The grand, grey New York Times made its Bay Area "local content pages" debut last Friday, even as execs there prepared to cut 100 newsroom staffers in Manhattan.
After causing competitive shivers among some Bay Area journalism institutions, how interesting it is that the Times chose to invade our Western shore pretty much wearing panties and floaties instead of the full battle gear available to the national "paper of record."
The thing is that the record, in this case, had an oddly familiar tune.
A story about the new Oakland police chief, the lead and longest of four pieces in the two-page Bay Area NY Times insert, began with a compelling anecdote:
Anthony W. Batts was enjoying a successful run as the head of the Long Beach police when a headhunter called last winter and asked if the chief's job in Oakland had any appeal. Mr. Batts said no.
Then, he said, came March 21, when a recently released parolee, Lovelle Mixon, shot and killed four Oakland police officers and cemented the city's reputation as the violent crime capital of the Bay Area.
Sitting at the officers' funeral, Mr. Batts said, he changed his mind. "I decided that I'd like to help," he said.
Nice, right? Some serious and newsworthy insight into Chief Batt's character, just as we'd expect from a journalism enterprise that's taken its public service role very seriously for well over 100 years.
But there was just a gnawing deja vu sensation about it. Oh, right. Here was the beginning of a San Francisco Chronicle story written two months before, on August 17th:
When a headhunter called Long Beach Police Chief Anthony Batts in March and asked him whether he was interested in becoming Oakland's next chief, Batts knew the answer: No.
"I was happy in Long Beach," Batts said during his first public appearance Monday since accepting the chief's job in Oakland.
But everything changed three days later, on March 21: four Oakland police officers were gunned down in the deadliest day for law enforcement in the city. Batts viewed the television coverage.
"I watched the pain and the suffering in the Police Department," he said. "I watched the pain and the suffering in the community as it too hurt at the same time."
After attending the officers' funeral at the Oracle Arena, Batts said he text-messaged the headhunter: "I want to help."
Eerie. Maybe the Times was just being economical. So I checked the names. Chronicle reporter Matthai Kuruvila wrote our story. There was another completely different name on the Times piece.
And it probably wasn't just me. A few of the other (57 percent) of the Times readers who also get the Chronicle may have felt like they'd seen it before, too.
Here we are, always bitching about how Google or MSN or Yahoo is stealing our original content and making money from it. It doesn't really help our case if we're raiding closets and borrowing outfits from members of our own fraternity without at least asking.
To be fair, a reasonable amount of what was in the Times story was different than the Chronicle's, and written well enough. And despite a sometimes overly reverential view of the Times in this region, its flaws are not new in journalism. And I just paid $900 to keep getting a print version of it for the next year, so I remain a BFF despite occasional disappointments.
Note to NY Times Editor Bill Keller who, like his predecessors, still puts out a generally impressive product: The interwebs has all sorts of digital magic to check stories for prior use. Punch up the Tribune before you make your next move into Chicago.