The Closing of S.F.’s Chronicle


(go into 5:15 to get to the talk about SF Chron)

It’s an evening at home. I don’t find much on cable, some reruns, movies I’ve watched at least twice before that’s how old they are. In the age of the Internet, I can turn instead to catching up on Bill Maher. It’s been a long time since I’ve watched his show because I can’t access his shows from his website.

My phone, my television, my news all come from the Net now.

Curiously enough, I saw the mayor of my city on the first Maher clip so I clicked play.

Mayor Gavin Newsom has a special place in my heart. One night, several years ago, as I sat outside in the cool San Francisco night, my then-six year old running along side me, I could hear the mayor giving a speech to the people inside attending the Chicana/Latina Foundation Annual Fundraiser.

I donated a few photographs to the auction, I was always so moved by meeting each year’s scholarship recipients. Like any woman in her right mind, I also wanted to see the charismatic mayor speak. My restless six year old had a different priority, running up and down the sidewalk, back and forth, listening to the wind racing by his ears instead of the crowd clapping as Mayor Newsom finished up.

A short while later, the mayor came walking through the exit door, he smiled at us, the only two outside not in.

As he spirited towards his waiting black town car, Mayor Newsom challenged my son to a race, feigning tired at the end to let him win. Gavin Newsom reached down to shake my son’s hand, ‘you are very fast, a good match. Thank you,’ he said before climbing in.

It was one of those rare moments for a parent, witnessing one’s child having such a unique and historically synchronistic moment in their young life.

The Bill Maher discussion with Gavin Newsom eventually came to the topic of the closing of the San Francisco Chronicle. Hearing the reports about the possibility last week, I felt sad, but not shocked. As Mayor Newsom contemplated San Francisco without the Chron, so did I.

In 2002, the Chron was one of the first places I went looking for assignments when I first returned from working in Mexico. Still not digital, I lugged my black portfolio with me on the trip up from San Jose where I was staying when I returned.

The photo editor gave me an appointment, looking over my portfolio before asking why I was there. “We are firing, not hiring photographers,” he told me in reply to my answer, “but, we do have weekend work, on our weekend edition.”

I was thrilled to get work, and for the opportunity to continue developing as a photojournalist. The single woman I had been before Mexico would have snapped the chance up in a heartbeat. The single mother just couldn’t. I didn’t have anyone to watch my child on the weekends, and the cost of babysitting and travel up to the city, combined, made it impossible to accept the offer. I needed gigs during the week, with time to drop off and pick up my child from school.

Several years later, in 2006, a screening of my film Transition at Galeria de La Raza was written up in the S.F. Chronicle, promoting the Saturday event, and pointing to the ‘uncanny’ timeliness of the film just as the 2006 Mexican elections got underway. The write-up brought out a whole group of young and older viewers who might not have seen the film otherwise since I didn’t have more than a tiny marketing budget.

I remember how exciting it was when someone in the audience mentioned the write up. I was grateful to the Chron. Picking up a copy, there was the thrill of seeing one’s project in print, delivering the baby carried independently for many years.

Bill Maher made the point that despite other media formats, newspapers continue to be the force that keeps most of us citizens informed, as well as serving as the main course for bloggers. I suppose that is true for bloggers, and late night talk show hosts alike.

Of course, I am a culprit of the newspaper demise. Apart from original material I write on this blog, I often comment or ruminate on issues of the time that I read about from newspapers. Although I am online, I still rely on newspapers.

Maher makes the point too that papers serve our society in so many ways we may not be completely taking into account as the responsibility of filling the role of newspapers is left to internet news.

New approaches are being tried, such as aggregating professionally written articles for sale through partners such as http://www.iamnews.com, and. efforts at non-profit, independent journalism such as http://www.propubica.org. For a mom like me with a need for flexibility, maybe IAMNEWS is the type of position that will make it possible to work again in photojournalism and make a living.

Another fact we might want to consider is the sad reality that despite huge investments by taxpayers over the years to private companies laying down the internet grid, our country is not nearly wired enough. Efforts under the new administration are moving in the right direction, but not at the pace by which major newspapers are shutting down. Many, many, many people are not wired. In what ways will they get their news?

Perhaps the demise of the newspaper is not the demise of the newspaper, but the way newspapers have been handled for the last twenty years or so. The public role of newspapers in democracy and community were maybe second and third best to profit in most cases. Trucked in news over cable fail often to report or hire locally.

Is this crisis in the news industry really an opportunity instead? What level of discussion do we need to have as a country given the role of newspapers in civic life?

Someone recently suggested in a blog posting that the money being given to private companies to convert digital could be better spent on hiring a contingent of 50,000 independent investigative journalists to work locally in communities serving to help fill the role that newspapers have always played in our democratic society.

Interesting idea.

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