Tuesday, March 31, 2009

About 120 Chron employees take buyout

KTVU tonight is reporting that 120 Chronicle employees have agreed to accept a buyout, which is short of the 150 necessary to avoid layoffs. However, union officials said they think it might be enough to avoid layoffs anyway. The deadline to apply for the buyouts was 5 p.m. today (March 31).

When it comes to profits, local beats sexy

If you believe print is doomed, the opinion of investment banker Jonathan Knee might surprise you. What follows are some quotes from Knee that appeared in the Wall Street Journal. He's an investment banker who advised on the San Diego Union-Tribune deal and who has covered the media industry for over 15 years. Knee is the director of the media program at the Columbia Business School and the co-author of “Curse of the Mogul: What’s Wrong with the World’s Leading Media Companies?”, which is to be published by Portfolio Books this year.
    "The reason why most newspaper companies have gone bankrupt or appear perilously close to it is that they have too much debt, not that they have stopped being profitable. ... [C]ompared to most media businesses like movies and books, most newspapers still have higher profit margins ...

    "There is widespread confusion ... regarding the source of the shocking historic profitability of many newspapers. The most profitable newspapers have tended to be monopoly markets with circulation of 20,000 to 100,000 readers. These are not sexy papers like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, which have historically have significantly low margins.

    "Major market papers typically have suffered from the greatest anachronisms in their cost structure due to everything from oppressive union work rules to just bad management.

    "When the smoke clears, the local newspaper, which may not be the sexiest part of the newspaper industry but is overwhelmingly the largest and most profitable part of the industry, will be a smaller and more-focused enterprise whose activities will be directed to those areas where their local presence gives them competitive advantage and they will continue to generate as a result better profits than the supersexy businesses in the media industry asking for government or nonprofit help like movies and music."

2 Current TV reporters face trial in N. Korea

Two reporters for former vice presdient Al Gore's SF-based Current TV, Euna Lee and Laura Ling (sister of actress Lisa Ling), have been indicted by North Korea on charges of illegal entry and will stand trial, according to North Korea's state-run news agency.

“The illegal entry of U.S. reporters into the DPRK and their suspected hostile acts have been confirmed by evidence and their statements,” the report said.

The two have now been held for two weeks.

They were in an area near the Tumen River where North Korean refugees frequently cross into China to flee the poverty and oppression of North Korea.

As reported by the South Korean news agency Yonhap News, the two journalists were detained by North Korean soldiers as they were filming near the border for a television show. Reportedly, the journalists refused to follow the soldiers’ orders to stop filming the North Korean side of the border. A guide assisting the journalists was also taken into custody by the North Koreans.

The arrests come at a time when tensions are high. North Korea says it will shoot its first satellite into space later this year, a move that could result in that country developing a long-range ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States.

Meanwhile a Swedish envoy gained access to Ling and Lee.

“An official of the Swedish Embassy met with each journalist individually,” said Gordon Duguid, a department spokesman, according to Bloomberg. Sweden represents U.S. diplomatic interests in Pyongyang in the absence of formal diplomatic ties.

The State Department said last week the North Koreans had assured U.S. officials that the pair would be treated well.

KTVU: Papers' demise threatens democracy

KTVU Channel 2 has aired an in-depth report (link) on how the demise of newspapers in the Bay Area has put democracy in peril. The story quotes journalists distancing themselves from TMZ.com founder Harvey Levin, who was invited to the Berkeley J-school to give a lecture.

The story also mentions News Plink, a site that delivers news to handheld devices such as iPhones and Blackberries. "I would have thought that all newspapers would have, all news outlets, Seattle PI included, would have moved towards a model more like that, but they didn't seem to do it,” founder L.D. Kirshenbaum remarked. “So I thought, somebody had to."

Monday, March 30, 2009

Merc cuts distribution to San Francisco

KTVU Channel 2 reported Sunday that the Mercury News is stopping delivery its weekday edition to San Francisco or other outlying areas, effective today.

"Economic factors force us to focus our delivery resources on our local market, so this change is being mae on all subscription deliveries in this region," the Merc's vp of circulation, Dan Smith, said in a letter to subscribers. Sunday home delivery will continue in those areas.

In 2000, the Mercury News was so enthusiastic about San Francisco that it started a separate edition for the city. It lasted nine months. That was back in the dot-com days, when the region's papers were brimming with money thanks in large part to help wanted ads due to the tech boom.

Channel 2's Maureen Naylor interviewed Pacifica residents who will no longer be able to get the daily edition of the Merc. One said, "You know there was a time I'd come out to get my paper and all up and down the street, you'd see them on the driveways. Then I realized I was the last one."

Another Pacifica resident said, "I still continue to read the paper and always will no matter how much it costs because it is something that us older people look forward to doing."

Naylor said the Merc plans to begin an online e-edition, separate from its Web site, for readers who want to pay for the daily paper but aren't in an area where it is delivered.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

What would Bob and Nancy Maynard do?

Could those who are trying to save the Chronicle learn something from the history of the Oakland Tribune?

Former Trib managing editor Eric Newton recalls his years working for Bob and Nancy Maynard (pictured) from 1984 to 1992, and how they stopped the paper from closing.
    During the 20th century in America, more than 1,000 daily newspapers closed. The Oakland Tribune was not among them. The Maynards saved it. They found a nonprofit to invest in it and made a deal with a buyer to continue it.

    When I heard the great newspaper editor John Carroll say that corporate ownership models were no longer working, I thought to myself: I know a guy who said that 20 years ago. Bob and Nancy bought a newspaper from the Gannett Company and turned it, however fleetingly, into a family-owned paper.

    Bob's prostate cancer came back. It was clear that he would die — the last thing and by far the worst thing he would do before his time. A final hope was that Oakland's newspaper would live to fight another day. And it does.
[MORE] (Photo credit: AP file, Olga Shalygin)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

John Farley leaves NBC 11 after 13 years

John Farley, NBC Bay Area's chief meteorologist, announced to viewers last night that he was leaving the station. He did not say where he was going or why he was leaving. His announcement surprised viewers, many of whom left comments on the NBC Bay Area Web site.

Farley joined KNTV in March 1996 as the morning meteorologist and moved to evenings in September 1998. He was the weather anchor at 5, 6 and 11. According to NBC Bay Area's Web site, he holds a master's degree in meteorology from San Jose State University. Prior to Channel 11, he was a weather producer at KRON. His bio says he worked on a project aimed at developing short-term fog forecasts for San Francisco International Airport, which earned an award from the FAA. (Photo credit: NBC Bay Area Web site)

UPDATE, MARCH 31:Farley was let go in a cost-cutting move, the Merc's Sal Pizarro reports today. "He's a class act and I hope there's better weather ahead for him," Pizarro writes.

SF heavyweights discuss a nonprofit Chron

The Chronicle is reporting that a number of local powerbrokers, including Mayor Gavin Newsom, got together this week to discuss the idea of turning the Chronicle into a nonprofit operation, but Hearst continues to say it's not interested.

Attendees included Wells Fargo heir F. Warren Hellman, former Chronicle publisher and Chamber of Commerce head Steve Falk, Farallon Capital executive Margaret Sullivan, former Chron managing editor Robert Rosenthal and Chron Guild leader Carl Hall. Nobody from Chronicle management attended. The Chron story stated:
    Among ideas floated at the meeting were converting the newspaper into a nonprofit or into what's known as an L3C, a low-profit limited liability company whose main role is helping society rather than making money, according to several attendees. There also was some talk of using existing newsroom staff and resources to form a separate, nonprofit online media operation covering the area, those people said. ...

    Hellman "was there to ask people about how a nonprofit might work and the challenges facing the newspaper industry," he said.
March 23: Plan hatched to turn Chron into a nonprofit

This paper thrives, has a captive readership

Here's a feature in the Chron about a newspaper has increased its circulation while losing no money. Moreover the staffers don't have to worry about layoffs. "The San Quentin News ("The Pulse of San Quentin"), a monthly tabloid put out on a handful of un-networked prison computers, is one of the few newspapers in the United States written, edited and produced entirely by inmates." [MORE]

Friday, March 27, 2009

Guild rep among those taking Chron buyout

The Press Club is compiling a list of Chronicle staffers who have accepted the company's buyout. If you can help us, please send an e-mail to sfpen-pressclub@sbcglobal.net.

One name we can add to the list is Carl Hall, longtime Chron reporter and Guild rep. Hall told the SF Weekly's Joe Eskenazi: "I haven't done it yet. I will march in with a colleague with our arms locked in a suicide pact. And if either of us gets weak at the knees. ..."

The Chron is asking for 150 Guild members in news and advertising to accept a voluntary buyout by Tuesday, March 31. If fewer than 150 take the buyout, then the paper will make up the difference with layoffs. Those who jump now can receive their pension in a lump sum payment while others have to wait until age 65.

Hall said he anticipates that number will easily grow to 100 or perhaps even 150 by Tuesday's deadline. (Photo credit: SF Weekly file, Jen Siska, December 2007)

NY Times pay cuts extend to Santa Rosa

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat will cut most nonunion employees’ pay by 2.5 percent as part of a cost-savings move by its parent company, the New York Times Co., the PD reported today. Employees will be given five additional paid days off as part of the wage change. The NYT Co. will also cut wages for employees of its North Bay Business Journal and Argus Courier.

Of the 365 full-time and part-time employees at the three Sonoma County publications, the pay of 159 nonunion employees will be cut immediately. About 100 part-time employees will not be affected.

The paper is asking the 159 unionized employees to accept the pay cut. The PD has about 105 union employees in the newsroom, circulation and printing.

The company said it hopes to restore salaries next year, if business conditions permit.

In New York, the story is worse. Nonunion employees at the Times and Boston Globe will have their wages cut by 5 percent. The Times is laying off 100 people, or 5 percent of its 2,000-person work force.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Guild expects 100 to take buyouts at Chron

The Guild said today that it expects about 100 staffers to accept a voluntary buyout from the Chron by Tuesday's deadline. If 150 Guild members don't take the buyout, the Chron plans to make up the difference with layoffs.

"These job cuts are expected to hit the newsroom particularly hard, but Guild-represented commercial departments also will be affected," a statement posted by the Guild said.

Bronstein: Obama honeymoon is over


Chron editor at large Phil Bronstein, on Chris Matthews' "Hardball," said the honeymoon between the media and Obama is over. "The New York Times hasn't exactly been an opponent of Mr. Obama's (but) they threw all of their sharpest objects at him on Sunday."

Matthews asked Bronstein why Obama didn't take questions from any major newspapers. "That's a question that could be grim for me to answer. I think he was looking for diversity and he got a plus score from most people on that," Bronstein said.

Later, at about 8 minutes into the segment, as Matthews and guest Lawrence O‘Donnell gushed about the job NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is doing cleaning up Wall Street, Bronstein said, "You two guys can obsess about East Coast politics. We're not obsessed about East Coast politics here."

That brought on a lecture by Matthews about the importance of Washington and a reference to San Francisco and mood rings.

Teen arrested in George Weber's death

Police say George Weber, a former KGO-AM newscaster and talk show host, was killed in his Brooklyn apartment by a 16-year-old boy who answered a Craigslist ad Weber posted for a sexual partner, The New York Times reports. According to the Times, the boy said on his MySpace page that he was an "extremist, an anarchist and a sadomasochist. As long as you show respect for me, I will show respect for you.” But it warned that if he were not shown respect, he would “break your neck.” The boy was arrested Tuesday. Weber left KGO for a station in San Diego and then landed in New York where he did morning drive time news for 12 years before he was laid off. Recently he had been a free-lance anchor for ABC News Radio.

UPDATE: SF Weekly reports that colleagues at KGO are shocked by stabbing.

KGO 810 returns to the No. 1 spot

We know, we know. These cume numbers are meaningless to advertisers. They're just a beauty contest. But it looks like KGO has regained its spot as the No. 1 station in the beauty contest. KCBS' jump to No. 1 last month appears to be short lived.
              PPM 6+
San Francisco Radio Metro
Monday-Sunday 6am-Midnight

Hol 08 Jan 09 Feb 09
KGO-AM 5.4 5.5 5.8
KCBS-AM/FM 4.4 5.6 5.6
KQED-FM 5.1 5.3 5.4
KOIT-FM 8.3 4.8 4.4
KIOI-FM 3.6 3.7
KSFO-AM 3.3 3.7
KYLD-FM 3.4 3.7
KMEL-FM 3.6 3.7
KRZZ 3.6 3.7


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hearst will again try to take TV stations private

Hearst plans to make another run at taking its TV station group private. It now owns 82 percent of Hearst Argyle Television Inc., a 29-station group covering 18 percent of the country.

In 2007, Hearst offered $600 million for the shares it didn't already own. But the shareholders decided to hold out for more money and Hearst walked away.

Since then, the company's value has fallen by about 90 percent and the new deal is for about one-fifth of the 2007 offer.

One of the biggest shareholders is Private Capital Management, the fund headed by Bruce Sherman who forced Knight Ridder to sell off its newspapers in 2006. Sherman is retiring this month after a series of bad bets on media companies that have cost his investors billions. The Wall Street Journal tried to reach Sherman without success.

Hearst Argyle's stations include KCRA Channel 3 in Sacramento (helicopter seen here), WCVB Boston, KMBC Kansas City, WLWT Cincinnati, KOAT Albuquerque and KITV Honolulu. (Photo credit: Hearst Argyle Web site)

About 50 Chron employees take buyouts

The SF Weekly quotes Chron reporter and union leader Carl Hall as saying that perhaps 50 union employees at the paper have agreed to accept a buyout. Most are from the editorial side. The buyout offer will last until Tuesday, the last day of the month. Layoffs are expected to start in mid-April if the goal of eliminating 150 jobs in news and advertising isn't reached through voluntary terminations. The paper is currently negotiating with the Teamsters to eliminate delivery driver and mailer jobs.

Fang Examiner editor runs for Congress

The SF Weekly reports that Adriel Hampton, previously political editor at the Fang Family-owned Examiner, is running for the seat in Congress vacated by Ellen Tauscher. Hampton, a Democrat, currently is an investigator for the San Francisco District Attorney's office and lives in the Alameda County community of Dublin.

Examiner.com CEO gone after one year

Michael S. Sherrod, a former AOL executive, is now a former Examiner.com executive. Sherrod had been in charge of the Examiner's Internet operations since February 2007. During that time his unit launched a citizen journalism programs where unpaid writers would blog about their area of expertise. These experts became known as "examiners."

Rick Blair will serve as interim CEO of Examiner.com while Fritz Anderson will serve as Examiner.com president while the company looks for a permanent replacement for Sherrod.

A press release emphasized that the Examiner is going to continue its citizen blogger program: "Recently Examiner.com welcomed its 4,000th Examiner to the organization. The company has no plans of slowing down. The company's growth comes from referrals by existing Examiners, site visitors who convert to Examiners, and various marketing initiatives and programs."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

'Intense interrogation' for Current TV reporters

Current TV's Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were captured by the North Koreans, are undergoing "intense interrogation," a South Korean newspaper reports.

According to the AP, South Korea's mass-circulation JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said the American women had crossed the border from China while reporting on North Korean refugees.

They were taken to Pyongyang a day after their arrest, and were being held at a guest house run by the military intelligence agency on the outskirts of the capital, the newspaper said, citing an unnamed South Korean intelligence officer.

North Korean investigators were checking the journalists' cameras, video tapes and notebooks to try to establish if they had been spying on the North's military facilities, the report said.

North Korea "will not treat the female journalists harshly, although they will undergo intense interrogation," the paper quoted another unnamed South Korean intelligence officer as saying.

Current TV is based in San Francisco. It was started by former vice president Al Gore and former Ohio legal services mogul Joel Z. Hyatt, now of Atherton.

UPDATE, 10 a.m. — AP reports that the U.S. State Department has received assurances from the North Korean government that the women will be treated well. State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters this morning that the United States has asked Swedish diplomats in North Korea to request access to Ling and Lee. The United States does not have a diplomatic presence in North Korea.

