SF Chronicle in danger of closing

February 24, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
A San Francisco institution is in danger of going under. The struggles facing newspapers across the country are hitting close to home as the Chronicle announced Tuesday the need for painful cutbacks to save the paper.

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More than 1.6 million people read the Chronicle. Yet despite its vast readership, the Bay Area's oldest and largest newspaper is losing money big time, so much so that it could shut down.

What the San Francisco Chronicle brings in revenue is not nearly enough to cover its operating costs. In fact, the nearly $8 weekly subscription fee, doesn't even cover half of what it costs to produce and deliver the paper to the subscriber.

"It has endured earthquakes, fires, and other calamities as San Francisco's newspaper. It has always survived. Nevertheless, the Chronicle is also a business, like any other business it must live within in its means, but it has not," said Ward Bushee, the executive vice president and editor of the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Chronicle, which also operates the popular news website SFGate.com, has seen its subscriptions and advertisements nosedive, in large part because more people are turning to the Internet. Last year alone, the paper lost $50 million. The plan now is to make deep cuts in union and non-union staff.

"I don't think I'm safe and I don't think anyone in that newsroom feels that they're safe. I think it's a new world in journalism. Everyone is looking for a new model," said C.W. Nevius, a Chronicle columnist.

The Hearst Corporation which owns the Chronicle, says if cuts can't be made in a matter of weeks, it will try to sell the paper and if no buyer comes forward, the Chronicle will close.

"I think it would be a shame to lose a hometown newspaper. It's always a shame when that happens," said Eric Miller, a San Francisco resident.

However, unless the Chronicle can figure out a way to make money, the newspaper's 144-year run will likely end. Industry experts say other newspapers across the country are also on the verge of extinction.

Robert Rosenthal is a former managing editor of the Chronicle, and now runs the Center for Investigative Reporting.

"There's a tremendous amount of concern on many levels, about who will be the watchdogs that have traditionally helped to really shape America and kept a watch on government and corporations and other issues that affect everybody," said Rosenthal.

Philadelphia Newspapers, which publishes the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Sunday. Its executives, however, insists the company, while heavy in debt, remains profitable.

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