The Tardy Times

   'Freesheets,' like mice, will survive 
    the extinction of metro dinosaurs

SURPRISE: San Francisco is home to 59 newspapers, most of them local. Of the 59, seven are dailies. The Chronicle, Business Times, Daily Law Journal and the Recorder are delivered or sold in coin-operated sidewalk boxes. Also in the boxes are three “freesheets,” including the Examiner for readers who missed out on free home delivery.
   The other Frisco papers, produced weekly or weakly, include 20 aimed at particular neighborhoods, 15 ethnic/minority, four religious, two gay,  one lesbian, two ultra-left and two tabloid newsmagazines loaded with entertainment, opinion, investigatory stories and sex-related ads (SF Weekly and the Bay Guardian).
    Most other big city papers, including the Chronicle and Mercury, are hurting because of shortfalls in circulation and their effect on advertising revenue. While average daily circulation declined by 3.5 percent in 2007 for 745 newspapers, the stats were worse for biggies. The New York Times was down by 3.8 percent (and the Sunday paper by 9,2 percent); the Los Angeles Times, 5 percent, the Washington Post, 3.5 percent.
     “What’s alarming is that some analysts see the downward trend only accelerating,” wrote Lisa Snedeker in Media Life.
     In Boston, where the Globe lost 8 percent of daily circulation in six months ending in March 2008, the Herald isn’t the only competitor for readers. The new freesheets include two dailies – Boston Now, Boston Metro – “and a slew of free alternative papers as well as dozens other dailies and community newspapers in the greater Boston market.”
WHAT'S behind this slow but unmistakable trend?
   “Certainly the Internet,” Snedeker says, “but also increasing print competition led largely by free dailies.” reports that in 1995 there were only five free dailies; as of last year, 67.
    On the other hand, this year marks the apparent failure of a costly experiment in free home delivery of daily newspapers. It began with the San Francisco Examiner and spread to sister Examiners in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., all owned by a right-wing billionaire in Colorado named Phillip Anschutz.
  About 160,000 free copies of the Examiner landed six days a week on doorsteps throughout the less sketchy  neighborhoods in San Francisco. The phenomenon appeared to have escaped the notice of Chronicle poohbahs who sniffed derisively at the neo-Examiner's  slender reporting staff of hard-working  novices.  We forget that the original William Randolph Hearst fed his father’s Comstock silver in 1877 into a dormant Frisco paper called the Examiner. He then built a newspaper empire intended in the early years to support his presidential ambitions by fair means or foul, mostly foul.
ANSCHUTZ was loping with the usual mob of runners in the Examiner-sponsored Bay to Breakers footrace in 2004. He must have decided that if you can’t beat them, buy the race.
    Anschutz paid a reported $11 million for the newly dormant Examiner and brought in editors to revamp the Fang tabloid into a thin but surprisingly newsy mini-paper. He trademarked the Examiner’s Eagle nameplate in more than 60 cities, we were  told. But the expansion by print is on hold. Anschutz didn’t get to be a multibillionaire by throwing his patrimony down the rathole. He chose in mid-July to end free home delivery four days a week (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday), but those papers will still be stuffed into sidewalk boxes and converted into an online version. The Saturday paper would become a Sunday edition and home delivered, same as an expanded Thursday paper. Both would be bloated with inserts. 
   Jack Shafer had wondered about free home delivery of a daily newspaper.
   “As Anschutz builds his 6-percent-margin newspapers, he must realize that a business model already exists that delivers news and advertising more efficiently,” the media commentator wrote in “Without looking like a shill for my bosses at the Washington Post Co. (which owns Slate), may I point to the and other online newspapers? No printing plants, no rolls of paper, and no delivery trucks – just a whole lot of computers and people. You don’t suppose that the newsprint Examiners are stalking horses for a nationwide network of Examiner Web sites, do you?”
SHAFER is a prophet. Look at It ran an advertisement from seeking “city editors” in 59 cities to “manage local content providers” (reporters?), presumably to begin online Examiners to support a set of political convictions somewhat to the right of Jerry Falwell. 
    A chain of  e-newspapers would please  Joel L. Levin, an attorney who lives in the upscale Federal Hill neighborhood of Baltimore. He asked the courts for a restraining order to stop unwanted deliveries of the Examiner.
     The Chronicle chimed in last year with an op-ed by former city editor Alan Mutter. He  wants a law to put an end to unsolicited menus, pamphlets, phone directories and, oh yes, free newspapers.   His proposal has about as much chance as the Sacramento Bee’s crusade to empty Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.  Nonetheless, the op-ed  amounted to the Chronicle's only recognition – no matter how indirect – of the existence of the free throwaway paper. 
LOOK on any downtown street corner in San Francisco and you'll see racks and boxes filled with the freesheets.
   The Epoch  Times, if the box hasn't been emptied by foes of the Falun Gong movement, is a nationally distributed news weekly with an office in San Francisco. It emphasizes news of  world events and Asia.
   In the newsracks of the Mission District, Frontlines is a vigorous apostle of far-left politics and criticism. The Militant does the same, but with an optimistic view shaped by the dedicated Trotskyist disciples of the Socialist Workers Party.
    Soft feature stories of abysmal quality decorate the walls of advertisements  in a throwaway with a fitting nameplate, Downtown.
    “I still think people still want to read newspapers,” said Dave Price, co-publisher of the San Francisco Daily Post. (He changed the name from the Daily News this year after he launched the Palo Alto Post).  He told KCBS reporter Mike Sugerman, “It's just that they want a different format. They want a format that gives them news about the community, tells them what they’re doing.”
    Price, the editor, and Jim Pavelich, the advertising specialist, came from free papers in Colorado to found the upstart Palo Alto Daily News in 1995. It filled a community news vacuum left by the Chicago Tribune's ill-advised $28 million purchase in 1978 of the Palo Alto Times and its sister paper, the Redwood City Tribune, which were maladroitly combined into the Peninsula Times-Tribune. The plug was pulled in 1993.
   To the locals, it was a disaster. To the newcomers from Colorado, it was opportunity. It wasn’t just that soccer dads wanted to find their daughters’ names in the paper. Ad rates were too high for the zoned editions of the Mercury and Chronicle. The freesheet experiment turned into a profitable chain of Daily News editions for San Mateo, Los Gatos, Redwood City, Burlingame and East Bay. (The Los Gatos paper is no longer a daily.)
    In 2005, Price and Pavelich sold the

