Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The New York Times on the San Francisco Chronicle

Excellent article on the San Francisco Chronicle and its troubles in the New York Times . Thanks to Matt Belloni for sending it over. Stepping away from the news, paper and ink business for a second, the article says something deeper about the Bay Area.

The Bay Area has no real center of gravity, and San Francisco, at the tip of a peninsula, has no inner ring of suburbs. The city has only 760,000 of the region’s more than four million residents. Nearby counties have far bigger populations, with their own economic bases and urban cores in places like San Jose and Oakland, and their own major newspapers.

"The Bay Area has this extraordinary fragmentation,” said Anthea Stratigos, chief executive of Outsell, a media research firm. “It’s a region of microclimates, and the person in Contra Costa County might not care about San Francisco City Hall.”

This quote explains a great deal of the region's success. Fragmentation leads to experimentation and innovation is the Bay Area's signature. Here, different types of thinkers can find their niche and gestate. In the startup world, the chips and big iron communication providers are in San Jose, the laser and glass guys are in Marin, the online entertainment and web content folks can be found South of Market (SOMA) in San Francisco and Biotech lab rats are clustered in South San Francisco.

Suburban teens can drive to Berkeley and spend an afternoon on Telegraph living out their hippie dreams and urban San Franciscans aspire to spending 4 years on "the Farm" at Stanford. The Japanese Tea Gardens are nestled in the greater Golden Gate Park and the most beautiful park is the Presidio, an old army base along the most spectacular bay in the world.

The region's comfort with fragmentation and experimentation may be causing the Chronicle to fail faster than most other daily newspapers. There are relatively few efforts to prop up the paper and people (including me) don't seem that concerned about it, because we know it will be ok. New news franchises are being formed without the burden of paper and ink, clusters of people are gathering on the Internet in ways never seen before, and a greater degree of transparency then even the great newspapers currently provide will soon be upon us. Your blog reader and the 20 specialists you follow, all inhabiting their own niche, and fiercely competing against the 5 other players in that niche, will be your favorite newspeople and columnists in the future. Watch.