Yesterday, news broke that Hearst will close the San Francisco Chronicle if it a) can’t dramatically reduce costs (read as: cut payroll in half) or b) find a buyer (it won’t).
Although it is likely that you will hear and see a copious amount of handwringing in the coming days and weeks about San Francisco being the first major American city to lose its last major metro daily newspaper, I’d calmly and politely encourage you to take a look at this in context:
- There are daily and weekly local newspapers surrounding the city of San Francisco, blanketing the Bay Area on every side of every hill. (Yes, I am fully aware of the quality and resources issues within the MediaNews empire.)
- There are weekly arts and entertainment publications in San Francisco, covering all the calendar and advertising needs of the print-consuming populace.
- There are ethnic media print publications covering many (most?) of the geographic/ethnic niches in the city of San Francisco.
- There are left-leaning national news organizations covering the sort of political issues the Chronicle did.
- There are neighborhood and niche blogs blanketing the city of San Francisco.
- There is craigslist.
Those last two items are probably the most important, long-term.
What happened in San Francisco was this: In a city of early adopters, in a region of early adopters, in a state of early adopters, potential readers and advertisers are seeing their needs met in other mediums, in narrower niches, in distributed form, and they have not been slow to change.
No surprises there.
I’ve never worked for Hearst or the Chronicle, and I know little of the internal wrangling over SFGate.com or how much of it has held back innovation over the years, but the time for the Chronicle to innovate was a *long* time ago. That boat done sailed.
The big question left for those trying to figure out what to do post-Chronicle should not be “How do we replace this newspaper?” but rather, “What in this newspaper needs replacing?”
Once that is answered, get serious about aggregation and integration. Which existing local online news sources are already filling this need? Which existing vendors/open source projects could best help tell the story of San Francisco? Which national news sources matter to San Francisco readers?
So what’s left after that? Well, a business model would be nice, but let’s come to that through the back door.
Before we try to figure out revenue, let’s look at our budget: We’ve pared the newsroom down to an extremely small team of multi-platform journalists, and we’re going to get as much content (think: breaking news photos and video from readers’ phones) as possible, so we’re not talking about gobs of photographers and reporters flowing in and out of some big downtown building.
In fact, the staff could be extremely small. I’m not talking about half its current size, I’m talking about fractions here. A news staff of 10? 20? How agile can we get? Do the math.
And then, yes, take the advertising pieces of the current organization that are working, profitable, and useful to readers in San Francisco, and revise them to run with as little overhead as possible. Reduced expenses means reduced need for revenue, and you can make do with far, far less of it.
Obvious organizations to partner with:
Want to expand upon any of these ideas or talk about your own?
It’s all about the San Francisco Post-Chronicle.
The last time I was in San Francisco, I battled with a bout of nostalgia as I missed the real City.
But hanging out in North Beach yesterday, I remembered the thing about San Francisco I noticed a few years back: The signage hasn’t been updated in 20 years or so.
Check out the old-school logos. They’re all over town, especially the soda signage, for whatever reason. And not a trace of Copperplate Gothic Bold in sight. Seriously, Copperplate Gothic Bold is the new Comic Sans. It’s not a bad font on it’s own, but now it’s everywhere, etched on every new retail window in some cities. (I definitely noticed an onslaught of it in Boston, for example.)
I’m just sayin’, if there’s something I like about San Francisco (other than the fact we all had a good time yesterday, circumnavigating the festival going on in the park and eating cannoli) it’s the signage.
I’m going to do something karmically dangerous here. This will surely ruin the rest of my day, get me stuck on the BART, make me step in dog crap, who knows what, but I just can’t hold back any longer.
Every time I walk around in San Francisco — mind you, I’m usually either in the pretty blank area south of Market or with visiting family near the Fisherman’s Wharf/Embarcadero tourist trap zone — I miss New York.
Yes, my seven years living in Manhattan appear to have ruined me for other American cities. I like Paris, and Rome is amazing, but San Francisco? Los Angeles? Denver? Boston? Not so much.
Okay, I’ll give Boston some credit for having some history and character and making me feel like I was on the East Coast, and I still love Albuquerque, but at that point, we’re talking about a smaller city with a lot of intangibles going for it. (Read as: green chile.)
I’ll leave it at that, before I end up driving the wrong way down a one-way street nose to nose with a trolley car, or one of those weird buses they have here, but seriously, I’m representing for NYC.
