Yep. “SF Gate City Brights Blogger Program Terminated Monday,” is true, and I’m happy. But before I get to my frankly self-serving reasons, a recap of how I learned of this. Monday afternoon, a friend passed an email to me from Alana Nguyen, the Executive Producer of SFGate.com. This is what it read:
Dear City Brights bloggers,
We have decided to discontinue the City Brights blogger program — we unfortunately don’t have the resources to continue maintaining it. On behalf of everyone at SFGate I want to thank you for all your contributions that have informed and entertained our readers over the past three years. I know many of us here are sad to see the program go. While I haven’t gotten a chance to know all of you since I joined Hearst last fall, I know that many members of the SFGate team — especially Vlae and John — have enjoyed working with you personally.
We have no plans at this point to remove the content you’ve already posted, so you can continue to refer to old posts. Also, if you would like to publish a final post on your blog to tell your readers where they can find you (for instance if you have another blog or a Twitter account) then please email email@example.com with the text that you’d like to post and the name of your blog and we’ll post that for you.
We’re regretful that the City Brights program as it was created is not able to continue, but we will continue to look for ways to incorporate the voices of our local community into the site. Thanks again for all of your contributions and we hope to see all of you continuing your work all over the web!
Executive Producer, SFGate.com
(Note: ” we unfortunately don’t have the resources to continue maintaining it” is interesting, because the program was really supposed to run itself. The City Brights policy was that the San Francisco Chronicle was not supposed to get involved in the editing of the City Brights blog posts – that’s a policy Alana violated in my case. Now, it seems she may have been a bit too involved in micromanaging the City Brights content. Asking other editors to get involved was indeed committing “resources to continue maintaining it.” Plus, the San Francisco Chronicle ran into a controversy with Chevron because City Brights was promoting the blog posts of Amazon Watch PR people against their Ecuador Case, and it was revealed by this blogger that one of those contributors, Mitch Anderson, appeared to be in line for a big multi-million-dollar pay day of any damage award. In other words, Amazon Watch was using the City Brights section to help potentially line their pockets. All that while Amazon Watch operatives were bullying SFGate to alter my pro-Chevron content. I blogged about one example in 2010, when they tried to get SFGate to force me to say that Ecuador was not a party to the Chevron case, when anyone with half a brain knew damn well it was.)
Now I’ve not contributed to City Brights since Alana banned me on November 7th, 2011, and I quickly made this video that day, the original of which gained over 12,000 views:
At the end of the video I said that SFGate.com was “surrounded,” by other local and national blogs that covered local events. I have three of them: Zennie62, Oakland Focus, and San Francisco Focus. I’d spent so much time contributing to SFGate.com and making posts for Zennie62 that were also on SFGate.com, that I had neglected building my blog brand. Now, with the passing of the SFGate City Brights Blogger program, it means the SF Chronicle website will no longer be able to maintain its competitive SEO position for a number of news items, and that after a month, its traffic, and revenue, will fall.
If that reads like a death spiral in the making, you’re correct.
The City Brights blog program gave the San Francisco Chronicle a good source of daily, constantly updated content – that’s the best medicine to keep a website fresh and constantly high in search rankings, and making money. The blogs served as important gateways to other SFGate.com content, and thus helped with the promotion of better pageview statistics.
Let’s put it this way: The SFGate.com City Brights Blog Program got one Steven R. Swartz promoted from Hearst Corporation Director Of News, to Chief Operating Officer in late 2010. I blogged then that he at least owes me dinner, if not a substantial portion of his salary. In a late 2009 PDF, “the Big Boss,” as Phil Bronstein once referred to him, directly pointed to the City Brights program as a main reason for the success of the Hearst Corporation News Division.
And Steve owes me part of his salary because all of that was mostly on the back of the work of me, Zennie Abraham, and during a years 2009 and 2010 that saw me bring over 15 million unique visitors to the website. I produced more quality, traffic generating content than anyone, and made sure I was able to generate an income from it for myself, since the SF Chronicle had no clue about how to produce a win-win for its bloggers. I made no secret then of my desire to run SFGate.com, and I made no secret of my interest in owning it – it’s an underperforming asset that Alana’s driving further into the ground.
An Asset That May Be Up For Sale
The news that SF Gate’s closing the City Brights program may also point to another larger problem for the San Francisco Chronicle. One that could see it suffering the same fate at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2009: being put up for sale. That happened to the Seattle P.I. in March, and Hearst Corporation didn’t want to do it, but could not see maintaining it because it was “bleeding money.”
I think there’s a larger story here: the SF Chronicle is fading. Meanwhile, I have my own media company to focus on.