A Tale of Two Newspapers: How the Mercury News and the Chronicle Covered the 49ers Rent Story

By Robert Haugh

We noticed something interesting as we read the stories about Santa Clara’s recent legal victory over the 49ers. The two major local newspapers covered the “rent reset” story really differently.

Here’s the headline from first story that appeared in the Mercury News:

49ers set to pay more in rent to Santa Clara Stadium Authority

It was posted by Emily DeRuy on August 10. She reported the 49ers would pay about $300,000 more a year in rent. The timing is interesting. It was posted late Friday afternoon around 5 p.m. That’s when reporters get stories that someone wants to bury because it’s bad news. Since this was bad news for the 49ers, we can guess they gave the story to DeRuy. I’ve been offered a lot of late Friday stories during my years in print journalism. If the story is good, I use to hold it until Monday, so I wouldn’t feel used by a source.

The next story the Mercury News ran three days later was entitled:

49ers blast Santa Clara for ‘fuzzy’ math

That’s the story where 49ers VP Rahul Chandhok went “full Chris Jericho and personally attacked Mayor Lisa Gillmor. It looked like Chandhok was mad because Gillmor said that 49ers wanted to reduce their rent $170 million and instead it was increased $10 million — a huge swing of $180 million in favor of the City. Those facts did not appear in DeRuy’s original story.

The next day, the Mercury News ran another story.

Arbitration agreement between 49ers and Santa Clara reveals dispute over stadium lease calculation

DeRuy got a scoop from a friendly source who gave her the details of the arbitration discussions. In this story, she reports that the 49ers will have to pay an extra $262,000 a year. But interestingly nowhere in the article is there a calculation of how much that adds up to over the 40-year lease.

The Chronicle had a different approach to the story. Here’s their first story from August 12:

City Wins Legal Dispute With 49ers Over Stadium Rent – SFGate

They ran a brief Bay Area News Service story and quoted Gillmor from the city’s press release:  “With the success of the City Council (acting as the Stadium Authority) and the new city administration, there is a new balance of power that puts the taxpayers and their representatives in charge.”  Interestingly, the 49ers were not quoted.

A week later, Phil Matier and Andy Ross — the two long-time and highly respected Chronicle reporters weighed in with this story:

49ers get sacked again in rent battle with Santa Clara City Hall

Matier and Ross write about the total amount at stake: “The ruling amounts to a roughly $180 million rent swing over the 40-year life of the lease. And they quote Gillmor:  “It’s a huge win. We won’t be stuck paying stadium expenses like some other cities.” They also quote Chandhok who takes a personal swipe at Gillmor and City PR consultant Sam Singer.

Were not sure what to conclude from the difference in coverage between the two newspapers. Maybe it’s the experience of the reporters. Matier and Ross have been around for decades and are award-winning reporters. DeRuy is relatively new and doesn’t appear to know much about Santa Clara.

Or maybe it’s a newspaper bias. We’ve written before about how the Mercury News has a San Jose bias and doesn’t seem to get Santa Clara (or other cities). Here are just a few examples: LINK and LINK and LINK and LINK.

With the 49ers coverage, the Mercury News shows a real bias. It’s odd that the Chronicle, a newspaper based an hour north, is reporting the Santa Clara vs. 49ers stories with less bias and more accuracy.


  1. However, today’s article in the SJ Mercury regarding Tuesday’s City Council meeting mentions that 8 of the 13 speakers spoke in support of Councilmembers Mahan and Kolstad. This is something that you failed to mention yesterday in your coverage of the City Council. We gave money to you in your fight against the Santa Clara Weekly. We felt that the Santa Clara Weekly was too negative against Mayor Gillmor. We were hoping that the Santa Clara News Online would be more independent.

    Is this a case of the pot calling the kettle black?

  2. The Merc is not very good. They lost all their good reporters. They have to hire young and inexperienced ones who are affordable.

    But they also lost a lot of revenue over the years. So they have to bow to anyone who advertises. San Jose gave the Merc a subsidy to move downtown. They’re in San Jose’s pocket. The 49ers are one of their biggest advertisers. They’re in the 49ers pockets.

  3. There is no question the Murky News is biased against its neighbor. There are many reasons for them to envy us, maybe that’s it. But the same reporter DeRuy wrote an article this morning about the council admonishing two members. You had to read far into the article to find a hint of why there was so much anger at Pat and Patty. They make it sound as if it were about them not voting. Anyone listening with an open mind would have heard the biggest offense was in letting the process play out until 1 in the morning before making it clear they were not going to vote, wasting EVERYONE’S time and energy. Not voting is their prerogative. The lack of respect for their constituents was the offense. The article should have led with that, not buried it.

    • Right on Howard! I’d suggest Emily read Robert’s column to help her understand SC better. And write better articles. Her writing is so one sided, its amazing she is considered a reporter. Did she start out working for Weakly?

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