On the Chron

Interesting article in today’s New York Times about the special set of problems that are giving the San Francisco Chronicle even more trouble than most newspapers these days. The essence of the article is that San Francisco is a particularly tough market for newspapers because there is no real “center” there, which is largely true. The Bay Area is a very dispersed metropolitan region encompassing San Jose, Oakland, Contra Costa county, and a host of sub-regions, and (as much as San Franciscans might disagree) there is no central focus on any single city in the region.

That said, I think the article shortchanges the effect of technological advances that hit the Bay Area first and made it one of the most “wired” parts of the country early on; competition from internet sources rates brealy a paragraph. Similarly, there is no mention of the fact that the Chronicle was among the first newspapers to essentially give away all its content online — including its archives dating to 1996, which is something of a rarity even now. Mind you, that’s what has made me love the Cron’s website, and it’s why I link to it regularly when I need a “permanent” free link to a regional or national news item, but as a business model, it seeems really questionable to me.

As you might guess, I read this article in the print version of the Times, because I like my newspapers in that format. I keep looking for creative ideas from newspaper publishers that will enable me to continue doing so, but I’m not seeing very many. In fact, I’m mostly seeing changes that will only continue to alienate the “ink on paper” faithful, or those who, like me, can appreciate both models on various levels. My local paper, for example, has shrunk to the size of a pamphlet over the past few years, eliminating popular fetaures and sections and switching to a format that can best be described as “graphic design masquerading as journalism”. I’ve had a few significant delivery problems lately, with no follow-up from the circulation department.

And then there’s spiffy new “e-edition” of the paper — basically a PDF version that replicates the print version with a souped up reader that allows you to zoom in on articles — has recently been unveiled. Unfortunately, it comes at an added price, even for print subscribers. While I certainly agree that non-subscribers should probably be charged for this service, I think newspapers should be offering their print subscribers as many options as possible (or at least answering their emailed complaints) to keep them onboard.

I’m not sure what the best way out of this mess might be, and I’m starting to think most major newspaper publishers have even less of an idea than I do.