William L Rivers.

A region's press: anatomy of newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area online

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of the scope and emphasis of Orphan's report, which none of the
papers printed in full.

Newspaper Attitudes and the Gatekeeper's Role

Despite the fact that reporters were virtually handed the basis for
their stories in Orphan's short report, each paper's policy on the
regional government question, and on environmental problems in
general, played an important gatekeeper role. 3 Stories on December 17
and 18, 1968 appeared as banner leads, above the paper's name in the
Berkeley Gazette, with red headlines in the Oakland Tribune, as a
page one second lead in the San Jose Mercury, on page 14 in the San
Francisco Examiner, and as far back as page 36 in the San Jose News.

The Mercury's Gil Bailey called the regional organization a "con-
troversial" proposal with "broad power over local governments." The
San Francisco Chronicle's Mike Harris saw it as "a series of gentle
steps . . . toward the formation of limited regional government. . . ."
Fred Wyatt of the Berkeley Gazette called it "a sweeping proposal."
The Oakland Tribune devoted 86 inches to the proposal in two days;
the Vallejo Times-Herald 51 inches on December 18; the Chronicle 33
inches; the Examiner 30; the San Mateo Times 18 inches; and the
Santa Rosa Press-Democrat a paltry 1 1 inches. Clearly it made a great
difference which reporter in which paper one read, when seeking in-
formation even of the relatively simplified press-conference variety. It
also indicated that Orphan was probably correct in his judgment that
at least the suburban papers could not adequately deal with a 150-page
report.

The Oakland Tribune and Fred Garretson presented by far the
most complete and accurate stories. The Tribune was the best Bay
Area paper for environmental coverage, largely because of Garretson's
work. The day of the conference, the Tribune ran a 34-inch story on
page one outlining the Knox recommendations in rather value-free
terms. Garretson acted essentially as a conduit: he included verbatim
the five mandatory elements of the report; the general functions; and

3 With respect to newspapers, the gatekeeper is one who decides which items shall
be admitted to a place in the columns, and which items shall be excluded.



132 / A Region's Press

some of the material on powers and responsibility, financing, and
organization. The next day and this was the crucial element Garret-
son brought his own special expertise to bear in an analytical piece of
52 inches. With intelligence and perception he discussed the need for
a regional framework; he outlined the agencies that most likely would
be subsumed under BARO; and he posed the question of power levels
in Washington, Sacramento, the regional level and the local level. No
other paper matched this one-two punch of careful reporting and close
analysis.

In its own disturbing way the Mercury-News came the closest to the
Tribune. On December 17 Gil Bailey wrote for the News a 22-inch
factual report of the BARO proposal, containing most of the essential
information. In the Mercury the next morning Bailey wrote an ana-
lytical piece slightly hostile to BARO, but full of his knowledgeable ob-
servations. He discussed potential points of controversy raised by the
proposal and questioned the costs involved. It was the necessary com-
panion piece to the News article. Unfortunately, they appeared in two
different newspapers that do not have full circulation overlap. What
the 50,000 or so Mercury readers who did not subscribe to the News
made of Bailey's analytical piece (and therefore of the BARO proposal)
is hard to say. Readers taking only one or the other of the two papers
were shortchanged. This happens often with the Mercury-News com-
bination.

With one exception, the other Bay Area papers either presented the
story without analytical comment, or mixed the two in one piece. Both
approaches were inferior to that taken by the Tribune. The services
of an expert in this area are essential if a paper hopes to comment
intelligently about future BAROs. Former Gazette reporter Fred Wyatt
and the Palo Alto Times 3 s Jay Thorwaldson were clearly in too deep in
an admittedly complex subject. The Chronicle's Michael Harris pre-
sented more of his own views on regional government than those of
Assemblyman Knox. The Examiner's H. W. Kusserow, wrote a good,
factual piece on December 17, but there was no follow-up story.

