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Henry K. Lee and how the Chronicle does it with less

Thursday, June 2, 2011

image In the latest piece in its series on the demise of Bay Area journalism, SF Public Press’ Angela Hart writes about Chronicle reporter Henry K. Lee, who covers crime from Santa Rosa to San Jose to Pittsburg out of a lonely bureau in downtown Oakland he shares with columnist Chip Johnson (and, Metro Editor Audrey Cooper informs me, about five to eight other reporters, depending on how you count it. Also, it isn’t the last of the Chron’s Bay Area bureaus, counting SF City Hall, SF Hall of Justice and North Bay, besides bureaus in Sacramento and Washington, D. C.—editor’s note). It’s the Chron’s last bureau. Just a few years ago there were nine: That said, as Hart points out, the amazing Mr. Lee is still one busy fellow:

Most days, before his alarm clock goes off at 5 a.m., Henry K. Lee’s Blackberry wakes him, dinging with texts and email breaking-news alerts.


Lee quickly switches on three TVs in his house in Oakland, scans a few websites and flips through local newspapers for crime tidbits. He rarely has time for breakfast.

That was his predawn routine the first Friday in May, when he fast-forwarded through the overnight newscasts saved on TiVo to learn that a pedestrian was killed by a suspected hit-and-run drunk driver at Masonic Avenue and Turk Street in San Francisco.

The 17-year veteran reporter had no time to cross the bridge and visit the crime scene. In his one-man “maniac rush to beat the competition,” he had to settle for desk work: He searched for a license plate number, identified which cops were on the investigation and called the medical examiner. By 9 a.m. — two hours after he slid into the nearly empty downtown Oakland bureau — the story was already up on

No time to stop. By the time he clocked out at 3:30 p.m., he’d written three more stories, all about East Bay crimes. Trudging back home, he reset his TiVo, letting the TV news crews chase the ambulances for him.

Add: Hart’s is one of two pieces SFPP posted to its website today, after Tuesday’s editor’s note revealing that part of the funding for research at the heart of the series came from a Labor Department contract. Tom Honig has a piece about how the resource-starved Santa Cruz Sentinel has managed to survive and in some ways even thrive after (despite?) Dean Singleton’s acquiring it as part of MediaNews Group.

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