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