Pelosi's Request Poses Danger to San Francisco and Its Venerable Chronicle

HouseSpeaker Nancy Pelosi's request last week to U.S. Attorney General EricHolder to relax anti-trust regulations so that another Bay Area mediaorganization might buy or financially prop up the ailing San FranciscoChronicle constitutes a well meaning, if not deeply flawed gesture.

Setaside the generally bad precedent that granting such a request wouldmean for the news industry. No, this request is a badidea for a far more specific reason: IfHolder grants the Pelosi's request, the action wouldlikely pave the way for the Chronicle to be grabbed by the MediaNews Group(MNG), giving the Denver-based chain a lock-tight monopoly of dailiespublishing in the Bay Area.

Whilesome might argue that any rescue ship is welcome when the boat you'reon is down by the bow and headed under the waves, the idea of MNGowning and operating the Chronicle amounts to the venerable daily facing aneditorial fate that's actually worse than death itself, or, in thiscase, closure.

That's because anyone who has followed MNG's ownership and operational patterns know that theybegin and end with the idea of wringing the maximum profits andrevenues from a given publication. The quality of the news product is,at best, a second thought.

For evidence,look no further than what's happened to the MNG papers in both SanFrancisco's East Bay and in Southern California. Dozens ofdedicated reporters, photographers and editors have been eliminatedthrough lay-offs, buy-outs or other workforce reduction programs.Corners get cut. Beats and types of coverage get eliminated. Those whoremain fear for their jobs every day.

Totheir critics MNG will counter that if the company had not purchasedsome of the smaller properties, those publications would be dead by nowand that some local news is better than no local news. In certaincases, they'd be right. And whileHearst has acted with marked patience to the Chronicle in recent years whileit suffered millions in losses, it too has had toaggressively wield the budget cutting knife -- laying off dozens ofreporters, editors and others.

Just this week Hearst demanded and gotfrom the paper's unions major contract concessions and give-backs aswell as the departure of 150 more people out of editorial. Even withthose cuts, Hearst made no promises about how long it could hold on.

And certainly, when one contemplatesthe newspaper industry's ham-handed embrace of theInternet coupled with the an economic recession, lay-offs and closures in the business were a given.

Butwhen one looks at how MNG has decimated the once great San Jose MercuryNews, the Los Angeles Daily News, the Contra Costa Times and others,one gets a sense that it might be better for the Chronicle to enter Hospicecare and die with what's left of its editorial dignity.

Theissue here is only partly about the idea of breaching good anti-trustregulations that have served us well in preventing undue mediaownership concentrations. In this case it's also -- if you will -- aneditorial "quality of life" question when it comes to the idea of MNGrunning the Chronicle.

San Franciscodeserves an aggressive, vibrant, fully-staffed watchdog of a newspaperthat mirrors its standing as one of America's great cosmopolitan cities.

MNG is just not up to the task.