Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Chronicle: The End Is Nigh

I have commented several times about my opinion of San Francisco's "premier" paper, the San Francisco Chronicle. When I first moved to the Bay Area, I was disgusted with this laughable excuse of a paper. As a man who consumed the Boston Globe from cover to cover, every day, for over a decade, I was shocked that a city with such a proud literary history called this pathetic excuse of newsprint as it's paper.

In the last 5 years, however, I have been pleasantly surprised to see the quality of it's coverage improving, with an emphasis on actually finding stories, instead of just picking up what the wires spit out. Coincidentally, it happened that this was the time the Hearst group picked up the paper, and made a real dedicated effort on it, and it was paying off. From the Barry Bonds scandals, to the coverage of Nancy Pelosi's ascension to the head of the Congress, the paper has been getting to be a real paper, and one that is actually a pleasure to occasionally read. And the Chronicle's website, SFGate is easily the best newspaper website out there, even beyond NYTimes.com or any other.

Ironically, after the year in which a successful film was released about the rich history of the Chronicle and the Zodiac killer, the paper itself is falling under the killer's stare. It is a bit sad to see that the increased quality has not been enough to stem the tide of red ink, as the Chronicle announced they are laying off 25% of the newsroom this summer.

To me, in the heart of Silicon Valley, this is the time to make a major strike. Hearst should make a deal with the folks who are providing the LCD's for the OLPC, and strike a delivery deal with the cell carriers. The Chronicle should go all digital: you get the screen/device for free, as long as you a) subscribe to the service for rates equivalent to a newspaper subscription, and b) agree to read the "paper" (and see the embedded ads) at least twice a week. In return, the device will automatically download the morning paper over the cell provider's network, and be ready for your commute. No waiting to download pages; you read them instantly, along with the photos and layout. How to protect it from being a fad? If you don't read the paper, you'll get one month to return the device, or you'll be charged $100.

The ad revenue still drives the business. The platform gets into the hands of commuters. The content still drives the adoption. Then, the Chronicle can license other Hearst publications to be available on the device, or make the ads clickable. The possibilities are endless: the key is making a lightweight, fully loaded device with the right content behind it. No more messy newsprint, and a truly trailblazing approach.

C'mon, Chron: if anyone can, you can.

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