Sunday, October 31, 2004

Judge for yourself: Editor on Engles

Nov. 11: Editor has offered Engles 300 words to respond.

Nov 3: added Engles' extensive Nov. 1 letter of response to editor's column (near end of post); also removed commentary that's now extraneous or obviously off the mark.

The publisher joined in on Nov. 2.

"The nice thing about blogging - you can judge for yourself."

Perhaps because he has a print-based column rather than a weblog, The Union's editor* has developed an unfortunate tendency to defend his newspaper against community members' criticisms without exposing the reader to the criticisms directly - they're often presented as strawmen, and handily demolished with a newsroom chuckle and a swipe of the keyboard. Unfortunately also there's been a tendency of late to attack the complainant as much as the complaint; it takes a tough hide to endure criticism without retaliating, and skins have worn thin at The Union.

In yesterday's column, The Union's editor takes on Grass Valley resident Eric Engles' letter petitioning Swift Newspapers for publisher regime change at The Union.

Please compare and contrast Engles' letter with the editor's characterization below:
(emphases mark those sections that would have benefited from a rewrite in a calmer frame of mind)
Readers may be familiar with Eric Engles (who affectedly follows his name with "Ph.D." even in the most casual of e-mails) [disputed]. He has an occasional "Other Voices" [e.g. here, or search the archives for Engles] guest column published in The Union.

He apparently has taken an intense dislike to the weekly opinion column published by our publisher, Jeff Ackerman, and has started what he calls the "Dump Ack" [disputed] campaign. It's goal is to blitz our parent company, Swift Newspapers, with demands[disputed] that Ackerman be fired.

I came across a copy of his e-mail to 80 or so of his friends asking them to join in the campaign. The list includes many people active in the community whom readers would recognize as having their opinions frequently published in The Union. Mr. Engles may see himself as a Mel Gibson-esque savior, although there is an un-American whiff[disputed] to his crusade.

Swift Newspaper is a strong believer in local autonomy, and in practicing journalism without fear or favor. Or, as its statement of values vows, "We apply our values in our actions. We believe there should be no difference between what we say and what we do."

Mr. Engles' declaration of his values, in the letter to his friends as well as his lengthy entreaty to Swift, is that since Ackerman has different views than Engles, he is being divisive[disputed] His arguments are insubstantial, but a couple of points are worth a response:
  • He claims[disputed] Ackerman keeps counterviews out of the newspaper. Observation of almost any edition shows that to be phony.
  • He says[disputed] Ackerman's role extends beyond the opinion page to include story selection, wording of headlines, etc. Nonsense. Ackerman hired me to direct the news staff, and while he's not afraid to let me know what he thinks, he follows the tradition of this business and leaves me free to do it.

So if you don't like a story or a headline, better start a campaign to get me fired, because it's not Ackerman's fault. And if you like Ackerman and the job The Union is doing in covering our county, the president of Swift Newspapers is Arne Hoel, 500 Double Eagle Court, Reno, NV 89521.


Engles' letter of response:
Mr. Somerville,

Your column on Saturday contains at least eight examples of a marked decay in your ethical and journalistic standards:

1. You say that I "affectedly" follow my name with Ph.D. "even in the most casual of emails." I don't do this in either casual or formal emails. I have added the degree to my name when I sign letters to the editor and Other Voices columns, which I think is entirely appropriate. It is possible I signed an email to you in the past with the degree included (although I don't recall doing so); if so, it certainly didn't reflect any habit on my part, and it definitely doesn't provide a basis for your snide aside. Is it possible that you're jealous of my degree?

2. You say that I call my efforts the "Dump Ack" campaign. This is not true; I have informally referred to it as a campaign to "dump Jeff." The difference is not substantial, but it shows how little you care for the truth and for checking your facts.

