Before SFGate’s sale to Hearst Communications in 2000, its role as the West Coast’s newsroom aggregator represented a legacy of century-old news dynasties. In pop culture, San Francisco represents the spirit of Silicon Valley and is celebrated as the home of progressive politics, so much so that conservative commentators coined the term “San Francisco values.” So, how biased and factual is SFGate?

How Factual Is SFGate?

The Factual’s news rating algorithm analyzes more than 10,000 articles a day along four metrics: author expertise, publication history, writing tone, and cited sources and quotes. (See our How It Works page to learn more.) For this study, we analyzed 1,000 articles each from 245 major news sources.

Over a dataset of 1,000 articles, SFGate scored an average Factual Grade of 60.9%. This is just below the average of 61.9% for all 240 news sources that we analyzed. This places SFGate in the 37th percentile of our dataset.

These scores are close to average. The site employs dedicated authors to cover specific news beats, leading to high scores for author expertise. However, at the same time, they frequently do not cite any external news articles or link only to other SFGate articles, leading to low overall scores for source quality.

Like any news source, scores for articles from SFGate varied widely. For example, some scored above 80%, while others scored 50% or below.

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How Opinionated Is SFGate? 

The Factual measures how opinionated an article is using a sophisticated natural language processing algorithm, producing a score we call the Writing Tone. For this metric, the algorithm looks for signs of subjective commentary (e.g., first person pronouns, unnecessary adverbs), as well as the emotional nature of selected words, and sees how prevalent they are for a given length of text. Text which is less opinionated gets higher ratings, with “0” being the most opinionated and “1” being the most neutral.

SFGate had an average score of 0.66, placing it in the 62nd percentile in our dataset. This suggests that articles from the site are moderately opinionated on average. The average Writing Tone score for all 240 rated sources is 0.56, so the site scores somewhat above average. 

What Is SFGate’s Political Bias?  

The Factual classifies news sites by political bias as either Left, Moderate Left, Center, Moderate Right, or Right. This classification comes from third-party assessments from media bias organizations such as All Sides and Media Bias/Fact Check (MBFC). Based on this data, The Factual assigns SFGate a Moderate Left bias.

MBFC assigns SFGate a “Left-Center” bias because its story selection typically favors left-leaning causes. While MBFC notes the site’s “straight news” approach, SFGate often publishes stories with emotionally loaded language like “San Francisco is forever dying.” MBFC gives SFGate a high grade for factual reporting and a clean fact-check record, with no failed checks in the past five years.

AllSides assigns a “Lean-Left” bias based on independent research and 1,227 community ratings. However, it does not attribute a confidence level to this rating. AllSides notes the paper foregoes national and international news coverage and instead focuses on local and regional news. 

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Who Owns SFGate? 

SFGate is owned by Hearst LLC, a global information and media company that owns a vast array of TV stations, popular shows, networks, and magazines. Some examples include A&E, History, Lifetime, and ESPN, as well as magazines like Men’s Health and Cosmopolitan. The descendants of William Randolph Hearst — one of America’s biggest media moguls of the early 20th century — now serve on the board of trustees that oversees Hearst Communications and SFGate. The company claims it reaches 19% of U.S viewers through its collection of brands. Most of its funding is derived from advertisements and sponsored content. 

According to Open Secrets, Hearst donated 70% of its political contributions to Republican candidates and causes in 2020. This includes $230,105 in direct contributions to political campaigns and $427,500 to lobbying. In 2019, the editorial staff of Hearst began efforts to unionize with the Writer’s Guild of America, East. Hearst obstructed these efforts in a campaign utilizing unusual tactics, according to the NLRB, which ruled in favor of the staff. 

Why Does It Matter? 

News articles are bound to have bias because all authors have some frame of reference within which they describe a story. Political bias ratings are helpful in understanding this framing. However, it can be more beneficial to know how factual an article is based on quantifiable metrics that can be seen across the media ecosystem, from cited evidence, to author expertise, to the writing tone. This is what The Factual ascertains. 

Reading several, highly rated articles from across the political spectrum helps counter the bias of any news source or story. To have the day’s most factual news stories delivered to your inbox every morning, subscribe to our daily newsletter.

Published by Zain Bali

Zain is a researcher, writer, and marketer at The Factual. He is interested in policy, mass media, and politics. Before joining The Factual, he earned a B.S. in public health from Ohio State University. He has worked as a social media manager for a healthcare advocacy group and food science researcher.