Saturday, February 22, 2003

Major California daily goes free

The San Francisco Examiner, once the mighty flagship of the Hearst newspaper chain, is going through hard times after it was sold by Hearst when the company bought the city's other paper, the Chronicle. Yesterday the Examiner laid off most of its editorial staff Friday and announced it would become a free daily paper available only in city news racks and retail stores, starting Monday. The Examiner will go from a broadsheet to tabloid. The rival Chron reports that 40 staff members in the Examiner circulation department and newsroom were let go, leaving just two reporters, three editors and two columnists. The newspaper will now share more content with the Independent, which is owned by the same family as the Examiner.

Commentary: It seems the Examiner has become a free daily as a last resort in order to survive. If the Examiner fails, readers and advertisers will say, "See, free dailies don't work." The truth may be that the Examiner is circling the drain because of its own problems. The current owners have injected political bias into its news columns and readers have rejected the paper. Nothing can help it now, not even dramatically cutting its costs. This is a black eye for the rest of the free daily industry, which is growing and successful. The Examiner is an albatross to other free dailies.