Bill seeks non-profit status for newspapers

Maryland Sen. Benjamin Cardin has introduced legislation that would newspaper companies to restructure as nonprofits with a variety of tax breaks, a proposal that might help those who are attempting to buy the Chronicle (See "Plan hatched to turn Chron into a nonprofit" below).

The bill would offer newspapers tax exemptions for advertising and subscription revenue. But in return newspapers would have to agree to stop making political endorsements on the editorial page. Apparently the bill would have no other First Amendment givebacks. As Reuters put it, "newspapers would still be free to report on all issues, including political campaigns."

Chuck Finnie: Chron angling for a monopoly

Chuck Finnie (right), former city editor at the Chron, says in an opinion piece in the SF Appeal that:
    The company that brought us the last Washington-sanctioned newspaper monopoly in San Francisco -- the Joint Operating Agreement between the then- Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner and the then- family-owned San Francisco Chronicle that ran for 35 years until 2000 -- wants another break on antitrust enforcement allowing for another anti-competitive arrangement. This time, Hearst, now owner of The Chronicle, hooks up to Dean Singleton's Bay Area News Group, owner of the suburban Marin Independent-Journal, Contra Cost Times, Oakland Tribune and San Jose Mercury News.
He says Nancy Pelosi's request that the DOJ lighten up on antitrust rules when it comes to the Chron fits in with the Chron's attempt to get a monopoly.
    If you accept that Hearst has its eye on a combine of sorts with Singleton --sharing printing, distribution, ad sales--a lot of the other moves the company is making begin to make sense. Currently, Hea rst, claiming annual losses of more than $50 million a year, is in the process of cutting the jobs of 150 members of the Newspaper Guild and securing other concessions from the newspaper's biggest union. As many as 90 of those union jobs are expected to come out of the newsroom. Of course, you don't need as many journalists if you are sharing the job of covering the region with a chain of suburban newspapers.
(Photo credit: SF Appeal)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Plan hatched to turn Chron into a nonprofit

San Francisco investment banker and Wells Fargo heir F. Warren Hellman and other business leaders have asked Hearst Corp. to consider turning the Chronicle into a nonprofit, the San Francisco Business Times reports.

San Francisco attorney Bill Coblentz, after discussing the idea with Hellman, conveyed the plan to William R. Hearst III, who is a Hearst Corp. director and an affiliated partner with the Sand Hill Road venture capital powerhouse Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

The proposal would be for a nonprofit corporation "to take over the Chronicle," with Hearst Corp. continuing to provide some philanthropic support. The paper has reportedly been losing $1 million or more a week for the past several years.

When the Business Times asked Publisher Frank Vega about it, he said, “I’m not aware of any discussions whatsoever about us becoming a nonprofit,” before hanging up abruptly.

Former Chron publisher Steve Falk, now CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, said he has talked to Hellman and other San Francisco business leaders “in very general terms” about possible ways to save the paper. He said he wasn’t familiar with the nonprofit proposal, but he knows Hellman and other leaders “are very concerned about the (Chron’s) possible demise.”

Falk said it is more likely that the Chronicle and MediaNews might combine their Sunday editions if the get an antitrust waiver from the Obama Justice Department. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing for such an exemption.

Correction: Originally we attributed this information to the San Francisco Business Journal. Obviously it is the San Francisco Business Times.

Ex-KGO newsman George Weber murdered

George Weber, who did news and hosted a weekend talk show at KGO 810 in the early 1990s before moving on to WABC radio in New York, was found dead inside his Brooklyn apartment on Sunday, according to WABC-TV and the NY Daily News among others. Police went to his home after his bosses at ABC Radio reported that he hadn't shown up for work in two days. Officers discovered the 47-year-old Weber with multiple stab wounds to his neck. Weber would have turned 48 today.

"I used to hear his voice in the top and the bottom of the hour. It's a voice New Yorkers know. Now that voice has been silenced," said Aaron Katersky, 33, an ABC colleague who found himself covering a friend's murder.

Weber had worked at WABC-AM for 12 years as an on-air reporter. Last year he was laid off in a cost-cutting move. Since then he had worked as a freelancer for ABC News Radio, the national network. His last broadcast was March 15.

The following is a statement from ABC News Radio vp and gm Steve Jones:
    "We are shocked and deeply saddened by the death of our colleague and friend George Weber, who was the victim of what police have deemed a homicide at his home in Brooklyn. An investigation has been launched by NYPD and we have been assisting them. Our condolences and prayers go out to George's family and friends at this very difficult time.

    "George Weber was a lifelong fan of radio. He was a consummate journalist with a successful radio career in New York at WABC , Los Angeles at KTLK and KMPC, San Francisco at KGO radio and Denver at KOA radio, among others.

    "While in New York, George was part of the highly successful "Cutis and Kuby" WABC morning show where he remained until early 2008. It was then that he joined ABC News Radio as a freelance anchor. His last newscast was on Sunday, March 15."
Here's a link to Weber's personal Web site georgeweber.net/index.html. After a successful evening talk show at KOA-AM in Denver in the late 1980s, he moved on to KGO 810, where he split his time between news and talk. "What didn't go over so well here was my weekend talk show, which the general manager thought was a little too racy," Weber writes. "I was asked to stay on in the news department, but decided instead to go to KOGO, a newly re-formatted talk station in San Diego."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Open meeting activists ordered to pay $86,000

A group that advocates for open records, Californians Aware, and its former president have been ordered to pay the legal fees of a school board that they sued for a Brown Act violation. The Sacramento Bee calls the case "Orwellian." (Links: LAObserved, SacBee, CalAware.) LA Observed summed it up this way:
    What happened is the (Orange County Unified School District) board edited the critical comments of a board member out of a DVD sent to cable TV stations. CalAware sued to get the comments included in the DVD, and the school board turned around and filed an anti-SLAPP motion, claiming that McKee and CalAware were trying to stifle the district’s right to free speech. Judges agreed, the state Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal, and now the good guys are faced with a life-changing financial burden.
The Orange County school board has garnished the wages of former CalAware president Richard McKee, a Pasadena City College professor, and slapped a lien on his home, according to First Amendment attorney Terry Francke. He's also paid $59,000 through a second trust deed on his home.

Has KGO 810 been toppled?

Ben Fong-Torres, in his radio column in today's Chronicle, says KGO-AM 810 has been booted from the No. 1 spot in the market among all listeners in January by all-news KCBS. As he notes, KGO's Mickey Luckoff says a survey for just one month is a small sample, and there are a lot of questions about Arbitron's switch to personal people meters. Besides, advertisers don't buy time based on cumulative ratings but on how a station does in a particular demographic. But KCBS came out on top in the morning drive among listeners 25-54, while KGO was 12th. One reason for KCBS' advance is that it now is heard on both AM (740) and FM (106.9). Which raises the question, when will KGO add an FM signal?

MNG tells credit rating firm to butt out

MediaNews Group, the Denver-based chain that owns several dailies in the Bay Area, has told Standard & Poors it no longer wants the firm to rate its ability to repay an estimated $962 million in debt, the Denver Business Journal reports. The move Thursday came two days after S&P downgraded its rating of MNG's secured credit facilities to CCC from CCC+, saying cash flow was declining at a significantly faster rate than it previously thought. Last April, MNG stopped releasing its financial information to the public, such as its earnings or executive compensation. [Also see E&P's take on this.]

Thursday, March 19, 2009

N. Korea detains 2 Current TV reporters

Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for former Vice President Al Gore's media outlet Current TV based in San Francisco, were seized Tuesday along the Chinese-North Korean border, the AP is reporting. Their Chinese guide also was detained although a third journalist with the group, Mitch Koss, apparently eluded capture.

Current TV, with studios and offices across the street from AT&T Park in the China Basin area of San Francisco, is a cable network and online media outlet that has its own reporters and also uses content from viewers. The company said this morning it has no comment on the situation.

Ling is a sister of Lisa Ling, a former co-host of "The View" and now a contributing correspondent for Explorer.

South Korean's YTN network first reported the detentions early Thursday, saying two Americans were arrested near the Tumen River dividing North Korea and China. South Korea's Yonhap news agency, citing diplomatic sources, said North Korean soldiers took them into custody after they ignored orders to stop filming.

