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Friday, October 16, 2009

New York Times Debuts Bay Area Section Today. Our Verdict: Meh.

Posted By on Fri, Oct 16, 2009 at 1:59 PM

click to enlarge Not a disaster, no -- but not 'King of the World' either...
  • Not a disaster, no -- but not 'King of the World' either...
The nation's paper of record launched its new Bay Area section today to compete with San Francisco's paper of record. So how does the Times' San Francentric coverage measure up? Well, let's just say the Times is no Chronicle. And, believe it or not, I mean that as a compliment to the Chronicle.

The "section" is all of two pages long and, for the most part, doesn't tell locals anything they don't already know. The "Indicators" column contained three items that should all be familiar to readers of the Chron or Examiner (for instance, there was an item on bridge tolls going up, which has been widely reported by the local press). The wine column spotlighted overhyped restaurants like Nopa, Slanted Door, and A16. Even non-wine snobs in the city know about these places.

The profile of Oakland's new police chief seemed to be written for a national audience unfamiliar with the travails of Oakland. You mean there's a lot of violent crime in Oakland? Naw. Really? The piece, written by San Francisco bureau chief Jesse McKinley, also neglected to mention the OPD's botched handling of the investigation of Chauncey Bailey's murder, which was tainted by a chummy relationship between homicide detective Derwin Longmire and Yusuf Bey IV. In a story that detailed past troubles in the department, it was a notable omission.

The best part of the section was the Barbary Coast column by Scott James. It was the one story that, as far as I could tell, reported new news (and passed the "I wish we'd written that" test): The San Francisco assessor's office is being deluged with calls from angry homeowners who just got their property tax bills. Seems Assessor Phil Ting jacked up rates even on homes purchased at inflated prices during the housing boom, even though those homes undoubtedly declined in value.

But outside of James' column, the premiere of the Bay Area section was underwhelming. Of course, this was just the first edition, and the paper is no doubt still working out the kinks. If, however, this is as good as it's gonna get, editors of local news publications really have nothing to worry about. The only thing distinguishing the Times from the Chron in today's paper was the use of "Mr." before the names of familiar locals.

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