David Weir, the legendary local journalist who helped launch the Center for Investigative Reporting and 7x7 magazine, is part of a new crack team of reporters investigating the effects of the newspaper business' decline in the Bay Area.
According to a pitch by SF Public Press on spot.us, a Web site dedicated to raising money for worthy news-reporting projects, Weir, along with Liz Enochs, Jeremy Adam Smith, John McManus, Saheli Datta, Shawn Gaynor, Mineko Brand, and Samuel Morrell, are poised to launch a project along the following lines:
All told, hundreds of local broadcast, online, and print journalists have
been kicked to the curb since 2000, resulting in decades of lost
institutional memory and merged coverage of beats -- meaning that some
communities go without consistent media attention until a crisis breaks.
The project team will deliver at least eight in-depth articles, as well
as infographics and multimedia elements recounting the changes in the
local media landscape in the last decade.
Eight part series on topics mostly of interest to journalists may be what readers miss least about yesterday's fat newspapers. But the Weir team is right to lament the passing of a thriving Chronicle newsroom that once boasted 575 staffers and is now down to 175, according to the spot.us pitch. And that's not even mentioning the once-ambitious Examiner.
For a sense of what we've lost during the past 15 years, it's useful to peruse old copies of the Chron and Ex in the San Francisco Public Library film archives. Seeing a facsimile of the physical papers -- rather than individual articles retrieved from web archives -- provides a sense of
how richly served San Francisco used to be when compared to the present.
typical front page -- of both publications -- had multiple local exposes
that might involve weeks of work, sometimes from several reporters. Likewise, the local
sections were filled with hard news that took intense reporting to produce.
"How do you measure what no longer exists?" Weir says. "It's like losing diversity in your ecosystem. When you lose a species, you simply lose a species."
For his own part of the project, Weir plans to focus on emerging possibilities for the news business with the advent of evolving technologies.
The future, Weir said in an interview, "will include a stronger media industry that finally embraces technological change."
We look forward to Weir and his crew's take on precisely what it is we've lost -- and what it is we might gain.