Reporters Without Borders called for the immediate release of the journalists and their guide and urged Chinese authorities to intercede on their behalf "as they were probably on Chinese soil when they were arrested." (Photo credits: Yonhap via AP)

Alameda has its own online news site

After we posted an item the other day about a new online newspaper, the San Francisco Appeal, we were told about another local, online news site called The Island that covers Alameda.

The Island has been providing news five days a week since February 2008. The driving force behind this site is Michele (Marcucci) Ellson (pictured), who has been working at newspapers for 17 years. She is the winner of several journalism awards, including a Sigma Delta Chi award for investigative reporting, Associated Press and James Madison Freedom of Information.

She left her last job as a regional reporter for what's now the Bay Area News Group in 2007 in part because she was concerned about the direction the business was headed. But she says she never lost the itch to produce news, and so, with some goading from a tech-savvy friend, she started The Island.

The Press Club's webmaster, Dave Price, asked Ellson a few questions.
    Q: A lot of news people wonder whether they could make a living by running a site like this in their community. Do you think you can make a living doing this?

    Ellson: I absolutely think I can make a living doing this. I don't charge much for ads right now, but I also have very, very low overhead. I actually have a loose business plan in place for drawing ads and revenue targets that I think I can make.

    Q: How many people look at your site every day?

    Ellson: I get several hundred readers a day, usually 200-300, with more if there's a big story. And that number is growing. I did some stories about the Rev. Fred Phelps' (later abandoned) plan to come to town to protest a high school production of the Laramie Project, and that drew over 600 readers in one day.

    Q: What kind of feedback do you get, and is it the same as when you worked at a newspaper?

    Ellson: Online is so different from a newspaper. When I worked at papers the communication was a lot more static. You'd run a story and someone would write a letter you wouldn't respond to, or you'd get a phone call from someone who had a question or more information or thought you were flat out wrong, and that would be it. Here, there's a lot more interest from folks in having a back and forth discussion about the news, and what's really exciting about that is that sometimes, those exchanges include information that can push a story forward. They also open up the relationship reporters have to their communities, which have traditionally between reporter and public figure/city officials or reporter/opponent of whatever. Now there are a lot more people, potentially, informing the news that I run.

    Q: How do you let Alameda residents know about your site?

    Ellson: I've been experimenting with different ways to get the word out. A lot of it is just word of mouth, either by telling people or posting stories I've written to electronic boards people are reading, like our Alameda Parents Network. I've also been freelancing for one of the local papers and including my website address in my tag line. I think a key is figuring out what people want to see covered, what they want to know. That draws eyeballs.

    Q: Describe what you do on the news side. It would seem like you have your hands full. I see that you've done some in-depth stories, like comparing your town's budget with Redwood City's. And you've also got a lot of range, reporting on everything from new store openings and school fundraisers to a legal battle over a shipyard lease. Are you a one-person operation?

    Ellson: I am a one-woman band, and yes, I do have my hands full. The schedule is pretty grueling. Basically I'm doing what anyone producing news does — making a rough budget over the weekend, doing my reading, typing up listings, getting in interviews whenever I can. And if I've been reminded of anything over the past year, it's that reporting local news — as you know — is really, really hard. So I'm grateful I've had the opportunity to write about a lot of different things over the course of my career, to sort of help me muddle through.
Ellson also reports that she is just starting to take her first orders for advertisements, which she's hoping will support her efforts. In addition to filling a need for local news, she hopes to provide a financially workable model for others to copy.

Two opinions on the Chron's plight

Here's a stunner of a headline, at least for Bruce Brugmann's Bay Guardian: "Save the Chronicle!" He's been criticizing the Chronicle for 42 years for failing to cover stories and for its biased slant on others.
    But if the Chronicle dies, the city will lose an important, if often infuriating, civic institution. Hearst should not be allowed to turn San Francisco into the first major American city with no major daily newspaper — not without extensive oversight, hearings, and a chance for somebody else to take over the paper and try to make it work.
Brugmann also calls Speaker Nancy Pelosi's idea to loosen antitrust laws for local newspapers a bad idea. He urges her to instead push legislation barring a daily newspaper in a one-paper town from closing down unless and until the owners offer it for sale at a fair price and give someone else a chance to run it.

The second opinion is from Jon Mays, editor of the San Mateo-based Daily Journal and president of the Press Club. He also opposes Pelosi's proposal.
    Granted, everyone in the news industry is feeling the effects of the Internet on advertising but larger papers have layer upon layer of contracts, antiquated news gathering methodology and presentation in addition to a blatant ignorance of issues that matter most to the people who read newspapers.

    As newspapers got larger, and the Chronicle is the poster child for this in its quest to become a regional paper or the “New York Times of the West,” they ignored the bread and butter of journalism. That is, simply put, a focus on the community they serve.

    And any deal with MediaNews will not bring that type of focus. Instead, it will likely lead to further consolidation of reporting resources and more regional news that has little relevance to the people who rely on the newspaper for their primary source of information about the community in which they live.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Chron layoffs to start in mid-April

Guild employees at the Chron have until March 31 to volunteer for termination, and involuntary layoffs will begin in mid-April, a bulletin from the union says. The Guild is also planning to hold workshops on March 24 on applying for unemployment and obtaining other resources for the jobless.

Small audience for Chronicle discussion

The SF Weekly reports that last night's SPJ discussion on the future of the Chronicle didn't even draw enough people to fill a small city library auditorium. (Here's a link to the SFGTV streaming video of the discussion.) The SF Weekly's Benjamin Wachs writes:
    Not only was the stage crowded with panelists who are exclusively involved with journalism in the Bay Area, but virtually everyone in the audience was also a journalist or blogger.

    There is no clearer evidence, sadly, that the demise of journalism is a subject which only journalists are talking about, to other journalists, in the media. This is ironic -- because one of the things that members of the media think, at least according to the media panel at the journalism forum, is that journalism is failing because it has spent too much time talking to other journalists in the media.

    Whatever they say is killing journalism, the real cause of death is lethal irony. It's a post-modern post-mortem.
Wachs goes on to give some bullet points on the best and worst parts of last night's meeting. Amazingly enough, the SF Weekly, which has been feuding with the Bay Guardian for years, credited the Guardian's publisher, Bruce Brugmann, as being the man most on point when he said that a major newspaper can do what a thousand blogs never will when it comes to serving as a corporate and government watchdog.

TechCrunch moves out of editor's home

TechCrunch has moved from the Atherton home of founder and co-editor Michael Arrington to a 6,000-square-foot office in downtown Palo Alto, at Lytton Avenue and Bryant Street. Arrington said his neighbors didn't appreciate him running a business with 10 employees from his home and office space is cheap now. He writes:
    I’ll miss having TechCrunch at my house, where my commute time was measured in seconds and I was always surrounded by fascinating people who dropped by for interviews.

    But there was the downside, too. There was absolutely no separation from my work and personal life. And for some reason crazy (usually European) entrepreneurs felt the urge to stop by at any time without warning and, if I didn’t answer the door, simply break in. And having TechCrunch staff wander into and out of my house at random times wasn’t always great, either.
The Palo Alto Daily News and Mercury News have a report on the move with details on why he left Atherton.

March 2009 Press Club board minutes

March 11, 2009 — Board Room, San Mateo Daily Journal. The meeting was called to order at 6:47 p.m.

Present: Jon Mays, Peter Cleaveland, Darryl Compton, Ed Remitz and Melissa McRobbie. Absent: Jamie Casini, Marshall Wilson, Jack Russell, Micki Carter and Dave Price

A quorum was not present so the meeting was informational. This was the first meeting for Melissa McRobbie, Managing Editor at Bay City News.

Darryl Compton reported that preparations for the upcoming contests and Evening of Excellence are proceeding “smoothly,” though the number of TV entries has dropped from last year’s 28 to two. Also, the contests have collected $6,000 in fees so far and $3,500 for new memberships, down from last year’s $10,000 and $5,500, respectively.

Jon Mays reported that he met with the journalism adviser at San Mateo High School to discuss the ongoing efforts to support area high school journalism programs.

