HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >

Discussion

San Francisco Chronicle Plans to End Its Prized Food Section

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/14/bus...&

This seems like pretty big news.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. They are getting encroached on - on all sides- by Yelp, 7x7, Eater SF, Chowhound, Michelin etc. Somewhat their own fault, they haven't been able to provide the coverage the Bay Area really needs (imho coverage of places that aren't "hip" and "cool" by aspiring and established local celebrity chefs). We would really benefit from a Jonathan Gold type.

    2 Replies
    1. re: goldangl95

      I think the Chron's holding its own as far as the web stuff. Paolo Lucchesi has long been the best reporter on the local food news beat, they were smart to hire him away from Eater.

      The Chron has made no effort to discover restaurants of the sort that Jonathan Gold writes about since Michael Bauer pushed out Patricia Unterman and Stan Sesser in the pre-Web era.

      I don't think any of that is relevant to this change, though. It's just the result of declining subscriptions, declining ad revenues, and ever more expensive printing and delivery costs.

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Yep. Newspapers have been getting killed as far as ad revenues go. It's more that than declining subscriptions.

        The SFGate commentary doesn't actually deny that the Food section's disappearing. If the NY Times report is correct in saying that they'll no longer test recipe, you can consider the section pretty much gutted.

        What a shame.

      1. re: absc

        That makes more sense. It will change/morph but not disappear. Seriously, food is one of the few things the Chron has an edge on so why would they just toss it?

        Thus you get this from the link: "Instead of cutting, as our competitor asserts, we are increasing our investment in terms of digital and print offerings."

        1. re: ML8000

          Reads like spin to me. We'll see if they actually do more or new things to offset the stuff they're dropping.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            I agree. Sounds like spin. The story got out before they had "their" story set. Though we haven't lived in the city in 20 years we love, when visiting, to devour the food section. OT, when our daughters were young and we had a one bathroom house, I warned them to grab the bathroom first if they saw their dad heading there with some light green newspaper :)

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              If they fold or gut the food section, or can't fix it, they should just fold the whole paper, and maybe they will. It's not like there's a whole lot left any way. Oh well, I guess we'll see.

          2. re: absc

            Columnist Marion Nestle tweeted:
            "So sad about end of SF Chronicle's Food section. My last Food Matters column--after 5.5 years--will be Dec 29."
            https://twitter.com/marionnestle/stat...

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              This is just awful. How can they be so stupid? It's my livelihood and I deal with their idiocy on a daily basis.

              1. re: Glencora

                You have my sympathies.

                Elsewhere in the twitterverse, Michael Murphy (Bauer's better half) tweeted:
                "SFChronicle ends Its prized & acclaimed Food Section'Brilliant' move by outgoing Prez,'tech visionary' @pinjoanne http://nyti.ms/19kHIuv"
                https://twitter.com/curiousmikie/stat...

                (@pinjoanne is Joanne Bradford who is leaving for Pinterest)

          3. Sad to hear. Some really great recipes over the years.The cioppino recipe early eighties is my white whale. I lost it,and have searched to all ends. You would make the stock from fish frames.Use the crab butter.etc.etc.I would drive all over town to shop for this recipe.

            1. Wasn't Bauer the head of the food & wine fiefdom?

              Wouldn't folding under lifestyles put Bauer under someone who can exert editorial force?

              Wouldn't this be bad in the short term, but improving on Bauer good in the long term?

              9 Replies
              1. re: bbulkow

                Bauer's the head of the food & wine department. Who knows how this will play out on that score? Maybe he'll retire.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Kind of interesting that Bauer's name was not mentioned in either the NYTimes article or the Chron reply.

                    I have no idea what that means, but it's interesting. :)

                    1. re: pamf

                      He's mentioned in the Modern Luxury / SF Mag interview: "Michael Bauer’s [reviews] are by far our most clicked-on things. Should we be making more of that?"

                  2. re: bbulkow

                    Apropos of nothing much, I have it on good authority that other Chronicle staffers refer to the food section's separate building as the "Tower of Bauer".

                    1. re: TVHilton

                      The NY Times story linked to in the original post said that they would be moving out of that building.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Yeah...amazing to me that they had it at all. Empire-building gone wild.