3. You say that the goal of the campaign is to "blitz our parent company...with demands that Ackerman be fired." The word 'demand' puts a very misleading spin on how I broached the idea of Mr. Ackerman's removal, and how I suggested others put it in their letters. In my letter I wrote the following: "I encourage you to consider replacing Mr. Ackerman with someone who can gain the respect of the entire spectrum of Nevada County residents." The words "encourage" and "consider" do not equate with a "demand," or even a demanding tone. In my "cover email" to others, I wrote: "If this argument is presented to the management people at Swift Newspapers, and echoed by a fair number of Nevada County residents, they might actually take the suggestion of replacing Jeff seriously." Again, usingthe word "suggestion" is very far from indicating a demand.

4. You say there is "an un-American whiff" to my "crusade." You don't explain very well why you think this to be true, but I infer that it has something to do with a mistaken belief that I oppose Ackerman's right to express his opinion. In my letter, I went out of my way to emphasize that I support Mr. Ackerman's right to his opinion: "Of course it is Mr. Ackerman's prerogative to express his opinion in his own signed columns and the paper's editorials--and if that's all that he did I would have no quarrel with him, despite that fact I disagree with his political positions most of the time." In addition, since democracy is as fundamental an American ideal as freedom, criticizing Mr. Ackerman's role in squelching participation in government and in creating barriers to civil community dialogue should be considered patriotic.

5. Rather than deal with any of my criticisms directly, you chose the intellectually dishonest route of distorting them beyond recognition. You don't strike me as a person who has difficulty with reading comprehension, so I have to assume that your distortions and misrepresentations are deliberate and intended to deceive your readers.

5a. You paraphrase my critique of Ackerman's tendency to increase divisiveness in the community with the following: "since Ackerman has different views than Engles, he is being divisive." This statement has absolutely no relationship to anything I wrote in my letter. First, as mentioned above, I acknowledged Ackerman's right to have and express views different from mine. Second, I devoted two paragraphs of my letter to explaining how Jeff's columns increase divisiveness by helping to create an environment in which constructive dialogue becomes increasingly difficult because "each side sees the other as a caricature of its real self." This argument is completely independent from any differences of opinion on the issues.

5b. You say that my letter to Swift claimed that Ackerman "keeps counterviews out of the paper." As you note, it would be ridiculous for anyone to make this claim, and I did not do so. Perhaps you were (inappropriately) extrapolating from the paragraph in which I wrote that Ackerman did not give Mr. Conklin the chance to defend himself. I have recently become aware that I was in error on this point--on the day Conklin's defense was published, I was away on vacation and did not read the paper. If I had known that Conklin had this opportunity, I would have written something like this: "The candidate got to rebut the charges, but this was like training a howitzer on him and then handing him a slingshot. After that, Ackerman continued his assault." The basic point--that Ackerman pursued a relentless campaign of character assassination--is still the same, and doesn't depend on opportunities for defense. Further, nothing in this paragraph was intended to even suggest the idea that keeping counterviews out of the paper generally was part of my criticism. (In connection with this point, you should know that I am grateful that the Union has published most of the columns and letters I have submitted. In the past, in recognition that the Union's opinion page policies allow many opinions to be voiced, I actually defended the Union when friends gave their very low opinions of it.)

5c. You say that I claim "Ackerman's role extends beyond the opinion page to include story selection, wording of headlines, etc." Another fraudulent distortion. I said that some stories show Jeff's influence. That's different. And if you'll examine the paragraph in question, you will note that the sentence that mentions selection of stories and wording of headlines does not contain Mr. Ackerman's name; instead, the grammatical subject in the main clause is "the Union." In the last sentence, I used the word "influence" with regard to Jeff very deliberately because of the breadth of possibility it allows in explaining the link between Jeff and the paper's political slant. The paper does have slant (are you going to claim that Arne Hoel doesn't tell his rich and powerful conservative friends that he is proud to own papers that put forth a conservative view?) and as publisher of the paper, Jeff must have influence over that slant. And he doesn't have to attend news meetings to exert it. He exerted it by hiring you, and he exerts it by creating unwritten expectations among the staff about how to present the news. (I see now that you probably took this paragraph of mine very personally, and I'm sorry if that's the case; but having an emotional reaction to it doesn't excuse you from responsibility for presenting an accurate rendition of what I wrote.)