The board will resume discussion about a keynote speaker for the Evening of Excellence, set for June 6. The most recent proposal is to request Marshall Wilson to ask Phil Matier to speak.

The meeting was adjourned at 7:01 p.m.

Submitted by Ed Remitz, treasurer

S&P lowers MNG's debt rating

The AP and Denver Business Journal report that Standard & Poor's Ratings Service has lowered the debt rating for MediaNews Group, the Denver-based chain that owns the San Jose Mercury News and 10 other dailies in the Bay Area.

The revised rating, issued Tuesday, “reflect[s] a more significant decline in cash flow than that used in our previous analysis” as well as “challenging operating conditions in the newspaper sector,” S&P said in its credit analysis of MediaNews Group.

Specifically, S&P lowered its issue-level rating for MNG's secured credit facilities to CCC from CCC+, bringing the rating in line with the chain’s corporate credit rating.

S&P also reduced its “recovery rating” on MediaNews Group’s loans to “4” from “2.” The “4” rating means S&P expects 30 percent to 50 percent recovery for lenders in the event of a payment default. S&P’s recovery rating is on a scale of 1 to 6, with 1 meaning full recovery of loans after a payment default is expected.

In a separate report, S&P said that it believes “that if MediaNews were to default, there would continue to be a viable business model driven by the importance of its newspaper businesses to a smaller, core customer base.”

MediaNews Group has repeatedly said that it is not in danger of default and that recent credit ratings are overly harsh on the company.

3 in running to head UC Berkeley j-school

Matt Krupnick of the Contra Costa Times reports this morning that the search for the long vacant dean's position at the UC-Berkeley journalism school is down to three candidates:
    Barbara Cochran, former CBS News vp, now president of the Radio and Television News Directors Association and Foundation;

    Lincoln Caplan, former writer for The New Yorker and now co-director of a venture-philanthropy fund;

    Phil Bennett, former managing editor of The Washington Post and now an adviser with the newspaper.
There could be a fourth candidate as well. Professor Neil Henry has led the department in the interim, but has said he does not want the job permanently.

San Diego Union Tribune sold

The parent company of The San Diego Union-Tribune announced this morning that it has reached an agreement to sell the newspaper to the Beverly Hills private equity firm Platinum Equity for an undisclosed price. The LA Times says Platinum specializes in buying businesses in struggling markets and has completed nearly 100 acquisitions in a range of industries since being founded in 1995. With a daily circulation of 296,000, the U-T is the third largest newspaper in California, behind the LA Times and SF Chron.

Singleton welcomes Pelosi's action

Nancy Pelosi's letter urging the Department of Justice to consider the consolidation of the Bay Area's newspapers was welcomed by MediaNews Group chief executive Dean Singleton, whose company owns the Mercury News, Contra Costa Times and nine other Bay Area dailies.

"For newspapers in some markets to survive, there will need to be some consolidations," Singleton told the Merc's Pete Carey, "and I think what Speaker Pelosi is saying is it's time for the Justice Department to join the 21st century and realize that newspapers are one small piece of the competitive landscape."

Singleton said there are no discussions between MediaNews and Hearst, the Chronicle's owner, beyond some joint distribution.

But, he added, "if you look at the economics of the Bay Area News Group — which operates this paper and the Mercury News — and the Chronicle, it would seem that might be a smart thing to do, to do more consolidation."

A conversation about the Chronicle

The Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists sponsored a discussion about cutbacks and the threatened closure of Chronicle last night at the San Francisco Public Library. Here's a link to the SFGTV streaming video of the discussion. The moderator is Rose Aguilar of KALW 91.7.

Roberts, Trounstine launch political blog

A couple of veteran political reporters, Jerry Roberts (left) and Phil Trounstine, have teamed up to launch a political blog called Calbuzz. Roberts is the former managing editor of the Chronicle who went on to edit the Santa Barbara News-Press. He resigned in 2006 saying owner Wendy McCaw was meddling in the newsroom. Trounstine is the former political editor for the Mercury News who quit to become Gov. Gray Davis' communications director. They appear to have started Calbuzz on March 10 and have written stories every day since. In Calbuzz's first story, on March 10, Roberts reflects on the Chronicle and says what he thinks the news business needs in the future.

Peter Scheer: Allow cameras in the courts

Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, says the California Supreme Court’s hearing yesterday in the Prop 8 case — broadcast live over the internet via streaming video — erased any doubt about the wisdom of allowing cameras into the nation’s courts. "Legitimacy, the most valuable asset of any court, is diminished by judicial secrecy and enhanced by openness," writes Scheer.

Rep. Eshoo targets loud TV commercials


Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, has reintroduced legislation that would stop television broadcasters from turning up the volume for commercials. She has introduced House Resolution 6209, also known as the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, which would "prescribe a standard to preclude commercials from being broadcast at louder volumes than the program they accompany."

She said she has grown tired of being "blasted not only off my sofa, but out of my home when the ads come on. It has been a source of aggravation to me." Eshoo intends to hold hearings on the bill later this year. She introduced similar legislation during a previous session of Congress.

The man who destroyed Knight Ridder retires

Bruce Sherman, who forced Knight Ridder to sell its newspapers in 2006 because he wasn't getting enough of a return in his investment, will retire next month at age 61, The New Republic reports. He bought high and sold low, losing billions for the investors in his fund and destroying previously healthy newspapers along the way. He forced Knight Ridder to sell its papers to McClatchy. McClatchy later sold its Knight Ridder papers in the Bay Area to MediaNews for $1 billion.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pelosi asks DOJ to allow newspaper consolidation

The Chronicle reports that Speaker Nancy Pelosi is asking the Department of Justice to give Bay Area newspaper companies more leeway to merge or consolidate business operations to stay afloat.

She made her request in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. The letter followed a meeting she had last week with the Chronicle's Phil Bronstein and Hearst general counsel Eve Burton.

She asked the DOJ to weigh the public benefit of saving the Chron and other papers from closure against the government's antitrust mission to guard against anti-competitive behavior.

The Bay Area's two big newspaper publishers, Hearst and MediaNews Group, have long wanted to consolidate certain operations, such as circulation. But when Hearst bought a 31 percent interest in MNG in 2007, the Department of Justice said that Hearst could not own any of MNG's Bay Area assets. So the 31 percent interest applies to MNG operations outside the Bay Area.

Text of Pelosi's letter:
    Dear Attorney General Holder:

    I am writing about the conditions news organizations across the country are experiencing in their efforts to survive. This is prompted not only by the serious economic challenges facing my constituents in San Francisco, including The San Francisco Chronicle and other news organizations in the Bay Area, 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 and for informing our citizens, especially news organizations that devote resources to gathering news. Our newspapers must be able to engage in investigative journalism and to analyze significant issues, so citizens are informed of public policy issues and public officials are held accountable. As a recent New York Times story on the threats facing the industry noted: "For more than two centuries, newspapers have been the indispensable source of public information and a check on the abuses of government and other powerful interests." (See Richard Perez-Pena, "As Cities Go from Two Papers to One, Talk of Zero," N.Y. Times, March 12, 2009).

    Given the significance of this issue to our democracy, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy will soon hold a hearing and discuss its implications for antitrust policy.

    Over the years, antitrust laws have been an essential protector of competitive choice in the newspaper business, for both keeping members of the public informed and for enabling advertisers to reach them. The antitrust laws are every bit as vital in this industry as elsewhere in our economy, and perhaps more so given the First Amendment issues that are also at stake. I am 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. 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. Thank you for your consideration.

    with best regards,

    Nancy Pelosi
(Photo credit: AP)

DTV switch will lead to reception problems

For those in the Bay Area who want to receive TV with an antenna after the June 12 DTV switch, the answer may not be as simple as getting a converter box, the Mercury News reports. The Bay Area has both hills and tall buildings that will stop digital signals from reaching many of the households that currently get analog broadcasts. Also, signals weaken the farther they have to travel, which could pose problems for South Bay residents, because many local television stations broadcast out of San Francisco, about 50 or more miles away.
    • Some 337,000 Bay Area residents who formerly were able to get an analog signal from KTVU will not be able to receive the station's digital signal, according to a study commissioned by the FCC.