                        1. re: TVHilton

                          I think it made sense some years ago, when the paper was bigger and they syndicated a lot of content to other papers.

                    2. I've watched the Chronicle slowly shrink for twenty years. As long as they don't drop my puzzles, I'll stick with it.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: GH1618

                        I saw a paper copy recently for the first time in a few years and was startled by how small it was.

                        There's a theory that the only reason the Hearsts keep it going is because it could be politically useful in getting approval for the big highrise development they're working on for the site.

                        1. re: GH1618

                          Yes the Chron isn't like it used to be. However, if they want to up their circulation, they should make the papers available beyond Walgreens and Safeway. Sometimes, I like to buy the Sunday paper and I can't find a bin that is stocked!

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            I guess it's a sign of the times that a purported veteran editor appears comfortable producing phrases for publication like "in regards to food" (unless that was Deseran's uncorrected typo) and "the zeitgeist of the food culture," while yearning to "make the food section more modern" after spending all of six years with the Chron.

                            Granted, newspapers aren't what they once were. (I grew up with the Chron, and a few major events more than six years ago, when it printed "Extra" editions, like the one with the headline "Extra! Extra! MEN ON MOON!" -- I kept that one.)

                            But we've come a ways, even just from the days when Patricia Unterman wrote up later-renowned chefs _before_ everyone had heard of them, to now, when a managing editor who says "in regards to" wrestles over whether to position the food content in a "lifestyle" section called "Artisan" or one called "Crave."

                            1. re: eatzalot

                              To be fair, it was probably the transcription of a phone interview or something, but I find the phrase "most clicked-on things" grating. That makes her sound like an idiot.

                              The whole thing reads like spin to me; frankly it seems like she is more of a budget balancer than a Tina Brown wannabe.

                              1. re: eatzalot

                                Managing editors typically spend their time dealing with personnel, workflows, planning, strategy, and so on. They don't necessarily write or edit anything.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  There's nothing remarkable about an in-regards-to from a store clerk or fast-food manager; but an editor, ANY editor, representing a daily in a published interview -- juxtaposed with a preoccupation for style over substance in the quest for just the right high-concept title word for a new "lifestyle" section.

                                  "Our final 'De Gustibus' column in the [NYT] concluded, 'As long as fashion editors tell us what to eat, we shall eat badly.' The line disappeared on the copy desk. Thereafter, fashion triumphed, totally."

                                  (John and Karen Hess, preface to ISBN 0252068750, 2000.)

                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                    I understood what she meant, which is more than I can say for some of the managers I've worked in publishing.

                                2. re: eatzalot

                                  I always wanted to hear why Unterman left the Chron, and why the bad blood between she and Bauer. Anyone know?

                                  1. re: karenfinan

                                    Speaking from about seventeen degrees of separation away, my understanding was that it was a new-broom-sweeps-clean type thing. She had (and has) a pretty big following, and he wasn't crazy about that.

                                    I always thought it unseemly that one could be a restaurant owner and newspaper food critic, but that's a different topic.

                                    1. re: monfrancisco

                                      "I always thought it unseemly that one could be a restaurant owner and newspaper food critic, but that's a different topic."

                                      don'tcha think....

                                      1. re: escargot3

                                        To some people it might look "unseemly," yet it did mean that Unterman knew the business through and through. (IIRC she'd been a UCB grad student whose thesis research consisted of opening a restaurant.) Her reviews were generally well respected by the sort of people who (today) post on Chowhound -- more respected, in my experience, than those of either her major predecessor (Whitelaw) or successor (Bauer).

                                        Circumstances of her departure were detailed in a magazine article (SF Focus?) linked in a previous thread here this year -- search under her name.

                                        When I see people wondering on this board why SF doesn't have someone like Jonathan Gold in So-Cal, I recall when we had Unterman.

                                        Fault lines of even remote real conflict of interest from her own involvement with a restaurant would have been fairly obvious, and easily avoided by her (though it has become fashionable today, maybe from the unquenchable lust for scandal, to presume that any theoretical potential for such conflict guarantees hopeless bias.) I suspect the main real consequence of Unterman's restaurant connection was political vulnerability, an easy rationalization for anyone wanting to displace her.

