The San Francisco Chronicle is standing like a kid who cried "Fire!" amid a rush of sirens and chaos asking what all the fuss is about, as it has a front-page story today about the ramifications of the "doom loop" narrative the paper itself amplified.
While the Chronicle has spent the last few months jumping on the "doom loop" bandwagon and even finding new angles on it wherever they could, a story today by longtime reporter Carolyn Said makes only the slightest acknowledgement of her newsroom's role in promoting this narrative. The story quotes SF business figures like Rodney Fong, CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, who's appalled at outlets like CNN and Good Morning America that have done recent hit jobs on the city.
"They're making stuff up," Fong says. "It is absolutely unfair."
Those of us who've lived here long enough know these boom and bust cycles pretty well, and we know that SF has, historically, always bounced back. That seems to be Said's ultimate point in the Chronicle piece. It's just a little late in the game given how the Chronicle has essentially spearheaded the campaign to declare that the sky is falling, that all is lost, and San Francisco is circling the drain.
The bottom of the Chronicle piece lists a bunch of headlines from other outlets and only one from the Chronicle itself — this March 30 piece that either helped introduce or singlehandedly introduced the term "doom loop" to the local vocabulary.
The piece points to Nellie Bowles's June 2022 piece in the Atlantic about our "failed city," pegged to the recall of Chesa Boudin, which itself was a bit sensational and personal — one of an entire genre of pieces that SFist has called out over the last few years, the basic gist of which are "I had to move out of San Francisco and let me proselytize about how it is terrible now and it's the liberals' fault."
The problem is that once the Chronicle joined the chorus, it kind of opened the floodgates for the likes of CNN and ABC News to do their own hot takes, and thus we have the national tidal wave of news stories about San Francisco's woes.
As Said points out, all this negative media coverage is hugely damaging to the city's post-pandemic recovery, given that we need tourists and conventions to come here, and the situation on our streets has been somewhat exaggerated — yes, downtown and the Tenderloin can look kind of bleak, but some of these streets we're talking about haven't seen better days in decades. Should tourists be wandering around mid-Market after dark? Probably not! But should they have been doing that 10 or 12 years ago when Twitter moved in and the fortunes of the city were brighter? Nope!
There may not have been the fentanyl crisis a decade ago, but open-air drug-dealing, opioids, heroin, methamphetamine, and mental health crises were daily features of many of these blocks, including Sixth Street, Jones Street, and the area around Seventh and Market 10, 15, and even 20 years ago.
Things are exacerbated now, to be sure, by the lack of workers downtown, but it's not exactly dead around the Westfield mall on any given weekday. The mall owner sees the big picture when it comes to American retail, especially malls in urban settings, and that is why it is backing out of the market broadly and told investors it was doing so a year and a half ago. The Chronicle didn't put that fact front and center, but instead went with the headline, "Westfield giving up S.F. mall in wake of Nordstrom closure, plunging sales and foot traffic."
Commercial real estate agents, who will be key in helping downtown turn around, need the media to stop being quite so frenzied in its rush to declare SF "doomed."
"When you get news article after news article, it starts to make people scared,” says Marisa Rodriguez, executive director of the Union Square Alliance, speaking to the Chronicle. "Anyone thinking about: ‘Is my next destination going to be a place I'm reading so many negative stories about,’ will probably think twice, and that’s not OK. If you were going to open a business, sign a lease, but keep getting a barrage of negative news stories about the area, would you have cold feet or second thoughts? Of course, that’s human nature."
At least now that Good Morning America is sending Matt Gutman out to stand on mid-Market Street in the early morning darkness to say that he's been told it's "too dangerous" to stand closer to the Westfield mall, the Chronicle can see that some of this is bullshit. And there's blood on their hands now, too.
Would such a dangerous and "failed" city have been able to host hundreds of thousands of Pride revelers this past weekend without anyone getting hurt or, like, stabbed with a fentanyl needle?
The New York Times picked up the narrative in early June that SF's neighborhoods are thriving while downtown "flounders." The Chronicle has tried to stay positive here and there, though this piece in early May painted a pretty grim picture about downtown office and hotel vacancy. And sure, it's hard to put a positive spin on a mall owner and a hotel owner writing off the city — though in the case of the Hilton owner, that could still be a negotiating tactic.
Maybe SF's busts will always be national news the way our booms are. And in being one of the country's "special" children — a city seen as quaint and darling and pretty that shouldn't, unless something is terribly wrong, have the same crime and drug problems as other places — our failures get the clicks and eyeballs that the media wants. The "San Francisco is on fire" story will always sell papers, as they say, even if the size of the blaze has been exaggerated.
But the Chronicle maybe should get its priorities straight the next time someone says "doom loop." We don't actually want to scare everyone off, do we?
Photo: Ameer Basheer