    • For KRON, the number is around 148,000.

    • KGO may pick up viewers. ABC7 is currently broadcasting its digital station on UHF channel 24. After June 12, it will switch the digital station to VHF channel 7, the channel on which it is currently broadcasting its analog station. As part of the switch, KGO plans to physically move its transmitter up Sutro tower, which should allow the signal to reach more people in the area.

Hearst to stop printing Seattle P-I tomorrow


Hearst is serious about closing money-losing newspapers. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer will print its final edition tomorrow and become the nation's largest daily newspaper to shift to an entirely digital news product. Here's a link to the P-I's story. Above is a video of the announcement Publisher Roger Oglesby made in the newsroom this morning. "Hearst fought for years to keep this place open but time and these rotten economic conditions finally caught up with us," said Oglesby.

• AP: Hearst hopes Web-only Seattle P-I will turn a profit

Conservative talk radio fades in California

The LA Times reports that the ranks of conservative talk show hosts are dwindling in California. While LA-based hosts Ken (Chiampou) and John (Kobyit) are still going strong on KFI with 670,000 listeners a week, the only other conservative hosts in the state drawing more than 100,000 are Doug McIntyre of KABC in Los Angeles, Lee Rodgers of KSFO (560) in San Francisco and Rick Roberts of KFMB (760) in San Diego, according to the LA Times. Casualties among conservative hosts include Melanie Morgan in San Francisco, Mark Larson in San Diego, Larry Elder and John Ziegler in Los Angeles and Phil Cowen and Mark Williams in Sacramento. However, two of the states conservative talkers, KFBK Sacramento's Tom Sullivan and KOGO San Diego's Roger Hedgecock are doing national shows now.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Guild workers OK deal, Teamsters next

The Chronicle's Guild members on Saturday voted 333 to 33 to accept steep concessions to their contract, including the layoffs of 150 workers, which Hearst said was necessary to keep the paper from being sold or closed.

"People realize that as bad as this settlement is, it did provide severance pay for a substantial number of people who will be leaving and hopefully keeps alive the company's ability to survive," Doug Cuthbertson, executive officer of the Guild, told the Mercury News.

The agreement was the first step in Hearst's effort to cut costs at the Chron. Now management will ask the Teamsters, the Chron's other major union, for concessions. Local 853 represents roughly 420 production workers and delivery truck drivers.

Hearst said the newspaper lost more than $50 million in 2008 and is on track to sink deeper into the red this year.

The Guild represents 218 editorial employees and 265 in advertising. If the Guild didn't agree to the new contract, Hearst threatened to lay off 225 employees in those departments instead of 150.

It has not been decided when the layoffs — which could reduce the Chronicle newsroom by a third or more — will take place, the Merc reported.

Links: Chronicle story, Mercury News, AP, Reuters, MarketWatch and the Guild's bulletin.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Q&A with the editor of SF's newest news site

San Francisco has a new online newspaper, SF Appeal, which offers original journalism as well as links to the best stories on other local sites. Former Chronicle deputy ME for online, Eve Batey (pictured), is the editor and publisher of the Appeal. Press Club webmaster Dave Price put the following questions to Batey:
    Q: Who is funding SF Appeal? 
    Batey: It's self funded. We're running lean! Real lean. 
    Q: What is the significance (if any) about the name San Francisco Appeal? 
    Batey: Chuck Finnie, my partner at the time (Chuck has since taken a consulting position with a local firm and had to step down as partner. But he's contributing great content to the site!) thought of the name. We wanted the name to be one that reminded folks of the old school days of newspapers, when everyone wrote like Gawker and seemed like they were having fun. And the pun aspect sure doesn't hurt. 
    Q: What about your plans for advertising (assuming that's what you plan to do). Are you putting reps on the street? 
    Batey: Dave, are you offering? We're part of a great ad network, with Six Apart Media. No one's going to be buying Learjets on ad network money (though I'm happy to be proven wrong about that), but it's a great start. We'd love to work with local businesses and advertisers, of course, but right now we're way more focused on producing great content that'll bring folks to the site. 
    Q: Describe your plans for original reporting. 
    Batey: I know this sounds cheesy, but the plan with the Appeal is to "marry the best practices of blogging and journalism." That means a lot of links, building off others' reporting, and doing as much of your own as you can to move the story forward. 
    Q: You've got a lot of competition on the Web — what makes your site stand out? 
    Batey: Hold up there, Dave. Competition is a great thing — you always run faster when you're running with other folks, right? And, in a web model, the more folks out there creating content that can be linked to and from, the better it is for everyone. 
    Q: How will you promote SF Appeal? 
    Batey: Wait, this interview won't do the trick?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Chron cuts topic of SPJ-Norcal forum

The Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is sponsoring a public discussion about cutbacks and the threatened closure of Chronicle and the impacts these developments have on readers.

"A Conversation About The Chonicle" will take place Tuesday, March 17, 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the Koret Auditorium of the San Francisco Public Library, 100 Larkin St.

The SPJ 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. SPJ is assembling a group of business leaders, journalists, media innovators and publishers to provide expertise in a lively 90-minute conversation that will be aired over public radio, TV and the Web. KALW anchor Rose Aguilar who hosts a weekly show on media, will moderate the event.

Admission is free. Twitter #spjchron
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/event.php?eid=56534310998

An online newspaper is born in San Francisco

Finally, some encouraging news about the news business. Eve Batey (former Chron deputy ME for online and before that a co-founder and writer for SFist) is the editor and publisher of the new San Francisco Appeal. It looks like a site local news junkies will bookmark because it has a lot of original reporting.

"People are crazy hungry for journalism, they just don't want it in the form a newspaper that appears on their doorstep," Batey tells CBS5. The CBS5 report said Batey's staff isn't being paid, at least not initially. The Appeal is hoping to pay the bills with advertising.

Speaking of original reporting, Batey looks at some scenarios about who might buy the Chron.

Below is the CBS5 report that announces the start of SF Appeal.

Howerton goes from Berkeley to the Ex

Berkeley Daily Planet managing editor Michael Howerton, who has been at that paper since 2003, is headed to the San Francisco Examiner. Justin De Freitas, a cartoonist, writer and editor at the Planet, is taking over as managing editor. The moves were announced in Editor Becky O'Malley's column, where she says of Howerton: "He’s been a pleasure to work with, we regret his loss and we’ll miss him, but in truth it’s a good decision for him. He’s supporting a family, with a spouse who hopes for an academic career. The Examiner is part of a larger organization that seems financially stable and offers an upward career path. Very few new jobs are on offer in journalism — it’s a compliment to the Planet that our employees are being recruited for one of them."

Guardian asks politicians to pressure Hearst

Hearst shouldn't be allowed to simply stop the presses and shut down the Chron, argues Bay Guardian editor Tim Redmond. "Mayor Newsom, Speaker Pelosi, Senators Feinstein and Boxer -- all the political leaders in this town -- should be demanding that Hearst make a reasonable effort to sell the Chronicle. And by 'reasonable,' I mean a deal no worse that what the Fangs got with the Ex."

MNG gets big concessions from unions in Denver

Unionized employees at The Denver Post have voted to accept a package that includes "wage cuts ranging from 6 percent to 9 percent, depending on salary; higher health-insurance costs; seven days per year of unpaid furloughs; and a suspension of employer contributions to 401(k) retirement accounts," according to an article in the Post. Total savings: nearly $2 million. The Post is making the cuts even though it is expected to benefit from the closing of the rival Rocky Mountain News.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Chronicle's past recalled as workers vote

As Chronicle workers vote today on a union concessions that Hearst says will prevent the paper's closure, retired Chron labor reporter Dick Meister wrote an opinion piece for the Guardian about the paper's history of labor relations. Topics include San Francisco's 52-day newspaper strike in 1968 and the 11-day strike in 1994. As for today's problems, Meister's conclusion:
    So what to do? The unions proposed that Hearst join with them to develop “a joint business recovery plan.” But Hearst showed no outward interest in that or in anything else except selling or closing -- the 144-year-old Chronicle.

