Dan Fost, 39, is a technology reporter with the San Francisco Chronicle. Fost graduated from Boston University in 1984, and has worked at newspapers in Massachusetts, New York and California. He joined the San Francisco Chronicle in 1998, after working for the Marin Independent-Journal for seven years. He writes the "Media Bytes" column.
Dan Fost: If you can think back to 1999, media was really a growing industry in San Francisco. San Francisco became the technology media capital. CNET, Wired, Marketwatch.com, Salon.com, The Industry Standard, Business 2.0, eCompany, Red Herring, Upside -- all these companies were starting up here. Ziff-Davis also had a big presence here. There was a burgeoning mostly tech media starting up, so the column was started as an effort to cover that. Nobody really was devoted to covering that particularly from a business standpoint. So it was a fun beat, and there was a lot going on. Now it's covering the demise of that, which is not nearly as fun.
JournalismJobs.com: Is it hard to come up with story ideas?
Dan Fost: Not at all. There's still a lot of story ideas out there -- more stories than I have time to write. It's kind of an interesting beat -- it's certainly well-read within the industry. You hear from a lot of journalists who just love to read about other media and about their industry. It's fun because you get to hold journalists accountable in the way that they like to hold other people accountable. I think it's also a good public service, because there's not a whole lot written about the media. So, if you can help demystify some of the industry or explain what's going on, that's good for the average media consumer.
JournalismJobs.com: Are other media outlets receptive to your coverage?
Dan Fost: By and large, they've got thinner skins than any other companies we cover or any politicians. They're not used to being written about. They can often be just as a big of a liar, and can offer just as much hype as any skilled flack. So it's a tough beat to cover from that standpoint. But they're also fun people to talk to, particularly as you get into talking to journalists themselves. I like journalists, and I've spent my whole professional life working right alongside journalists, so it is fun. It's also funny because you wind up with colleagues in the newsroom who are sources. They all have friends at other publications who know things that are going on. It's a small business when you get right down to it.
JournalismJobs.com: Has the press done a good job of covering itself?
Dan Fost: I don't know. I think it can always be better. The press does a fair amount of self-flagellation. I'm working on a story now about how we are going to be covering business in the wake of the Enron scandal. There's also been a lot of stories about why the press missed that story. Should the press have gotten it? Maybe you can't say the press was completely culpable because if there were issues of fraud or things that were deliberately hidden it's kind of hard to get that. If me and my brethren in the financial media had better training in accounting and finance, maybe we would have picked up a few of these stories earlier.
JournalismJobs.com: It seems that San Francisco media do not get much respect on the national level. Why is that?
Dan Fost: I don't know if it's an East Coast bias, or a legacy of years ago. Sometimes these impressions take hold and it's hard to undo them even as things change dramatically over the years. For instance, the San Jose Mercury News had a great reputation nationally. Maybe it's not as great of a newspaper as it used to be, but it's still a very good newspaper. By the same token, the San Francisco Chronicle never really deserved as bad a reputation as it's had. A lot of people date that reputation to a specific line that Ben Bradlee uttered in "All the President's Men." Some hack was trying to sell him on a feature for a weather report for people who were too drunk the day before, and he said sell that story to the San Francisco Chronicle, they need it. It's so dismissive that ever since then I think it's tarred our reputation. Every national media story about the Chronicle mentions that little anecdote. It's sort of our claim to fame.
And now particularly since Herb Caen, our marque columnist died, I think the paper has had to work really hard to overcome that. But we're starting to break some national stories. We've been very aggressive covering the energy crisis. We've done some great coverage on September 11th. The aftermath of Flight 93 was one of our big stories. We're doing a good job, and over time the rest of the media world will take notice. It's kind of a wrenching time at the Chronicle. We went through this merger in November 2000 with the San Francisco Examiner and we're still trying to fit all the pieces together. Managing editor [Jerry Roberts] left the paper and that's part of an ongoing reorganization. There's probably more people who will be leaving, and more people who will be coming in. We're still feeling our way around.
JournalismJobs.com: What's going to happen with the San Francisco Examiner. Is it going to survive?
Dan Fost: I hope so. I think anybody in journalism would like to see it survive and likes the idea of another newspaper competing. It will help keep the Chronicle honest to have that kind of competition. You have to feel sorry for them going independent right as the market turned and went into the worst advertising market that anyone can remember. Also, a series of missteps and challenges, management upheaval, changing publishers, they're on their third editor in two years, tremendous staff turnover, difficulties with their computer system, getting the paper delivered -- just so many challenges. Lucky for them they've got their subsidy.
I think the big question on everybody's mind is their subsidy runs out in another year and a half or so and how long will they survive past that? God, it's going to be difficult. There's not a lot of cities that have another newspaper. I wish them all the best. It's sort of a weird position covering them as a media writer because I can't just cover them as another business. I am not only working for a competing newspaper but also for a company that's giving them $20 million a year in subsidy. You just try to report the truth.
Copyright © 2002 JournalismJobs.com. All rights reserved.
Other JournalismJobs.com interviews: