Jeffrey M. Johnson
January 16, 1865; 152 years ago (1865-01-16)
The San Francisco Chronicle is a newspaper serving primarily the San Francisco Bay Area of the U.S. state of California, but distributed throughout the state from the Sacramento area and The lost coast south to Santa Barbara County. It was founded in 1865 as The Daily Dramatic Chronicle by teenage brothers Charles de Young and Michael H. de Young. The paper is currently owned by the Hearst Corporation, which bought it from the de Young family in 2000.
- Joint Operating Agreement
- Push into the suburbs
- Sale to Hearst
- Praise criticism and features
- Herb Caen
- Historical note
- Best seller list
The paper benefited from the growth of San Francisco and was the largest circulation newspaper on the West Coast of the United States by 1880. Like many other newspapers, it has experienced a rapid fall in circulation in the early 21st century, and was ranked 24th by circulation nationally for the six months to March 2010. The newspaper publishes two web sites: SFGate, which has a mixture of online news and web features, and sfchronicle.com which more closely reflects the type of articles that typically appear in print.
Between World War II and 1971, new editor Scott Josephine Newhall took a bold and somewhat provocative approach to news presentation. Newhall's Chronicle included investigative reporting by such journalists as Pierre Salinger, who later played a prominent role in national politics, and Paul Avery, the staffer who pursued the trail of the self-named "Zodiac Killer" whose crimes chilled late-1960s San Francisco. It also featured such colorful columnists as Pauline Phillips, who wrote under the name "Dear Abby," "Count Marco" (Marc Spinelli), Stanton Delaplane, Terence O'Flaherty, Lucius Beebe, Art Hoppe, Charles McCabe, and Herb Caen.
The newspaper grew in circulation to become the city's largest, overtaking the rival San Francisco Examiner. The demise of other San Francisco dailies through the late 1950s and early 1960s left the Examiner and the Chronicle to battle for circulation and readership superiority.
Joint Operating Agreement
The competition between the Chronicle and Examiner took a financial toll on both papers until the summer of 1965, when a merger of sorts created a Joint Operating Agreement under which the Chronicle became the city's sole morning daily while the Examiner changed to afternoon publication (which ultimately led to a declining readership).
The newspapers were officially owned by the San Francisco Newspaper Agency which managed sales and distribution for both newspapers and was charged with ensuring that one newspaper's circulation did not grow at the expense of the other. Revenue was split equally, which led to a situation widely understood to benefit the Examiner wherein the Chronicle, which had a circulation four times larger than its rival, subsidized the afternoon newspaper.
The two newspapers produced a joint Sunday edition, with the Examiner publishing the news sections and the Sunday magazine and the Chronicle responsible for the tabloid entertainment section and the book review. From 1965 on the two papers shared a single classified-advertising operation. This arrangement stayed in place until the Hearst Corporation took full control of the Chronicle.
Push into the suburbs
Beginning in the early 1990s, the Chronicle started to face competition beyond the borders of San Francisco. The newspaper had long enjoyed a wide reach as the de facto "newspaper of record" in Northern California, with distribution along the Central Coast, the Inland Empire and even as far as Honolulu, Hawaii. There was little competition in the Bay Area suburbs and other areas that the newspaper served, but as Knight Ridder purchased most of the East Bay newspapers in 1995, the Chronicle realized it had to step up suburban coverage.
The Chronicle launched five zoned sections to appear in the Friday edition of the paper. The sections covered San Francisco, and four different suburban areas. They each featured a unique columnist, enterprise pieces and local news specific to the community. The newspaper added 40 full-time staff positions to work in the suburban bureaus. Despite the push to focus on suburban coverage, the Chronicle was hamstrung by the Sunday edition, which, being produced by the San Francisco-centric "un-Chronicle" Examiner, had none of the focus on the suburban communities that the Chronicle was striving to cultivate.
Sale to Hearst
The de Young family controlled the paper, via the Chronicle Publishing Company, until July 27, 2000, when it was sold to Hearst Communications, Inc., which owned the Examiner. Following the sale, the Hearst Corporation transferred the Examiner to the Fang family, publisher of the San Francisco Independent and AsianWeek, along with a $66-million subsidy. Under the new owners, the Examiner became a free tabloid, leaving the Chronicle as the only daily broadsheet newspaper in San Francisco.
