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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.

Why this fear that someone else might do good work? How does it hurt you if someone else kicks ass?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
To: SFC-Metro
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

the author

Eve Batey is the editor and publisher of the San Francisco Appeal. She used to be the San Francisco Chronicle's Deputy Managing Editor for Online, and started at the Chronicle as their blogging and interactive editor. Before that, she was a co-founding writer and the lead editor of SFist. She's been in the city since 1997, presently living in the Outer Sunset with her husband, cat, and dog. You can reach Eve at eve@sfappeal.com.

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  • be_devine

    Did the Chronicle’s Metro Editor really say that she found today’s paper to be “suburb”? Is this just a typo, or a Freudian slip?

    Is the Chronicle really going to send reporters to Sacramento? If they actually do that, I’d be shocked. Over the last few years, they’ve done little more than regurgitate press releases. Some state-level reporting would be a welcome addition to our local, “suburb” paper.

  • Greg Dewar

    well darnit now I don”t know what to think. If you and Violet are writing about this and making some good points, maybe my “I don’t trust Hellman” stuff , while valid, isn’t the whole bag of crack here. Darn nuanced thinking and reasoning!

    But while little miss huff and puff at the Chron can get her white whine on, let’s be real: the Chronicle dismantled its investigative unit, spent years dismembering its Sacramento staff, lost all its experienced people, and has functioned as a mouthpiece for Governor Newsom. They even cut pages, cut features and even did the sneaky high schooler trick of bumping up type sizes to make their paper look fuller. And they charge more. Fuck them.

    This is rapidly becoming a “Geraldo Vs. The Skinheads” fight between Warren Hellman and the Chronicle. The SF Appeal can be the James Dean that comes back from the grave and kicks both their asses.

  • bloomsm

    It’s a joke for the Chronicle to believe that it can corner the market on local news, with a decimated staff of demoralized journalists looking for work. The rise of local micro-media is here to stay, and the Chronicle cannot do a thing about it (hence the memo, akin to a woolly mammoth outside on a sunny day).

    Once upon a time, a smart man said “never get in a pissing match with a guy who buys his ink by the barrel.” No one needs ink anymore, and no one needs the Chron. The SFAppeal, the SFist and others can punch above their weight, freed from the “hard” costs of a physical plant, union legacy contracts, and the costs of paper and distribution.

    The fact is, when veteran enterprise reporters like Susan Sward are shown the door, and the Washington “bureau” is a CNN feed, the Chron is only repeating news that’s developed by others. The re-design of the Chronicle apparently is meant to distract you from the lack of substance within its pages. The Chronicle exists because: (1) Macy’s needs a place to advertise for the 7 people left in the area who don’t use computers; and (2) dismantling the Chron would cost Hearst more than running it on life support for a while longer. It’s sad, but it’s inevitable.

  • Martin G.

    The Chronicle and the whole Hearst Empire is moribund and there aint a damn thing they can do about it. Even with the resources that they have, they can not match the ability of independent journalists with a mission to deliver the story in almost real-time via electronic media. If they can marshall their forces to have a voice in this town beyond “The (boring) Gate”, welcome to the party, pal. I haven’t personally read the Chron in print in years. It’s just not that good a paper!

  • cedichou

    superb = suburb? Hilarious.

    @Greg: the Chron is making up for being a mouthpiece for Newsom by giving him some serious hate right now. Bronstein was checking his garbage bins to see if he separated compost from recyclable! I almost feel sad for Gavin they are so ridiculous in their attacks.

    Sad to see Yi leave, he was relatively honest in his reporting. But all the better ones jump ship.

  • Alex Zepeda

    Well, the Chron has one saving grace: they don’t litter my driveway with useless paper after being told not to. Otherwise, as much as I dislike their right-wing bent, the Examiner seems to do a better job at local coverage.

    I agree that professional journalism is fantastically important. Print media isn’t the only way to accomplish this, agreed. However, there are some fundamental advantages to the print model. The restrictions placed on print ads (e.g. it’s static content, low/no security risks, etc) make them far easier for the reader to digest. Online ads have no such restrictions, and are much harder to monetize… which I suspect is one of the driving forces behind making online ads so intrusive.

    So far, nearly every news web site (including SF Appeal) has failed miserably at making the whole web site experience as enticing (or bearable) in this resepect. Want to copy a blurb from one of the Chron’s typo ridden articles (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2009/09/28/financial/f185114D17.DTL)? They spam whatever you copy to the clipboard. The ads are simply overwhelming in number. Even SF Appeal uses Flash ads which manage to raise my hackles a bit (mainly because of the myriad of problems with Flash, but also because they’re often ANIMATED… ugh). Salon does the popups encouraging you to subscribe to the Economist. I can’t think of the last time that a newspaper prevented me from reading itself before I read through the ads.

