By: Joel Davis
Chronicle, Examiner Face Competition Beside Each Other
from this week’s Editor & Publisher magazine:
With the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner both
embroiled in legal difficulties over their respective sales, competing
newspapers are closing the ring around San Francisco.
While the Hearst Corp. – buyer of the Chronicle from the Chronicle
Publishing Co. and seller of the Examiner to the Fang family – girds
for a May trial that will determine if it can go forward with the
deals, the San Jose Mercury News is accelerating plans for a zoned
edition in San Francisco with a beefed-up staff. The zoned edition,
said to be eight to 12 pages, will make its debut in July.
While Mercury News officials declined to comment, a source at the paper
tells E&P that the Knight Ridder-owned daily’s one-man San Francisco
bureau will have as many as 16 new reporters in the city. They will
focus on metro, entertainment, business, and technology news, with an
especially strong focus on competing with the Chronicle’s popular pink
Sunday ‘Datebook’ entertainment section.
‘There’s been talk of it for a long time, but certainly it’s been
accelerated because of expectation of a stronger paper by Hearst,’ the
Knight Ridder and the Los Angeles Times also have launched a joint
marketing and distribution deal to expand the L.A. Times National
Edition’s reach in the Bay Area. The Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Contra
Costa Times began distributing the L.A. Times’ National Edition in
Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties last month. The companies
announced Wednesday that the National Edition will expand into seven
additional Bay Area counties, including San Francisco.
Although officials from the Contra Costa Times and the L.A. Times say
the timing of the expansion is coincidental with the Chronicle/Examiner
legal woes, at least one Bay Area media expert believes otherwise.
‘It’s clear that Times Mirror and Knight Ridder see a soft underbelly
there while the Chronicle is essentially rudderless,’ says David Cole,
whose company, NewsInc., covers media trends.
The Bay Area right now is one of the most competitive newspaper markets
in the country. The Chronicle and Examiner compete with Knight Ridder,
which owns the Mercury News in addition to the Contra Costa Times; ANG,
owned by William Dean Singleton’s MediaNews Group Inc. and parent of
The Oakland Tribune and several other Bay Area dailies; Gannett Co.
Inc., owner of the Marin Independent Journal, Novato; and the New York
Times Co., which owns The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa.
ANG President/Publisher Scott McKibben, who calls the current newspaper
war in the Bay Area ‘absolutely fierce,’ says his chain ‘has no
intention’ of penetrating the San Francisco city market. ‘The
Chronicle, the Examiner, The Independent – that’s their turf, and we
couldn’t possibly generate enough circulation to make it profitable,’
However, the 36,000-circulation San Mateo County Times, an ANG
afternoon daily, is already aiming to pick up subscribers of the p.m.
Examiner once new owner Ted Fang converts it to a morning paper. In
addition to increasing subscriber solicitations, the San Mateo County
Times has added Sunday comics and will probably devote more space to
local news coverage, McKibben says.
North of San Francisco, Phyllis Pfeiffer, publisher of the Marin
Independent Journal, says it will remain a suburban paper. ‘We’re not
looking to move into the city,’ she says. She adds, however, that her
paper publishes an afternoon single-copy edition for commuters who work
in San Francisco, and is excited about its prospects once the Fang-
owned Examiner converts to morning distribution. ‘That may be an
advantage,’ she says.
While the Chronicle and Examiner haven’t stood pat in marketing – the
Chronicle recently bought the naming rights to the Concord Pavilion in
Contra Costa County and the Examiner is publishing special game-day
editions at the San Francisco Giants’ new downtown ballpark – they are
in a difficult position, NewsInc.’s Cole says. ‘I’m not denigrating
[Chronicle Chairman, President and CEO] John Sias,’ he says, ‘but he
can’t make heavy decisions on his own right now, and conversely he
can’t do what Hearst tells him to do because it’s not clear Hearst is
going to get the paper.’
That’s because former San Francisco mayoral candidate Clint Reilly, an
unsuccessful bidder for the Examiner, is suing Hearst to halt its $660-
million purchase of the Chronicle.
Both sides have agreed to bypass an April 13 hearing on a preliminary
injunction and proceed directly to a full nonjury trial in May, at
which time a judge will decide whether to block or allow the deal.
Joel Davis (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is West Coast editor for Editor & Publisher magazine.
(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher