It sounded like a good idea: a December 31, 2006 front-page story on San Francisco that would assess the city’s future as it heads toward a new year. These stories are relatively easy to write---the reporter runs quotes from a cross-section of pundits and civic leaders and then offers some hard to disprove conclusions. But the San Francisco Chronicle showed in 2006 that it has trouble with even the easiest editorial judgments. As a result, the Chronicle’s banner story, “Sunset, Sunrise—S.F.’s Future Looks Sunny,” insulted the intelligence of its readers and embarrassed the paper. Want to write a story that confirms the Chronicle editors’ view that the city is experiencing a “golden age”? It’s easy. Ignore the city’s gay, lesbian and progressive community and give the most important quotes to Charlotte Shultz, San Francisco’s chief of protocol.
Beyond Chron spends less time commenting on San Francisco Chronicle stories, because so few people read the Chronicle news sections that comments have no reference point. But the December 31 end of year piece by veteran reporter Carl Nolte was so bad that one can only wonder if all editorial standards have disappeared from the publication.
Here’s the problem. The Chronicle story on San Francisco’s future---which concludes that “the good old days are back” and that the city is in a “golden age” ---quotes the following people on the front page:
Charlotte Shultz, San Francisco’s chief of protocol, and the wife of George Shultz, a former Reagan top cabinet member and lifelong Republican
James Chappell, President of SPUR
Ann Halsted, Port Commissioner, described as “the quintessential old-line civic activist”
On the inside full- page continuation of the story, headlined “Many see this as S.F. Golden Era,” here is the complete list of those quoted:
Charlotte Shultz, Neil Olsen, described as a “management consultant for lawyers,” District 4 Supervisor Ed Jew, Joseph Gyourko, of the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania, James Chappell, Claudine Cheng, identified as president of the Treasure Island Development Authority board.
This is the group the Chronicle believes is sufficiently representative of San Francisco as to constitute the basis for a story on the city’s present “golden age” and on its incredible future.
Whose opinion was not included in the story? Well, nobody to the left of Ann Halsted, who is not typically identified as part of San Francisco’s progressive activist base.
Board President Aaron Peskin, Supervisors Daly and Mirkarimi, and Tom Ammiano---who could particularly give a great sense of how the city has changed since he moved here and a prediction as to what the future holds---was not asked.
But the Chronicle was not interested in soliciting the opinions of San Francisco’s gay and lesbian residents.
Nor its Latino residents or African-American population.
Nor anyone who comprises the 68% of the city that are renters.
Nor anyone from the School Board, whose members would seem to have some thoughts on the city’s future.
Nor anyone from the city’s labor unions.
The fact that Chronicle reporter Nolte and his editors truly believed that they had captured a representative sampling of the city by talking to Pacific Heights socialites and Chamber of Commerce allies tells us all we need to know about the paper’s credibility as we begin 2007.
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