What’s new in news industry: personal observations

Teen Observer staffers visited the San Francisco Chronicle, also home of SFGate.com, and also the new non-profit Bay Citizen, with offices a half-mile away. Both cover the Bay area but under different models and with different-sized staffs.

Chronicle Managing Editor Stephen Proctor shared his personal story — a college history major whose first job was reporting for UPI, which led him to reporting and editing positions at The Baltimore Sun before he joined the Chronicle. It has been a 30-year, 24/7 career he loves, he said, despite the difficult economic adjustments of the last five years that have led to a reduced staff — 450 people in 2003 to now 165 in 2010 — and a need to rethink coverage as the organization closed local and national bureaus. The Chronicle has also entered into partnerships with news non-profits, such as the Center for Investigative Reporting’s California Watch, to continue to print long-form journalism as well as cover the Bay area.

The San Francisco Chronicle. File photo by Lynne Perri

Bay Citizen Managing Editor Jeanne Carstensen is a former senior arts and features editor at SFGate.com, and managing editor of Salon.com before becoming part of a team that created and launched the Bay Citizen in May. The news website is a non-profit with seed money from a major donor and plans for continued funding through foundations and other individuals. The Bay Citizen’s 15-person staff considers most staffers multimedia journalists, though the site does employ one photographer. The staff also forms partnerships and collaborations with other non-profit news organizations. They do both breaking news, such as the overturn of Prop 8, and long-form journalism, such as this in-depth feature by Shoshana Walker on an Oakland rap producer.

Below are some of the students’ impressions of visits to the San Francisco Chronicle and The Bay Citizen newsrooms on the day that staffs awaited a judge’s decision in the Prop 8 case :

The atmosphere of both the San Francisco Chronicle and The Bay Citizen were exciting glimpses into what my future as a journalist may look like. One publication, revered and respected, another, innovative and bold. However, when observing and comparing both the Chronicle and The Bay Citizen, I found only one glaring conclusion: While the modern feel of the Citizen seemed like a place I would love to visit again, the traditionalist feel of the Chronicle felt like home.
The Chronicle was everything that I thought a newsroom would be and more. I loved the fast paced energy of the Managing Editor, Steve Proctor, as well as the way he conducted his daily editors meeting. Furthermore, seeing the editors of the Chronicle at work finally added a visual to the words “print journalism is not dead!” — a statement often flowing through my stream of consciousness. I did enjoy certain aspects of the Bay Citizen as well, such as their unique approach to a sort of “flash journalism.”  After seeing the inner workings of both of these publications, I would be willing to argue with anyone who thinks that Journalism, as both an art and a protector of American democracy, is dead, dying, or even terminally ill. — Haley Rosenspire

Steve Proctor, managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. File photo by Lynne Perri

Rows of cubicles line the halls of the San Francisco Chronicle building. Before 10 a.m., the floor is mostly quiet. Another part of this is due to the downsizing the Chronicle has had to do, from 450 employees in 2003 to 165 today. Steve Proctor, the managing editor, says that the biggest problem facing newsprint today is electronic. It’s hard to bring in revenue through advertising with online news. At 10:30, the editors gather to discuss headlines for the next day. Today, Aug. 4, 2010, is the day that the court will hand down the decision on Prop 8. This will be tomorrow’s main story. The editors take turn pitching their ideas for the various sections of the newspaper. To keep up with the ongoing daily news, another meeting is held at 3 p.m., just like every day. While the shift to more readers on online has hurt the San Francisco Chronicle, another publication, The Bay Citizen, is embracing it from the ground up. The Bay Citizen is a non-profit online publication that also publishes stories every Friday and Sunday in the Bay Area’s edition of The New York Times. The Bay Citizen staff of 15 works in a small, bright and open office. Jean Carstensen, one of two managing editors, explains that the publication began May 26, 2010, with the help of a generous philanthropist. The Bay Citizen is all about the live feed. Along with publishing full articles, the website is updated with videos, blogs and pictures as soon as news breaks. The Bay Citizen tries to be as current as possible. Although these two publications are very different, they are both finding their own ways to keep journalism alive. — Jordan Contrel-Galerkin

Everything must undergo change. Take transportation, for example. Transportation has evolved from on foot to using horses to trains, automobiles and aircraft. Technology has also played a part in how the journalism industry must adapt or evolve. Civilization has stumbled into a world of almost limitless technology that allows information to be free and instantaneously accessible. Newspapers and publications today must grapple with the challenge of how to appropriately use the new technology our generation has developed. Do we use the new tools we have been created or struggle to reinvent old ones in order to preserve them? The San Francisco Chronicle is leaning toward the latter. It recognizes the importance of print journalism and strives to maintain its existence, but understands that this effort comes at the price of a decline in staff and in circulation. The Chronicle must find a way to profit from its free, online website and simultaneously increase circulation of the print newspaper. The Bay Citizen, however, chooses to use technology to rely on older journalism methods.

Students talk with the managing editor at The Bay Citizen. By Lynne Perri

The Bay Citizen has made use of an online publication’s ability to present hot news and provide current updates. They use blogs, videos and images to break news on their website. However, they have also developed strong partnerships in their local community, which allows them to work with smaller news sources. The Chronicle and the Citizen are two examples of reactions to the evolution of journalism. Whether it is holding fast to an old and possibly outdated method or adapting to the changing times, these two papers are attempting to make enough changes to flow along with the inevitable pace of time. — Alexa Girkout

After visiting both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Bay Citizen offices on Wednesday afternoon, it was surprising to discover how different these two buildings and organizations truly are. While the San Francisco Chronicle has come to be a well-respected, traditional newspaper organization over the years, the Bay Citizen can be looked upon as a symbol of the future for journalism. The office of The Bay Citizen is modest and the staff consists of only 15 members, but the company is moving forward by producing its news from all aspects of the media. This includes not only traditional newswriting, but also photography, video broadcasting and blogging. This non-profit company is looking to expand the public’s access to news as quickly and efficiently as possible. On the contrary, The San Francisco Chronicle still hopes to preserve classical print journalism. Doing so will be a tough task considering the recent growth of online reading; however, the San Francisco Chronicle expects loyal middle-aged readers to continue buying print for the next few years. Although both companies use different tactics to deliver local news to the San Francisco area, it is safe to say that journalism will play an essential role in the lives of civilians — whether in print or online — for years to come. — Paige Mastrandrea

Ever since I decided to study journalism, my parents, always concerned with my well being, often told me something along the lines of, “Do what you’re passionate about, but don’t expect to be economically prosperous in that profession.”
They were right.

The San Francisco Chronicle, one of the most prestigious publications in the United States, portrays this economic downturn. Steven Proctor, managing editor of the newspaper, says that the number of journalists on staff has been reduced from a significant 450 to a meager 165.

The Chronicle, however, stands for something my parents have also taught me, “Always persevere;” the Bay area publication has plowed through the economic inconveniences.

Managing Editor Jeanne Carstensen talks with students. By Lynne Perri

Be it by reorganizing it’s news topics or by canceling some categories altogether, the Chronicle has learned to adapt to modern times; now it’s time for the new generation, of journalists, my generation, to do so as well. — Santiago Aguado

I thoroughly enjoyed our trip to San Francisco to visit the San Francisco Chronicle and The Bay Citizen. My personal favorite by far was the Chronicle. I have been reading the Chronicle when I can for several years now, and have felt a connection to it as my primary source of information about the Bay area, which is one of my favorite places. I love printed newspapers, and so I was really excited to visit one of the most famous publications in the country. I was impressed with everything, from the stained glass windows on the fourth-floor lobby to the unyielding professionalism displayed in the newsroom meeting. I felt so comfortable there, and truly welcomed by the staff and Mr. Proctor. I am so thankful for being able to participate in that rare opportunity, and I hope one day to maybe pursue an internship there.

While I enjoyed visiting the Bay Citizen, I don’t think the atmosphere was entirely fitting for me at this point in my life. It was very relaxed, and while I greatly appreciate cooperation and camaraderie in the work place, it seemed to lack a sense of traditional journalistic professionalism, which really resonated with me at the Chronicle. The co-managing editor was informative, but not very enlightening, as I felt Mr. Proctor to be. I completely respect their vision for an emphasis on local news, but I just didn’t feel a connection to what was presented to me. I think it is a worthwhile trip because I know many others who enjoyed it; I just liked the Chronicle better. — Ali Solon

Although The San Francisco Chronicle and The Bay Citizen are both successful newspapers, the way they are run are completely opposite. Although the Chronicle is bigger and more organized, just how I imagined a newspaper company would be, I was flabbergasted when I saw the Bay Citizen’s office. I thoroughly enjoyed the latter’s atmosphere, because it was a small office that enabled its workers to get to know all of their colleagues. I also enjoyed how most of their work is done online, which saves money in print. There is nothing wrong with The San Francisco Chronicle, and I would be grateful to work there, but it just doesn’t fit my personality as well as The Bay Citizen does. — Noelle Campbell

The morning time at the San Francisco Chronicle and The Bay Citizen could not have been better spent. Walking into the Chronicle floor was an overwhelming awe. Our welcoming host, Stephen Proctor, who is the managing editor, introduced us to the Chronicle’s version of the journalism industry. As aspiring journalists, Procter encouraged us to strengthen the basic skills of being a reporter and engage ourselves into being a “multimedia journalist.” He also addressed the popular belief of the “dying” industry: It is not dying rather shifting into a very different form. Many innovations such as the iPad “hold out hope for print.”
The moment I was truly influenced was when Proctor told us, “I love being a journalist, and have always wanted to.” And he described journalism as a career where it “demand a lot for the amount of return.”