(Continued on Column 2)

           (A list of newspapers, daily
            and otherwise, in Frisco)

Daily paid English language (subscriptions and  street sales):
    Local:  San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Business Times, San Francisco Recorder, San Francisco Daily Journal.
     Imports (delivered by trucks or printed by contract on Bay Area presses): USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, Investors Business Daily, the New York Times western edition, Los Angeles Times, the San Jose Mercury, Sacramento Bee, Oakland Tribune, Contra Costa Times, Marin Independent Journal and a newcomer – printed on the Examiner presses – the New York Post.

Daily free English language:
   San Francisco Examiner (home delivered only on Thursdays and Sundays), The City Star, San Francisco Daily Post.

Daily paid Chinese-language (local and imported):
  International Daily News**, Ming Pao**, Sing Pao**, World Journal**   
  (Chinese Daily News), China Times**.

Local non-daily weeklies, monthlies and whenever:
    GLBT: Bay Area Reporter, San Francisco Bay Times.
     Ethnic: Asian Week, Brazilian Pacific Times, El Bohemio**, El Latino*, El Mensajero*, El Reportero*, Filipino Guardian, Hokubei Mainichi Shinbun, India Post, Irish Herald, Nichi Bei Times*, Pakistan Times*, Philippine News.
     African American: Sun Reporter.
    Religious: Catholic San Francisco, Epoch Times (Falun Gong), Jewish News Weekly (formerly Bulletin), New Life* (Russian Jewish).

   Neighborhood newspapers (nonprofit and otherwise, most monthly, many with Web sites):
   Castro Courier, Castro Star, Central City Extra (Tenderloin), El Tecolote* (Mission), Haight-Ashbury Beat, Marina Times, Mission Dispatch, New Bernal Journal, New Fillmore, New Mission News, Nob Hill Gazette, Noe Valley Voice, North Beach Aquarium, Potrero View, Richmond ReView, San Francisco Bay View, Sunset Beacon, West Portal Monthly, West of Twin Peaks Observer, Western Edition.
 Schools (partial list):
    The Guardsman (CCSF), Foghorn (USF), Synapse (UCSF), Golden Gate [X]Press (SF State), The Lowell (Lowell High School). The Hatchet (Washington High), The Flame (Marshall High), Lincoln Log (Lincoln High).

   San Francisco Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, Downtown. 

Special interest:
     Frontlines (left-wing), Independent (arts),The Onion (satire).

Wire Services:
   Associated Press Bureau, Reuters News Agency, Pacific News Service, Bay Cities News.  

Local online:
    San Francisco News (blogs and postings), San Francisco Herald, Fog City Journal, SFist, San Francisco Globe, Beyond Chron, San Francisco Times, San Francisco Buzz, San Francisco Sentinel,,, Chronwatch, SF Bulldog, Topix, Golden Gate [X]Press Online (SF State) and numerous other sites with news and blogs. 

 Note: The scene changes every day, it seems. Prepared by the research department at the Gazoot, this list excludes special-interest publications, the trade press, arts and cultural periodicals, professional journals, union newspapers and house organs which, although in newspaper format, are available through membership or subscriptions. The Geezer Gazoot, for example, doesn't appear in newsracks.
* Bilingual    **Non-English

Continued from Column One

chain (for a reported $25 million) to what then loomed as the 20-foot gorilla of Silicon Valley, their big rival, Knight Ridder.  In a nightmare for journalists left behind, Knight Ridder went belly up and sold the freepaper chain to McClatchy, which sold it in turn to Dean Singleton’s MediaNews empire, which is now said to be in financial trouble.
    By then, Price and Pavelich had moved to San Francisco. They rented quarters over the Crystal Cleaners in the Marina. In May 2006, they founded the first new daily paper in San Francisco since the Free Press (published by the Newspaper Guild during its 11-day strike in 1991), the San Francisco Shopping News (during the eight-week Newspaper Guild strike in 1968) and the short-lived San Francisco Globe (launched in 1907 with Southern Pacific money and soon forgotten).
CIRCULATION of the renamed Daily Post is said to be about 6,500, all but a fraction in boxes from the Presidio to the Financial District to what could be called the payground for the millionaire ballplayers in AT&T Park. Four or five reporters and editors. Lots of wire news from Bay Cities and Reuters. “Town Talk,” a collection of puffy blurbs and mug shots of advertisers, competes with crossword and sudoku puzzles. No sports, no editorials. Oversize headline type.
   In the April 12 issue, picked at random: 28 pages with 19 stories, 21 briefs, 15 Town Talk items with one-column photos, 2 mug shots with stories, 2 larger photos, 2 pages of classified ads – and a whopping 151 display ads, including two full-pagers.
    The Palo Alto Post, born in May, is competing against the former Price & Pavelich baby, the Daily News.
   “There’s plenty of room for both of us,” Price told E&P.
THAT SEEMS to be the case in Frisco, where his freepaper  must have annoyed Anschutz & Co. In 2006, the City Star began to twinkle in the free boxes of the hotel, financial and upscale residential districts. With just enough Reuters copy to keep ads from bumping, the City Star has few local stories to go along with puff pieces about advertisers.
    Look at the Star’s web page. The usual hype says not a word about the corporate owner, who happens to be Anschutz. It would seem to be an obvious scheme to step on the little guys who founded the Daily Post as an alternative to the free Examiner, but for some reason the billionaire is too cheap to staff the Star with more than one or two journalists.
THE FREESHEET surge in San Francisco wouldn’t surprise Timothy Balding,    the Paris-based CEO of the World Association of Newspapers. Globally, he says, free daily newspaper circulation increased 137 percent from 12 million in 2001 to 28 million in 2005.
 “While much attention has been focused on digital development, the print product is also changing,” says Balding.     “Even in the most developed markets, there has been a proliferation of new genres of newspapers, targeting new audience segments and generating creative marketing and distribution scenarios. And the surge of new, free titles thrust into the paid-for market is the result of many publishers rethinking the cover-price revenue model in place for more than 400 years.”
   More than 450 million newspapers are sold each day worldwide, he says.
    “The fashion of predicting the death of newspapers should be exposed for what it is, nothing more than a fashion, based on common assumptions that are belied by the facts.”      

                             Lynn Ludlow

The Geezer Gazoot / 2008

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