For three decades, the act has worked reasonably effectively 47 cities still have two or more daily newspapers, 13 of them published under so-called joint operating agreements (JOAs), in which separate ownerships jointly run the business operations while editorial staffs are kept independent. In recent years, though, the act and the JOAs have come under increasing pressure, most recently in Hawaii, where Gannett, the giant chain that owns the Honolulu Advertiser, sought to buy and close down the rival Star-Bulletin. The case is being fought in the state's courts, where it is argued that the sale would violate an agreement that was supposed to last until 2012.
Many argue that the law, set up when cable TV was in its infancy and the Internet was unheard of, is archaic, as newspapers now face enough competition from alternative news outlets to keep them honest and often can't compete with the Web and nightly news, let alone another paper. Like many JOAs, the Chronicle and Examiner agreement preceded the Newspaper Preservation Act it started in 1965 and was due to continue until 2005. The Chronicle prints in the morning, while the Examiner remained an afternoon paper. But in this age of continually updated headlines available on your desktop, there's little demand for the newsboy in front of the trolley stop shouting the day's headlines to afternoon commuters, and the 120-year-old Examiner's readership has dwindled to about 100,000 daily. Fang has said that as owner he would break the paper away from the Chronicle and convert it to a competing daily. Hearst has offered to subsidize the venture to the tune of $66 million over three years to make the paper solvent. Reilly, however, argued that the Chronicle has such a tight grip on the Bay Area media market that it would take an investment closer to a quarter-billion dollars to keep its competitor in business.
So now the fate of San Francisco's media landscape is in the court's hands. In its decision on whether or not to try the case, due April 13, the District Court has to consider whether the city, which is hemmed in by a ring of strong suburban papers such as the San Jose Mercury-News, can in fact sustain two daily newspapers. If Hearst is forced to keep the paper, many expect the company to let it fold rather than pump in the resources necessary to keep it afloat. In fact, many question why Hearst has held on to the paper for so long. But then again, one has to remember it was the Examiner, once flagship of the Hearst Empire, that was the paper that put William Randolph Hearst on the map. It is the company's Rosebud.