                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                          Thanks, I'll look for the thread with link to article

                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                            We still have Unterman, she's just lower-profile. I thought she handled the conflicts of interest fine. Sesser reviewed all the places that could reasonably be considered competitors to Hayes St. Grill, and Unterman wrote few if any pans. She was most interested in bringing undeservedly obscure places to public attention.

                                            The magazine article was "Eating in Michael Bauer's Town":

                                            http://web.archive.org/web/2003061805...

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              haha, I'd never read that article before, that makes it all seem a lot worse than even I thought it was. That's really damning; the article gets a lot of quotes from famous named sources, sources who actually stand to lose a lot in a tete-a-tete with Bauer, like Mina and Danko.

                                              The one complaint about Bauer that I think is a little unfair is the one about his prose style -- he's not John Lanchester or anything, but he's not unreadable. I've seen worse. Of course it would be nice if he were also a great prose stylist, but that's not absolutely necessary for me in a food critic. Accurate food assessment first, enjoyable writing second. At least on that point, I don't think he's that bad -- he is at least good at explaining what he likes and why he likes it.

                                              1. re: dunstable

                                                What complaint about his prose style? All I find is "even if he had ... the prose of M.F.K. Fisher (and we'll get to that)," but I can't find anything else on the subject.

                                                Bauer's prose style was pretty bad when he started, especially given that he replaced Sesser. He learned on the job and it's unobjectionable now. That article was written in 2001 and I'm not sure where he was on his learning curve then. I think he was still writing reviews where there was no sense that he had tasted the food, it sometimes felt like he could have worked from photographs.

                                                Maile Carpenter got a James Beard award for that article.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  Aye, they do get to that later. It's a whole page of the article, which I excerpted below. I moved to the City in 2005, so I guess by then he'd learned a thing or two.

                                                  ------------
                                                  He explained between bites that he considers himself "more a journalist than anything else," a newspaperman who loves food. Which is ironic, because the most consistent criticism, the one mentioned offhandedly after many interviews, was: If nothing else, why can't Bauer at least be a decent writer? His reviews, many agree, are simply bland. In a recent one of Palo Alto's Icon supperclub, Bauer wrote, "It has a cool look, an expansive terrace, live entertainment, and pretty good food. On most weeknights you have your pick of tables in the 100-seat dining room, though on the weekend people crowd in for a good time."

                                                  "When you read book reviews, they're by writers who are so good that the review is itself a joy to read," says Peyton. "Patty Unterman was forever criticized for her conflict of interest, but one thing you could never take away from her is that she's a damned good writer. I never missed an Annie Lamott review in California magazine. They were hilarious."

                                                  Bauer's comments are more picayune than substantive, critics say, and his assessments of the food often seem, well, poorly digested. His signature style amounts to a roster of dishes. A sample from his recent review of Berkeley's Downtown: "A royal blue glass is mounded with crushed ice and has a selection of raw oysters, mild sweet clams, three oysters plumped with marinade, strips of pickled salmon, marinated shrimp and mussels and three condiments: a jalapeño gelée, tarragon gelée and Champagne mignonette.... [David] Stevenson also produces a superb fritto misto with a changing mix of vegetables, fish and seafood that on our visit included shrimp, catfish, yellow squash, zucchini and slices of Meyer lemon." When asked if he thinks Bauer is a good writer, having worked with him, Sietsema of the Washington Post pauses before he replies, "I think he has good ideas."

                                                  As he took baby sips of his red wine at Stars, Bauer said he knows what people say about him--if not the jabs about his writing, at least all the talk about his power.

                                                  1. re: dunstable

                                                    Ah, one of the "forward" buttons was missing the first time I looked.

                                                    The first part of that quote is a good example of the kind of factual descriptions he used to write that left me wondering whether he had liked the dish or not.

                                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    "That article was written in 2001 and I'm not sure where he was on his learning curve then."

                                                    Note, Bauer joined the Chron in 1986, overlapping both Sesser and Unterman. (I recall one bio summary to the effect that for a time, he'd worked on the editorial side of food and restaurant articles when U & S were doing field reporting-- maybe this was mentioned in that linked 2001 article, not sure).