In 1949, the de Young family founded KRON-TV (Channel 4), the Bay Area's third television station. Until the mid-1960s, the station (along with KRON-FM), operated from the basement of the Chronicle Building, on Mission Street. KRON moved to studios at 1001 Van Ness Avenue (on the former site of St. Mary's Cathedral, which burned down in 1962). KRON was sold to Young Broadcasting in 2000 and, after years of being San Francisco's NBC affiliate, became an independent station on January 1, 2002 when NBC—tired of Chronicle's repeated refusal to sell KRON to the network and, later, Young's asking price for the station being too high—purchased KNTV in San Jose from Granite Broadcasting Corporation for $230 million.
Since the Hearst Corporation took ownership in 2000 the Chronicle has made periodic changes to its organization and design, but on February 1, 2009, as the newspaper began its 145th year of publication, the Chronicle Sunday edition introduced a redesigned paper featuring a modified logo, new section and page organization, new features, bolder, colored section-front banners and new headline and text typography. The frequent bold-faced, all-capital-letter headlines typical of the Chronicle's front page were eliminated. Editor Ward Bushee's note heralded the issue as the start of a "new era" for the Chronicle.
On July 6, 2009, the paper unveiled some alterations to the new design that included yet newer section fronts and wider use of color photographs and graphics. In a special section publisher Frank J. Vega described new, state-of-the-art printing operations enabling the production of what he termed "A Bolder, Brighter Chronicle." The newer look was accompanied by a reduction in size of the broadsheet. Such moves are similar to those made by other prominent American newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and Orlando Sentinel, which in 2008 unveiled radically new designs even as changing reader demographics and general economic conditions necessitated physical reductions of the newspapers.
On November 9, 2009, the Chronicle became the first newspaper in the nation to print on high-quality glossy paper. The high-gloss paper is used for some section fronts and inside pages.
As of 2013 the publisher of the Chronicle is Jeffrey Johnson. Audrey Cooper was named editor-in-chief in January 2015 and is the first woman to hold the position. The editorial page editor is John Diaz. The Chronicle's free and breaking news website, SFGATE is managed by executive producer Brandon M. Mercer.
The online version of the newspaper can be found at SFGate.com (free) and SFChronicle.com (premium). As well as publishing the San Francisco Chronicle online, SFGate and SFChronicle.com add other features not available in the print version, such as blogs and podcasts. SFGate was one of the earliest major market newspaper websites to be launched, having done so in 1994, at the time of The Newspaper Guild strike; meanwhile the union published its own news website, San Francisco Free Press. SFGATE is the fifth largest newspaper website in America with over 33 million unique visitors each month.
Praise, criticism and features
The paper has received the Pulitzer Prize on a number of occasions. Despite an illustrious and long history, the paper's news reportage is not as extensive as in the past. The current day Chronicle has followed the trend of other American newspapers, devoting increasing attention to local and regional news and cultural and entertainment criticism to the detriment of the paper's traditionally strong national and international reportage, though the paper does maintain a Washington, D.C., bureau. This increased focus on local news is a response to the competition from other Bay Area newspapers including the resurrected San Francisco Examiner, the Oakland Tribune, the Contra Costa Times and the San Jose Mercury News.
Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada received the 2004 George Polk Award for Sports Reporting. Fainaru-Wada and Williams were recognized for their work on uncovering the BALCO scandal, which linked San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds to performance-enhancing drugs. While the two above-named reporters broke the news, they are by no means the only sports writers of note at the Chronicle. The Chronicle's sports section, edited by Al Saracevic and called Sporting Green as it is printed on green-tinted pages, is staffed by a dozen writers. The section's best-known writers are its columnists: Bruce Jenkins, Ann Killion, Scott Ostler, Saracevic and Tom Stienstra. Its baseball coverage is anchored by Henry Schulman, John Shea and Susan Slusser the first female President of the Baseball Writer's Association of America (BBWAA).
Another area of note is the architecture column by John King; the Chronicle is still one of the few American papers to present a regular column on architectural issues. The paper also has regular weekly sections devoted to 'Food', 'Home & Garden', and 'Wine', the latter of which is unique. San Francisco Chronicle Magazine is published on the first Sunday of each month and regularly focuses on the previously mentioned topics. In early 2006 a new section, '96 Hours', was added to the Thursday edition of the paper, covering entertainment from that day through Sunday.