212. The F-Train. Nights at the bars on 5th St. Days hanging out in Tompkins Square Park, free jazz all summer in places like Central Park and Columbia University. All-day free Miles Davis tribute concerts. Car services. Friends in Greenpoint and Williamsburg and the L-Train and cheering for my train line at Yankee Stadium in between innings.
Sixteen daily newspapers, each with a different market segment to serve, plus the Sunday-paper sized Village Voice every week, for free. Back in the pre-Craig days, people lined up at the Astor Place newsstand to pay their dollar for the Voice and its apartment listings. Yeah, I’m nostalgiac for the 1990s, which makes me feel young, and that’s a good thing.
All-night delis with random gourmet vegan items, so when I stumbled out of a cab coming home from work, dirty and carrying all my tools at 3:45 a.m., I could get a pair of bagels with unturkey salad and a cold Brooklyn IPA. Kate’s Joint. VP2.
Damn, all right, that’s enough. If I start thinking about the food, this is going to go downhill fast.
I’m just sayin’, New York is the greatest. I miss you all.
Let me tell you about my first time … at the AEJMC convention.
Seriously, I had never been to a conference or convention that was about my own field before today. I mean, I’ve hung out with the physicists and the photographers and maybe even the real estate data information professionals back when I was a wee tyke, but this was (obviously) cooler. I mean, as cool as you can expect a bunch of journalism educators to be. Which ain’t bad.
I felt a little awkward about identifying myself, because I kept switching from student to researcher to reporter in midsentence, leaving people asking me ‘Wait, where are you from?’
Wish I could have made it there all week, but San Francisco is far, and there are stories to be filed and thesis proposals to conjure out of thin air.
So without further narrative lede, here’s Ten Things I Heard Today
- J-Schools can act as hubs for all sorts of interesting experiments. They can aggregate ethnic news outlets, bootstrap citizen media projects, or develop new news products from the ground up.
- The need for media literacy increases right alongside the number of communication channels. This theme was repeated by a few people today, Dan Gillmor among them, who pointed out that skepticism is a requirement to sort out the signal/noise ratio online.
- The best pitch I heard on how to teach computer programming to journalism students (which everyone wants to do, but no one knows how to do) came from SFSU’s Andrew DeVigal, who thinks it can be taught online, where the few kids at each school who want to learn it can meet up with someone like Adrian Holovaty all at once. Sign me up.
- Keeping journalism students in their silos (print, broadcast, online) and just adding classes might not be the answer, but convergence isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, either. Lots of schools in lots of different spots on the continuum on that issue. Thorny one.
- Phil Meyer of UNC has faith that something new is going to develop out of the decline of the print newspaper, and today’s journalism students are going to be the ones inventing it. The job of the J-School is to prepare them to do so. Jerry Ceppos said something along these lines, too: Journalism students should be learning “how to expect change.”
- It sure would be nice if journalism students could learn something about business strategies, entrepreneurship, and new product development. Why? Because investment banking firms and media moguls might not have the same principles as journalists. Plus, getting information gathering and business sense on the same team makes for innovative news.
- Journalism schools should be leading the profession, and not the profession leading the journalism schools. J-School should be more like law school or medical school, driving changes in the industry rather than always playing catch-up.
- Newspapers are still having a hard time finding journalists to build infographics, interactive graphics, and multimedia presentations. Unfortunately, J-Schools are having just as hard a time finding faculty to teach those things. See Andrew’s idea above at #3. Calling Mindy McAdams…
- J-Schools aren’t going to be able to teach all this stuff on their own. There must be some dance partners out there, whether we’re talking about a magnet high school full of little programmers and web designers or a venture capital company willing to finance an experiment.
- Make your journalism school a laboratory and experiment with the future of journalism. Emulating a vanishing medium teaches students how to vanish.
Thanks to all the folks I buttonholed after panels, on elevators, and in the halls today, whether I was acting like a student, researcher, or reporter.
For next week’s trick, I’ll be both a reporter and a student at the AEJMC convention. I’m planning on showing up Thursday morning to the citizen journalism session and later in the day for the “What’s Next for Newspapers and for Journalism Education? – A Continuing Discussion” session.
Of course, I might want to duck into some presentations of research papers on blogs, since I’m supposed to be working on my thesis proposal right now while I am writing this.
San Francisco Bay, aboard Voyager.
I still feel like I’m on the boat.
In other news, you should really go see that Pirate movie that’s in theatres now. It was awesome. I hear Part 3 is going to be…. Rated Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!