San Francisco Chronicle Owner Threatens Shutdown

Hearst Newspapers could shut down San Francisco's dominant daily, the Chronicle, if unions do not agree to major job cuts. The threatened shuttering would leave the city without a real newspaper. Would anyone notice?

The absence of a strong newspaper, a contender with the New York Times, Washington Post, or even Los Angeles Times, has long frustrated the intelligentsia of the Bay Area. Instead, we have a sorry ink-on-dead-trees product that even some employees call the San Francisco Comical.

The joke is that the Chronicle isn't really Hearst's paper. The chain bought it in 2000 after publishing the San Francisco Examiner, the one-time "Monarch of the Dailies," for more than a century, and overseeing its slow decline. (Time wrote about the Examiner's troubles almost a half-century ago.)

In the 2000 deal, Hearst merged the staffs of the Examiner and the Chronicle into a single Chronicle newsroom, all but guaranteeing losses. And indeed, in its overstaffed state, the paper has not made a profit since 2001, and lost $50 million in 2008. (The Examiner, meanwhile, has passed through various owners and is now a sporadically distributed free tabloid owned by railroad billionaire Philip Anschutz.)

So Hearst is stuck with a title to which it has no sentimental attachment, which shows no signs of making money, in a tough market (the region has 21 daily newspapers spread around 11 counties). The publisher has already threatened to shutter the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The trend towards reading news online is better established in the technophiliac Bay Area than elsewhere. It no longer seems so unfathomable that the Chronicle might close. The shame is that not many people might mourn its passing.

Update: SFist has a memo from Chronicle publisher Frank Vega.