Pelosi’s Request Poses Danger to San Francisco and Its Venerable Chronicle

House
Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s request last week to U.S. Attorney General Eric
Holder to relax anti-trust regulations so that another Bay Area media
organization might buy or financially prop up the ailing San Francisco
Chronicle
constitutes a well meaning, if not deeply flawed gesture.

Set
aside the generally bad precedent that granting such a request would
mean for the news industry. No, this request is a bad
idea for a far more specific reason: If
Holder grants the Pelosi’s request, the action would
likely pave the way for the Chronicle to be grabbed by the MediaNews Group
(MNG), giving the Denver-based chain a lock-tight monopoly of dailies
publishing in the Bay Area.

While
some might argue that any rescue ship is welcome when the boat you’re
on is down by the bow and headed under the waves, the idea of MNG
owning and operating the Chronicle amounts to the venerable daily facing an
editorial fate that’s actually worse than death itself, or, in this
case, closure.

That’s because anyone who has followed MNG’s ownership and operational patterns know that they
begin and end with the idea of wringing the maximum profits and
revenues from a given publication. The quality of the news product is,
at best, a second thought.

For evidence,
look no further than what’s happened to the MNG papers in both San
Francisco’s East Bay and in Southern California. Dozens of
dedicated reporters, photographers and editors have been eliminated
through lay-offs, buy-outs or other workforce reduction programs.
Corners get cut. Beats and types of coverage get eliminated. Those who
remain fear for their jobs every day.

To
their critics MNG will counter that if the company had not purchased
some of the smaller properties, those publications would be dead by now
and that some local news is better than no local news. In certain
cases, they’d be right. And while
Hearst has acted with marked patience to the Chronicle in recent years while
it suffered millions in losses, it too has had to
aggressively wield the budget cutting knife — laying off dozens of
reporters, editors and others.

Just this week Hearst demanded and got
from the paper’s unions major contract concessions and give-backs as
well as the departure of 150 more people out of editorial. Even with
those cuts, Hearst made no promises about how long it could hold on.

And certainly, when one contemplates
the newspaper industry’s ham-handed embrace of the
Internet coupled with the an economic recession, lay-offs and closures in the business were a given.

But
when one looks at how MNG has decimated the once great San Jose Mercury
News
, the Los Angeles Daily News, the Contra Costa Times and others,
one gets a sense that it might be better for the Chronicle to enter Hospice
care and die with what’s left of its editorial dignity.

The
issue here is only partly about the idea of breaching good anti-trust
regulations that have served us well in preventing undue media
ownership concentrations. In this case it’s also — if you will — an
editorial “quality of life” question when it comes to the idea of MNG
running the Chronicle.

San Francisco
deserves an aggressive, vibrant, fully-staffed watchdog of a newspaper
that mirrors its standing as one of America’s great cosmopolitan cities.

MNG is just not up to the task.