At least, however, the above-mentioned papers recognized the im-
portance of the story, and had representatives at the press conference.
In contrast, the San Mateo Times, Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, and
Vallejo Times-Herald used wire stories that were dull and perfunctory.
For the Times, in an area already bursting with fill projects and related
controversy, this was inexcusable. The Times-Herald's use of AP was
disturbing for a different reason. Publisher Luther Gibson attacked
the BARO proposal with a vengeance. Most other Bay Area papers ran



RIVERS AND RUBIN / 133

one or two editorials on the subject from December 1968 to March
1969 (with the exception of the San Mateo Times, which ran none).
But the Gibson papers carried lengthy denunciations of BARO on
December 21, December 27, December 31, January 27, February 20,
March 4 and March 18. As expected, Gibson opposed the concept be-
cause of his stated fear that less populous areas, such as Sonoma,
Solano and Napa counties, would be dominated by the larger urban
areas and would be dragged into problems of neither their concern nor
making. The editorials argued this position, and challenged the one
man-one vote, majority rule approach taken by Knox. Gibson also
asked for local option on joining the regional government. Journalisti-
cally this was a perfectly reasonable position, and because managing
editor Wyman Riley admitted that reader interest in the issue (judging
by letters to the editor) was very low, the Gibson papers were probably
smart to crusade in order to build interest in the subject. But Riley
knew what to expect from the Knox committee, and he owed Vallejo
readers more than a 15-inch AP story, countered by 36 inches from local
Assemblyman John F. Dunlap, a member of the Knox committee, who
registered his criticisms (juxtaposed with the AP article). The argu-
ments presented by Dunlap and the newspaper editorials were indis-
tinguishable.

Presentation of the Amended BARO Proposal

In Sacramento on March 3, Assemblyman Knox formally presented
newsmen an amended legislative proposal for regional government.
Only the articles by the Tribune's Ed Salzman and the Chronicle's
Sacramento bureau made the connection between the December pro-
posal and the March revision. The rest of the papers (with the excep-
tion of the Vallejo Times-Herald) either used wire service copy or wire
copy disguised as Sacramento bureau stories. The regional govern-
ment story was sufficiently complicated without newspapers adding to
the confusion by presenting the March proposal as something discrete
from the December proposal. Only the Tribune and Chronicle handled
the story properly: they described the revisions; summarized the basic
provisions and assessed the political chances of the bill. Wire stories
concentrated on organization of the government all old material
and presented the five mandatory elements of the regional plan as if
they were new.

The Vallejo Times-Herald used the occasion as a news peg on which
to present more of Assemblyman Dunlap's negative views. Following
is the Times-Herald's coverage of the Knox press conference the page
two story ran four-and-a-half inches:



134 / A Region's Press

Dunlap Opposes Knox Proposal

Assemblyman John Dunlap, D-Napa, yesterday told his opposition to a
bill by Assemblyman John Knox, D-Richmond, calling for formation of a
limited super-government in the Bay Area, Dunlap said:

"Despite the fact that this bill changes the so-called staff report recom-
mendation so that the area of the proposed regional agency would exclude
Dixon, Rio Vista and Vacaville, I still am opposed to it.

"Its provisions for a referendum are based on a regional referendum
rather than one which will allow local communities, including counties or
cities, to decide individually for themselves whether they want in or out.

"Although I have always recognized that we have regional problems, I
don't think we can solve them by a mandatory regional government. I
think the people have to want something before it's going to work."

It would be virtually impossible for a reader to piece together the facts
of Knox's March proposal from such an article as this.

Beyond the December and March press conferences, coverage of re-
gional government followed the same patterns already established.
At the top, the Oakland Tribune ran an excellent piece in its Sunday,
December 3, 1968, "Metropolitan News Section" describing all the ex-
isting agencies with overlapping regional authority. The article was
accompanied by a diagram of regional authority over Oakland which
made the picture quite comprehensible. On December 25 Garretson
presented a report by Stanley Scott and John Bollens, published by the
University of California's Institute of Governmental Studies at Berke-
ley. The report tended to support main elements of the Knox proposal.
Garretson followed this on December 29 with a discussion of regional
government in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and showed how the
Twin Cities' experience might be applicable to Bay Area problems.
The Tribune periodically reviewed the status of the Knox proposal,
covered debates on regional government throughout the Bay Area, and
reported the changes in the Knox proposal a week before the second
press conference.