6. You failed to acknowledge or engage with my major points. By mentioning only secondary points such as the critique of Jeff's influence over the news, you misrepresented the essence of my message to Swift--which was that Mr. Ackerman is a failure as a community leader, renders his opinions in ways that should be embarrasing to an ethical journalist, and alienates a large number of people who might otherwise be Union readers.

So, are you going to allow me to present a condensation of this rebuttal in print, or are you going to prove that you too are a worthy target for a replacement campaign?

-Eric Engles
Nov. 11: Editor has offered Engles 300 words to respond.As of Nov. 3, the editor has not responded to this request for space in the paper to rebut the editor's claims.

On the Editor, credit where credit is usually due: while publisher does not deign to respond to emails, editor has - usually - responded with minimal delay and answered my questions in some fashion. Sometimes he's cranky as hell, but he answers.

Disclosure: I believe I corresponded with E.E. about a year ago, and we spoke on the phone about the current incident, but to my recollection we've never met.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Excluding your readers from the reality-based community

Nov. 9: thought better of it, removed note at bottom

What do you do when you're out to bring someone down, but the facts don't turn out in your favor? Bury them, knowing that casual readers won't notice?

Last Tuesday's Union column under the publisher's byline is extra-long, a condemnation of [C]:
[since starting this] I(publisher)’ve been threatened, picketed and have been asked to resign...
I believe there is sufficient information to warrant an investigation by the grand jury, district attorney or attorney general to determine if [C] violated Government Code Section 1090, the state’s conflict of interest law.

If it was "foreseeable" that [C] could have gone to work for the Land Trust when he voted three months earlier to give the Trust more than a half-million dollars (and it certainly seems possible that it was, in fact, "foreseeable"), the county contract could be voided and the Trust asked to return the $508,000. If [C] knew when he voted that he would eventually work for the Trust, he could be guilty of a felony and possibly jailed. That’s how serious this issue is.
Who asked for [publisher]'s resignation? Were the threats personal threats, or just threats to withhold advertising? Why does the column omit material facts (e.g., intent of incoming supervisors, or who allowed the North Star House to deteriorate so badly, and why) and slant others (minor examples: comparing self-employed earnings against former salary to imply they should be equal, disregarding influence of benefits and overhead on the latter; referring to roofing contractor as 'friend', when it's been established that bid was accepted without knowing contractor's identity) ?
Unfortunately, [publisher] does not even acknowledge your correspondent's email, so NCFocus is not likely to find out.

Also on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors met to go over the Land Trust's accounting of the North Star project (of which [C] was manager). Note the differing perspectives from The Union's and Yubanet's headline writers as to what's "news":

Front (moving to back) page article from The Union, Crowd defends Land Trust:
Three paragraphs about the crowd;
Then two paragraphs on the background of the situation;
Then, once we've moved to the back page:
County Counsel Robert Shulman authored a memo this week that found, based on current evidence, [C's] hiring by the Land Trust did not violate any laws governing conflict of interest for public officials.

From Yubanet, Glitch Hunt at Nevada County BOS Comes Up Empty is a more extensive report, with a more informative headline.

(Don't blame reporter; keep in mind that headlines are written by copy editors, not by reporters.)


For reference, although not very helpful: California Code (Section 1090):
Members of the Legislature, state, county, district, judicial district, and city officers or employees shall not be financially interested in any contract made by them in their official capacity, or by any body or board of which they are members...

Tuesday, October 26, 2004


Three Two essays that are required reading.

