Monday, October 19, 2009

SF Chron Says NYT 'Borrowed' From Them;
Reaction from Grey Lady

Over at the blog for managing editor Phil Bronstein at the San Francisco Chronicle, some serious charges are being leveled against the New York Times' bureau chief in SF, Jesse McKinley, whose name is omitted in Bronstein's post. Kind of odd that he would leave out such an important fact, but who understand Bronstein's motivations these days?

From Bronstein's blog:
The grand, grey New York Times made its Bay Area "local content pages" debut last Friday, even as execs there prepared to cut 100 newsroom staffers in Manhattan. [...]

A story about the new Oakland police chief, the lead and longest of four pieces in the two-page Bay Area NYTimes insert, began with a compelling anecdote:

Anthony W. Batts was enjoying a successful run as the head of the Long Beach police when a headhunter called last winter and asked if the chief's job in Oakland had any appeal. Mr. Batts said no.

Then, he said, came March 21, when a recently released parolee, Lovelle Mixon, shot and killed four Oakland police officers and cemented the city's reputation as the violent crime capital of the Bay Area.

Sitting at the officers' funeral, Mr. Batts said, he changed his mind. "I decided that I'd like to help," he said. [...]

But there was just a gnawing deja vu sensation about it. Oh, right. Here was the beginning of a San Francisco Chronicle story written two months before, on August 17th:

When a headhunter called Long Beach Police Chief Anthony Batts in March and asked him whether he was interested in becoming Oakland's next chief, Batts knew the answer: No.

"I was happy in Long Beach," Batts said during his first public appearance Monday since accepting the chief's job in Oakland. [...]

"I watched the pain and the suffering in the Police Department," he said. "I watched the pain and the suffering in the community as it too hurt at the same time."

After attending the officers' funeral at the Oracle Arena, Batts said he text-messaged the headhunter: "I want to help."

Eerie. Maybe the Times was just being economical. So I checked the names. Chronicle reporter Matthai Kuruvila wrote our story. There was another completely different name on the Times piece.
For a high-ranking member of the supposedly grown-up dead tree mainstream media, that is not created and edited by folks in their pajamas, Bronstein's omission of McKinley's name seems quite juvenile.

I emailed McKinley for a reaction, and he put me in touch with his editor, Felicity Barringer, and she sent me this note:
There's not much to say, beyond this:

Unfortunately, neither Jesse nor I saw the Chronicle's piece on Mr. Batts until today. It is clear that Mr. Batts, like many people, is given to repeating anecdotes that have resonance for him.
Speaking of Bronstein and the Times, it was only yesterday that the Grey Lady's arts blog had a very favorable and amusing post about Bronstein! Check this out:
“I’m Phil,” Mr. Bronstein, who blogs for, the Chronicle Web site, told about 100 blog enthusiasts, many of them in their 20s. “I’m a recovering mainstream media addict.”

Rather than read from his blog, Mr. Bronstein spoke on the issue of old media versus new, making the point that the way the Internet has put writers in closer touch with their readers has been good for journalism. Readers and their concerns are often the source of ideas, he said. And so it is valuable to pay close attention to them, in spite of the steady stream of invective that people feel free to spew at online writers they disagree with. [...] (Emphasis added.)
Hey, Phil, welcome to the world of online writers who spew invective at the competition. Nice of you to join the club.

Methinks Arthur Sulzberger Jr. has wounded Hearst's SF Chronicle with the twice-weekly Bay Area pages, and a wounded Bronstein had to strike back in some way.

But if Bronstein wants to retain local readers, he should heed some advice the SF Bay Guardian offered a while back, when Hearst closed the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Cut back on wire pieces and devote more dead tree space to hyper local coverage, like the weekly and bi-weekly health, police, education and other commissions. San Francisco needs a major daily that delivers lots of neighborhood reporting, more than we're getting now from Hearst.

1 comment:

Civic Center said...

The other amusing detail is that the same Batts quotes appeared basically word for word in a Long Beach newspaper five days before the Chronicle printed their story, so who exactly is supposed to be plagiarizing whom? Bronstein was an interesting journalist in his foreign correspondent days, but he was an awful editor, and currently he's a below par writer.