History of Newspapers: San Francisco Chronicle

About the history of the United States newspaper The San Francisco Chronicle, information about the paper and some of their scoops.


The Past. In 1865, San Francisco was a theater town, and 2 young brothers, Charles and Michael De Young, decided to capitalize on that. Accordingly, they began publishing a throwaway theater program called the San Francisco Dramatic Chronicle. Physically unprepossessing, it was 4 pages long, the size of a sheet of letterhead. However, it carried short pieces by impressive authors such as Mark Twain and Bret Harte, as well as news of the city. It was so popular that by 1868 it became a regular newspaper selling for 2 cent. It dropped the word Dramatic from its name.

A reform paper, the Chronicle fought to improve the community, exposed civic corruption, campaigned against land monopoly and the manipulations of the railroad barons.

Its reform activities made enemies for the Chronicle and its owners. In 1880, a verbal war in a local election broke into a gunfight. Charles De Young was so angry that he wounded the Workingmen's party candidate for mayor. The candidate's son retaliated by shooting and killing De Young.

Michael De Young was not so hotheaded. A member of the Republican National Committee for 8 years, he was active in civic and national affairs and ran the paper somewhat more conservatively.

The Chronicle's major competition was The Evening Examiner, bought by Hearst in 1880. As the city's population grew, more newspapers were founded, until there were 6 in all.

In the early 1960s, the Chronicle and The Examiner waged a circulation war, vying for the most sensational headlines and most incendiary editorials. By that time, The Examiner had become the most conservative Hearst paper and the Chronicle, long connected with the Republican establishment, was hardly liberal. The war had no ideological basis, and it fizzled to an end when the 2 papers decided to merge.

During the merger, cameraman Albert Kihn of KRON, the Chronicle-owned TV station, charged publicly that the station would not allow coverage of the negotiations. The Chronicle hired spies to snoop on Kihn, and both papers were ordered to ignore the story. It was not until the snooping was exposed in another publication that the Chronicle admitted to the Federal Communications Commission that it had happened.

The Present. The Chronicle-Examiner papers dominate San Francisco journalism but are without special distinction. They are conservatively oriented.

The Chronicle's obituary policy is somewhat controversial. "We catch hell for bringing up unpleasant episodes in a man's life in his obituary," Gordon Pates, the managing editor, has said, "But we feel it's part of the picture of the dead man's life."

In 1975, the Chronicle's circulation was 465,000. A morning paper, it has nearly 3 times as many subscribers as the evening Examiner. On Sunday, the publisher puts out a combined edition--the Sunday Examiner-Chronicle.

Scoops. The San Francisco Chronicle was the only San Francisco paper to put out extras upon Lincoln's assassination.

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