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San Francisco Chronicle is Northern California's largest newspaper, and one of the largest in the United States, serving primarily the San Francisco Bay Areamarker, but distributed throughout Northern and Central California, from the Sacramentomarker area and Emerald Triangle south to San Luis Obispo Countymarker. It was founded in 1865 as The Daily Dramatic Chronicle by teenage brothers Charles de Young and Michael H. de Young. The paper grew along with San Franciscomarker and was the largest circulation newspaper on the West Coast of the United States in 1880; today only the Los Angeles Times exceeds the Chronicle's circulation on the West Coast, while the paper is ranked 12th by circulation nationally.


Between World War II and 1971, new editor Scott Newhall took a bold and somewhat provocative approach to news presentation. Newhall's Chronicle included investigative reporting by such as Pierre Salinger, later to play a prominent role in national politics, and Paul Avery, the staffer that pursued the trail of the self-named "Zodiac Killer" whose crimes chilled late-1960s San Francisco. It also featured such colorful columnists as Pauline Phillips, who wrote under the name "Dear Abby," "Count Marco" (Marc Spinelli), Stanton Delaplane, Terence O'Flaherty, Lucius Beebe, Art Hoppe, Charles McCabe, and Herb Caen. The newspaper grew in circulation to become the city's largest, overtaking the rival San Francisco Examiner. The demise of other San Francisco dailies through the late 1950s and early 1960s left the Examiner and the Chronicle to battle for circulation and readership superiority; the competition took a financial toll on both papers until the summer of 1965, when a merger of sorts created a Joint Operating Agreement under which the Chronicle became the city's sole morning daily while the Examiner changed to afternoon publication (which ultimately led to a declining readership). The two newspapers' editorial staffs combined to produce a joint Sunday edition, with the Examiner publishing the news sections and the Sunday magazine and the Chronicle responsible for features. From 1965 on the two papers shared a single classified-advertising operation. This arrangement stayed in place until the Hearst Corporation took full control of the Chronicle.

The de Young family controlled the paper, via the Chronicle Publishing Company, until July 27, 2000, when it was sold to Hearst Communications, Inc., which owned the Examiner. Following the sale, the Hearst Corporation transferred the Examiner to the Fang family, publisher of the San Francisco Independent and AsianWeek, along with a $66-million subsidy. Under the new owners, the Examiner became a free tabloid, leaving the Chronicle as the only daily broadsheet newspaper in San Francisco.

In 1949, the de Young family founded KRONmarker (Channel 4), the Bay Area's third television station. Until the mid 1960s, the station (along with KRON-FM), operated from the basement of the Chronicle Building, on Mission Street. KRON moved to its present studios at 1001 Van Ness Avenue (on the former site of St. Mary's Cathedral, which burned down in 1962). KRON was sold in 1999 and, after years of being San Francisco's NBC affiliate, became an independent station in 2002.

Since the Hearst Corporation took ownership in 2000 the Chronicle has made periodic changes to its organization and design, but on February 1, 2009, as the newspaper began its 145th year of publication, the Chronicle's Sunday edition introduced a redesigned paper featuring a modified logo, new section and page organization, new features, bolder, colored section-front banners and new headline and text typography. The frequent bold-faced, all-capital-letter headlines typical of the Chronicle's front page were eliminated. Editor Ward Bushee's note heralded the issue as the start of a "new era" for the Chronicle. On July 6, 2009, the paper unveiled some alterations to the new design that included yet newer section fronts and wider use of color photographs and graphics. In a special section publisher Frank J. Vega described new, state-of-the-art printing operations enabling the production of what he termed "A Bolder, Brighter Chronicle." The newer look was accompanied by a reduction in size of the broadsheet. Such moves are similar to those made by other prominent American newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and Orlando Sentinel, which in 2008 unveiled radically new designs even as changing reader demographics and general economic conditions necessitated physical reductions of the newspapers.


As of 2009 the publisher of the Chronicle is Frank J. Vega, the President is Mark Adkins, the executive vice president and editor is Ward H. Bushee and the editorial page editor is John Diaz.


The online version of the newspaper,, is led by President Mark Adkins, vice president Michele Slack and executive producer Kevin Skaggs. As well as publishing the San Francisco Chronicle online, SFGate adds other features not available in the print version, such as blogs and podcasts. SFGate was one of the earliest major market newspaper websites to be launched, having done so in 1994.

Praise, Criticism & Features

The paper has received the Pulitzer Prize on a number of occasions. Despite an illustrious and long history, the paper's news reportage is not as extensive as in the past. The current day Chronicle has followed the trend of other American newspapers, devoting increasing attention to local and regional news and cultural and entertainment criticism to the detriment of the paper's traditionally strong national and international reportage, though the paper does maintain a Washington, D.C., bureau. This increased focus on local news is a response to the competition from other Bay Area newspapers including the resurrected San Francisco Examiner, the Oakland Tribune, the Contra Costa Times and the San Jose Mercury News.

Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada received the 2004 George Polk Award for Sports Reporting. Fainaru-Wada and Williams were recognized for their work on uncovering the BALCO scandal, which linked San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds to performance-enhancing drugs. While the two above-named reporters broke the news, they are by no means the only sports writers of note at the Chronicle. The Chronicle's sports section, called Sporting Green as it is printed on green-tinted pages every Sunday, is staffed with two dozen writers. The section's best-known writers are its columnists: Bruce Jenkins, Gwenn Knapp, Scott Ostler, and Ray Ratto.

