapers to save themselves. A switch to a less partisan, more local reporting oriented approach to covering the news should have been attempted at least five years ago. Now? Hardly.

Denny Gill
Chugiak, Alaska

  Tim O'Reilly [04.01.07 03:12 PM]

Denny, I don't think it's politics. I'm sure that it's true in many areas that papers are out of touch with their readers, but if you really think that the problems at the Chronicle is that they are out of touch with local political leanings, I think you don't know San Francisco.

I'll buy that the paper isn't relevant to many readers, but the primary problem is asymmetric competition on the advertising front, not editorial appeal.

  Allest [06.09.07 10:20 AM]

I used to subscribe three newspapers - WSJ, NYT, & local - but have not subscribed to any this millenium. While I do miss them a bit, I find that them increasingly passing things as reporting that I think are more appropriate for the editorial op/ed section. So when reality strikes, expecially at the Chron, I also feel that justice has been served.

  Manoj Gupta [06.24.07 11:44 PM]

Yes it's a good blog. We also provide stress management, body wellness, meditation and fitness services.

  Harvey Tepfer [06.28.07 01:06 PM]

I worked for the Chronicle's TV station during
the paper's heyday in the 50's. That was when it
had Herb Cain, Terrence O'Flaherty and others who were "must" reading. They're gone and the paper apparently hasn't brought in suitable replacements. Further,You cannot get broad coverage of local news on the web, it requires reporters scouring the territory for news and bringing it in.
The Chronicle, and other papers, would do better to concentrate on local news and human interest stories and let the web deal with more global news. That would be its strong point. Currently the emphasis of the paper, like most
dailies, is on areas outside of its focal territory..
I would genuinely regret the demise of this

(New Texan, former Californian.)

  Dave, Texas [07.13.07 08:45 PM]

It is amazing how blind all these lunatic left wing journalist and pundits are!!!!!! The problem is that the lunatic left agenda is so transparent and apparent in every story it makes most SICK!! They hate the country and people do not want to hear it, so they don’t buy! They believe that they can push it on us, but they are finding out they are wrong….we have alternatives. If they would just build a media with a pro American, pro USA, pro family message they will have more subscriptions than they know what to do with. The problem is they hate all that and would rather die than report what America wants.

  did you hear [07.17.07 02:39 AM]

this news paper will a least be around for another ten years at least in name i dont know about any that write for it yet but there is a ten year contract made with a canadian company and they have bought the land and brand new presses to print with and will start building shortly.for this local paper it is safe from being dead yet due to this companys strong way of printing and publishing in canada

  gcol [07.17.07 08:04 AM]

SF Chronicle in Trouble? I hope not! This paper will still be around for many many years.

  Jake [07.17.07 02:22 PM]

Great thread.

However, I don't think that reader empowerment or making news and opinion analysis more participatory will have much of an impact in the long run, although probably like every other frequent reader here I absolutely think these concepts should be embraced as much as possible. Many newspapers seem to have a lot of trouble defending themselves from some of the populist sentiment that has somehow turned newspapers (but not, say, Wall Street or the Federal Government) into a ubiquitous scapegoat, but putting that aside, IMO the problems associated with the newspaper business are structural and closely tied to its transition from print to the web.

There's the issue of the traditional subscription model - most significantly, it obscures the amount of revenue generated by the individual articles contained within. If you sell a newspaper (from a newsstand or with a 12 month subscription) you are essentially making the consumer pay for every article in the newspaper regardless of how many articles they actually read, if any.

Moreover, you remain blissfully unaware of how many impressions the ads you sold actually received - if far more people flipped through the sports section than the arts section on a given day, it has no impact on how much money the paper makes. This in theory allows the editors to run the newspaper without very much intervention from the business side.

If you try to graft this same model onto the web, you run into serious problems. First, you can see exactly how many times each article was viewed and how long people spent viewing them. Second, if you are running an ad next to each article, you can see exactly how times the ad appeared and how many times it was clicked on. This creates pressure for writers and editors to produce articles that sell.

Furthermore, while the New York Times website for example may attract an impressive-sounding 7.5 million U.S. visitors a month (or ~7 times the print circulation), if the average visitor only comes to the site 2.4 days per month (ComScore, June), assuming my math is correct, the NYT has a maximum of 600,000 US visitors per day that they can _potentially_ monetize (putting aside the fact that they may only view 3 or 4 articles and see 5 or 10 ads), or far fewer than the 1.1 million paying customers per day for the print edition. Granted this doesn't reflect RSS feeds, or in terms of broad impact, the way that the essence of an article or the debate it stimulates can be captured/paraphrased/discussed by bloggers and communities across the net, but there's no real way to collect revenue from this.

