Saturday, March 07, 2009

Redmond's advice to the Chronicle

Tim Redmond, Executive Editor of the Bay Guardian, has some Polonius-like advice for the SF Chronicle (below in italics). Among other things, Redmond advises the Chronicle to concentrate on local issues and forget about national/international issues, which is funny coming from a weekly that consistently fails in its coverage of important local issues. The uninformed progressive must be puzzled with Redmond's swipe at Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius: 

Trade C.W. Nevius to the Examiner for a draft choice and a writer to be named later and hire seven young, progressive columnists who can talk about issues that people in one of America's most liberal cities actually relate to.

Redmond singles out Nevius because of his excellent columns on homelessness in San Francisco, an issue on which the Guardian continues to fail years after Gavin Newsom's Care Not Cash and the Chronicle's Kevin Fagan's great series on homelessness in the city, the "Shame of the City."

The Chronicle may be in financial trouble, but its brand of journalism is vastly superior to the prog party line twaddle purveyed by the Guardian. The Guardian still has done nothing significant on homelessness, even though that's the issue that got Newsom elected mayor over the Guardian's candidate, uber-prog Matt Gonzalez. Nevius has followed the Fagan tradition with columns on the subject that challenge city progressives on homelessness in our parks, the homeless and drugs, the homeless and mental illness, and the large number of homeless that flock to SF from around the country.

The progressive/Guardian doctrine on homelessness is that these folks are just poor people who can't afford housing. Nevius's columns show that in fact most of the homeless have either mental health issues or substance abuse problems---or both.

When Tim Redmond writes about local issues, he often stakes out positions that defy common sense: He likes graffiti/tagging, even as the city and property owners spend millions trying to deal with this form of vandalism.

Redmond approves of the homeless drinking and drugging in the park.

And Redmond can go Deep with his Good Guys versus Bad Guys theory of history.

If the Chronicle does go out of business, it will be missed a whole lot more than the politically and intellectually puerile Guardian if it should go belly-up.

Editor's Notes
By Tim Redmond
When the news broke last week that Hearst Corporation was threatening to shut down the San Francisco Chronicle, the pundits across the country raised the obvious question: will San Francisco become the first American city without a major daily newspaper?

I think it's a little early to say that Chron is actually going to vanish; part of what's going on is clearly a shot across the bow of the paper's unions, a warning on the part of tough-guy publisher Frank Vega that he's deadly serious about cutting costs. That will mean widespread layoffs, outsourcing of union jobs, etc. Hearst is a big corporation run by bean counters, one that has major financial problems at many of its media properties. It's not going to keep sustaining $50 million a year losses in San Francisco.

But Hearst is also a major political player in the United States, California, and San Francisco, and a big-city newspaper carries with it a lot of influence. Shutting down the Chron would be a huge step, one that the Hearst board members, who include William Randolph Hearst 3rd, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, are going to do only as an absolute last resort.

What happens if we lose the Chron? Well, in the short term, we're stuck with the Examiner, which recently lauded Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s CEO as an icon of alternative energy. I need say no more.

In the longer term, something will arise to replace the Chron, probably several Web-only daily newspapers, but they'll never achieve the clout an old-fashioned morning paper had on the political, cultural, and civic dialogue. Those days are numbered anyway; the urban news media of the future will be smaller, less concentrated, and less individually influential.

I'm not a huge fan of Hearst's San Francisco flagship, but it's always a shame to see a newspaper die. And I'm convinced that the creaky old Chron could still survive. But it will need major surgery — not just on the finances, but on the content. Because these days, nobody I know under 30 bothers to read it.

So for Mr. Vega and his editor, Ward Bushee, allow me to offer some hints at reviving the moribund publication:

1. Become a San Francisco paper. Nobody reads the Chron for national news any more. You can get The New York Times delivered or read it on the Web and get far better coverage than anything the Chron offers. So give it up. Go local. And by local I don't mean Walnut Creek and Orinda; forget the suburban readers and try to convince people in your central circulation area that you have something worth reading every day.

2. Trade C.W. Nevius to the Examiner for a draft choice and a writer to be named later and hire seven young, progressive columnists who can talk about issues that people in one of America's most liberal cities actually relate to. Run a front-page opinion column every day, by a different one of them — make every powerful interest in the city nervous.

3. Redirect the energy and money from the national news to local investigative reporting. A team of five reporters can break a dozen major stories a year. We do it here on much less.

4. Since David Lazarus left for the L.A. Times, there's not much muckraking on the business desk. Forget the wire stories and the puff — kick some corporate asses.

5. Hire a liberal editorial page editor.

6. Ray Ratto. Go team.

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