The Mercury-News'^ Gil Bailey also discussed the Twin Cities Metro-
politan Council in a January 7 piece. A lengthy article on Decem-
ber 22, headed "Just What Is Regional Government?" provided a
valuable analysis of overlapping regional authorities, much like Fred
Garretson's. Urban affairs writer Jack Fraser (who also has since left
San Jose) contributed a couple of sharp political analyses of the Knox
proposal, plus information on the philosophy of the Bay Area Council's
Citizens for Active Discussion of Regional Organization (CADRO).
The subsequent departure of Bailey and Fraser is reflected in the poor
March coverage offered by the Mercury-News. Executive editor Ken-
neth Conn was hard pressed to replace these two until he hired Tom
Harris.



RIVERS AND RUBIN / 135

From December through March neither the Examiner nor the Chron-
icle provided anything comparable to the work of Garretson and Bailey.
The Examiner even used AP for its March 3 story on Knox. Of the
smaller papers only the Times-Herald, which was printing every anti-
Knox comment it could find, gave any attention to the matter. On De-
cember 19, Don Engdahl of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat wrote an
excellent 40-inch piece analyzing the Knox proposal from the perspec-
tive of the northern counties, but the Press-Democrat's article of March
3 may as well have been written the previous December. Coverage in
the San Mateo Times, Palto Alto Times and Berkeley Gazette was also
weak.

In dealing with the issue of regional government, the newspapers
treated the matter in a mixed and uneven way, a circumstance not en-
tirely of their own creation. Some of the problems surrounding the
BARO report are suggested by this statement made by a knowledgeable
reporter who attempted to cover the BARO story:

The BARO report, commissioned when the 1969 legislative fight ap-
peared likely to concern regional government rather than the future of the
Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), was badly
goofed up and seriously delayed, although many of the fine young men
and women who were dragooned to work on sections of it probably didn't
know this. The report was actually supposed to have been prepared
months before, and was to have been much more of a blueprint for action
than it actually turned out.

By March 3, when an amended proposal was issued, many viewed it
as being largely window dressing and were convinced that the battle
had shifted to saving BCDC.

Knox was the commander in the latter fight and deserves the credit he
got for "saving the Bay." But what should have been reported on
BARO . . . was that the deadline for the report had not been met, that
the nature of the report (some of it still in "notes") was far different
from what had been promised, that the committee work was in a mess,
and that the Legislature had given up on the proposal for the time being,
both because of the lobbyist counter-attack on BCDC and their dissatis-
faction with the progress of BARO. Knox, who was just beginning to
take the steps in behalf of BCDC that ultimately proved so decisive, re-
ceived a lot of favorable free publicity for BARO . . . and then put the
report on ice, where it was destined to go anyway.

The Chronicle, the Tribune and the Environmental Beat

While, in retrospect, the entire BARO idea gave way to the fight to
save the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the type of
treatment it received is important if one is to understand the generally
uneven coverage given environmental matters by the Bay Area press.



136 / A Regions Press

Are all alphabet reports from government and university commissions
handled in such a fashion? Will only a crisis such as the Santa Barbara
oil slick prompt detailed coverage? Can the press be expected to pro-
vide some sort of early warning system on environmental matters?
These are just some of the questions that could be answered by detailed
study of media performance in reporting air and water pollution, over-
population, urban crowding, mass transit and solid waste disposal. A
small step in this direction has been provided by Penny Hermes, a
Berkeley graduate student with a background in biology and journal-
ism. From December 1968, through March 1969, Miss Hermes com-
pared the coverage of air and water pollution stories in the Chronicle
and Tribune. Her conclusions tended to support those presented above.

"During this period," she said, "the Tribune ran three times as many
stories as the Chronicle on those subjects, with 920 more column inches.
The Tribune has three writers (including Garretson) on the environ-
mental beat, while the Chronicle has only Scott Thurber." Miss Hermes
believes that the Tribune considered such stories to be of high priority,
while the Chronicle played them down because they were not "sexy" or
interesting enough. Tribune city editor Roy Grimm is convinced
that one of the reasons his paper is considered dull or drab by some
critics is its emphasis on complex environmental stories. "The problem
with material like that is making it readable," said Grimm. But the
Tribune has been willing to pay the price, whereas the Chronicle has
not.

When the Chronicle did take notice of such questions, its coverage
was discontinuous, and lacked both backgrounding and follow-up.
The Chronicle was especially negligent in its coverage of Bay pollution
by San Francisco's sewage system. The Tribune began covering this
story in December; the Chronicle did not pick it up until March 12.

