Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Now the Chronicle's Business Section is Imploding

The business section of the Chronicle is taking a huge hit with a number of key staffers departing for new ventures.

Ken Howe, the business editor who has been at the Chronicle for decades, has decided to take a buyout and move to Hong Kong, so he can be closer to one of the biggest stories of the decade – the growth of China. Howe spent time in Asia on a fellowship last year and became fascinated by the region’s rapid changes.

Dan Fost, the former media columnist and current tech reporter, is taking a buyout after nine years at the paper. He has been covering Web.2.0 and other stories. Readers will miss Fost’s deft, light touch. He’s a master at making business stories interesting.

David Lazarus, whose column is a must-read, has accepted another job at the Los Angeles Times. He is so respected that the Chronicle’s rival, the SF Weekly, declared him the city’s best newspaper columnist. Lazarus will be joined at the LA Times by his business section colleague, Jessica Guynn.

Newspaper Musical Chairs

I thought I would be the one to break this news, since Peter is an old friend, but obviously I moved too slowly. Peter Waldman, who has written for the Wall Street Journal for 22 years, much of it from the San Francisco bureau, is leaving the paper for Portfolio, the new Conde Nast startup magazine.

Is this a reflection of Rupert Murdoch’s bid to buy the Wall Street Journal? Well, yes and no. Peter wants to try new types of writing and have the opportunity to do more varied reporting, but there is no doubt that he and others at the paper are concerned about Murdoch’s proposed takeover.

Have people been monitoring those who are leaving the Chronicle? Since I was on vacation I haven’t blogged about those losses, or those who were laid off from the Mercury News, but some of the papers’ best reporters are gone. At the Chronicle they include Mike Weiss, known for his lengthy takeouts on a range of topics, including a story about the making of wine which he turned into a book; Keay Davidson, a fabulous science reporter; Rick DelVecchio, who has covered the East Bay for years and writes a fine feature; and Glen Martin, whose environmental writing was illuminating and compelling. Read a list of the rest of the departed here.

At the Mercury News, Dan Reed, one of the finest writers I know, was let go, as was police reporter Rod Foo; Brad Kava, who pioneered blogs and podcasts for the paper; environmental reporter turned editor Marilee Enge, and many more fine reporters. Here's the full list.

Most people don’t read bylines and probably don’t care that so many reporters are out or work. But I regard this as the deliberate dismantling of an industry with repercussions we don’t yet understand. While many of these reporters will continue to publish, either as freelancers or as staff writers, the institution of newspapers has been seriously weakened. That means politicians and businesses and regular scoundrels won’t feel the heat when they most need to be scorched.

Newspapers and journalism schools are virtually throwing themselves on and at the web to try and adapt. The Chronicle just appointed Eve Batey as Deputy Managing Editor for Online (notice the word "news" is nowhere to be seen.) She will be the liaison between the newsroom and SFGate. She comes to this position with virtually no journalism experience. Instead, she made her reputation at SFist, one of those city blogs with splashy graphics.

The Medill School at Northwestern University, which just changed its name from the Medill School of Journalism, (somehow dropping that dreaded j word makes it more contemporary) is revamping its program to have all budding reporters get out into the field with video ipods and digital cameras. They will also be required to take a class that examines what readers want, audience behavior and motivation, a sort of marketing look at how to write stories so they will be read.

The Journalism School at Berkeley is also revamping its core journalism class and will have its first year students use video cameras and tape recorders to make multimedia reports. Previously the school had everyone take a core reporting class and a separate multimedia class since there is so much to learn in both disciplines. The combined approach is an attempt at relevance.

I never thought I would live through the death of the newspaper industry or watch as journalists grasped at everything to try and resurrect its important position in the world. As one friend put it recently, she feels like the weaver at the start of the Industrial Revolution watching the construction of fabric factories through the window of her stone hut.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A lot of Shakin' and Rattling were woken up around 4:42 a.m. this morning by the strongest earthquake we have felt in years. Our house jolted and moved and then lurched some more, prompting me to yell at my daughters to take cover under a door frame. I was so anxious for protection that I fled my bedroom and neglected to take my glasses with me, so I held on blindly until the shaking stopped. It was a 4.2 but the epicenter was near our house, so we really felt it.

Jim Wooten, formerly of ABC News, has written a moving tribute to David Halberstam. The two met as young men covering Senator Al Gore, Sr.’s campaign in Tennessee and talked nearly daily for decades.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has sold a memoir to Doubleday. It will be interesting to see how this compares the biography being written by former Chronicle reporter Marc Sandalow.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

What the U.S. Looks Like From the Other SIde of the Ocean

I wrote the following post about 10 days ago, but have been reluctant to put in online, thereby breaking my self-imposed vacation. But I’ve found lots to blog about, but can’t start without a brief look back:

This is the Fiat Brava, the car we rented

I’ve been out of the United States for the past three weeks, traveling with my family in Italy. There is something refreshing about leaving your country and seeing the rest of the world from another culture’s perspective. It’s a great reminder how myopic we become when we only hear from one another. Some things I observed:

Italy is full of small cars that deftly zip through traffic and are comfortable doing 130 kilometers an hour on the autostrada. Why doesn’t the U.S. have some of these cars that consume so little gas? (Besides the Cooper Mini) They feel perfectly safe. We drove from Rome, up through Umbria, to Modena and Milan, then to the Dolomites and back to Milan on only five tanks of gas. (Of course gas costs $7 a gallon, but still, we got a big bang for our buck.)

There is something civilizing about long lunches and dinners. When I am at home, I most always eat in a hurry, usually grabbing something for lunch at my desk and throwing together some kind of meal for my family at night. I rediscovered the joy of eating in Italy (no surprise, I know). That’s not to say the food was that much better, as the San Francisco Bay Area is a cornucopia of delights, but I lingered over every meal with no deadline or appointment to divert my attention from pleasure. We stayed at a beautiful 11th century home in Umbria where there were five separate spaced devoted to dining – one under a grape arbor, one on a lawn, one around a stone table set in a sunny herb garden, one in a Buddhist shrine, and an indoor dining room. I couldn’t leave before checking out each one. My favorite was lunch under the grape arbor.

The dollar is very weak against the Euro, going from 1.36 dollars to the Euro to 1.40 by the time we left. This served as a daily reminder of George Bush’s inadequacies. That and the daily death count in Iraq.

There really are other white wines besides Chardonnay.

The clothes really are better in Italy. The most talked about man in Italy is not the former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. It’s Beppe Grillo, a comedian whose tongue and prose are so sharp that he is the unelected leader of millions.

When can I go back?