‘SF Chronicle’ Sees Record Web Day For Mayoral Affair Coverage

By: Joe Strupp

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Web site had its busiest day ever Thursday after the paper broke the story of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s affair with the wife of his campaign manager. SFGate.com, which launched in 1995, reported 4.8 million page views for the day, surpassing the previous record of 4.4 million on Election Day 2006.

“We have had a couple of other days in the four million range, but yesterday was the biggest,” said Peter Negulescu, the Chronicle’s vice president for digital media. “We were able to handle the capacity.”

The Web traffic followed the bombshell revelation in Thursday’s print paper that Newsom, the popular mayor who is facing re-election this year, had engaged in a brief affair with Ruby Rippey-Tourk, his former appointments secretary and the wife of his campaign manager, Alex Tourk.

The paper actually broke the story first on its Web site at about 8 p.m. Wednesday, according to Editor Phil Bronstein. The story came out just hours after Tourk resigned from Newsom’s re-election team apparently after hearing about the affair from his wife.

Bronstein, who offered no details on how the paper learned of the affair, said there was some limited discussion Wednesday about breaking the news online. But editors determined that it was the best course of action. “There was a discussion that if we put it on the Web, everyone else will get it,” Bronstein said. “But if you wait, you can lose it. We felt we had it, it was a very solid report and a sound story.”

Along with the record Web traffic, the circulation department also bumped up the single copy press run for both Thursday and Friday editions by 6,000 copies, Bronstein said. Circulation officials said they usually print about 90,000 single copies out of a daily circulation of 373,000.

Negulescu said the Web traffic is credited, in part, to the variety of items placed on the Web site related to the story, from print text to blog postings to video of the mayor’s Thursday press conference where he confirmed the affair had occurred.

“Even two years ago, there would have been one article and there would have been a great debate about posting it on the Web the night before,” he said. “Today, we push it out to the Web site, it gets picked up by people like Drudge and Google News and the next day people are commenting on it. The press conference comes, we have raw feed of the video and the amount of content we can package around it is huge.”

The Web site did have a brief slowdown on Thursday after the Drudge Report placed photos from the Chronicle web site on its pages. “He caused a little traffic jam for us and we asked him to remove it,” Negulescu said. “It slowed the response time, but we never crashed.”

On the reporting front, Bronstein said he had at least a dozen reporters covering some element of the story on Thursday. “We are still strategizing about the story,” he said.

The paper also ran a harsh editorial on Friday, titled “What was he thinking?” It stated, among other views, that “the aggravating factors — betrayal of a friend, violation of one of the most fundamental rules of the workplace — assure that the sordid episode will damage Newsom’s stature even in a city with famously tolerant attitudes about sex.”

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