Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco Chronicle’



Jerry-CNBC Replay Meets Chron-Times Dust-up

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

023-185After Jerry Brown smacked around money honey Michelle Caruso-Cabrera on national TV Wednesday, the vapid CNBC yakker took to her blog to try to win the argument post facto, kinda like a sloppy drunk  mumbling imaginary “I should have told him” lines to herself after getting 86ed from a saloon for acting the fool. Alas, all Ms. Michelle did was dig herself in deeper.

In trying to pooh-pooh the scope of AG Brown’s lawsuit against State Street Bank, she merely proved her incompetence by using a fallacious calculation of damages (based on California’s entire population instead of the much smaller number of actual plaintiffs enrolled in state pension plans).

In reflexively and aggressively defending the bank by portraying Brown’s motivation as totally political, she underscored the condescending contempt that Wall Street hotshots and those paid to kiss their butts for a living have for the rest of us hoi polloi types.

And by invoking as a proper role model for Brown the former New York AG Eliot Spitzer, driven from office by a scandal involving his kink for boning hookers while clad only in executive, knee-length socks, she revealed herself as one of the more dim-witted alums of Wellesley, a fine university, except for its student body’s popular weekend tradition of piling aboard the “Fuck Truck.”

With Crusty twisting the knife by posting his own Huffpost blog, he came away from the incident a clear winner, looking like a champion of the little guy standing up to financial service scumbags, despite the suspicions of some of our friends on the left that it’s more of a pose than a passion.

dragonflippedThe second biggest media kerfuffle of the week came about when Chronsman Phil Bronstein, the Abe Mellinkoff of the new millennium, all but accused the New York Times of plagiarism by noting the similarities between the anecdotal lede of a recent story in his paper and that of a feature featured in the Times’ much-ballyhooed new Bay Area section, which is aimed at eating the remaining crumbs of the Chronicle’s lunch.

Whereupon the nimble and resourceful SF Weekly quickly noted that the Chron lede he cited itself bore a striking resemblance to that of a Long Beach Post-Telegram story published days before.  This was quickly followed by a brushback blog from (all rise) the Times associate managing editor for standards, Philip B. Corbett, who declared Bronstein’s bitch to be “ridiculous.” El Macho, studiously ignoring the Long Beach-Chronicle connection, riposted by harrumphing that he expected more from the Times.

Then he resumed channeling the late Mellinkoff, a longtime High Sheriff of the Chronicle newsroom who, in the twilight of a storied career, was shunted off to write an ed-page column, which longtime rival Bill German  famously declared should always end with the phrase “Solution Tomorrow.”

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Speaking of self-referential columnists: Calbuzz kudos to Dan Weintraub, longtime opiner at the B-who’s bailed to launch a new web site (brave man) focused on health care, and to write a Sunday column for the NYT’s aforementioned Bay Area pages. But what’s with the self important farewell piece? We counted no less than 25 uses of the word “I,” along with 14 references to “my,” in the piece, an enough-about-me-what-do-you-think-of-me, self-satisfied summing up of what a splendid fellow is Dan Weintraub. Did we mention he  practically invented the Internets?

“While that change has been difficult for the newspaper industry’s business model, I’ve been a big supporter of the Internet as a way for us to better connect with our readers. With my editors’ support, I’ve tried to be a pioneer in the field, and now, to their chagrin, I am taking what I’ve learned and leaving to do my own thing.”

Trust us, Dan, they’ll get over it.

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Don’t spill that seed: All right thinking Calbuzzers — even the gnostic monads among us — know quite well that the “Omega Seed” refers to the universal and ultimate encapsulation of all the information-learning generated by evolutionary development, a fascinating idea developed by Paolo Soleri and his Arcosanti Project.

Now the Omega Seed has surfaced in the governor’s race, as A-list political reporters recall Brown asking Soleri about the idea, in one of a series of interviews with innovative thinkers he conducted years ago that form the spine of his ’90s era book “Dialogues.”

With anti-Brown political oppo types (we name no names) just now mischievously sowing the field of Campaign ’10 with seeds of ridicule about the General’s, um, iconoclastic past, artifacts like his book and transcripts of his old KPFA radio shows are suddenly – mysteriously! -   turning up in blogs and the columns of California’s finest newspapers, as purported evidence of the strangeness and wackiness of “Moonbeam” Brown.

