Why should people who live in the Bay Area care that the local news industry has imploded? Because what you don’t know can hurt you.
Over the past decade, the San Francisco Chronicle’s newsroom staff has shrunk to 175 from a high near 575, the San Jose Mercury News has seen its copy desk outsourced to Walnut Creek, and one conglomerate has gained control of almost all of the daily newspapers in the Bay Area.
All told, hundreds of local broadcast, online and print journalists have been kicked to the curb since 2000, resulting in decades of lost institutional memory and merged coverage of beats — meaning that some communities go without consistent media attention until a crisis breaks. How many school board debates and behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts by termed-out politicians have gone unmentioned? The disappearance of watchdogs leaves policymakers to spend or cut millions of taxpayer dollars with minimal oversight. A new workforce study aims to quantify the loss of journalism jobs in the Bay Area. Our reporters will build on that work to show how a diminished cadre of professional news gatherers is affecting the quality of information about local governance. In a thorough look at how consolidation is affecting local news coverage, a team of reporters working with the San Francisco Public Press will provide concrete examples of the civic side effects of the dismantling of the journalism infrastructure. We will also look at attempts by citizens, journalists and tech entrepreneurs to address these news and information voids with niche websites and new-media ventures.
The project team:
David Weir is a veteran journalist and vice president of the Center for Investigative Reporting, which he co-founded. He has written and edited for an array of publications and websites, including The Economist, Mother Jones, The Nation, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Salon.com, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner, the Stanford Social Innovation Review and Wired Digital. He was the founding editor of 7x7 Magazine. He is an author, and has taught at the University of California Graduate School of Journalism and at Stanford University. Liz Enochs is a reporter and editor with two decades of experience, including a dozen years in business journalism. She has worked at Bloomberg News, Red Herring magazine, the Bond Buyer, and Mother Jones, among other publications. She also serves as president of the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Jeremy Adam Smith is a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University, the author of “The Daddy Shift,” coeditor of “Are We Born Racist?”, founder of a loan fund for independent magazines, and founding editor of Shareable.net. John McManus, founder of Grade the News, is a former newspaper reporter, journalism professor and media researcher. He has written extensively about media, particularly about how markets shape news. His book, “Market-Driven Journalism: Let the Citizen Beware?” won the Society of Professional Journalists' Research Prize in 1994. Recently, he created a multi-media textbook to help students and interested citizens evaluate news both for bias and news quality: “Detecting Bull: How to Identify Bias and Junk in Journalism in Print, Broadcast and on the Wild Web.” The book won the 2009 Research Award from the Society of Professional Journalists. McManus earned his Ph.D. at Stanford University. Saheli Datta is a freelance writer and scientific research facilitator. She is also a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley's StatNews project. Previously, she has taught high school science and been a reporter for the erstwhile Business 2.0 magazine. Shawn Gaynor is a San Francisco-based freelance writer. He has been reporting for the Public Press for more than a year on economic and immigration issues. He is a former editor at the Asheville Global Report. Mineko Brand is a reporter and documentary media student in San Francisco. With a background in cultural anthropology, she has a unique perspective on the role of media in our society, as well as ties to local communities here in the city. She is a fellow with the Bay Area Video Coalition's new collaborative community journalism endeavor, the Neighborhood News Network and has produced segments for IDTV, a local television news magazine that airs on educational access television. Samuel Morrell is a freelance writer and researcher. A former Fulbright scholar, he worked as a media monitor at Human Rights Watch. More recently he co-founded a technology company, gainfitness.com, where he wrote a health and fitness blog. He also currently volunteers for Project Censored.
This multi-story package — to be published online and in the spring print edition of the San Francisco Public Press — will examine how the slashing of staffs at news outlets have muffled city and county public policy debates; how new, niche news websites are attempting to fill some coverage gaps; and how journalists themselves have adapted.
The project team will deliver at least eight in-depth articles, as well as infographics and multimedia elements recounting the changes in the local media landscape in the last decade. The coverage will draw in part on data and insights from the San Francisco Bay Area Journalist Census (www.journalistcensus.org), a Labor Department-funded survey of journalists and media executives in the Bay Area that drew more than 700 respondents. We will follow up with research and interviews with key players in the Bay Area.
The Journalist Census is sponsored by the North Valley Job Training Consortium (NOVA), a nonprofit employment and training agency in Sunnyvale. The study is being produced by the consulting firm Natelson Dale. The Public Press assisted by recruiting current and former Bay Area journalists to participate in the study.
Because this project is locally based journalists reporting on changes in local journalism, there are bound to be multiple conflicts of interest. The codes of ethics of journalism organizations suggest that explicit and repeated disclosure of any potential conflicts of interest is a powerful tool to retain credibility. We intend to tell the readers whenever a potential conflict arises.