San Francisco Chronicle Editor-in-Chief On Fake News, Commodification of the Media, and Women in the Newspaper Industry

by Kyrsten Bean | March 8, 2018

San Francisco Chronicle Editor in Chief Audrey Cooper spoke to a full house of over 140 students, alumni, and community members in the Saint Mary’s College Soda Center as part of the School of Economics and Business Administration’s Executive Speaker Series February 26.  

Cooper is the first woman to fill the role in the company’s 152-year history, and the youngest woman ever to be named as the top editor of a major U.S newspaper-based company.  “These are tough times for the media across the nation. We are indeed on the precipice of a real media revolution,” said Cooper.

Her role is not an easy one, she said. Many women drop out of the industry between the ages of 30 to 35.  In addition to having to keep abnormal hours, including rising before the crack of dawn, and working days on end during a crisis, Cooper says the role of an editor in chief for a woman with children requires an understanding life partner. “Families are difficult without a partner who will take on an inflexible news schedule.”

Fake news organizations are nothing new, Cooper said, delving into the stormy history of the Golden State. 1849 was the largest peace time migration of people in world history. The city grew from a population of 350 during the Gold Rush to a population of over 100,000.

Before the migration, said Cooper, there were merely 86 literate people within San Francisco city limits, and only two newspapers. The incredible media disruption of 1849 led to around 280 newspapers. Newspapers in the area were generally started to “win friends and influence enemies,” said Cooper, adding that the current foreign manipulation of media is not a unique occurrence. 

She spoke to her concerns about the role of media and the role of politicians in the era of Trump, describing ethical practices for donating to newspaper. The utter commodification of news is new in this current era. Sometimes the public needs to see bad things; it’s the job of a journalist to make you upset and uncomfortable.

There are a lot of “news deserts,” in this country, said Cooper. Areas like this do not get the critical perspective of even a small local newspaper “You do not have the right to an unformed opinion,” she said.

Speaker Bio:

San Francisco magazine has declared Cooper one of the city’s most powerful women. Editor and Publisher magazine named her one of the world’s “Top 10 Women to Watch” and Advertising Age named her one of their “Top 40 under 40.” She’s been featured in Cosmopolitan magazine “50 Fearless Women” issue and is a regular speaker and interviewer.

Under Audrey’s leadership, The Chronicle has emerged as one of the country’s most innovative media outlets. Among other things, she started an in-house incubator program to explore new types of digital journalism. She started the SF Homeless Project, a first-of-its-kind collaboration of more than 80 news outlets dedicated to reporting on solutions to end homelessness. And in 2016, The Chronicle became the first newspaper-based company to show a feature-length documentary in nearly a dozen film festivals around the world.

Audrey prioritizes investigative and explanatory journalism, and recently restarted her newsroom’s investigative team. Areas of emphasis have included the botched multibillion dollar rebuilding of the Bay Bridge, the deadly 2011 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion, the city’s forgotten AIDS survivors, and the criminalization of children in the state’s foster shelter program. This body of work led California’s leading newspaper association to name The Chronicle the state’s best large newspaper each year Audrey has been editor.

A native of the Kansas City area, Audrey graduated magna cum laude from Boston University, which has honored her as a distinguished alumna. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and their 5-year-old son. In her spare time, Audrey volunteers for San Francisco City Guides, a nonprofit that gives free walking tours of San Francisco.

Executive Speaker Series:

Hosted by the School of Economics and Business Administration (SEBA), the Executive Speaker Series brings CEOs, presidents and other top corporate leaders from some of the nation’s most important companies, non-profits, and non-governmental organizations to share their views on topics of societal, academic, and professional importance.

The Executive Speaker Series strives to stimulate insightful, provocative conversation on current issues by providing a platform for high level executives to speak about cutting-edge issues, challenge conventional wisdom and tactics, elaborate on trends, share wisdom, and provide important career inspiration and advice for our students, faculty, alumni and larger Saint Mary’s community.