But here’s the beauty part: As with the Omega Seed notion, the kaleidoscopic “wacky” ideas that have fascinated Brown over the past four decades almost always show themselves to be genuinely interesting, intriguing and even important, and the spectacle of political hacks, insiders and scribes laughing uproariously at them just proves anew what a shallow bunch of anti-intellectual nitwits we are.

Today’s sign that the end of civilization is near (click on the photo): sweatlodge

Just Because ‘Survey Says…’ Don’t Make It So

Monday, August 31st, 2009

This article was also published today in the Los Angeles Times.

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Daily Kos, the influential liberal web site, recently released a poll they commissioned that found that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was just nine points behind Attorney General Jerry Brown in the Democratic primary race for governor.

Within minutes, the San Francisco Chronicle posted a blog item saying the poll showed  the race was “narrowing,” comparing it to a June survey, conducted by a different company, which gave Brown a 20-point lead over Newsom. The item was quickly picked up and posted by Rough & Tumble, California’s premier political news aggregator. Then it was reported and re-blasted by The Fix at the Washington Post, one of the top political sites in the country. Within 12 hours, this characterization of California’s race for governor became received wisdom.

There was only one problem with this wisdom: it was wrong.

The incident illustrates how political misinformation and misinterpretation can be more viral than the truth in the Internet News Age, as reporting on polls pulses through the electronic highway, launched by news organizations with little time to evaluate and sift the quality of research. In recent weeks, a series of California political surveys have produced a cacophony of often conflicting analysis, opinion and reporting that served to confuse readers and distort political perceptions.

For example, comparing and measuring the Daily Kos poll, conducted by Research 2000, against the previous poll – done with a completely different methodology by Moore Methods Research of Sacramento – created a false equivalency. In fact, a recent follow-up poll by poll director James Moore, who has long experience in California, found that, far from tightening, Brown’s lead over Newsom has grown to 29 percentage points.

A poll’s methodology – including the sample size, method of selection and phrasing of questions– is crucial. The Kos survey, for example, used random digit dialing to reach California adults. To identify them as “likely voters,” pollsters asked respondents several questions, including whether they considered themselves Democrats or Republicans. But  identifying 600 likely voters didn’t provide the number of Democrats and Republicans statistically necessary to measure the primaries, so pollsters called more people until they had 400 self-identified Republicans and 400-self-identified Democrats. Then, as they put it, “Quotas were assigned to reflect the voter registration of distribution by county.”

After this statistical slicing and dicing, the survey produced a final sample of alleged likely voters that included 18% under age 30 and 19% age 60 and older. But according to a real-world screen of likely voters — based on actual voting histories — the June 2010  primary electorate is expected to include about 6% people under 30 and 38% people over 60.

These issues alone would be enough to distort the state of the Brown-Newsom race. But will any of them surface when the next reporter Googles the California governor’s race, looking for standings? Not a chance. Why does it matter? Because misreporting of  polls  allows campaign spinners not only to boost or suppress candidate fundraising, but also to manipulate news coverage frame campaign narratives and shape public perceptions.

The Kos poll is far from an isolated incident, as misreading and misinterpretation of survey research have become endemic on the Web. Consider the following:

A recent poll by the widely-respected Public Policy Institute of California, for example, reported that 53% of registered voters now favor more drilling off the California coast, a finding trumpeted by supporters of the policy. But respondents were asked their view on drilling as one of several approaches “to address the country’s energy needs and reduce dependence on foreign oil sources,” a question — as Calbuzz explained — likely to elicit a much different response than one about the environmental impacts of drilling.

A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll reported that only 43% of those surveyed supported a “public option” for health care reform – an apparently dramatic swing from its previous poll, which found 76% support for the policy. Upon closer examination, though, it turned out pollsters in the first survey asked people if they wanted the “choice” of a public option. In the later poll, they omitted the key word “choice,” asking simply whether respondents favored a public option. When Survey USA a short time later used the original language, 77% of respondents said they favored the public option, confirming the finding in the first NBC/WSJ survey.

Some political analysts, citing an increase in the number and proportion of “independent” voters who decline to affiliate with a major party, have argued that California is becoming a post-partisan “purple state.” But the recent release of 30 years of surveys by the Field Poll showed how wrong this analysis is. On a host of ideologically divisive issues, like abortion rights and same-sex marriage, independents have much the same attitudes as Democrats, keeping California a very blue state.