    That could possibly be avoided by turning the paper into a non-profit public enterprise, much like a public television station, or selling stock to finance its operations. But are there enough people in these days of economic distress willing to make an investment in keeping alive one of our most vital community institutions?

ABC7 report on Berkeley paper's struggle

KGO ABC7 reports that the loss of one major advertiser has crippled the Berkeley Daily Planet, but thepaper is appealing to its readers to stay in print and attracted $12,000 in the first two weeks. That won't be enough, however, to cover the $700,000 annual cost of operating the Planet. Here's a link to Alan Wang's story.

Hearst staffers still sleepless in Seattle

Reporters at Hearst's Seattle Post-Intelligencer are trying to figure out when their employer will shut down the paper. Hearst said in January that it would put the paper up for sale for 60 days, and then, if no buyer surfaced, close the P-I. The 60-day milestone arrived Tuesday and Hearst spokesman Paul Luthringer said the company hasn't decided how to proceed.

"We are still evaluating our options," Luthringer said in an e-mail. "Timing of the decision is uncertain."

When asked what decision he was referring to, he responded, "These options exist: 1) Seek buyer. If no buyer, then 2) Go digital, or 3) Close. No decision has been made."

Meanwhile, the P-I reports:
    Staff members learned Tuesday afternoon that boxes and bins are scheduled to be delivered to the newsroom later this week -- some for materials to be taken home, others for notes that require shredding.

    Employees were told to file promptly to be reimbursed for their expenses. And they were told they can retain their cell phone numbers if they wish.
Last week, Hearst extended offers to some 20 staff members for positions with an online-only operation.

Par Ridder's defense cost $11.5 million

MinnPost, an online newspaper in Minnesota, took a close look at the documents released in the bankruptcy filing of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and found that the company spent $11.5 million defending former publisher Par Ridder from charges that he stole information from the rival St. Paul Pioneer Press, managed by Dean Singleton's MediaNews. Par is the son of Woodside resident Tony Ridder, chairman of the now defunct Knight Ridder chain. Here's a link.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Chronicle, union reach tentative deal

The Chron and the California Media Workers Guild, Local 39521, reached a tentative agreement tonight that will limit layoffs to 150 workers instead of a possible 225 positions. Major points in the deal include:
    • Management can lay off employees without regard to seniority;

    • Employees who are laid off or accept voluntary buyouts will get two weeks' pay per year of service up to a maximum of one year;

    • They will also get company-paid health care for the severance term, even in the event of a shutdown;

    • The union agreed to reductions in vacation time, sick leave and maternity/paternity leave;

    • The work week will be expanded from 37.5 hours to 40 hours;

    • And management has the right to outsource any work.
Guild members will vote on the proposal Thursday. The union represents 218 employees in editorial and 265 in advertising, circulation, finance, ad production and other functions.

With the agreement, the Chron said it expects to eliminate about 150 Guild jobs. If there had not been a deal, management was threatening to fire as many as 225 employees.

The Guild said it will release a bulletin summarizing all the proposed contract changes on Tuesday. It also said a set of the complete proposed amendments will be available on the Guild’s Web site (mediaworkers.org) as soon as possible.

Links: Unbylined Chron story; Guild's announcement; KGO-TV ABC7; KTVU Channel 2; Associated Press.

NYT Editor Keller to speak at Stanford

Bill Keller (left) is scheduled to speak April 2 prior to the dedication of the $3.75 million Lorry I. Lokey (right) Stanford Daily Building. The building opened its doors on Dec. 18 and the Jan. 6 edition of the Stanford Daily was the first to be produced from that facility located behind Old Union. At the April 2 dedication, Lokey (Stanford class of 1949 and founder of the Business Wire) will speak along with Keller. Keller's talk is set for 3 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium with the dedication set for 4:30 at the Lokey building.

A town hall meeting over the local papers

Point Reyes Station is apparently not big enough for two newspapers, so residents have called a town meeting for tonight to see if they can get the community's two newspapers to merge. The Marin Independent Journal reports that a group of residents unsuccessfully attempted to get the Point Reyes Light and Marin Citizen to merge last year. "The proposed merger failed when the group was unable to come to an agreement with Point Reyes Light owner Robert Plotkin," the IJ said. Now, members of the group are trying a different approach: coming up with a plan to save at least one of the newspapers. The group will discuss its ideas in a town hall meeting set for 7 p.m. Monday, March 9, at the Dance Palace, the town's unofficial community center. [More]

Friday, March 6, 2009

Sacramento Bee union staffers agree to pay cut

Guild members at The Sacramento Bee agreed today to take pay cuts of up to 6 percent to save jobs at the 152-year-old newspaper. The union reports that its members voted 65 percent to 35 percent to accept the pay cuts.

According to the Bee, the vote means as many as 34 unionized news and advertising workers will be laid off. If the Guild had rejected the pay cuts, the layoffs would have totaled as many as 53. The Guild represents about 270 of The Bee's 1,120 employees.

As many as 26 unionized newsroom jobs will disappear, representing about 11 percent of the total, according to the Bee.

Chronicle seeks to cut 150 to 225 jobs

Chronicle management is threatening to cut at least 225 jobs if the paper's unions don't meet the company's demands, sources told the East Bay Express. Most of the cuts would come from the newsroom. However, if the Guild agrees to management's demands — which include giving up seniority rights and slashing vacation and sick time — then management will only slash 150 jobs, the Express said. (The Bay Guardian also says management wants to cut 150 jobs.)

Here's a link to the Guild's bulletin on the status of the talks which includes an outline of management's current offer.

"Our bargaining committee has reached no overall agreement with the management," the Guild bulletin says. "Nor does our committee recommend passage of the “final proposal” before us. We can only say this: No option at this point looks favorable. The proposal before us may be the 'least bad' choice. In any case, we chose to put the question to our members to decide."

Earlier in the week the union asked Hearst for a chance to purchase the paper if it is put up for sale. The Guild made the request in a set of suggestions it submitted to Hearst, according to the SF Weekly.

The idea of employee ownership was also floated in a paid ad in today's Examiner (at right). The ad, bought by Chronicle reporter Delfin Vigil, stated that Hearst's suggestion of closing the paper was "unacceptable, unforgivable and even un-American."

In Seattle, Hearst plans 20-person online paper

Hearst's Seattle Post-Intelligencer has notified several staffers that they have been selected to work for an online version of the newspaper. Hearst has said that it will close the P-I if no buyer steps forward by Tuesday, March 10.

The paper reports that an unspecified number of the P-I's roughly 180 employees received "provisional offers" Wednesday and Thursday to work for the online venture, if the Web site is approved by Hearst's senior management. One staffer said the Web site plans to employ about 20 people.

Editor resigns from Vacaville Reporter

Diane Barney, who has worked at The Reporter in Vacaville since 1984, is stepping down as editor of the MediaNews Group paper. A story in her paper said she will become director of public relations for NorthBay Healthcare System, which operates NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield and VacaValley Hospital in Vacaville.

Barney, 47, joined the newspaper as an assistant city editor in 1984. She later became news editor, followed by jobs as copy desk chief, city editor and finally managing editor before becoming editor in 1993.

"I am very proud of the work we do here and have nothing but praise for the dedicated staff that day in and day out puts together the best local news report in the region," Barney said. "I fell in love with community journalism and couldn't have found a better place to hone that craft."

New competitor for local sports departments

With newspapers cutting back, ESPN is getting into the local sports business. The "Worldwide Leader in Sports" says that next month it will launch ESPNChicago.com, a Web site that will focus not only on the pro and college ranks, but also high school sports. “We plan to cover high school sports as in-depth as possible,” ESPN VP of Digital Media Marc Horine tells Broadcasting & Cable. No word yet on when the concept will be rolled out to other markets.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

KGO's Gil Gross not replacing Paul Harvey

Gil Gross says he is not replacing Paul Harvey, contrary to several reports (Radio Online and Radio Ink and others). Gross, currently KGO 810's 2-4 p.m weekday host, tells the Press Club that he's not interested in the job.

