Evaluating print and broadcast news in the San Francisco Bay Area from A to F.

Historic Bay Area journalism summit
promises reversal of news priorities

P. Anthony Ridder

SAN JOSE, April 1 -- Summoned by Knight Ridder Chairman and CEO P. Anthony "Tony" Ridder, the leaders of the most prominent news corporations operating in the Bay Area gathered this morning to issue a revolutionary declaration of principles for the news their companies produce.

Mr. Ridder, whose company owns the San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Times, said the volume of revenues generated by Knight Ridder newspapers is so great, the appropriate profit comparison is with grocery stores, not OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries).

"We should be aiming for 3-5% return on gross revenues, not 22-25%, and plowing the additional tens of millions into our newsrooms," Mr. Ridder said. "Wall Street no longer trumps Main Street at Knight Ridder."

Dean Singleton, CEO of MediaNews, and owner of nine Bay Area newspapers including the Oakland Tribune, announced a similar about-face. "The time has passed when our journalists get food stamp applications with their weekly paychecks," he promised. "The money I've been skimming from my media empire to buy more newspapers to make more money will instead be invested in first-rate journalism."

The CEOs of corporations owning local television news directors promised big changes in their newscasts as well.

"No more will we seek out unusually violent and emotional or visual stories that have distracted our viewers from the important events and issues taking place around them and shaping their lives," said Michael Eisner, CEO of Disney Corporation, which owns ABC, which owns KGO Channel 7. "We even plan to cover politics and government, especially before elections because our primary duty as journalists is to empower citizenship."

"It's such a relief," said Mr. Eisner, "to give up the pretense that what we did was really news."

"Shareholders will just have to settle for extraordinary, rather than obscene, returns," explained Sumner Redstone, CEO of Viacom, which owns CBS, which owns KPIX Channel 5.

"From now on," said Vincent Young, CEO of Young Broadcasting Inc., which owns KRON Channel 4, "Scott Peterson's trial will play second fiddle to stories about the massive social problem of domestic violence. We'll explore its causes and possible solutions rather than every twist and turn of a single alleged case."

"People may know the name of Laci's Peterson's unborn son," said Jim Robbins, CEO of Cox Enterprises, owner of KTVU Channel 2, "but they don't know how much Oakland's police force spends on spousal abuse investigations, much less what social services or Highland Hospital spends treating this preventable tragedy."

"Hard to imagine we focused so much on one incident a hundred miles away from San Jose and ignored any exploration of so large a plague of violence in our own backyard," commented Jeffrey R. Immelt, CEO of General Electric, which owns NBC, which owns KNTV, Channel 11.

"Guess we'll have to cancel our new focus on sex," said Victor F. Ganzi, CEO of the Hearst Corporation, which owns the San Francisco Chronicle. "Maybe the topic's not really so new after all."

Asked how Wall Street analysts might respond to the declaration, Mr. Ridder said, "They'll adjust. Our founders John S. and James L. Knight always said if we provide excellent journalism, the money will follow.

"Not only will we assure our financial success into the future, making us a sound long-term investment," he explained, "but freed to report the news without fear or favor, we'll assure the success of the communities we serve across the nation."

"We have a fiduciary responsibility to our shareholders," said Mr. Eisner. "But we have an even more fundamental obligation to society and to our own consciences."

"No more bottom-feeding journalism," promised Mr. Singleton. "The people of Oakland and other Bay Area communities deserve more than bare-bones reporting."

"We can no longer afford to earn extraordinary profit when it comes at the expense of a well-informed citizenry," said Mr. Ridder. "We challenge other media owners to follow our example."


Or so John McManus wishes. Happy April Fool's Day!

What do you think? Discuss it in The Coffeehouse.


A project of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at San Jose State University, Grade the News is affiliated with the Graduate Program in Journalism at Stanford University and KTEH, public television in Silicon Valley.

Monitoring the Bay Area's most popular news media:

Contra Costa Times

Knight Ridder

San Francisco Chronicle


San Jose Mercury News

Knight Ridder

KTVU, Oakland (FOX)

KTVU, Oakland (FOX)

KRON, San Francisco

KRON, San Francisco

KPIX, San Francisco (CBS)

KPIX, San Francisco (CBS)

KGO, San Francisco (ABC)

KGO, San Francisco (ABC)

KNTV, San Jose (NBC)

KNTV, San Jose (NBC)


Bay Area media advocates:

Media Alliance
Center for the Integration and Improvement of Journalism at SFSU
Maynard Institute
Youth Media Council
Project Censored
New California Media
Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California chapter
National Writers Union Bay Area chapter

Site highlights


The three-part series follows the rise of three Bay Area handouts:
• Part 1: At free dailies, advertisers sometimes call the shots
• Part 2: Free daily papers: more local but often superficial
• Part 3: Free papers' growth threatens traditional news
• See also: SF Examiner and Independent agree to end payola restaurant reviews
• And: The free tabloid that wasn't: East Bay's aborted Daily Flash


Lou Alexander started a firestorm with his original guest commentary predicting the company would be sold. Several other experts on newspapers have weighed in:
Newspapers can't cut their way back into Wall Street investors' hearts, by Stephen R. Lacy; Alexander responds
Humbler profits won't encourage buyouts, by John Morton; Alexander responds
Newspapers can't maintain monopoly profits because they've lost their monopolies, by Philip Meyer
Knight Ridder in grave jeopardy, by Lou Alexander...


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Unintended consequences: How Craigslist and similar services are sucking revenue from faltering newspapers. 9/13/05
Is CPB irrelevant? As Congress moves to cut public broadcasting funds, has CPB become obsolete in the modern marketplace. 6/26/05
The paradox of news: There's more news available and its cheaper than ever before, but fewer young people are interested. 5/12/05


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