As established news organizations increasingly cut costs, first-rate, independent, non-partisan polling is becoming scarcer. So polling stories should be viewed by readers– and voters– with great skepticism, and news outlets should use greater care in analyzing and disseminating survey data. Reducing political views to a number does not necessarily make them scientific. Caveat emptor.


Press Clips: Chronicle Climbs Back in the Ring

Friday, July 24th, 2009

2gavinsNewsom vs. Newsom: Mega-kudos to Chronicler Carla Marinucci for leading the charge in her own newsroom to pull together a Page One takeout on Gavin Newsom’s exaggerated campaign claims about his record as San Francisco’s mayor.

The Wednesday piece occupied a big chunk of front page real estate, carried three bylines –-  political scribbler Joe Garofoli and City Hall beat pounder Heather Knight teamed with the hardest working woman in show business –- and served as a marker to establish the fact that Newsom routinely overblows his accomplishments on the trail.

Most notably, the paper knocked down Prince Gavin’s oft-repeated claims that he balanced the city budget without tax increases and that every high school graduate in town is “guaranteed a college education.”

On other issues, however, the piece was hardly dispositive in its overreliance on he-said-he-said equivocation and the spin of Newsom handler Eric Jaye; a too-brief examination of Newsom’s signature health care program, for example, did establish that he tries to hog credit for it, but didn’t address the substantive question of whether or how well the damn thing works. Where’s the low-wage bus boy who can tell whether he now gets medical care or the restaurant owner who says what it’s doing to his business?

Hopefully, this is just the first of a series of “Newsom Watch” pieces that will drill down in detail on his record; like it or not, other California media, not to mention the voters, will rely on the paper to vet their guy as he tries to claim the governorship. In the same way that the L.A. Times would have been expected to perform a scorched earth number on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s record had he decided to run, the Chron has front-line responsibility for holding Newsom accountable for his words and actions.

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On Guard: Those seeking a fiercer test of Newsom’s campaign claims against his record are directed to a 4,147 word opus published by the weekly San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Granted, the Guardian is not exactly the Christian Science Monitor when it comes to unbiased journalism; editor and publisher Bruce Brugmann is famous for bragging on the advocacy stances of his paper’s “Print the news and raise hell” journalism. And its lefty agenda on issues from pot to public power may not be shared by the millions of mainstream California voters Newsom is out trying to woo.

Beyond the paper’s disagreements with Newsom over specific issues, however, city editor Steven T. Jones reported and wrote a helluva’ piece that also deals with more fundamental qualities of leadership –- political relations with the legislative branch,  calculations about risking political capital and issues of transparency and secrecy, for example.

“The central persona being pushed by the Newsom campaign — that of a post partisan progressive who has united fractious San Francisco around innovative, common sense solutions to the most vexing problems using his considerable courage and political skills –- seems like pure fiction to most City Hall watchers,” Jones wrote.

“Newsom’s platform and persona are what voters want to hear right now — and they’re just believable enough to be an easy sell for modern media manipulators.”

Which is a good reason why the San Francisco media should keep chipping away at this key California political story.

gay_marriage_210Delay for gay marriage? Over at Politics Blog Chronster Garofoli  has been closely tracking the debate within the gay community on whether to push a repeal-Prop. 8 initiative next year, or wait until the bigger turnout 2012 national election. As he reports here and here the advantage seems to rest with those in favor of holding off.

As a political matter, it’s an important decision that carries implications for next year’s campaign for governor, especially for Prince Gavin. He faces steep hill to climb in overcoming Attorney General Jerry Brown, and needs all the toe-holds he can find to do it; a 2010 gay marriage campaign could give a nice boost of passion to the Prince’s primary effort, allowing him to, um, marry his own effort to the energy and enthusiasm of a Prop. 8 repeal bid.

Notwithstanding Brown’s no-on-8 stand before California’s  Supreme Court, despite the statewide vote in favor of the measure, Gavin’s out-of-left-field blessing of gay weddings in San Francisco set off the national debate of same-sex marriage, an historic and iconic action that trump’s General Jerry’s late-to-the-party stance. Whether you like it or not.

Reflections On The S.F. Chronicle

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009


By Jerry Roberts

I started working at the San Francisco Chronicle in 1977, as a temporary, vacation relief general assignment reporter, and left a quarter-century later, after serving five years as the paper’s Managing Editor.