                                                    Anyway he'd already had more experience at the Chron, albeit not all of it restaurant reporting, before the 2001 article appeared than he has since added.

                                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                                      Bauer didn't write restaurant reviews for the Chron until he pushed Sesser out and took over his column in August 1990.

                                                      Sesser and Unterman rarely if ever wrote anything but their weekly restaurant reviews for the Chron. Both were moonlighting, Sesser's day job was as an editor for Consumer Reports and Unterman had her restaurant.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        Right, my earlier comment was that Bauer had been at least wordsmithing at the Chron. in one capacity or another (and part of it, acc. to the source I recalled, working with Unterman and Sesser on the back end) for 15 years at the time of the famous 2001 magazine article. Even 11 years writing restaurant reviews himself, as of 2001, exceeds the full tenures of some of the most famous past New York Times restaurant critics, for example.

                                                        Thus, Bauer wasn't exactly a neophyte when the 2001 critique appeared -- a fair level of experience, not someone who ought to be giving the impression he hadn't tasted the food, or could have been working from photographs. Then again, I was not reading him in 2001 so have no opinion on those particular assertions.

                                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                                          Bauer was still a pretty dreadful writer in 2001. See the quotes in that article.

                                                  3. re: dunstable

                                                    Oh, I disagree. I haven't had a lot to say here because I found Bauer's criticism so forgettable. Writing matters--particularly with a critic. Because I live way down on the Peninsula, much of the time I'm not going to get to the restaurant being reviewed, but I do like good restaurant criticism as a way of finding out what's going on to the north. In contrast to Bauer, whose writing is a big blank for me, I still remember many of Patricia Unterman's assessments. She always had a strong sense of what a restaurant was trying to do and how a menu held together.

                                                    Or, to go way back, I actually remember Ruth Reichl's reviews for California magazine when I was a kid. Her writing was so different and so fun! (Yes, I was a baby foodie.)

                                                    Good food writing opens your eyes. Bauer's puts me to sleep.

                                            2. re: monfrancisco

                                              I always thought it unseemly that one could be a restaurant owner and newspaper food critic, but that's a different topic.

                                              especially one that has no problem giving more press to the places she or her husband owns.

                                            3. re: karenfinan

                                              Bauer took Unterman's and Sesser's columns, that seems to explain it to me.

                                          2. re: Melanie Wong

                                            Can anyone translate "stock and heat-set treatment"?

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              I assume the stock is the paper that is printed on and "heatset web offset printing is a printing process in which ink is dried rapidly by forced-air heating. In the alternative method, coldset Web offset printing or (also known as non-heatset), the ink dries more slowly by ordinary evaporation and absorption. Web offset printing is a printing process in which a continuous roll of paper is fed through a printing press."
                                              And apparently it ain't cheap.
                                              But I'll bet you, a newspaper contributor, knew that.

                                              1. re: wolfe

                                                Didn't occur to me she was talking about printing.

                                                So I guess in plain English they're planning to use more expensive paper and printing for the new Artisan section than they do for the current food section.

                                          3. Not surprised. I am surprised they are still in business, you can't sell what folks are giving away*. Free news on the internet, even the Examiner: Also sucks but the price is right. *Maybe the bottled water industry has disproved this.

                                            1. So the Chron is ceding this ground. Giving up the franchise and folding it into something else. As the Chron withers away, they will leave a void. Who tests the products on our Bay Area grocery shelves? Where will professional reviewers find a locale-specific home where they can build a voice, a reputation, a brand?

                                              So who occupies this territory next? Or maybe the question needs to be inverted to say, what territory remains that hasn't already been annexed by web properties like chow, eater, epicurious, yelp and media properties like food TV?

                                              1. Bay Area News Group (Mercury News, Oakland Tribune, CC Times, others) is moving their Thursday Food and Wine section to an expanded Eat, Drink Play section starting in the Sunday 11/17 print editions. Looks like the online version just popped up, link below. Upon reading the announcement about the changes, sounds like they at least they have a plan in mind, in contrast to the SF Chronicle. My Oakland Tribune has been getting skinnier over the past few years but I still pay for the print edition 3-days a week for the East Bay coverage.

