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Plan hatched to turn Chron into a nonprofit

San Francisco investment banker and Wells Fargo heir F. Warren Hellman and other business leaders have asked Hearst Corp. to consider turning the Chronicle into a nonprofit, the San Francisco Business Times reports.

San Francisco attorney Bill Coblentz, after discussing the idea with Hellman, conveyed the plan to William R. Hearst III, who is a Hearst Corp. director and an affiliated partner with the Sand Hill Road venture capital powerhouse Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

The proposal would be for a nonprofit corporation “to take over the Chronicle,” with Hearst Corp. continuing to provide some philanthropic support. The paper has reportedly been losing $1 million or more a week for the past several years.

When the Business Times asked Publisher Frank Vega about it, he said, “I’m not aware of any discussions whatsoever about us becoming a nonprofit,” before hanging up abruptly.

Former Chron publisher Steve Falk, now CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, said he has talked to Hellman and other San Francisco business leaders “in very general terms” about possible ways to save the paper. He said he wasn’t familiar with the nonprofit proposal, but he knows Hellman and other leaders “are very concerned about the (Chron’s) possible demise.”

Falk said it is more likely that the Chronicle and MediaNews might combine their Sunday editions if the get an antitrust waiver from the Obama Justice Department. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing for such an exemption.

Correction: Originally we attributed this information to the San Francisco Business Journal. Obviously it is the San Francisco Business Times.

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