Unfortunately, the only viable long-term solution IMO is to move to a publicly funded news service like the BBC simply because the public service mandate of journalism and the web are fundamentally at odds. Whether the Chronicle produces quality journalism is another matter - the best newspapers might last longer, maybe a lot longer, but I think that their fates may be very similar.


  Gombos Atila [07.31.07 05:49 PM]

The development of The Internet, the fact that people DO read more and more information, news online may be one of the factors that San Francisco Chronicle is falling.

  ibolya [08.01.07 02:55 AM]

California should be one of the leading states in the nation for the study of bioethics. David Magnus is quietly working incredibly hard - every bit as hard as he has worked to build The American Journal of Bioethics - to make that happen.

  YouTube Addict [08.02.07 01:14 AM]

I agree with Namitha. I think that people will always read newspapers. They can sit comfortably in their own chair and just enjoy of reading. Online newspapers are just a addition.

  Netfreez [08.02.07 01:16 PM]

I think our goal as a society is to slowly move towards re-invention of new ways to see and obtain information. I do not want to see newspapers in the future, I want to be able to have news and information around me and part of my everyday life. The technology is already there but the individual capital is not present. Imagine the day you pass by a bus-stop billboard, your feeling down and have cold and sinus but the add picks up on facial recognition your mood and displays ads about latest Cold and Sinus ad sponsored by whom else but Google. I don't want 2020 to have newspapers printed on quality-paper, who cares about that. The future should be about being exposed to the information you need at the blink of an eye.

  ukweather [08.03.07 07:54 AM]

the advertising money always moves towards the newest trends and the internet has been about for long enough for news papers to realise they should be moving in this direction. if they cant wake up and get online they will go out of business. oh i forgot they did!

  James [08.04.07 12:30 AM]

I went to a "media university" in the UK and saw a lot of my friends go into either TV or print journalism.

Both of these are being squeezed very badly. At least once a month you are hearing of job cuts and redundancies at one newspaper or another. It's partly because of advertising switching to search engines (or their content networks) but its also that they are losing eyeballs.

Thirty years ago Alvin Toffler predicted that we would be seeing the end of big media. He was premature (and I can still see big media events bringing people together) but he did spot the trend at a time when it wasn't obvious.

As for my media buying habits I used to be a daily newspaper reader (The Telegraph in the UK - for its reactionary views) but I now only get newspapers on a Sunday, if they've got a free dvd or if my work give them out for free (as they do with the Financial Times).

  smallrage [08.22.07 07:46 PM]

I'm surprised Newspapers such as the San Fransisco isn't Bankrupt by now see the poor quality of writer it has such Robert Scheer and Mark Morford who can only spew hatred with each column they write. I understand freedom of the press and I truly believe in it but there has to be a limit at the hatred that is publicly printed. If as paper printed bad things like "I hope each and every gay contacts HIV" (which I don't) that wouldn't be right one bit but seeing its freedom of the press you are allowed to, but it doesn't make it right does it. So why are writers like Mark Morford allowed to write a piece trashing the presidents daughter then? Where is the out cry? yet if you write this "I hope each and every gay contacts HIV" the media would be all over this piece demanding retraction. The Liberal media twist the news so much they can make a dump smell like a field of roses, the media are a bunch of hypocrites and with each trash paper going under I cheer.

  ratchbrat [08.24.07 01:21 PM]

While the comments about advertising money moving the the newest trends holds some truth, it is also about the return on investment decision when placing an ad.

Print advertising of all kinds remains about two-thirds higher or more than online.
Targeting of the audience is also an issue and is being solved a lot more readily online than in print.

Vendors have to grapple with tightening ad budgets, and are risk-avoidant. "If we get the online advertising slightly wrong, we still have budget to adjust. If we get print advertising wrong, we are dead-in-the-water.'

We hear about how newspapers are struggling to handle the fact that print ad revenues are dropping, while their web-based advertising, while growing, is by no means replacing that revenue stream. Get over it! Web advertising is at about 30% of the cost of print, and probably about 50% or more effective, which means the advertiser prefers it!

Ultimately, print media of all kinds have to
1) reduce prices of advertising to increase demand and 2) simultaneously increase value for readers to boost readership.


  ratchbrat [08.24.07 01:22 PM]

While the comments about advertising money moving the the newest trends holds some truth, it is also about the return on investment decision when placing an ad.

