More change at the Press Democrat

Ladies and gentlemen and members of the media, I have a difficult announcement to make: I’m stepping down as the Press Democrat’s 49ers beat reporter.

There are a lot of reasons to love this job. Up-and-coming team. Fascinating coach. Solid media access. State-of-the-art stadium (OK, someday maybe). And most of all, a legion of devoted, inquisitive fans.

Unfortunately, my drive from Napa to Santa Clara and back (six or seven times a week during training camp, four or five times during the season) was untenable. Not only did it strain my back and take me away from my family for way too long. The 3 hours 15 minutes of daily driving prevented me from doing the job the way it needs to be done. This is a highly competitive beat, with at least a half-dozen capable writers competing for information, and the mega-commute put me at a disadvantage.

The good news: In an age when newspapers frequently take the opportunity to pare down coverage, the Press Democrat remains committed to following the 49ers. Eric Branch, who filled in for me at the Raiders preseason game when I attended a wedding, has agreed to cover the Niners. Eric’s children are younger than mine, and he is willing to relocate.

You will love Eric. He’s a talented, witty writer and a thorough reporter, and he’s crazy about NFL football. He knew for the past couple of weeks there was a chance he’d be covering the 49ers, and he is already well versed on their major issues and characters.

When I started covering the team after the draft, I had the terrifying assignment of following Matt Maiocco. Almost none of you abandoned Matt, but I was amazed to find you were also open-minded about my coverage. You gave me a chance, and I occasionally rewarded you with a tidbit of information or a not-completely idiotic piece of analysis.

Now I’m asking you to give Eric that same opportunity. He will take over the blog Wednesday, and no doubt will have a Twitter handle to go with it. I’ll be checking it all the time. I think you should, too.

One other thing: I encourage you to keep following me @Skinny_Post. I won’t use that address for anything but 49ers. So if I ever have to fill in for Eric – like if his niece gets married – I can still keep you posted.

Thanks for everything.

Phil Barber