pointed out, is that while new media sites still rely on old media,
readers themselves are less interested in the traditional news coverage
or City Hall reporting that mainstream media organizations provide.
said Gannett recently conducted an anthropological study of the news
habits of adults in 16 cities across the United States. What they heard
over and over again, he said, was, "I'm tired of turning on the TV and
hearing about two murders in a part of the city I couldn't find on the
"Something I did when I got to SFist was strip it of a lot
political content," Keeling said. The city was already 'saturated' with
political coverage from other sites, he said. "Not stripped," he
corrected himself. "Exfoliated." (Keeling noted after the presentation that SFist is not bereft of political content).
Maness, who oversees The Bold Italic,
a site with attractively designed first-person stories about city life,
said he might publish a narrative about what it's like to be
inside City Hall over the course of a day, but that they wouldn't do
anything like traditional policy reporting.
"People identify the way they live in the city through the merchants
they interact with," Maness said. When he and his colleagues studied San Francisco, he noted, "We didn't hear a lot about City Hall or SFMoMA or
the weather in San Francisco ... but 'We like living here because we can
go to Blue Bottle Coffee.'"
agreed. "I see the city through its stores and businesses and its
overpriced coffee. In a good way, in a very good way, " he said.
Moderator Robin Sloan asked the panelists if they thought the city's media ecosystem was healthy.
"Is it healthy? It's entertaining," Keeling said.
of the panelists had solutions for the bigger problem: The Chronicle is
struggling to survive, paying for real reporters is expensive, City
Hall coverage is time-consuming, complex, and unsexy -- but they agreed, someone
needs to do it.
"People do care about [government and policy
reporting], but only when it impacts their life," Maness said. But if
media organizations wait to pay attention to policy reporting until
there's a story their readers want, it will be 'too late to do anything
about it,'" Maness said. "This
is the unknown, how do you make sure that you have strong coverage when
it impacts your life."
Although they rely on Chronicle
coverage, the best alternative model of civic journalism presented last
night was the Muni Diaries, a site that allows people to share their
experiences with San Francisco's public transportation.
Diaries is not a business, but a project that Hunt and his co-editor
run on top of their day jobs. Since they rarely have time to go to
policy events, they get coverage of Muni meetings from dedicated
readers -- one of their best contributors, Hunt said, is a third-year law
student who is obsessed with public transportation policy. "Our readers
know way more than we do. It's great," Hunt said. Personally, he said,
he finds the politics behind Muni "really confusing. All I know is I
want Muni to
But Hunt also said that he takes issue with calling contributors to the Muni Diaries "citizen journalists."
consider our contributors doing, we don't consider it journalism. ...The
journalism is something that I and my co-editor lay over the
storytelling. ...Our readers are sharing their experiences."
When Sloan asked him if it mattered whether the stories that Muni Diaries
publish are true, Hunt said, "It depends on the story." He and his
editor will try to fact-check crime stories with police reports, but,
he said, if it's a story about a stranger handing out flowers on the
train, "I don't care."
In a room packed with tweeting journalists and writers, the panel's conclusions were met with some frustration.
"A little perturbed," @SaheliDatta wrote. "If our Muni Diaries type blog editors are too baffled to go to meetings, how will a non-crank get involved?"
"The problem with this panel is that it covers the Chronicle's Style, Living & Datebook sections, but not news," @EC wrote.
"People care about what's up at city hall 'only when it affects their lives'--ah, doesn't it always?" @lilalahood wrote.
After the panel, the Commonwealth's Inforum announced their "New Face of SF Media" award winner: Jaimal Yogis, a journalist and author of Saltwater Buddha, who has written for San Francisco Magazine and The Bold Italic.
his acceptance speech, Yogis said he hoped The Bold Italic was the
future of San Francisco media, since it had given him a chance to write
about swimming to Alcatraz and other adventures, which was much more fun than "trawling through documents and things."
Muckracking journalism was important, he added. He just didn't want to be the one to do it.