By Kate Conger
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By Rachel Swan
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Though Bronstein is opposed to the idea of foreign bureaus because he thinks they're not effective, the paper has sent several reporters overseas to do projects. Rosenthal in particular was pleased with the three-part "Diary of a Sex Slave," which ran last month. It was a classic Chronicle "campaign" that made waves. Writer Meredith May traveled to South Korea, Los Angeles, and the Mexican border with a photographer. She then recorded a Podcast with Gavin Newsom about what he'd like to see done about sex trafficking.
"We took a big chance on that," Rosenthal said. He was right. It immediately fueled controversy. The tale of a Korean woman's experiences being tricked into prostitution was labeled by a coalition of more than two dozen Asian-American organizations "misleading," "sexploitative," and "pornographic" in a Chronicle op-ed.
The paper's Web site recorded scores of comments. One thanked the writer for doing "such a fantastic job of enlightening the public to this pervasive and insidious crime." Another excoriated the paper for "the two-inch, above-the-fold headline that SCREAMED Ôsensationalism' and Ôappealing to prurient interests.'"
Insiders say Bronstein's news judgment is the more adventuresome; Rosenthal is seen as somewhat more of a button-down, proper East Coast journalist.
"Phil is a very nontraditional guy in terms of what he wants in the paper," said Curley, the front-page editor. "Rosey is much more traditional. There is a battle I don't want to say they're at each other's throats every day."
Rosenthal, though, said he was glad to have the freedom to experiment with the Chronicle in ways he wouldn't have dared in the more conservative Philadelphia. He has taken a shine to the Bay Area. In a half-hour interview he used the word "unique" eight times to describe the region's quirky culture.
Rosenthal also began to realize the power of SFGate, one of the earliest experiments in online news, founded in 1993. His reading habits have changed completely since he arrived at the Chronicle. He glances at the paper and then hops on the Gate for 15 minutes after breakfast. These days, he said, it would be "arrogant" to think the paper was the first place people were reading the news. He said the Chronicle is in an "absolutely transitional period between being a newspaper and multimedia company.
"I think the challenge for the whole industry, not just us, is to hold onto the content people, the newsrooms, so that they're not decimated while the business model changes," he said. "If next year it's 10 percent down [in readership] and 25 or 30 percent up on the Internet, and our readership is bigger than it was five years ago when you combine all the numbers, is that going to be bad? I don't know. It's very different."
But the newer business model is still unproven. Newspaper industry analyst John Morton said that while Internet advertising revenue is now 5 to 6 percent of a newspaper's income, and has been growing by 20 percent to 30 percent per year, it will be at least five to 10 years before it catches up with print revenue, which still pays for almost everything.
"There's no magic bullet that suddenly provides a business model for 425 journalists," said the Gate's editor, Vlae Kershner. "All we can do is try to increase the revenue and the audience for the Web site."
The good news for the Chronicle is that people are coming to the Web site. SFGate typically ranks fourth or fifth in the nation for a daily newspaper Web site. The site continues to make money, even though it is rare among newspapers to give away their archives for free online. The once dim but now growing prospect that the Internet will somehow be the newspaper's economic and journalistic salvation is a given at the Chronicle. Now, perhaps, a new nautical image is in order: The Web site is the ark that will preserve the paper's creative talents during the oncoming storm and flood. Since the business model of local news on the Web is untested, one's not quite sure whether the ark will be seaworthy in time.
"I think the flood is here," Rosenthal said.
The growth of viewers on SFGate has been encouraging. Kershner said some stories are now getting close to a million hits a day, usually when they are linked by Matt Drudge.
The site has 48 staffers, producing video on demand and a slew of Podcasts on everything from Filipino history to sports betting.
There are 23 blogs and counting. Some, like the Tech Blog and Mark Morford's snarky column, are now "back published" into the paper. Marcus Chan is the paper's first full-time multimedia editor, and is continually coaxing reporters to turn their stories into online presentations. One such Web feature was a Podcast interview with Barack Obama when he pulled into town in October.
The biggest change in routines, though, is the invention of the Continuous News Desk, run by Suzanne Herel. Breaking stories go directly to the Web within minutes, if possible. Reporters are being retrained to get 200 to 300 words up on the Gate as soon as they can, and revisit the story later for print.
In many ways, this development has returned the lifeblood to newspapering.