Added Oct 31:
An honest look behind the curtain:

In PressThink, Jay Rosen brings us former NYT reporter Doug McGill's The Fading Mystique of an Objective Press, an abridged? edited? version of McGill's The End of Objectivity. Go. Read.

Rosen:"One of [McGill's] main points is the press needs to get better in the pattern recognition department:"
... After all, you [journalist] are using a cookie cutter, but they [who you cover] may actually be thinking, and planning, and strategizing. And so they may wreak the very unfairness, imbalance, or partiality that you rationalize your cookie cutter story mold is designed to prevent.
and (McGill):
The uncorrupted ideal of objectivity, in the sense of reporters driving to dig out verified facts and present them fully and fairly, is indispensable in journalism. Unmasking its nefarious twin - an omnipresent and abused pseudo-objectivity - is what I would like to do.

...reaching moral destinations is not at all like reaching geographical ones. It’s a lot tougher to be a good parent, than it is to drive to, and successfully arrive in, Chicago.

Unlike successfully arriving in Chicago, if you are trying to be objective in the true and pure sense, you need to frequently check yourself that you are not rationalizing, not being lazy, not skipping over the tough bits with a high-toned excuse. Whenever you say to yourself as a journalist, "I fell short but at least I tried," you need also to immediately ask, "Am I just rationalizing the fact that I’m sinning over and over and over?"

Ed Cone holds up the mirror for the rest of us, in Don't talk while I'm interrupting:
I'm offering up this guide to modern political speech. It's a bipartisan, multimedia template that works for any point of view on the partisan spectrum, in any venue.
You are not just wrong, you and those like you are intellectually insufficient and morally suspect...

"You just don't understand" author Deborah Tannen in Christian Science Monitor (part of a series) last week with insights on life, the universe, and why our political discourse is so poor - We need higher quality outrage:
When there's a ruckus in the street outside your home, you fling open the window to see what's happening. But if there's a row outside every night, you shut the window and try to block it out. That's what's happening in our public discourse. With all the shouting, we have less, rather than more, genuine opposition - the kind that is the bedrock on which democracy rests.

Agonism grows out of our conviction that opposition is the best, if not the only, path to truth. In this view, the best way to explore an idea is a debate that requires opponents to marshal facts and arguments for one side, and ignore, ridicule, or otherwise undermine facts and arguments that support the other side.
In many European countries, heated political discussions are commonplace and enjoyed; most Americans regard such conversations as unseemly arguments...As a result, we aren't forced to articulate - and therefore examine - the logic of our views, nor are we exposed to the views of those with whom we disagree.

Monday, October 25, 2004

On headlines

Nov. 11: What makes a good headline

Why newspapers should 'fess up to not just errors of fact, but misleading headlines as well:

David Ogilvy:
On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.

EyeTrack study:
With a headline larger than the blurb and on a separate line, people tended to view the headlines and skip the blurbs; they scanned the headlines throughout the page more than the group that looked at the smaller headlines.

Researchers believe that it is the contrast in type size that accounts for this behavior, as well as the type size itself. When a headline is larger than its accompanying blurb text, it's perceived as the important element of the headline-blurb block -- so people appear to decide that viewing the headline is sufficient and they skip the blurb.

Eric Umansky::
Headline writers-typically copy editors-have an obligation to give readers the most accurate sense possible of an article's conclusions...They're frequently failing.

Joshua Marshall of Talking Points Memo, in another context: hardly seems to merit the headline -- which, as it so often does, ends up shaping the reaction to the story...

From now-shuttered Whiskey Bar
The story itself, however, tells a much more complex story than the Times copy desk saw fit to capture in the head -- either out of editorial bias or because a harried copy editor ignored the old journalistic rule about reading more than just the first couple of paragraphs before slapping a headline on a story

Here's an example
Schwarzenegger, Tribes Sign New Gambling Pact
LA Times says Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today signed new gambling compacts with representatives of five Indian tribes, securing a $1-billion payment to the state this year, helping to close the coming year's fiscal budget gap.
[Further reading finds it's misleading:]
[Schwarzenegger] caved in and negotiated a deal to get a lousy $60 million or so per year from the tribes, less than 5% of what he claimed he could get during the campaign. And then he blew 18 years worth of the money all at once for this year's budget.

