MEDIA: San Jose Mercury News: the voice of Silicon Valley - The ’Merc’ has long enjoyed a reputation for being tops in tech. Aimee Grove investigates what the daily is doing now that nearly every media outlet is covering that beat

Situated in the heart of Silicon Valley and in the backyards of such hi-tech pioneers as Hewlett-Packard, Apple and Intel, the San Jose Mercury News is more than a regional daily. Much as people turn to the Los Angeles Times for entertainment news and The Washington Post for inside-the-beltway scoops, the ’Merc’ has long been a must-read for movers-and-shakers in the Valley and beyond.

Situated in the heart of Silicon Valley and in the backyards of such hi-tech pioneers as Hewlett-Packard, Apple and Intel, the San Jose Mercury News is more than a regional daily. Much as people turn to the Los Angeles Times for entertainment news and The Washington Post for inside-the-beltway scoops, the ’Merc’ has long been a must-read for movers-and-shakers in the Valley and beyond.

Situated in the heart of Silicon Valley and in the backyards of

such hi-tech pioneers as Hewlett-Packard, Apple and Intel, the San Jose

Mercury News is more than a regional daily. Much as people turn to the

Los Angeles Times for entertainment news and The Washington Post for

inside-the-beltway scoops, the ’Merc’ has long been a must-read for

movers-and-shakers in the Valley and beyond.



’All the start-ups want to be in the Merc because it’s ’The Voice of

Silicon Valley,’ and all the enterprise companies want placement there

because of the massive national distribution they get through (parent)

Knight Ridder,’ says Schwartz Communications SVP Anne Desautels, who has

worked in the area for years.



’Also, it’s just got an incredible reputation for first-rate

journalism.’



For all the praise, though, the paper can’t afford to get too

comfortable.



Like all regional dailies, the Merc’s circulation has dropped over

recent years (294,016 Monday to Saturday; 342,822 Sunday). A host of

competitors has moved in to claim a piece of the pie - from magazines

like The Industry Standard to real-time web sites like Wired News, Red

Herring Online and CBS Marketwatch. Even old-line media outlets like The

Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune and BusinessWeek have beefed up

their Silicon Valley bureaus - and stolen away editorial talent.



To fight the onslaught of national and new media competition, the Merc

took its own act online. As an extension of its broad online edition,

’Mercury Center,’ the paper developed a separate online presence called

SiliconValley.com dedicated to technology and hi-tech business news. The

site is updated throughout the day with original content and breaking

news from multiple sources, including Reuters and AP. It is a dense

one-stop shop for everything technology. Launched in February 1999, the

site now gets about two million hits a month, of which 60% come from

outside the paper’s geographic delivery area.



For executive business editor Peter Hillan, the Merc’s survival in its

increasingly crowded field depends on broadening coverage to accommodate

a global reach ’filtered through a Silicon Valley perspective,’ he

says.



Unlike the nearby San Francisco Chronicle, for example, a typical day’s

business section leads with breaking news about international policy

issues or multinational companies.



Hillan, a down-to-earth Mid-westerner who started his career as a sports

reporter for the Milwaukee State Journal, also believes in the need for

strong consumer-oriented and personal computing coverage.



’We want to be a respected source of information for those in the

business community and a source of explanation and understanding for

those who are not,’ he explains. To this end, the Merc makes plenty of

room for in-depth reports, viewpoint columns and even product

reviews.



Most of this consumer-oriented content, however, is featured online

and/or in regular columns such as Mike Cassidy’s ’Silicon Valley

Dispatches,’ David Plotnikoff’s ’Modem Driver’ and John Murrell’s

’Minister of Information.’ And on Sunday, the Merc offers ’Computing &

Personal Technology,’ a stand-alone section filled with product reviews

and consumer information.



But without an editorial calendar or many clues on upcoming column

topics, how can PR pros get in on the hottest special reports and

upcoming features - many of which stay posted on the SiliconValley.com

site for months?



According to Hillan, the key lies in developing relationships with your

client or company’s beat reporter, who can be identified on the web site

that has direct phone numbers and e-mail addresses.



Hillan oversees a staff of about 18 reporters and columnists, three

assistant business editors, four section editors (Getting Ahead,

Computing & Personal Tech, Silicon Valley Life and Real Estate) and the

online staff. Though he may not directly write or assign stories, he

does help scope out hot developments and trends, going on company-site

visits and attending business-community events.



For the past several years, reporter Dan Gillmor’s thrice-weekly

business column, which will soon start appearing daily online and only

twice a week in print, has been a Silicon Valley must-read for industry

insiders.



However, he is also one of the paper’s ’toughest hits,’ according to

most area PR pros. Here are a few tips from Gillmor on how to pitch

him:



Watch out about over-hyping start-ups. Gillmor admits he’s wary of the

sway his column can have on a company’s market valuation and says he

tends to stay away.



Send short e-mail messages that use the subject line and the top screen

to get immediately to the point.



Provide high-resolution photos in a variety of formats including JPEG

files of your client or company’s top executives and products on the

corporate web site.



Because of his broad scope of coverage and the high visibility of his

section, Mike Langberg, the computing and personal tech editor who also

writes the ’Tech Test Drive’ column, is deluged with pitches. He often

lacks time to listen to story ideas and has developed a reputation in PR

circles as a bit of grouch. Keep in mind his deadlines.



The section generally closes end of day Wednesday, and Langberg says he

plans out section topics several weeks in advance when possible.



E-mail is best for first contact. One way for PR pros to break through

the clutter is to pitch personal technology writer Deborah Claymon, who

contributes one centerpiece feature a month.



Despite its emphasis on global technology coverage, the Merc has not

abandoned its regional readership. In fact, according to marketing

communications manager Doreen Moreno, serving the region’s diverse

ethnic and cultural demographics is a primary objective for the paper.

The Merc recently launched Spanish- and Vietnamese-language

weeklies.



According to executive editor and SVP David Yarnold, this dual emphasis

on broader regional readership and global business coverage will ensure

the Merc’s hi-tech status into the next century. ’We are positioned

exactly right to report on the two best stories around: technology and

the changing demographic and cultural face of America,’ he says, adding

a quote by Hewlett-Packard founder David Packard: ’There’s a lot to be

said about being in the right place at the right time.’



Contact List

San Jose Mercury News

750 Ridder Park Drive

San Jose, CA 95190

Tel: (408) 920 5000

Business desk phone: (408) 920 5980

Business desk fax: (408) 920 5917

E-mail: Business@sjmercury.com

www.siliconvalley.com

Executive business editor: Peter Hillan

Assistant business editors/technology: Vindu Goel, Karl Schoenberger

Assistant business editor/general news: David Sylvester

Computing & personal tech editor: Mike Langberg

Telecommunications and e-commerce editor: Randy Keith

Mercury Center managing editor: Bruce Koon

SiliconValley.com editor: (Ms.) Pat Sullivan

Columnists: Mike Cassidy (’Silicon Valley Dispatches’), David Plotnikoff

(’Modem Driver’), John Murrell (’Minister of Information’), Dan Gillmor



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