Kara Swisher

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Hearst Taps Demand Media’s Bradford and Yucaipa’s Johnson to “Redefine” the San Francisco Chronicle

Media giant Hearst has hired two senior execs — Demand Media’s Joanne Bradford and former Los Angeles Times CEO Jeffrey Johnson — in a significant move to digitally turbocharge and jumpstart its flagship but long-suffering newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle and its SFGate.com website.

“They have deep publishing and new media experience and believe in the power of great content with a valued brand,” said Heart CEO Frank Bennack in a statement. “We are excited to work with them to redefine the choices for how and where readers can experience the trusted Chronicle content they depend on.”

In the new leadership, Johnson will be the publisher of the Chronicle, while Bradford will be its president. Both will report to Hearst Newspapers President Mark Aldam. Current publisher Frank Vega — an old-style publisher who has had a controversial tenure at the Chronicle — will retire, though Hearst said he will continue as chairman through the transition.

“The San Francisco Chronicle should be a shining star and use case of how to build a community and cover local news,” said Bradford in a text to me today.

Indeed. While the Chronicle and its website is the largest for local news in the Bay area, it has lagged a lot in aggressively covering key trends — such as tech — and the fast growth of the region. While the area has blossomed, the Chronicle, like many big-city newspapers, has suffered, as digital businesses of all kinds have made incursions on its business.

Its daily print circulation is now 265,000, and combined with its website it reaches close to two million people.

Getting all that a whole lot higher — and, perhaps more importantly, a lot more relevant — will be a tough job and will likely require a major reinvention of the Chronicle brand.

That is especially true since the San Francisco area, including Silicon Valley, is the world’s key digital hub, as well as a leader in a number of areas — from top-notch sports teams to having one of the most innovative food and indie cultures. After a few years of rough economic times, the city is on a bit of a roll, including being the location of some upcoming major events such as the Super Bowl and America’s Cup.

Bradford has a lot of experience in both old and new media and is well known in the online media advertising space, having had top sales and media jobs at BusinessWeek magazine, Microsoft, Yahoo and, now, Demand.

She has been at that content site, where she has been its chief revenue and marketing officer, since 2010. At Yahoo, previous to Demand, she was an SVP in charge of North American revenue and also worked on branded entertainment partnerships. At Microsoft, she was a corporate VP and chief media officer of MSN Media Network.

And, although I have known her well over many years — full disclosure: We are very good friends — I had no idea she had an undergraduate degree in journalism from San Diego State University.

Johnson is also a longtime media exec. He has recently been an operating partner at the Yucaipa Companies — owned by kingpin Ron Burkle — focusing on media investments since 2007. Previous to that, he was president, publisher and CEO of the Los Angeles Times for just a year, but had been its SVP and GM since 2000. At the Times, he was responsible for the newspaper’s digital and print operations including editorial, advertising, circulation, consumer sales and marketing, finance and technology. Johnson has also worked at the Chicago Tribune and Orlando Sentinel and has an undergraduate degree in accounting from the University of Illinois and an MBA from the University of Chicago.

The Chronicle is the largest newspaper in Northern California, founded in 1865 by Charles and Michael de Young. Its owner, the privately-held Hearst, is one of the nation’s largest media companies, with dozens of daily and weekly newspapers; has a huge group of television stations and cable network stakes, such as Lifetime, A&E and ESPN; hundreds of magazines, such as Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan and Elle; and many other varied holdings.

Bradford will be replaced at Demand Media by Jeff Dossett.

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— Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, in their farewell D post