Miss Hermes also contended that the Chronicle has avoided some
controversial issues that would have required stepping on the toes of
influential persons. She said that the paper has steadily failed to report
the maneuverings of West Bay Community Associates, the group that
is hoping to fill part of San Mateo County's shoreline for tract housing.
Garretson, in contrast, has consistently named names in his stories. He
told Miss Hermes that during one of his series, publisher William
Knowland told him to be even more specific and to name even more
names. The fact that the late Joseph R. Knowland, Sr., and his wife
were among the founders of the Save the Bay Association and were
active on the Save the Redwoods campaign and the California State
Park Commission has influenced the Tribune's coverage.

Echoing many editors, Miss Hermes criticized AP and UPI for un-



RIVERS AND RUBIN / 137

exciting coverage of environmental issues. "They do no digging on
their own," she said. "They read the Chronicle in the morning and
pick up what they have. Very little of what the Tribune does gets on
to the wire, so almost nothing of interest gets outside the Bay Area."

One man can have much influence on the quality of wire coverage
of the environment in the Bay Area. The Tribune's Fred Garretson
reported that while Doug Willis of AP was assigned to the local envi-
ronmental beat in mid-1969, he did an excellent job. When Willis was
transferred to Sacramento, however, coverage returned to its usual level.

Regional environmental stories are impossible for the wires to cover
using present methods, anyway. Since so much wire coverage of all
types of stories is a rewrite of the metro papers, a rewrite of a story of
regional importance would require the wire man to gather local re-
ports from papers all around the Bay in order to put the story in a
perspective of regional interest. If this were done (which it is not) the
story would be one or two days old too old for other papers in the
state or the West to carry.

Miss Hermes also criticized all Bay Area papers for not regularly
covering the air and water pollution control agency meetings. "The
Chronicle won't travel to Oakland for meetings, and the Tribune won't
go into San Francisco."

The Santa Barbara Oil Leak Story

The oil well leak in the Santa Barbara Channel was surely one of
the most significant environmental pollution stories of the decade, par-
ticularly for California. Nevertheless, none of the Bay Area papers
covered the story with their own reporters, although all ran varying
amounts of wire copy. The authors examined this coverage in six of
the Bay papers, and the New York Times, for the two-week period
February 17 to March 4, 1969. Tables 7 and 8 present (1) the total
number of column inches each paper ran on the Santa Barbara oil
slick story and, for comparison, on the Sirhan trial, which was an-
other California-based event that received only wire coverage in Bay
Area papers; (2) the number of days (out of a total of 14) a story ap-
peared; and (3) the number of times a story appeared in the first four
pages of the paper.

The two tables showed that, judging by the attention it received,
the oil slick story ranked just behind the Sirhan trial in perceived news
value. It was most significant that the continuity of coverage of the oil
slick story was comparable to that of the Sirhan trial. Editors recog-
nized the importance of the story, gave it space almost every day for



138 / A Region's Press

TABLE 7

OIL LEAK: SUMMARY OF TREATMENT IN Six BAY AREA DAILIES AND
THE NEW YORK TIMES, FEBRUARY 17-MARCH 4, 1969

Total No. No. of days

Paper column of days on first

inches in paper four pages

San Francisco Chronicle .... 265 13 10

San Jose Mercury 222 12 5

New York Times 191 7 5

Vallejo Times-Herald 147 12 4

Oakland Tribune 131 11 2

San Francisco Examiner .... 130 10 4

Berkeley Gazette 25 4 2



TABLE 8

SIRHAN TRIAL: SUMMARY OF TREATMENT IN Six BAY AREA DAILIES AND
THE NEW YORK TIMES, FEBRUARY 17-MARCH 4, 1969





Total


No.


No. of days




column


of days


on first


Paper


inches


in paper


four pages


New York Times . . .


.... 435


11


3


San Jose Mercury .


.... 381


11


8


San Francisco Chronicle


.... 272


12


2


Vallejo Times-Herald .


.... 241


12


11


Oakland Tribune . . .


. . . 209


13


9


San Francisco Examiner


.... 148


10


3


Berkeley Gazette . . .


. . .128


10


4











two weeks, and frequently featured it in the first four pages. During
this period the Pueblo investigation, the Presidio "mutiny" trial, and
the Mid-east crisis all received daily coverage of lesser magnitude than
the Santa Barbara oil slick.

