With circulation dropping, California papers are pursing contrasting tactics. While the LA Times is in limbo between either being bought or sucking, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Sacramento Bee are telegraphing the approaches they will be taking to survive.
The AP reported on the Bee:
The Sacramento Bee is closing its bureaus in Los Angeles and San Francisco and offering buyout packages to a handful of editorial employees as it struggles with declining revenue and circulation. […]
The paper is increasing the staff of its Capitol bureau and next month will begin offering a subscription-based politics and government Web site, [Executive Editor Rick] Rodriguez said.
The Bee’s parent, The McClatchy Co. of Sacramento, grew to the nation’s second-largest newspaper publishing company this year when it purchased Knight Ridder Inc., a transaction that was final in June.
Even though I am a political junky, I don’t see myself getting a subscription to a political site run by the Bee. As the paper in a political city, I think that McClatchy should look at the trend in Washington to see why this makes no sense. In DC, the premier subscription site has always been The Hotline, which has spent the last two years providing more and more and more content outside of the subscription wall. There is no point in getting a subscription to Roll Call, if they break news the AP will cover it and it will end up on the blogs if it is interesting. Meanwhile, The Hill has far more penetration with a free website.
I think it makes sense for the Bee to increase political coverage, but putting it behind a subscription wall prevents the Bee from fully participating in the conversation.
Over at SFGate:
So Bronstein, who at the turn of the millennium was arguably the most influential media figure in San Francisco, now has pretenders to that throne: Craig Newmark of Craigslist, Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos political blog, and the social networking geniuses at Web sites like Digg, Flickr, Upcoming, and Yelp, not to mention South Bay Web behemoths Google and Yahoo, or Dean Singleton and his suburban newspaper archipelago. At the old Examiner, Bronstein reveled in the role of underdog – David to the Chronicle’s Goliath. Now Bronstein controls the lumbering old-media giant, and a thousand Davids lie in wait with slingshots.
The soul-searching at the Chronicle caused by this competitive landscape has led to a journalistic transformation of the paper. It is no longer where editors think first to put breaking news – that role is consigned to SFGate.com. But if computers, 24-hour cable TV channels, and Web-enabled phones render most news old by the time the paper is printed, who will need the Chronicle and its reporters? Bronstein is working on a new formula that could be copied by others seeking survival, and print journalism may have to take a back seat. […]
In 36 years, Bronstein has risen to the very pinnacle of the region’s news hierarchy with a combination of talent, charm, pluck, and luck. The college dropout who drifted West with dreams of freelancing articles about toilets as the creative centers of homes now finds himself running the biggest newspaper in Northern California, one that is trying to show the way onto the Web for others to follow. He could also go down in history as the captain who sank the Chronicle ship.
New high-tech habits augur poorly for any newspaper. Several editors at the Chronicle lamented that their grown children never read the newspaper. Tom Leonard, the librarian of UC Berkeley and an accomplished journalism historian, sheepishly admitted that he couldn’t reliably critique the Chronicle’s redesigned front page because he now reads its content mostly on SFGate, where he can get it free.
This seems to make far more sense, but the Chronicle still has a long way to go. There seems to be lack of basic standards (see this which doesn’t include a single link to any of the material quoted). Not to pick on the Chron’s political blog, but there are 17 authors listed as contributing and there wasn’t a single post December 2-3, 7-10, 16-17, 22-27 and there hasn’t been a post since the 28th. With the Bee hiding behind a subscription wall and the Chron on vacation, is there a vacuum waiting to be filled?