It's just more smoke and mirrors. But the headlines will all say he got a billion dollars.

Another here
It was the headline rather than the story under it that sparked readers' ire, Bottomly says. "That's obviously the one thing that readers really focused on and we were wrong... It's possible if readers see the word 'affair' in the headline they might see that as an indication we're downplaying the seriousness of what occurred..."

Friday, October 22, 2004

Links from afar, with local relevance

Found while visiting North Carolina yesterday:

Grantmakers should leave critical decisions to nonprofits:
I absolutely agree that philanthropists need to hold their grantees accountable and ensure that money is used in a fiscally sound way. However, accountability should not mean, "Here is my money and I want you to use this money to focus on this one project because that's all I'm interested in supporting." This approach is shortsighted and discounts the responsibilities and fundamental expertise of executive directors at nonprofits.

Nonprofit directors are typically passionate, caring and committed people determined to make a difference in their community. They are usually more knowledgeable about their issues than anyone else since they are the ones living and breathing their causes every day. Let's give them the credit they deserve and empower them to make critical issue-related decisions without interference from well-intentioned grantors.

The following may or may not have local relevance; I know nothing. However, it is of local interest.
Also, am having second thoughts about the accusation - it does seem like Rashomon territory, where it's possible for the different players to have different views. (although according to the writer, others confirm that there's been pressure from above):

"Independent" editorials

Two newspaper owned by news conglomerate Media General recently published bizarre editorials where they scolded President Bush for his record but then fell short of endorsing Kerry.
And it is becoming pretty clear that the reason behind it was commands from corporate headquarters to not support Kerry.
The Winston-Salem Journal...published a bizarre non-endorsement of Kerry....The editorial takes Bush to task on a number of poor decisions and makes it clear that he should not be re-elected. But the Journal didn't take that extra step and endorse Kerry. They cited vague uncertainty about Kerry and then petered out in the end.
"Each newspaper is locally operated by the editorial team," [Media General spokesman] said. "It's a local decision in each case."
"Whereas our editorial decisions day to day are completely our own, there is - when it comes to presidential elections - we understand that Media General newspapers have a set of values and views and a philosophy that sort of determines who we choose to endorse," [editorial page editor] said.
here is a company - that is in the business of reporting the truth - lying (or perhaps not; see comment above)to a reporter. This is the same kind of activity that...papers are supposed to be exposing in other companies.
From afar in the fourth dimension, Mark Twain remarks:
Journalism is the one solitary respectable profession which honors theft (when committed in the pecuniary interest of a journal) and admires the thief....However, these same journals combat despicable crimes quite valiantly - when committed in other quarters.
(It's relevant in illustrating that what's sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander, from the newspaper's perspective.)

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Recent buzz on Nevada City, and County

Nice, balanced (in a good way) article by Tim Holt in the Bee last Sunday, Cappuccino vs. the cowboys (or perhaps here) -
Welcome to the Cappuccino West, where cowboys and loggers are giving way to artists, writers, high-tech entrepreneurs and retirees - where a town like Nevada City, once known for its booming gold mines and rowdy redneck bars, now boasts art galleries, theaters and circuit design labs...The transformation of both towns began in the early '70s, when a wave of back-to-the-land hippies arrived with a jolt. This quickly led to frequent confrontations between the long-haired invaders and the locals, especially the crewcut loggers who worked long hours at grueling jobs and who had little sympathy with those who had no jobs at all.
Differing values: On the one hand, an emphasis on recreation and aesthetics; on the other, a working relationship with the natural environment. Communal stewardship on the one hand; profits and private property values on the other. When people with these different perspectives start dwelling side by side, it is an almost certain recipe for conflict...
And conflict we have.
It's fascinating - but not always pleasant - to watch ecological succession occurring in your community, knowing that while with effort you can shift it, there's no way to stop it. And, just as with economic dislocation due to job shifts, it's much easier to be stoic about the inevitability of change when your peers aren't the ones being squashed by it - we have "the human capacity for courage in the face of pain felt by strangers."(*) The swells are invading Nevada City, the riche (nouveau or not) are popping up all over the countryside, and ostentation runs amok.

