By PATRICK KOLLMAN
(Full Disclosure: Though it is an experiment in hyperlocal journalism, Mission Loc@l posts links to its stories on SF Gate)
With The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal announcing plans to introduce a San Francisco Bay Area edition, Mission District readers reactions ranged from excitement about the possibility of the new Times edition, to staunch loyalty to the San Francisco Chronicle.
“I love the Chronicle. It’s ingrained in me,” said Ryder Van Der Heyden, 30, a garment salesman downtown. “My old man, he passed away. Growing up, every morning we woke up and read the Chronicle together. I’ll always read The Chronicle.”
For others, the 144-year-old newspaper that has been struggling along with all print media is simply a habit that would be hard to change.
Aubrey Chung, 24, a student at San Francisco State University, said she would still go to SF Gate, the Chronicle’s online version, if the Times introduced a local edition, but that it might change for her over time.
“It would have to be a habit change,” said Chung.
The Times wrote Friday in its business section that it and The Wall Street Journal are planning to introduce Bay Area editions in an effort to win over local readers. The papers appear to be getting into position in case the Chronicle fails.
“I truly appreciate the fact we have so many community leaders involved and interested in trying to find a way to ensure the Chronicle’s long-term future,” Frank Vega, publisher of the Chronicle, said in the paper in March after community leaders, including Mayor Gavin Newsom, met to discuss solutions to saving the paper.
In the last year, the paper has laid off 150 members of the Northern California Media Workers Guild, which represents editorial and business staffers at the Chronicle, according to the San Francisco Business Times.
While there was interest in the Times among Mission residents, no one had much to say about the Journal.
At the entrance of Philz Coffee on 24th and Folsom Streets, the Chronicle and the Times papers face off, their stands right beside each other. Crystal Sanders stood outside scanning both papers’ front page, coffee in hand.
“If I had both on the table, I’d still pick the Chronicle because it’s local,” said Sanders, 30, a marine biologist who moved to the Bay Area from Texas 21 months ago.
For many, the choice between the two papers is neither personal nor habitual, but rather a matter of depth, price, and efficiency.
“I read the Times. I read the Chronicle,” said Lafe Vittitoe, 34, a business developer, who added that if the Times produced a Bay Area edition he would read only the Times.
Others have no ties to the Chronicle and would eagerly embrace the Times’ arrival in the area. However, that hasn’t always been true.
Twice the Times attempted a Western edition. The first attempt, The Times of California, was launched in 1852, only a year after the paper began, but quickly died out with the rise of California papers. In October 1962, the Times tried again, but this only lasted 15 months. It’s more recent national edition, which began in 1980, has been more successful.
The Times reported in March that “The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and The New York Times have combined circulation in the Bay Area of 183,000, almost as high as in the much larger Los Angeles area.” The Chronicle’s weekday circulation is about 339,000 according to the Times’ report Friday.
Although the Chronicle’s SF Gate gets “an unusually large audience for a paper its size, three million to four million people monthly,” according to the Times article, it is clear that the Times national edition has made inroads.
“I buy a paper for the train ride. Every day I have to make the choice: Do I buy the Chronicle or the Times?” said Jamie Guzzi, 31, a grassroots organizer for TransFair USA. “When I buy the Chronicle, I usually end up getting pissed and buying the Times anyway.”
“I read The New York Times every single day,” said Andrew Bennett, 42, the Technical Director for the Moscone Center. He said that the Times having a local presence will directly improve local news by “keeping everyone sharp.”
Despite the differences, there was broad agreement from those interviewed that the cutbacks at the Chronicle have created a dearth of in-depth local coverage and they want to see that gap filled.
“There’s a vacuum here and if the Times is going to step into that, I think it’s great,” said Guzzi.