Monday, April 11, 2011

Project investigates the decline of local news

A group of reporters is looking for financial support to do a multi-story project on the decline of the news industry in the Bay Area.

“This multi-story package — to be published online and in the spring print edition of the San Francisco Public Press — will examine how the slashing of staffs at news outlets have muffled city and county public policy debates; how new, niche news websites are attempting to fill some coverage gaps; and how journalists themselves have adapted,” according to a pitch on Spot Us, a website that raises money for reporting projects.

The project team includes David Weir, Liz Enochs, Jeremy Adam Smith, John McManus, Saheli Datta, Shawn Gaynor, Mineko Brand and Samuel Morrell.

From the Spot Us pitch:
    Over the past decade, the San Francisco Chronicle’s newsroom staff has shrunk to 175 from a high near 575, the San Jose Mercury News has seen its copy desk outsourced to Walnut Creek, and one conglomerate has gained control of almost all of the daily newspapers in the Bay Area.
    All told, hundreds of local broadcast, online and print journalists have been kicked to the curb since 2000, resulting in decades of lost institutional memory and merged coverage of beats —meaning that some communities go without consistent media attention until a crisis breaks. 
    How many school board debates and behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts by termed-out politicians have gone unmentioned? The disappearance of watchdogs leaves policymakers to spend or cut millions of taxpayer dollars with minimal oversight. 
    ... In a thorough look at how consolidation is affecting local news coverage, a team of reporters working with the San Francisco Public Press will provide concrete examples of the civic side effects of the dismantling of the journalism infrastructure. 
The SF Weekly’s Matt Smith, in his piece about the pitch, went back and compared old copies of the Chron and Examiner to see what readers today are missing.
    Seeing a facsimile of the physical papers -- rather than individual articles retrieved from web archives -- provides a sense of how richly served San Francisco used to be when compared to the present. 
    A typical front page -- of both publications -- had multiple local exposes that might involve weeks of work, sometimes from several reporters. Likewise, the local sections were filled with hard news that took intense reporting to produce.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

The competition for news on the Peninsula has never been more robust. In all, there are four free daily newspapers, at least that many weeklies, three paid dailies, many online sources (most provided free by both daily newspapers and weeklies), online-only entities and a number of very good local blogs. It's hard to make the case that the public's hunger for information has been short-changed in San Mateo County.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it would be nice if we could pretend that eBay and Craigslist didn't take away the classified ad revenue monopoly that Bay Area papers enjoyed up until a decade ago.

And it would be nice if we all had a pony. Holding your breath and decrying that things were better than doesn't really address reality. Bay Area papers don't have the money to do any more. Both major companies are broke.

james o. clifford said...

Call this project "The Death of the Beat Reporter." Management should have sacked columnists, not reporters. The public doesn't realize there is a news chain, as sure as there is a food chain. Anyone who has worked in the news media knows the stuff print produces ends up recycled on radio and TV, usually via the AP.
That said, the newspapers brought a lot of today's problems on decades ago when they were too big to fail. Now they are not the only game in town. Trust, like virginity, is difficult to reclaim.

Anonymous said...

In response to the first commenter, I know some of the people who would be involved in this project and they don't care about the news war in San Mateo County. They've got grudges to settle with the Chronicle and Examiner dating back to the 1960s, and they are looking for somebody to pay for their stories that will reinforce those grudges. I agree, the competition in San Mateo (and northern Santa Clara County) would make a terrific story. They're not interested in that!