Future of San Francisco Chronicle in Jeopardy

Photo: The Chronicle is facing threats of closure from its parent company, Hearst Corporation. The paper is the twelfth largest in the nation, and has faced major yearly losses since 2001.
Victoria Chow/Staff
The Chronicle is facing threats of closure from its parent company, Hearst Corporation. The paper is the twelfth largest in the nation, and has faced major yearly losses since 2001.

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The San Francisco Chronicle, the largest newspaper in the Bay Area, may close if major financial losses are not remedied, its parent company announced Tuesday.

The Chronicle, established in 1865, is the nation's twelfth largest newspaper. It has faced major losses since 2001 and may have to cease operations, according to Hearst Corporation.

"The paper has lost more than $50 million last year, and this year's losses are worse," said Paul Luthringer, spokesperson for Hearst.

Ceasing operations would be the only option for the Chronicle if it cannot balance its losses or find a buyer, he said.

"It's an unfortunate announcement, although it has to happen," Luthringer said. "We hope that we can get the cost-savings that we need so that we can continue to operate the newspaper."

The Chronicle began negotiations yesterday with unions to find cost-saving measures, including significant employee reduction, Luthringer said.

Henry Lee, a Chronicle reporter and a former Daily Californian employee, said the plight of the economy and journalism is disheartening.

"Everyone's trying to stay positive, but it's been pretty challenging and strange to see the state of your own paper on the top of the newscast," he said.

A bulletin circulated by the California Media Workers Guild yesterday showed that at least 50 guild members' jobs will be cut at the Chronicle.

George Powell, treasurer of the guild, believed eliminating employees was not the best solution.

"I don't think you can cut your way to economic viability in the newspaper market ... because you're actually chopping off your own body parts," Powell said.

Aside from Hearst, the only other prominent newspaper publisher in the Bay Area is MediaNews Group, which is also suffering economically. The group currently owns several local newspapers, including The San Jose Mercury News and The Contra Costa Times.

The Chronicle is the last major Bay Area newspaper not owned by the group.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The Denver Post, owned by Hearst and MediaNews Group respectively, are also considering closure if they cannot find solutions for their losses.

MediaNews Group was unavailable for comment.

The Chronicle's troubles are shared by newspapers across the country, said Paul Grabowicz, director of the New Media Program at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.

"It's a combination of classified ads essentially going completely online, general advertising going down because of the recession and the growth of the Internet, and overall decline in circulation," said Grabowicz.

Joan Bieder, associate dean of the journalism school and a Chronicle subscriber, said she would miss the newspaper if it closed operations.

"It's really very, very sad to think that it's possibly going out of business. It's an unfortunate symptom of the changing times," Bieder said.


Contact Mihir Zaveri at [email protected]

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