Print advertising of all kinds remains about two-thirds higher or more than online.
Targeting of the audience is also an issue and is being solved a lot more readily online than in print.

Vendors have to grapple with tightening ad budgets, and are risk-avoidant. "If we get the online advertising slightly wrong, we still have budget to adjust. If we get print advertising wrong, we are dead-in-the-water.'

We hear about how newspapers are struggling to handle the fact that print ad revenues are dropping, while their web-based advertising, while growing, is by no means replacing that revenue stream. Get over it! Web advertising is at about 30% of the cost of print, and probably about 50% or more effective, which means the advertiser prefers it!

Ultimately, print media of all kinds have to
1) reduce prices of advertising to increase demand and 2) simultaneously increase value for readers to boost readership.


  Jason [08.25.07 11:42 PM]

interesting post, I have never really paid much thought to how the Internet affects the printed press. The sad reality is that I would not miss anything if my local newspaper decided to close its doors. I gather 99% of my news online as I know a lot of other people do.


  Jeff [09.09.07 04:59 PM]

Hi Tim,

As more and more people turn to the internet to get their news, newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle will continue to suffer and be forced to layoff workers. As less and less copies of newspapers get sold it also means less advertising dollars are being made. The newspaper business will definitely be forced to adjust in order to survive. Although I read the news online as much as the next guy, but call me old fashioned as nothing beats actually holding the paper in your hands and reading it. On a related note, I've seen SF Gate is spending dollars themselves advertising online as they appear on my site through YPN from time to time.

  Matt [10.03.07 08:17 AM]

Maybe if the paper wasn't such an unadulterated piece of junk they wouldn't be having such problems.

  Martha Bridegam [10.18.07 12:45 PM]

...and now they're on a campaign against homeless people in an effort to raise circulation by catering to the scapegoating impulses of the nervous middle class. Why can't more of these writers and editors, facing layoffs themselves, think "There but for the grace of God..."? Or are they too fearful themselves to spare a bit of kindness for others?

  Dan F [03.15.08 07:53 PM]

I hate to say I said so but, I said so. I knew this was going to happen when they monopolized the newspapers in the Bay area. I tried to let the workers know but no one would believe it. The workers should have stuck together but they didn’t. The Chronicle knows it liabilities are getting bigger and it can’t risk the big legal problems dealing with health hazards and pollution. They simply don't have management that is smart enough to deal with these types of issues. Most of those guys were hired as favor to a friend or relative.
They should have been stop printing long ago. I use to work at the Chronicle and after I found a 50 gal drum of toxic chemicals that they were putting in the ink, I complained about it. They did finally remove it, but would not do anything to let people know what they did. So I quit the 80K per year job so I wouldn’t have to be exposed to the toxic chemicals and other hazards that were in the ink.
Did you ever wonder why your eyes watered or nose burned when you read the paper. It called Troysan 174, It’s a highly caustic herbicide / pesticide. At the time a checked it out and it was not even approved for use on such products.

  donald [05.02.08 03:14 AM]

sure there is a sense of: time to move on & get with the times. however,in reallity each & every generation past/present deep down has feared change. why are so many things presently popular for which relate to the past ? take for example music for which set a precedent is now at
a point whereas so many artists perform re-writes,
car manufacturers bring back the cars of past,people in general love what/how their parents helped make a change inadvertently ? if we allow a newspaper to fade away then you might as well eliminate the world of advertisement. how does one cut out a coupon on a laptop other than printing it ? what's next , the postal delivery ? yeh,I know everybody out there has an answer. but , everybody out there also needs to know the greed of economical technology is only
heading in one direction. our children will be the ones communicating with whomever probably in a very different manner and with many questions in the future . "classic" is a word that lives up to it's....word.

  rudolf schenker [02.26.09 11:22 PM]

I get most of my news through feeds, but also enjoy reading the paper. San Franciscans are indeed tech savvy, but I think this is not the reason for declining readership. I think it really has more to do with the fact that San Franciscans think the Chronicle is a lousy paper. It has had this reputation for a long time. I am from San Francisco, I read the LA or NY Times, The Post, anything but the Chronicle because I find it to have a tabloid like quality that I resent as a San Franciscan. Frankly if they go down, I think it might give someone else a chance to make a better paper, and this would be good news in the Bay Area.

Post A Comment:

 (please be patient, comments may take awhile to post)

Type the characters you see in the picture above.