With the exception of the Berkeley Gazette, which virtually ignored
the oil slick, Bay Area papers seemed receptive to covering stories of
an ecological nature. The current problem is that editors are not taking
the initiative in seeking out and exposing instances of what Joseph
Lyford called "environmental aggression." When a federal task force
indicated it would help California groups in preventing tampering
with San Francisco Bay, the papers reacted with varying coverage.
When a group of experts issued a report citing the dangers of contin-
ued Bay pollution, papers gave the story prominent space for a day
and then moved on. This is normal, long-standing newspaper practice.



RIVERS AND RUBIN / 139

Covering the ecological and environmental story, however, demands a
more dynamic newspaper ethic. The urgency of the environmental
issue, and the danger of waiting for news pegs on which to hang en-
vironmental stories at a time when the problems are festering all around
must lead to new approaches.

The AP's Bill Stall, inspired by William Bronson's book How to
Kill a Golden State (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1968), wrote a three-
part series that ran in the San Jose News and Palo Alto Times on Jan-
uary 13, 14 and 15, 1969. An editor's note to the first piece explained
Stall's purpose: "For nearly 200 years, man has exploited California's
natural resources in an effort to build and live 'the good life.' Here
is the first of three articles on how Californians now are trying to repair
the scars of that exploitation." Stall briefly touched on the philosophical
differences between Dr. Edgar Wayburn of the Sierra Club and Larry
Kiml, natural resources director for the State Chamber of Commerce;
zoning along Interstate 5; slum conditions and pollution at Lake
Tahoe; comprehensive city planning by the Irvine Company in South-
ern California; and smog and motor vehicle pollution. This kind of
series, but done in much greater depth, would help focus attention on
local environmental and ecological problems. Stall had no news peg and
no specific axe to grind, yet the series presented a readable and valuable
overview of California's problems.

Priority Concerns of Weekly and Monthly Papers

Many of the area's weekly and monthly newspapers have made en-
vironmental problems one of their top priority concerns and conse-
quently are far outstripping the daily newspapers. The Freedom News,
Richmond's monthly alternative to the daily Independent, has done
much that is worth imitating. Contributor Clifford C. Humphrey writes
regularly on the "Politics of Ecology," and in the April 1969 issue he
covered the Sierra Club Wilderness Conference in detail. The May
1969 issue had a special supplement titled "Diagnosis of San Francisco
Bay," which offered a detailed map showing Bay fill plans; a discussion
of such Bay Area concerns as earthquakes, refuse, open space and the
Bay-Delta Plan; and the names and addresses of all Bay Area groups
concerned with environmental problems.

Freedom News editor Betty Segal has also challenged Standard Oil
for its "wreaking" of Richmond (February 1969) and criticized a re-
development project for downtown Richmond (October 1968). The
paper is militantly protective of the East Bay environment, and it is
performing a service for its community that the Chronicle, Examiner,
Mercury and News are shirking in their respective cities.



140 / A Region s Press

Mrs. Segal admitted that the Freedom News borrowed many of its
ideas for environmental coverage from the defunct Peninsula Observer,
a Palo Alto weekly edited by David Ransom. Although the strict revo-
lutionary left "line" of the Observer prejudiced much of its political
coverage and affected the overall credibility of the newspaper, its air
pollution coverage by Ned Groth was first rate. In a series of articles
beginning on November 18, 1968, Groth took a hard look at the Bay
Area Air Pollution Control District and what it was not doing. In the
November 18 cover story, entitled "Breathing More Now and Enjoying
It Less?" Groth assessed the regulatory spirit of the commission and its
close links to the industries it was created to regulate. He also published
a list of leading smog makers in the Bay Area.

On January 6, Groth turned to Los Altos Hills' pollution problem
caused by the Kaiser-Permanente Cement Company, a subject also
tackled by the Los Altos Town Crier. Uncontrolled emissions from
Kaiser's clinker-coolers were settling as a fine powder all over the
south Peninsula. Groth moved on to the Monterey area in the January
20 issue to examine pollution from the PGScE steam-generator electric
power plant at Moss Landing. The dangers of fluoride pollution from


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Online LibraryWilliam L RiversA region's press: anatomy of newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area → online text (page 15 of 18)