In yet another manifestation of the long, sad and widely-noted decline of the San Francisco Chronicle, Hearst Corporation has threatened the paper with sale or closure if it doesn’t make major, immediate cuts to both union and non-union staff.
While no deadline was laid down for making these cuts, and their scope was not quantified, it’s clear that Hearst means business. SFist has published a memo sent to Chronicle employees by Chairman and Publisher Frank Vega, in which he intimates “a series of cost-saving initiatives designed to alleviate” the continuing losses at the paper. Well, we all know what that means.
Vega goes on: “First and foremost of these cost savings will be a significant reduction in force across all areas of our operation affecting both represented and non-represented employees. We will shortly begin discussions with union leadership on proposals. Our current situation dictates that we accomplish these cost savings quickly. Business as usual is no longer an option. If we are unable to accomplish these reductions in the immediate future, Hearst Corporation, which owns the Chronicle, has informed us that it will offer the newspaper for sale or close it altogether.”
The San Francisco Business Times also reported on the story, adding that the paper lost $50 million dollars in 2008, and possibly that much every year going back to 2001.
And SFGate itself posted a story — byline, Hearst Newspapers — giving the story the predictable, rolling-up-the-sleeves angle that the company would have: it’s a venerable institution amidst industry turmoil; this’ll hurt, but it’s got to be done.
However, some have suggested that the “if” phrase in the memo makes the subtext read like this: if the unions don’t cave to our demands, we’ll shut the paper down, and then where will they be?
This is distressing news to me for personal reasons: I know a number of people who are now employed, directly or indirectly, by the paper. But I can’t help but think it might be for the better, in the long run, if the Chronicle did shut down. As a San Francisco reader who really cares about the news, it’s impossible not to have noticed that the Chronicle has been a sub-par news source for many years. SFGate always seems to be the last site to publish breaking stories, San Francisco itself appears almost not to exist in its pages apart from shootings, City Hall, and entertainment, and much if not most of its content is taken straight from the AP wire. I keep checking the page out of a sense of duty, but I’m not sure what it gets me, when I get such excellent national news from the New York Times, and most of my local news from Streetsblog, Missionlocal, Eater SF, Curbed SF, SFCitizen, and San Francisco Business Times — all of which routinely feature original reporting. As for arts stories, you can’t go wrong with KQED. And I haven’t even mentioned the sites that are less about news per se but which are fun to read and are often useful, such as SFist, Mission Mission, and this blog. I’d probably feel differently if it were my job at stake, but somehow I think that journalism in San Francisco has a future with or without the Chronicle — and it just might have a brighter future without it.