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San Francisco Chronicle Folding Food Section? Or ‘Reinvesting’ in Coverage?

| November 13, 2013
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Chronicle Food I won’t speculate what this says about our newsroom here at KQED, but the story that has elicited the most chatter as we go about the rest of our broadcast and online work today is this one from The New York Times: San Francisco Chronicle Plans to End Its Prized Food Section.

The Times says the paper plans to merge the section into a broader lifestyle offering — a move that has drawn an anguished chorus from online fans of the current Food & Wine section. The Chronicle, noting that the Times is a competitor in the food and wine space, says the New York paper has it all wrong and that any forthcoming changes are part of a broader reappraisal of the Chronicle’s content.

Here’s the back and forth, first from The Times:

In the food-obsessed Bay Area, The San Francisco Chronicle’s food section has been as much of a city institution as the cable car, and to many San Franciscans, more useful. Over the years it has won many awards and developed a dedicated following among local readers.

Now The Chronicle, owned by the Hearst Corporation, is planning to close the stand-alone section and fold it into a single lifestyle section — tentatively titled “Artisan” — with material from the newspaper’s home section, according to employees who have been told of the plans.

Although the merger is set to take place by February, the decision has not been publicly announced. Staff members of the newspaper spoke to The Times anonymously because they said they feared reprisals for disclosing the plans.

But Chronicle Managing Editor Audrey Cooper says the Times’s story is wrong. “There’s not a single accurate thing in their entire article, I’ll tell you that,” Cooper told KQED’s Alex Helmick.

When asked directly, “Nobody’s going to lose their post over this? The food section’s not going away?”, Cooper said:

“We haven’t made any decision to do anything. We are exploring ways to be more relevant with this conversation that is food-focused in the Bay Area. Our staff has won, I think, more awards in food journalism than any other newspaper staff in the history of newspaper staffs, and I would be a really bad editor if we were doing anything but capitalizing on that. We are looking at the whole paper section by section and looking at ways of freshening and modernizing what we’re doing. There have been prototypes of new sections that we’ve produced just to have them as a discussion point, but we are so far away from making any final decisions — I mean, months away. I wish I could tell you what it is, because I know it’s going to be awesome and better, but I just honestly don’t know what it is yet.”

She also said that whether the Food & Wine section as currently constituted continues or not, she wants to see better coverage of food throughout the Chronicle. “We are trying to reimagine the entire newspaper around cultural trends and topics that speak to what we think the Bay Area experience is about.”

The Chronicle’s “reimagining” aside, the prospect of life without Food & Wine section is drawing lots of Twitter comment from the section’s fans:

KQED’s Alex Helmick contributed to this post.

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About the Author ()

Dan Brekke has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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