znotes #21 - Ideas for improving the Chron & Examiner

The Problem:

The San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner look so much alike and sound so much alike it is hard to tell them apart. Both papers suffer from a journalistic lethargy and are in serious need of revitalization. Neither paper stands out in the realm of national newspapers. Certainly San Francisco could support at least one first class daily paper. In the spirit of helpfulness here are some ideas for a possible revitalization:


The Chronicle

Give the paper a more serious look similar to the New York Times. This must be more than just cosmetic. It will require a higher standard of writing and perhaps more resources. Judicious use of reprinted stories from the New York Times, AP and other sources could help and also save money. If the current senior staff is not up to the task, find people who are. Certainly the project of turning the Chronicle into a first class daily newspaper would be of interest to somebody.

The Chronicle needs to develop areas of excellence. I suggest focusing attention on:

  • Asian affairs and China - Orville Schell might be someone to consult
  • West coast Business & Technology. Herb Greenburg is good but more in depth articles about companies and individuals is required. Add more Red Herring
  • Local Bay Area government and transportation issues. This is an area that could use more focus. A sustained emphasis on local problems (and what is working in other communities) could do much toward helping to solve Bay Area problems.
  • West Coast (particularily Northern California) issues.

Stronger photography and better use of color would help (see how the NY Times has introduced color in a refined way).


The Examiner

The Examiner needs both a more distinctive look and personality. As the underdog, it needs to be a more scrappy, populist competitor to the Chronicle and all the other papers in town. Focus should be on exposing corruption in city hall. Concentrate on sensational stories. Powerful headlines are an Examiner strenght and need more emphasis. Probes, exposés, intrigue should be it's reason for existence. Writing should be powerful and direct. Photos can be provocative and somewhat sensational.

The Examiner clearly needs more vitality. The Examiner needs writers with a distinctive style. Robert Morse is a step in this direction. Writers that people will buy the paper day after day to read. The Examiner should be the paper that is not afraid to take a few risks. A strong sports section is a must.

The Examiner needs to stress it's strengths. The ability to catch late breaking stories and financial markets needs to be used to full advantage.


  • graphic redesign featuring strong headlines
  • more investagative stories on local issues
  • more distinctive feature writers

Another problem facing both papers - use of the Internet

I am not sure that either paper really understands what they are doing on the Net. The American Journalism Review NewsLink has a lot of good articles about how newspapers are using the Net - what works and what does not. The New York Times provides a fairly good model of well put together "newspaper" site.

The Chronicle and Examiner generate a significant number of the journalistic stories in the bay area. These need to be presented in a way that is both interesting and easy to access. The sfgate/news and Examiner Hotnews do a fairly good job of presenting stories from the current editions of the daily papers. It must be recognized that the Internet is not just a replacement for print. People use the Internet more ways than just keeping up with daily news. More study about how people really use the Internet locally could help. The Internet is becoming a powerful reference and research tool. Here are some specific suggestions:

  1. Link current stories to past related stories
  2. Allow stories to be accessed by "issue" or "current events" type format a la Yahoo. Specific editors assigned to subject areas should be listed with email addresses. This would facilitate contact for follow on stories.
  3. Give all writers Internet access
  4. Adopt the sidewalk ad format with 4 ads per page to increase revenues.
  5. Work with and study the use of the Internet at local schools.
  6. Create/find a better search engine.

Hope this is helpful.

Richard Petersen

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* Note: the sample papers presented here are for illustrative purposes only and are not actual editions of either the Chronicle or Examiner.
November 7, 1997, rp