My favorite part of trip was visiting the Bay Citizen. It paints out an ideal of my future working environment: the amazing interior design, the open office space, the warm people, and the killer view of the street. I enrolled in the NSLC program not certain of what I desired to pursue, but the short visit gave me an inspiration. Maybe I am still uncertain about journalism, but I have discovered a very different part of myself. — Tracy Tien

My experiences at the San Francisco Chronicle as well as The Bay citizen were both memorable. Though I was not familiar with either publication, I was still able to find them both quite interesting.  The San Francisco chronicle is a type of newspaper that reports hard news and is a better-known publication than The Bay Citizen.  The managing editor shared a lot of information on the ins and outs of how an issue is put together and published. This information will definitely be valuable to me in my future career.

The Bay Citizen seemed to have more of a laid-back feel to it.  I found this to be an inviting atmosphere.  This publication also reports hard news to the public but seeing as it is still relatively new, it is not as popular as The San Francisco Chronicle. However, I can definitely see this publication becoming very successful in the near future.  Overall, I found the information given to me by the managing editors at both publications to be valuable. — Lindsay Young

Visiting the San Francisco Chronicle and Bay Citizen was an extremely enlightening experience and really heightened my desire to become a journalist. Watching the reporters react and prepare to cover breaking news was very exciting and I would love nothing more than to do just that every day of my professional life. I thought both of these publications were professional and creative in handling the challenges that the media must face today. I have no fear that this is a dying industry; I see now that there are many new and exciting ways to not only update the way we inform the public but to improve it as well. — Kelcie McCurdy

The San Francisco Chronicle is an illustrious paper. It is timeless in its craft, and is a staple of American journalism. Even in changing economic times The Chronicle has survived, these reasons if nothing else make The Chronicle majestic and important.  The building itself is inspiring; personally there was an unbelievable sense of history that I felt while visiting The Chronicle. I felt the same exhilarating sense of “newsroom excitement” at the Bay Citizen as I did in The Chronicle but in a different capacity. When I entered The Bay Citizen its youth and vitality was inspiring. The small excitable staff is passionate and dedicated to what they do. The Citizen is a paper of the new Internet age; devoted to online consumers and the media hungry public. The Bay Citizen delivers to this public with quick story turnover, photos, video and a partnership with The New York Times . As a devoted reader of classic newspapers, I would love the chance to work with the distinguished men and women of the San Francisco Chronicle. It has always been a dream of mine to contribute to such a piece of American media, particularly one that has demonstrated masterful longevity in this supposed era of journalistic decline. As an individual and a supporter of civic journalism I believe that pieces like The Chronicle must be supported and kept alive in the hearts and minds of the country. — Ayla Mitchell

Being at the offices of the Chronicle and the Bay Citizen was incredible. The atmosphere in both offices is just the type that I would love to work in. The employees there are very friendly, and they all seem to share the common goal of providing great and accurate news. It was an awesome opportunity to get a sample of how life runs in the offices of publications, and I couldn’t imagine a better place to work. — Sophia Gallegos
Many have diagnosed journalism as a dying industry. Given this premise, when visiting The San Francisco Chronicle and The Bay Citizen, I was curious to see how news media publications were coping in such uncertain times. The Chronicle, comprising a small network of cubicles, with its gothic calligraphic logo, recalled an era that was perhaps coming to a close, as print news struggles to compete with the Internet. While Chronicle managing editor Stephen Proctor doesn’t regret his career in journalism, he concedes that recent financial struggles have made the last five years of his job “in some ways, a little less fulfilling.” While the Chronicle, though not without significant downsizing, remains, new publications are embracing the tangible shift in the industry. The Bay Citizen, a new publication this year, is web-based, providing articles, blogs and videos about local news. And with a team of 15 people to The Chronicle’s 165, adjustments are somewhat easier to make in these times, provided that everyone multitasks. “We all do a lot of multimedia here,” said Managing Editor Jeanne Carstensen. It seems that more journalists will have to think this way, as well, if they wish to survive.  — Christine Jackson