    Sure, I could use ad blocking software. In fact, I do, but that’s not very profitable and thus not conducive to professional journalism is it? Instead of being so advertiser focused, perhaps it would be worth making SF Appeal (and/or any other indie news outlet) more reader oriented. Right below this text input box, I’m staring at an ad that says “PROMOTE YOUR BUSINESS WITH THE APPEAL. ADVERTISE HERE! AFFORDABLE RATES STARTING AT ONLY $30 A MONTH”. But for the life of me, I don’t see any obvious “hey I like your content and would like to pay for a distraction free way in which to access it” type links.

    I, for one, would jump at the chance for a paid, ad-free (or at least guilt free when using ad blocking software) subscription to a decent local news source. I can’t think of any independent local news source that offers subscriptions. I’d pay for a Chron subscription if the content weren’t so lousy. I’d pay for an SF Appeal subscription if such an option existed.

    P.S. NPR is a good contrast. One tiny, static ad on the front page, along with a distinctively colored but otherwise subtle “DONATE” link. Only one ad on the article I’m looking at (okay, it’s Flash, and that sucks). And, of course, quality articles.

  • raqcoon

    Cooper echoes what Carl Hall (guild rep) said on St. Patrick’s Day 2009 at the Save The Chron event. “Journalism should fight for itself.” Hall and Cooper are obviously threatened that an “experimental future” can overtake Chron dominance. http://tinyurl.com/byechron

  • cedichou

    Lost in the controversy is the absolutely smashing illustration for this post. Congrats, Tim!

  • Tim Ehhalt

    Thank you, sir. Don’t know what I love more. The fact that you liked it or the fact that you called it smashing.

  • driver

    I feel like the memo was an internal one, meant to inspire the staffers. Perhaps it does not sound so great when read by non-staffers. Having said that, I have given up with SF Gate. Their front page looks like Magoo’s closet. Even when I know the news story I’m look for, I can hardly find it. Then when I do find it, there are a lot of words but no pictures. And the comments have turned into warring dialogues by different factions.

    I like SF Appeal because the news is easy to find and relevant to me. Okay, I know that sounds self centered, but it is MY time. I love Spotswood. My only complaint is I can’t seem to find her videos. The search text box is not working. Please remark if you know what I am doing wrong. I use a Safari browser. I like the minute by minute reporting AND the pictures. Thank you for the pictures. I love the visuals. I also like the curse words. Yep. Call me weird but I want to hear – shit, crap, and fuck when it is relevant. I even have gone to some of your banner ads which I NEVER did on SF Gate. How can you not click on something that says “Sex Pigeon?”

    I think SF Gate will be their own demise because they simply don’t get it. The online that is. And yes, the newspaper is a dead business. Like the horse and buggy.

  • needtoknow

    i have never read such an honest in your face tell like it is report like this, it is refreshing. i am not suprised to learn that this ready for the grave rag is getting so mad at you folks, for tooo many years the sf cron and the oakland trib has dominated the newspaper market in our area. thier reporters has turned into an extention of the goverment and would not support the poor or fight injustice. i am happy i found you and i look forward to reading the next report. by the way i have been attacked by the sf cron and the oak trib in the past and i await thier fall and the rise of fair open minded news outlets.

  • Melissa

    The Chronicle has always had a much higher opinion of itself than reality would dictate. Superb? Truly, suburb is more like it! Hilarous memo.

  • Reporterman

    Hey Raqcoon:
    Read a little before you mouth off. Carl Hall helped plan The News Project.

  • needtoknow

    i would love to recomend this book about Oakland politics and crime, the book: Politics Crime Money and Lies, Can President Obama clean up the dirty side of American politics. i know the title and sub title is long but its worth it. its about 350 pages. i talked to a sf chron reporter about the claims in the book and asked him to investigate. after about a month i called him back and was told that he had not asked one politician to answer the questions raised in the book. this was shocking to me because this book claims that high level oakland officials set up the taxpayers for a 2 million dollar scam, with that kind of claim you atleast ask the questions and get a yes or a no as to the truth of the matter. Mr. Chip Johnson even went as far as to demand that the author provide 10000000% proof before he even called one councilman. HOW LAZY, is there any wonder that the sf Chron is going down hill. you can get the book at all major book outlets stores. the other possiability is that he is not an investigator and do not know how to ask questions. or he’s in the the pocket of those accused in the book.

  • Ajax

    Shows the true spirit at the Chron. So much for their free speech. I’ll drink a toast to their demise when it happens. Here’s hoping it happens.