In a memo sent to the SF Chronicle’s Metro staff on Friday, Metro Section Editor Audrey Cooper took a sharply defensive stance against what she, perhaps, views as the threat of local financier Warren Hellman’s much ballyhooed plans to launch a locally focused, online news organization, saying that her staff will “smash whomever is naive enough to poke their noses in our market” and announcing plans to move staff to Sacramento to maintain “a strong and intimidating presence” in the state Capitol.
Without going into boring, Babysitters’ Club style details, let me get this out and up front: when I worked with Cooper at the Chronicle, she and I did not see eye to eye on many issues. That said, it gives me no pleasure to share that the struggling Chronicle, through her words, continues to exemplify what I see as a kind of tragic and shitty way of thinking (I know it is so douchey to link to a video of me talking, especially one where my hair looks like that, but I wanted to prove to you that I’ve been very public in stating that this attitude is crap even before I read The Cooper Memo) about the relationship between news outlets in any media space.
Generally, I try to stay away from media stories because I don’t know how many non-media people really care about them. But here is why you should care about this one: Everyone who is wringing their hands and saying WE NEED TO SAVE NEWSPAPERS is afraid we’re going to lose smart, professional stories from people who will uncover injustice and change lives and do all that other stuff that only a free press can do. They are probably right — we do need people doing that (personally, I’m just not convinced that newspapers are the only way this will get done). But here we have the section head of our City’s major paper (sorry Examiner!) saying “fuck that shit, we just want to DOMINATE.”
Yeah, we have the head of the section that writes about our Bay Area and State news basically saying that they don’t want anyone else writing about it, and saying it so decisively that she’s compelled to use words like “intimidate” and “smash.” I know, stop the billion dollar color presses, the Chronicle doesn’t have your, the readers’, best interests at heart. But, and please don’t let me get too Capital Jay Journalism on you, but that is some fucked thinking, thinking that implies that at least some prominent members of Chronicle management have lost the mission of journalism and replaced it with something far less glorious or useful to readers.
One former Chronicle staffer I spoke to said “they’re just scared over there.” And I get that, there are layoffs and jobs are scarce and it sucks! But why this fear that someone else might do good work? How does it hurt you if someone else kicks ass? And, finally, (douchey linking to self quoted elsewhere #2)how has being a virtual monopoly helped you so far?
And, who knows, maybe the Bay Area News Project (that’s its working title) will blow donkey dongs. Or (and this is quite possible) maybe it’ll be kind of serious and boring to people like me. Or maybe it’ll totally rule! You all, as news readers, know that there are way more Bay Area stories than there are people reporting on them. My hope: that the “threat” of another news org will help everyone raise their game, which in the end will be better for all of us news readers and writers in the Bay Area. (And I do know they there are folks, good folks, at the Chronicle who are thinking like that — but, unfortunately, they’re not the ones sending notes to Metro.)
But that’s not what Cooper’s saying: she’s saying “smash” and “intimidate.” Think about that the next time you read the Chronicle’s Metro section. What is it they don’t want you to read?
Here’s the whole memo, with a couple footnotes for you news nerds out there:
From: Cooper, Audrey
Sent: Fri 9/25/2009 9:55 AM
Subject: staff changes and other fun tidbits
Dear metro folk,
Gots a few piece of news to share with everyone:
1. I woke up so excited today. Today’s paper was suburb. It’s been really strong recently — and just wait til Sunday! — and most of the reason is because you all have been working so hard. It’s obviously been a hard few months, but you’ve all shown a lot of class and raw talent every day. You are going to smash whomever is naive enough to poke their noses in our market. Bring it on!
2. Please put on your calendar now that there will be a staff meeting at noon on Nov. 11. I know that’s far away but so far nobody’s taking that day off and I want to make sure as many people can come as possible. I’ll make lunch. Maybe lasagna. Seriously!
3. No word on these early Bay Area deadlines*, but the transitional period with Transcom is nearly over, so I should have more info next week.
4. Ken’s** last day is Wednesday. He doesn’t want a big to-do, but I have a card for him in my office. Please come sign it; I’m sure it would mean a lot to him.
5. Finally, some exciting staff news:
Join me in congratulating Matthew Yi, who after many years in the Sacto bureau is taking a new job that will eventually land him closer to family in Orange County. Matt’s been a rock in the 916 for us, most recently putting in some excruciatingly long hours covering the budget debacle.
He’s much great work and will be sorely missed.
Because we want to make sure we continue to have a strong and intimidating presence in Sacramento, Marisa Lagos will be joining Wyatt Buchanan up at the Capitol. Give ’em hell, Marisa! We know you will. Please congratulate Marisa on trading in her City Hall press pass for one that gets her into the governor’s smoking tent.
So who gets Marisa’s closet office in City Hall? Someone who knows more about city politics than all the supervisors put together: Rachel Gordon. We’re very lucky to have such an experienced City Hall expert to send to keep watch over those supervisors, commissioners and gadflies.
Michael Cabanatuan will return to familiar haunts covering transportation. Frankly, it’s just fun to write about all the Muni employees-in-training who crash their buses — and Michael will no doubt slip easily back into this important beat that earned him much admiration from sources and readers. He joins the City Hall team.
Finally, new meat: The very talented Justin Berton will be joining us from the features department starting Monday. Be nice to him. He’ll join Trapper’s group.
While we are sad to see her leave the metro family, I’m sure Meredith May will love working with the features department! She is a tremendous talent and we will miss her.
That’s it. My 30-inch note. (Which under the old system would have only been 12 inches.)
*When the Chronicle switched over to the new presses, deadlines for the non-front section moved way, way up. And it looks like they’re going to stay that way, at least for a while, which means the news you see in any section besides the front one is “aged” news. Yum!
** Ken Conner, AME for news, who applied for and took a buyout earlier this summer.
Photo illustration: Tim Ehhalt