                                                Bay Area News Group announcement:

                                                http://www.mercurynews.com/food-wine/...

                                                link to what appears to be the online version of new section:

                                                http://www.mercurynews.com/eat-drink-...

                                                EDIT: the above links aren't always working

                                                1. I am really saddened by this. Yes, there are plenty of other publications that cover eating, but most don't cover *cooking* as well.

                                                  1. I'm pretty sure that the Hearst corp. is trying to develop "content" (Horrible word) that they can use in other markets -- i.e. Huston -- a big money-maker. That would make it less bay area specific, which is a shame, but likely.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: Glencora

                                                      They're talking about cutting recipes in favor of more coverage of local chefs, so I don't think that's the plan.

                                                      Nationally syndicated features used to be one of the few things the Chron excelled at. Herb Caen, Stanton Delaplane, Dear Abby, Art Hope ...

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        Herb Caen wasn't syndicated. I don't think Art Hoppe and Stanton Deleplane were either.

                                                        The old Chronicle wasn't great for news coverage, but it was seriously entertaining and had several good writers. I think the only thing it got a Pulitzer for in the late 20th was for architecture criticism.

                                                        Meanwhile the old SJMerc. had truly mediocre lifestyle/criticism/columns and first-rate news coverage.

                                                        1. re: urbavore

                                                          Stanton Delaplane and Art Hoppe were nationally syndicated.

                                                    2. Note that there is a (very) new Save the Chronicle Food Section Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-t...

                                                      1. They just hired a former editor-in-chief of Sunset as assistant managing editor to oversee the Style, Food & Wine, and Home & Garden sections.

                                                        http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/blog/...

                                                        1. They just hired Jonathan Kauffman, so I guess they really are investing rather than just cutting back.

                                                          http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/blog/...

                                                          6 Replies
                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            Albeit the "SF Chronicle Staff" who wrote the piece are favoring us with more of that semi-literate writing style noted earlier in this thread http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9241...

                                                            "Assistant Managing Editor, Kitty Morgan said, “. . . He is always asking . . . what does food says about us?"

                                                            TWO gaffes in one sentence that would never have gotten past any copy editor I worked with (and would have gotten me a ding in high-school English).

                                                            1. re: eatzalot

                                                              Of course, Bauer himself couldn't write his way out of a paper bag. I remember one review last year where he complained about his party being initially ignored when they came in, then added: "Once seated, however, the wait staff was very attentive..."

                                                              Well, as attentive as they could be while sitting down, anyway.

                                                            2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              So now he'll presumably be the one handing out 2.5 stars max?

                                                              Seems a waste of talent.

                                                              1. re: Pius Avocado III

                                                                I was wondering about that too. I really hope that he isn't simply the second-string reviewer for the Chron. My regard for Kauffman is very high. The pipe dream is that he has already been appointed Bauer's successor.

                                                                1. re: Pius Avocado III

                                                                  From what the Inside Scoop post says, I think Kauffman's going to be a reporter doing stories similar to those that Paolo Lucchesi does. There's no mention of reviews and the post includes a head shot.

                                                                  The Chron's blog posts are clearly not copy-edited.

                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                    In addition to their apparent lack of copy editing, there's little standard of ethics.

                                                                    I enjoy Paolo's posts, and he's been a great resource, but some oversight wouldn't hurt.

                                                              2. The merged Food + Home section is in Sunday's paper and online here:

                                                                http://tablet.olivesoftware.com/Olive...

                                                                5 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                      Thanks. I know I've said this before, but it drives me insane the way they give away content.

                                                                      1. re: Glencora

                                                                        If they didn't, nobody would look at the ads, which is where they make their money.

                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                    Much improved.

                                                                    When did Marco Polo become an ice cream shop though?

                                                                  2. I got the print version with today's paper...they should consider printing it as a glossy magazine.

                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: ML8000

                                                                      Why? To raise the cost and force the paper out of business even sooner?

                                                                      1. re: GH1618

                                                                        Because it looks like crap in news print, and there's a lot of decent photos (aka food porn).