Chronicle Tries New Web Strategy as Bay Area News War Starts Up

Some news pulled from website as San Francisco paper faces new competition

By Jackson West
|  Monday, Jan 18, 2010  |  Updated 12:45 PM PDT
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Chronicle Tries New Web Strategy as Bay Area News War Starts Up

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If you want to read the good stuff, you may have to buy the Sunday paper -- or any of the blogs that will relay any interesting details.

If you're looking for popular political insider column Matier & Ross on the SFGate.com website today, you're out of luck. According to the San Francisco Chronicle:

One of the ways we are adding value to the Sunday newspaper is by providing articles available only in print and in our e-edition.

Other Sunday features that will be missing from the Web include a look at California's budget problems, former mayor Willie Brown's three-dot act, and popular sports columns.

They will appear online on Tuesday, or in the downloadable, paid "e-edition," which replicates the layout of the newspaper, making it much more difficult to read on computers than a standard Web page layout.

So is the paper, which has turned mildly profitable after slashing its staff, adding value to the Sunday paper or subtracting value from the Web site? Guess it depends on where you prefer to read your news.

On a related note, the Bay Area News Project, a nonprofit news startup financed by wealthy local businessman Warren Hellman, has hired a chief executive and editor-in-chief, according to sources cited by the San Francisco Business Times.

The CEO is Lisa Frazier, a McKinsey management consultant originally tasked with the job of hiring a CEO. Frazier has no previous media experience.

Jonathan Weber, who was well-regarded by colleagues during his tenure as editor-in-chief of the Industry Standard, a weekly dotcom bible which briefly published more advertising pages than any other magazine during the dot-boom, will likely be announced as editor-in-chief on January 28. In 2005 Weber founded NewWest.net, a new media site covering the mountain west.

The BANP was started by Hellman, in association with the University of California at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, last year amidst rumors of the Chronicle's parent company, Hearst, might sell or shutter the paper.

Hellman gave the project a $5 million grant, but much of that might be eaten up by the salaries of the two principals, with Frazier possibly earning up to $500,000 a year -- which, sadly, is not uncommon in the new, nonprofit newsroom business model.

However, Hellman's fellow hedge fund financier Peter Thiel has argued that low CEO pay correlates strongly to a startup's chance for success. And questions of how donor-driven and issue-oriented news organizations will be transparent about bias persist.

Jackson West hopes that the kind of money new news organizations are rumored to have offered to CEOs will be an indication of how much they intend to pay for actual journalism.

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