SAN FRANCISCO, Ca --- It’s been a bad month for Left Coast newspapers. All in one week, the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times and the San Jose Mercury announced 25% cuts in their writing staffs. My hometown’s San Francisco Chronicle has suffered the most. About $25 million lost in just the first four months of 2007 –- That’s $1 million a week piled onto the $330 million the paper has lost since Hearst Corporation bought it for $600 million in 2000.
I’ve been fortunate to know many seasoned and fair Chronicle journalists who are getting the ax. They deserve better. The problem lies at the top --- those who decide what stories, what layout, and the language of the headlines. But few of the head honchos will get a pink slip. So the Chron's financial slide will continue.
True, industry trends explain the losses, in part. But the San Francisco Chronicle, in particular – anchored in a city of passionate, articulate, minority groups -- has a deeper problem. Evangelical political correctness or the need to be ‘progressive’. The Chron has played to these groups. It’s fashionable, and the Chronicle presumes profitable. They ignore the thousands of families, small business owners, homeowners, and workers Instead The Chronicle has been hammering its readers for years now with their version of what’s news. In their choice of the stories, their editorialized style of reporting, headlines, layout, six-part series, and commentators, they have been interpreting, not reporting, the news. Too many in San Francisco have been indoctrinated to believe that the Chronicle’s worldview is accurate. It’s the same story in the Southland at the Los Angeles Times. Both mimic the king of opinionated news reporting – the New York Times.
To make financial matters worse for the Chronicle, their largely biased news is available for free online.
Slanting the news was doomed from the start. Online journals, blogs, and forums do a better job of presenting biased news. They do it not just daily, but hourly. Take for example, the impact of left leaning sites on the Democrat party. At the same time, specialized journals, in print and online, do a better job of reporting actual news. The writing and reporting is brisk and upbeat. The reader interprets the big picture.
No one should be surprised over the newspapers’ demise. Big city writers are predominantly liberal (65%), voted for Democrats (90%), and are either atheist or agnostics (45%), according to a study by S. Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman. A Los Angeles Times study of 3,000 journalists at 621 newspapers confirmed these stats.
The deeper problem is that the a majority of older news writers and their editors are fixated on the sixties. After two lowly reporters for the Washington Post brought down President Nixon, newspaper editors see themselves on a messianic mission every time a Republican sits in the White House. The sixties empowered editors to bring the reader to their point of view, not to the story. Gay issues over family issues, illegal immigration over legal entrant issues. The list goes on. There must be balance. The reading audience is too diverse. Of course, then there’s "the war" – not in Vietnam, in Iraq, though newspaper editors can hardly tell the difference. Advocacy has replaced investigation. Woodward and Bernstein were successful in the seventies in uncovering the Watergate truth because of their tireless effort to uncover, not insinuate the story.
To stop the free fall, newspapers must return to finding and explicating the news---- and leave their opinions on the opinion pages where they belong.