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Progressive Supervisors Exact Small but Painful Revenge on the Chronicle

The paper of record flubbed a deadline to get easy ad money from the city, and six supervisors made them pay.


When you pick up a San Francisco newspaper, you often know what you’re going to get. The Chronicle is the city’s paper of record and tends to espouse middle-of-the-road, establishment positions. The Examiner is the self-styled anti-Chronicle. It has, in recent years, taken a hard left turn. At times, it feels as if the Ex has been possessed, Voldemort-like, by the soul of its scuttled sister paper, the Bay Guardian

The ideological leanings of our respective daily papers—and, correspondingly, our legislators—flashed into focus yesterday during an otherwise routine Board of Supervisors meeting. Essentially along ideological lines, progressive supes voted, 6-4, to not split $420,000 in advertisements of meeting agendas and other materials between the Chronicle and Examiner, but award all the marbles to the Ex.  

Officially, it was an easy call to make. Based upon the points system established by the city, the Ex ranks higher than the Chron: It’s a free paper; it’s published in the city; and, rather notably, the Office of the City Administrator deemed the city’s flagship paper “non-responsive” for missing the filing deadline by 20 full days. 

The Chron’s rationale for failing to get its bid in on time was that the city’s email was not formatted correctly. This was, within City Hall, widely viewed as a dog-ate-my-homework excuse. So, it was not lost on the city’s progressive supervisors that the newspaper that has, consistently, inveighed against their candidates and causes was asking them to overlook its lower score and blown deadline and do it a favor. 

They weren’t in a favorable mood. The Chronicle, says one City Hall denizen, “gave us a slow pitch right down the middle of the plate.” It was belted deep into the bleachers. 

By now,
many of you are likely wondering: Why—in 2016—does the city pay $420,000 to advertise meeting agendas and other material that’s all publicly available, for free, on the city’s website, at city libraries, outside the clerk’s office or, by request, can be mailed to your door at cost? (Of note, $420,000 isn’t a lot of money for a city with a budget of $9.6 billion, but it’s a plum contract for any print media outlet; that’s six times more money than the sum that prompted Examiner and SF Weekly publisher Glenn Zuehls last year to demand his Weekly staff write a fawning cover advertorial—which ultimately never ran—to appease offended advertiser Graton Casino.) 

The archaic requirement to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to newspapers to publish material now readily available for free stems not from the Grover Cleveland era but 1994, when voters approved Proposition J. Back then, the Hearst-owned Examiner underbid the Fang family’s Independent by some $200,000 to run public notices in that pre-Internet age. The politically influential Fangs then engineered Prop. J, which awarded lucrative city ads not to the lowest bidder, but to the paper that scored the best in categories the Independent did well in (free, printed locally, at least three editions a week, etc.). The Independent is long gone, but those are still the criteria the city uses today. And since this was a voter-approved measure, it can’t be undone unless the voters see fit to make it so. 

This was probably a fun vote for the progressives to make; our City Hall sources today told us things about the Chron that disgruntled Warriors fans are probably saying about J.R. Smith parading shirtless through Cleveland. But, back in the era when posting public meeting schedules in newspapers actually made sense, Mark Twain allegedly questioned the wisdom of picking fights with people who buy ink by the barrel. Much has changed since then. Much has changed since 1994, even. But Twain’s purported advice? That still seems pretty solid. 


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