SFGate to begin charging for content

chronicle_frontpage_27feb09Missed in the general reaction to Tuesday’s news that the San Francisco Chronicle will have to shrink radically, be sold, or closed — as Denver’s Rocky Mountain News went out of business today — was this bit, which I noticed courtesy MediaBistro: The Chronicle is also planning to charge online readers for its SF Gate online presence, Newsosaur reported.

According to the report, “(The plan) would require the elimination of nearly half of the 1,500 employees of the newspaper to wipe out the operating deficit. To avoid cutting that deeply into the staff, the Chronicle plans to boost revenues by increasing subscription prices for the newspaper and to begin charging consumers for access to certain features and sections at its website.”

Some observers speculated that Dean Singleton’s MediaNews Group was positioning itself to buy the Chronicle. The company also owns the San Jose Mercury News, the Oakland Tribune, and many other smaller dailies in the Bay Area — as well as the Denver Post.

Yesterday’s Forum program on KQED radio looked at the implications of the Chronicle’s problems, and those of almost every other metropolitan newspaper.

The question is, how many of us are willing to pay more for the Chronicle, both its paper and virtual editions? Let’s leave out the criticisms of the newspaper’s content and policy — the fact is that, if the paper fails, there would be a huge vacuum of information in the city. All the secondary newspapers, the neighborhood sheets, the blogs, radio and television news programs, and the weeklies don’t add up to one single daily metropolitan newspaper with a professional staff of journalists, editors and photographers. And then what happens to democracy in San Francisco? Would you still hold your demonstration if there’s no one there to report on it? What will well-connected business people and their friends in City Hall slip past the public if there’s no one watching? Who’s going to tell me why Giants pitcher Noah Lowry’s arm is still messed up? Comments?

4 Comments so far

  1. SF Chron business plan. Charge more for less content | Politics in the Zeros (pingback) on February 27th, 2009 @ 10:56 am

    […] hope a buyer is found. Some observers speculated that Dean Singleton’s MediaNews Group was positioning itself to buy the Chronicle. The company […]

  2. njudah on February 27th, 2009 @ 12:01 pm

    "Let’s leave out the criticisms of the newspaper’s content and policy"

    But this is a big part of why newspapers are failing. They have been cutting reporting staffs and wiping out institutional memory since the early 1990s and no longer can cover news the way it needs to be covered in a fast changing world. By continuing to fire staffers to "save money" and regard reporting as an expensive proposition best left to the wire services, newspapers have been gutting out the very thing they’re supposed to do. These American MBA types know only one thing – fire staff – to make a short term gain, and have done nothing on the revenue side to change things.

    as it stands, I as the reader and concerned citizen am being asked by newspapers to pay more and more for a paper that’s shrinking, offers little in the way of the news I rely on to make decisions about who to vote for and what’s really going on around town, and as such, I no longer buy the Chron. I was an avid Mercury reader but now there’s no reason to buy it – I can get all the wire service copy at AP’s website instead. Also, newspapers have ALWAYS been a high-overhead/low profit margin business, it was because they were essentially monopolies that they stayed in business. Wall Street never got that memo, and demand high rates of return for a business that is never going to produce triple digit gains every year.

    I would be happy to pay for a news service that did local news reporting, but I’m not going to pay for a crippled news operation that fires its senior talent because they are "expensive". One good reporter beats out a pack of untrained, part timers, and if someone’s hiring those kinds of folks, then I’ll be happy to buy their product and support their advertisers.

  3. Jeremy Hatch (jhatch) on February 27th, 2009 @ 6:58 pm

    The Rocky Mountain News. Somehow that doesn’t surprise me. Back when I lived there, we called it the Rocky Mountain Rag and it was an object of universal derision. If what transpired in the intervening 8 years is anything like what has happened here to the Chronicle, I can only imagine how sad it got.

    I missed this fact about the pay-to-read as well. It’s kind of hilarious to be asked to pay tomorrow to read something that’s not quite worth reading for free today. The New York Times might be able to get away with that, but this paper is nowhere near that class (sorry to say). Personally I have the sense that the Chronicle’s continued existence is holding local journalism back. Civilians aren’t aware there is a problem; they figure, there’s the Chronicle, here since 1865, so it must be doing an adequate job. When in fact it’s barely doing the job at all.

  4. Jeremy Hatch (jhatch) on February 27th, 2009 @ 7:04 pm

    Just read the story you linked, Mark, and wanted to correct a remark up there: it sounds like the Rocky Mountain News improved greatly since I saw it, and that its closure is a truly sad thing.

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