Another area of note is the architecture column by John King; the Chronicle is still one of the few American papers to present a regular column on architectural issues. The paper also has regular weekly sections devoted to 'Food', 'Home & Garden', and 'Wine', the latter of which is unique. The San Francisco Chronicle Magazine is published on the first Sunday of each month and regularly focuses on the previously mentioned topics. In early 2006 a new section, ' 96 Hours', was added to the Thursday edition of the paper, covering entertainment from that day through Sunday.

Herb Caen

Most likely the Chronicle's best-known and most widely-quoted writer was the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Herb Caen (1916-1997), a Sacramentomarker native who joined the newspaper in 1938 to write a local-radio news column. Caen eventually covered city comings and goings of all kinds—politics, business, and society both high and low, with some San Francisco history added for good measure. He moved to the rival Examiner in 1950 but returned to what he often called "The Chron" in 1958, where he remained until retirement.

His column was subtitled "Baghdad-by-the-Bay" for many years and later shortened to an eponymous title for the rest of its existence. For many years "Herb Caen" was the only feature on its page (it traditionally shared a section front with a Macy'smarker advertisement). For most of his column's history, Caen somewhat in jest railed against the slang "Frisco", considering it a demeaning term for the city, and in 1953 wrote a book called "Don't Call It Frisco" after a 1918 Examiner news item of the same name. Caen's view of San Francisco was egalitarian and eclectic; he made the daily round of restaurants, clubs, bars, and shops in both the tony and the less elegant quarters of the city. Among his friends were socialites, artists, business leaders, politicians, visiting celebrities, and the unknown eking out an unglamorous existence on the downtown streets—characters equally prominent on the city's stage in Caen's view.

Caen gave his readers an intimate cross-sectioned look at San Francisco that few local writers anywhere could offer. Caen also took a positive, if sometimes bemused, view of those in the forefront of the convulsive cultural (and counter-cultural) changes to the city from the 1950s to the 1970s. Frequent observations of the city's "beatniks" (a term he coined) and "hippies" appeared in his writing, and he extended the hand of acceptance to those who added to San Francisco's warmth and color. With tongue-in-cheek he called his writing "three-dot journalism"; his columns comprised brief items neatly tied together by ellipses.

His Sunday feature was often a sentimental retrospective of San Francisco, sometimes comparing the present state of the city with the 1930s and 1940s—which he celebrated as a halcyon time. Though he lamented the incursion of freeways, high-rise towers, and chain stores as a devaluing of his beloved "city on golden hills," he usually concluded that his adopted home town's beauty and character was sufficient to withstand any and all changes. From the late 1940s to late 1990s a dozen books of Caen's writing and reflections were published.

In late 1996, after some protracted absences led readers to inquire after his whereabouts, Caen disclosed that he was being treated for lung cancer; after several public ceremonies and fetes (and after a section of the city's waterfront Embarcadero was renamed for him) he retired, passing away on February 1, 1997.


Circulation has fallen precipitously since the heyday of the dot-com boom from 1997 to 2001. The Chronicle's circulation dropped by 16.6% between 2004 and 2005 to 400,906; in 2006, daily circulation dropped to 373,805. In response, the newspaper has cut back on local news coverage and takes many national and international stories from the Associated Press instead of relying on Chronicle correspondents. There have also been major cutbacks in staff, with one fourth of the newsroom being let go in 2007. At the same time, the online edition has continued its growth and in 2006 SFGate was fifth among U.S. newspaper Web sites with 5.2 million unique users per month.

On February 24, 2009, the Hearst Corporation released a statement that the Chronicle's financial position necessitated sharp and immediate reductions in operating costs. In a joint statement Frank A. Bennack Jr., Hearst vice chairman and chief executive, and Steven R. Swartz, president of Hearst Newspapers, said that the paper, with a circulation of 312,000, had sustained losses in every year since 2001, lost more than $50 million in 2008 and faced an even gloomier 2009. The statement read in part, "Without the specific changes we are seeking across the entire Chronicle organization, we will have no choice but to quickly seek a buyer for The Chronicle or, should a buyer not be found, to shut the newspaper down." Media reports in late February speculated that the paper might be required to slash its workforce by half to remain in business. Hearst recently took the same course with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and if the Chronicle is closed San Francisco would be America's largest city without a full-service English-language daily newspaper.

On October 26, 2009, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported that the Chronicle had suffered a 25.8% drop in circulation for the six-month period ending September 2009, to 251,782 subscribers, the largest percentage drop in circulation of any major newspaper in the United States. The Chronicle publisher, Frank Vega, said in response that the drop was expected as the paper moved to a business model that focused less on advertising, and hence less on high numbers of subscribers, and more on increased subscription fees. The paper claimed that the new strategy had produced significantly improved financial results.


Historical note

The Zodiac Killer sent his cyphers and letters to the Chronicle during his murder spree in the late 1960s.


The Chronicle prices are: $1.00 Daily, $2.00 Sunday.


  2. San Francisco Examiner, April 3, 1918. Don't Call It Frisco. Judge Mogan Rebukes Angeleno for Using Slang in His Petition for Divorce. "No one refers to San Francisco by that title except people from Los Angeles." Retrieved on March 31, 2009.
  3. New York Times, 24 February 2009

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