For most of my Chronicle career, the paper was owned and operated by the descendants of Charles and Michael de Young, who founded it as the Daily Dramatic Chronicle in 1865. In 2000, the family sold out to the Hearst Corp., which struggled with the paper’s finances from the day they bought it; two weeks ago, Hearst executives announced they would shut down The Chronicle unless employee unions made massive concessions, starting with the disappearance of at least 150 jobs.

The financial woes afflicting the Chronicle mirror those of once-flush metro dailies across the country; the rapid economic and cultural changes shaped by the internet shattered their business model of aggregating a general interest, geographically discrete, mass audience to sell to local and national advertisers at premium rates.

For a newspaper junkie who spent more than half my life in daily newsrooms before moving to academia in 2007, the decline of the Chronicle and of the industry is heart-breaking to watch. Here are my own two (three, actually) cents on what’s happened and where things may be headed:

1-The future for newspaper journalists lies in fully understanding – and truly accepting, once and for all – that the value of the product is the news, not the paper, then moving full speed ahead on some version of web-to-print publication that merges daily breaking news coverage with a one-to-three day-a-week print product focused on analysis, opinion and explanatory journalism.

2-News organizations, regardless of platform, should concentrate intensely on three fundamental value propositions:

a) Local news, which comprehensively covers, uncovers and demystifies the information that is most directly and immediately relevant to folks in their communities – public safety, schools, government actors and actions, arts and entertainment, for starters – as consumers, taxpayers and citizens (as sites like Noozhawk and independent.com do in Santa Barbara)

b) Collaborative investigative reporting that bulds on and fulfills the traditional watchdog responsibilities of public service journalism, by aligning and strengthening the organization’s own reporting resources with the expertise, passion and reporting power of online communities (as the Sun-Sentinel did in its Pulitizer short list investigative series on FEMA mismanagement of hurricane disaster relief).

c) Intelligent aggregation and synthesis that brings clarity to the vast mass of daily information that pounds each of us all day, every day, by discovering and highlighting the most important and revealing online reporting and commentary (with models that RealClearPolitics, Huffpost and Daily Beast, among others, are in the process of developing hourly).

3-The current, webwise conventional wisdom that newspaper executives and editors were stubbornly blind to the huge implications of the digital revolution for their businesses is just wrong. Every news organization and editor I know, going back 10 years and more – does anyone at the Chron remember the 39 Steps of the Change Project? – were working hard to reinvent and reposition their products for an era of radical transformation.

It is true that most of these efforts inadequately foresaw the full scope and speed of the coming change; however, they fell short in larger part because the executives and editors charged with finding and navigating the New Media pathways to change were under simultaneous, unstinting demands to ensure that the Old Media legacy products continued to serve, maintain and expand existing, aging audiences in the fullest possible way.

Under the insistent demand for short-term results and profits, the Production Imperative of putting out the best damn daily paper possible inevitably trumped the Mandate for Change, so that rethinking and reinvention mostly remained timid tweaking around the margins.

However, the problem was less a failure of imagination of what the future would look like, as the lofty thinkers of the web world smugly argue, than a failure to bite the bullet, by cutting loose and redirecting critical mass amounts of resources, in the form of time and labor of substantial numbers of reporters, editors and business side employees.

This both/and proposition meant that the short-term, daily deadline driven Sisyphean slog up the hill always took precedence over the long-range necessity to provide the luxury of time needed to experiment, discover and, yes, even fail, in properly exploring ideas, platforms, operations and organizational structures required to forge the right strategies and goals to adapt Old Media forms to New Media realities.

These four links offer an up-to-date, if disheartening, overview of the rapidly moving transformation of the news media landscape.

The East Bay Express details how Hearst in San Francisco has made a take it or leave it offer to the Newspaper Guild to accept the loss of 150 of 460 jobs at the Chronicle – and fast – or suffer the loss of 225 instead.

In Seattle, Hearst is moving to turn the print editions of its Post-Intelligencer into an online only product,

Over at his newsosaur blog, my old city editor Alan Mutter provides the best, smartest and most fact-based real time coverage of newspapers in transition, including a recent two-parter about paid online content (featuring a discussion of the situation in Santa Barbara).

Finally, the Times today has a takeout on the feasibility of the non-profit model for print products, using Mother Jones magazine as a case study, another financial alternative now being widely discussed.