San Francisco's best-known columnist was Herb Caen (1916–1997), a Sacramento native who joined the Chronicle in 1938 to write a local-radio news column. After a series of newspaper beats, he rose to become a top columnist chronicling city life. As his popularity grew, Hearst attempted to lure Caen to the Examiner. Caen did make the jump in 1950, but returned to what he often called "the Chron" in 1958, staying until he retired shortly before his death in 1997.
An illustration of his popularity was the title and placement of his column. Once subtitled "Baghdad-by-the-Bay" - editors determined its authors name was enough to attract legions of loyal readers. For a long time, the column anchored its own section front, sharing the page with a highly lucrative Macy's advertisement. Caen's newspaper columns helped create a popular self-image for the city as eclectic and egalitarian. He drew his material from his daily rounds of cafes, clubs, shops and neighborhood hangouts. Socialites and bohemians, business tycoons and waterfront characters paraded across the city stage in Caen's view. Caen launched a good-natured campaign against use of the nickname "Frisco", considering it a sure way to spot an out-of-towner. In 1953, he wrote a book called Don't Call It Frisco after a 1918 Examiner news item of the same name.
Caen also took a positive, if sometimes bemused, view of the convulsive cultural (and counter-cultural) changes to the city from the 1950s to the 1970s. Frequent observations of the city's beatniks (a term he may have coined), hippies, and burgeoning gay community made appearances in his writing. He wrote in a trademark "three-dot journalism" style; his columns comprised brief items neatly tied together by ellipses.
His Sunday feature was often a sentimental look at San Francisco in the 1930s and 1940s—which he celebrated as a halcyon time. While lamenting the incursion of freeways, skyscrapers, and chain stores on his beloved "city on golden hills," he would usually conclude that San Francisco's beauty and character had withstood the changes. From the late 1940s to late 1990s a dozen books of Caen's writing and reflections were published.
In late 1996, after protracted absences raised reader concerns, Caen disclosed that he was being treated for lung cancer; after several public ceremonies and fetes (and after a section of the city's waterfront Embarcadero was renamed for him) he retired, passing away on February 1, 1997.
Circulation has fallen sharply since the heyday of the dot-com boom from 1997 to 2001. The Chronicle''s daily readership dropped by 16.6% between 2004 and 2005 to 400,906; The Chronicle fired one quarter of its newsroom staff in a cost-cutting move in May 2007. Newspaper executives pointed to growth of SFGate, the online website with 5.2 million unique visitors per month - fifth among U.S. newspaper websites in 2007.
In February 2009, Hearst chief executive Frank A. Bennack Jr., and Hearst President Steven R. Swartz, announced that the Chronicle had lost money every year since 2001 and more than $50 million in 2008. Without major concessions from employees and other cuts, Hearst would put the papers up for sale and if no buyer was found, shut the paper. San Francisco would have become the first major American city without a daily newspaper. The cuts were made.
In spite of, or perhaps because of, the threats, the loss of readers and advertisers accelerated. On October 26, 2009, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported that the Chronicle had suffered a 25.8% drop in circulation for the six-month period ending September 2009, to 251,782 subscribers, the largest percentage drop in circulation of any major newspaper in the United States. Chronicle publisher Frank Vega said the drop was expected as the paper moved to earn more from higher subscription fees from fewer readers. In May 2013, Vega retired and was replaced as publisher by former Los Angeles Times publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson. SFGate, the main digital portal for the San Francisco Chronicle, registered 19 million unique visitors in January 2015, making it the seventh ranked newspaper website in the United States.
The Chronicle features different sections every day.
Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday: Main News; Sporting Green; Bay Area; Business Report; Datebook
Thursday: Main News; Sporting Green; Bay Area; Business Report; Datebook weekend
Friday: Main News; Sporting Green; Bay Area; Business Report; Datebook; Cars
Saturday: Main News; Sporting Green; Bay Area; Business Report; Datebook
Sunday: Main News; Sporting Green; Bay Area; Business Report; Insight; Books; Food & Home; Real Estate; Open Homes; Style; Travel; Datebook; Chronicle Magazine (1st Sunday of the month)
The Zodiac Killer sent a cryptogram in three sections in letters to the Chronicle and two other papers during his murder spree in the late 1960s.
The Chronicle best-seller list represents data from booksellers in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, one of the major bookstore markets left in the United States.
The San Francisco Chronicle prices are: $1.50 daily, $3 Sunday/Thanksgiving Day. Sales tax is included at newsracks; may be higher in designated state areas.