"I will fill-in as I always have until they choose someone. If it takes three weeks I'll be there three weeks. If they pick someone over the weekend then Saturday will be my last show," Gross said in an e-mail.

Apparently, some bloggers misconstrued an announcement ABC Radio put out to its affiliates after Harvey's death on Saturday to let them know that if they turn the network on Monday something will be there. (The Press Club posted the erroneous story for a few hours today, too. You're reading the corrected version.)

Gross, who replaced the late Pete Wilson at KGO in 2007, is pretty busy these days. In addition to his weekday show, he's also doing a nationally syndicated real estate show on Saturdays.

Gross went back along way with Paul Harvey. Gross frequently substituted for Harvey over the years and this week has been doing tributes to the popular broadcaster during Harvey's time slots. On Tuesday, Gross recalled meeting Harvey for the first time in 1971:
    I was a kid, and frankly about as scruffy as Paul was immaculate. I arrived at the Midwest bureau in Chicago at 3:30 in the morning looking like I had just rolled out of bed. Not only on the wrong side of the bed but as if I had rolled out on the side that adjoined an open elevator shaft that I had fallen into. Paul would arrive minutes later looking like (pause) well, like Paul Harvey — dressed to the nines even though the only people who would see him for hours would be myself and our bureau chief Meyer Procter.

    We would talk about news to be sure, but the first conversation where we really connected was when we talked about how lucky we were to be doing what we were doing.

    And he asked, if this hadn't happened, what else would I have done? And I told him the truth is I would have worked in a record store.

    I had worked in a record store after school. I loved music. And I not only enjoyed sharing my love of music but I told him I enjoyed watching someone go out the door with something in their hands I had recommended that I knew they would love, that would add to their life. Even more so, I loved it when they would come back, now trusting that I would steer them right. I said it gave me a sense of gratification that many more respected jobs never did, and he glowed when I said that.

    Now I was embarrassed at the time to admit this, thinking I should have said something far loftier. But to Paul, it was the perfect answer. He looked at advertising — well advertising the right products anyway in the right way — as a means of helping people, as a means of making them happier. Selling them something that did not work or they did not need was not something Paul cared to do. But connecting people who had a product with people who would benefit from them was to him perfect capitalism. To him, ads were another form of news. "Did you know there was a store that could save you money?" "A vitamin that could aid your health?"

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Would Reilly fight Chronicle sale to MNG?

When Hearst announced it might close the Chronicle if it couldn't cut its costs, speculation began that the San Francisco paper might be sold to MediaNews Group, the Denver-based chain that owns most of the area's paid dailies including the San Jose Mercury News.

But the last time the two companies tried to collaborate, they were hit with a federal antitrust lawsuit filed by San Francisco real estate developer Clint Reilly. The chains settled with Reilly by agreeing to keep the Chron and MNG papers separate and restricting Hearst's investment in MNG to assets outside the Bay Area. Reilly even got a column in the MediaNews papers.

Will Harper of the SF Weekly asked Reilly if he'd try to stop Hearst from selling the Chronicle to MediaNews.

"I would have to see how events unfolded before I would decide what I would do," Reilly said carefully.

Reilly also said: "I'm not going to do anything thoughtless or ill-considered. ... This is serious stuff."

Laid off reporters making money online

David Westphal of USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review says several laid off reporters have figured out how to pay the bills by starting local news Web sites:
    Tracy Record and Patrick Sand, another husband/wife team who operate West Seattle Blog, are getting revenue in the high five figures. Debbie Galant, co-owner of Baristanet, earned more from the site than she did from her free-lance writing business last year. And Bob Gough, who runs Quincy News, pockets $1,000 a week in wages from his startup that serves an Illinois community of only 40,000.

    Gough, fired from his TV news job in the fall of 2007, may be Exhibit A for the potential of independent news sites. A one-man band, Gough has mined 40 Quincy advertisers, writes about the heart of civic and political life in town and is now hoping to expand by hiring additional staff. His two original investors are also thinking growth, looking at the possibility of replicating the Quincy News model elsewhere.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Now for the other side of the story ...

TechDirt, which is not a news industry trade Web site, is astounded that the Chronicle would consider raising prices on a product that, by its own admission, is not as good as it used to be:
    David Lazarus, the LA Times columnist who a couple of years ago suggested newspapers should sue anyone sending them traffic, kicks things off by insisting that newspapers absolutely should charge for content online. Once again, as with almost everyone else who has suggested the same thing, this is a business model based on wishful thinking. Nowhere does he explain how the newspapers would add enough value to make people want to pay for news online. Instead, they all seem to assume (incorrectly) that people will suddenly flock to paying for news online. ...

    And now, it appears that the Hearst Company is looking to go down the same route, trying to charge for content, but again ignoring any reasons why people might want to pay. On top of this, Hearst has the bizarre idea of building its own digital reading gadget. Why do that when more and more people already own perfectly good digital reading gadgets: computers and smartphones. These newspapers aren't looking to add value. They're looking to lock things up in a ridiculous belief that there really is some scarcity they can "protect."

Would the Huff Post business model work locally?

Randy Shaw, longtime San Francisco activist, attorney and editor of BeyondChron.org, says that the Huffington Post business model might work on a local basis if the Chronicle closes:
    A new Bay Area Internet product modeled on the Huff Post could get its local stories through its own staff, and by taking pieces from Beyond Chron, sfbg.com and other on-line news sources. It could recruit great volunteer political commentators from the local area, tapping the Bay Area’s deep talent. The paper would have two paid, top-notch sportswriters that would draw readers to the site.

    How is such a product economically viable? The same way the Post is doing it: through advertising. By offering a product not available elsewhere on the Internet, this new online newspaper will be attracting readers that advertisers want to reach.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Chron to charge for some online content

The Chronicle, which announced last week that it is in danger of closing, will begin charging for access to some of the content it offers online, according to the Wall Street Journal. The other 15 papers in the Hearst chain will do the same, including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which Hearst plans to close as a printed newspaper.

“Exactly how much paid content to hold back from our free sites will be a judgment call made daily by our management, whose mission should be to run the best free Web sites in our markets without compromising our ability to get a fair price from consumers for the expensive, unique reporting and writing that we produce each day,” Steven Swartz, the president of Hearst newspapers, said in a staff memo.

Swartz's memo also suggests that there will be more subscription and single-copy price increases at the Chron and other Hearst papers: "Our print subscribers don’t pay us enough today that we can say they are actually paying for content. Rather, we only ask readers to pay for a portion of the cost of printing the paper on newsprint and delivering it to the reader’s doorstep."

Hearst to launch Kindle-like e-reader

Michael V. Copeland of Fortune magazine reports that Hearst is developing a version of the wireless e-reader Kindle with a larger screen for newspapers and magazines. The new product could be available this year. Copeland reports:
    Insiders familiar with the Hearst device say it has been designed with the needs of publishers in mind. That includes its form, which will approximate the size of a standard sheet of paper, rather than the six-inch diagonal screen found on Kindle, for example. The larger screen better approximates the reading experience of print periodicals, as well as giving advertisers the space and attention they require.
The device is apparently a big part of Hearst's future as it shifts away from print. Besides the Chronicle and Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Hearst publishes magazines including Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan Popular Mechanics, Seventeen and SmartMoney. At right is a Kindle reader, which can be used to read subscriptions to several newspapers including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle.

Local j-schools see an increase in students

The Snitch at the SF Weekly found there has been no drop off in students entering two Bay Area journalism programs despite cut backs at newspapers, TV and radio stations. San Jose State and Stanford each report gains. Enrollment is down at San Francisco State, but journalism chair Venise Wagner says that might have more to do with tightening up the prerequisites for certain classes and restricting application deadlines more than industry woes.

San Jose State has focused on crosstraining students in many media so they're eligible for a greater degree of jobs, said SJSU School of Journalism and Mass Communication acting director Kathleen Martinelli. Same is true at Stanford, where Ann Grimes, the program's acting director, says a degree in journalism may be more valuable than ever since newspapers may prefer to hire someone already trained in new media than teach an old reporter new tricks. "If you have digital media skills and programming skills, there are a lot of media organizations that are eager to talk to you," Grimes tells the SF Weekly.