Jim Hurley took an interesting physical view of Nevada County last month, in Thermodynamics and quality of life:
We are once again hearing a cry for affordable housing for the less affluent and jobs for our children, lest they are forced to leave the county....

[But] There are no barriers that allow us to insulate ourselves from the rest of the state. A drawbridge is not an option...We live in a free-flowing environment, both economically and demographically, in which an equilibrium is established through a flux of people who are seeking to maximize their quality of life.

If we achieve a greatly superior position, we will have to raise the drawbridge; how else can we see that it is _our_ workers who win these jobs and our _own_ children who enjoy newly affordable housing? But there is no drawbridge; in this liquid society, the net effect will be population growth and eventually return to our present equilibrium state in housing and jobs with respect to the rest of the state. Soon we are back where we started but with a density increase to cope with...

We need solutions that are real, not just spinning our wheels and making matters worse. One solution is that chosen by ski resorts at Tahoe, where housing is provided by employers for their workers. Another solution has been suggested: It is time to initiate the New Town...
I say thumbs up on both of these plans.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Ted Gaebler was here; The Union facilitated his departure

Updated with responses from editor to questions. And you, reader - please report any errors, so they can be corrected.

The Union's current editor didn't arrive until early Sept. 2002.

Civic journalism it wasn't.

Ted Gaebler - co-author of Reinventing Government - was Nevada County's county administrator through Fall 2002, until the "old guard" - who, apparently, had made it clear* that they'd dump him if given the opportunity (a fact that The Union did not share with its readers, to my knowledge) - regained a majority on the Board of Supervisors and informed him that his services were no longer needed.

(From earlier post: This is the same "old guard" who wanted to look into spending Dryden Wilson's "open space" bequest for non-open-space purposes.)

Some background on Gaebler's tenets, from a May 1995 Inc Magazine article:
Government works better when it steers than when it rows. The steer-row metaphor comes from Reinventing Government (Addison-Wesley, 1992), by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler. They mean that as a general rule government should not focus -- or get bogged down in -- operations. "Steering," they say, "requires people who see the entire universe of issues and possibilities and can balance competing demands for resources. Rowing requires people who focus intently on one mission and perform it well. Steering organizations need to find the best methods to achieve their goals. Rowing organizations tend to defend 'their' method at all costs." Private-sector rowers that defend outmoded and inefficient methods at all costs usually go out of business, which frees up the resources they were using to work someplace else. Obsolete public-sector rowers, in contrast, just keep wasting the public's money.

Insightful. Uncontroversial, no? (We certainly needed a change at the county; morale and effectiveness were in poor shape before Gaebler came.)

No. While the progressive Board of Supervisors majority (including Bruce Conklin) hired and supported Gaebler, the county's old power base - which took back majority control of the Board, by the slimmest of margins, in November 2002 - wanted him out.

From The Union in Dec. 2002, on Gaebler's departure:
Gaebler has been under almost constant attack since his arrival - over an employee retreat that was a tradition long before he arrived; over his salary; over his annual bonus. In the [Nov 2002] election campaign that was hypercharged by the NH 2020 planning controversy, every comma and paragraph of his contract was analyzed and vilified by those opposed to the incumbent candidates.

Not mentioned in this editorial was the major role The Union itself had played, by providing the venue and tacit encouragement for these attacks. It hadn't explicitly taken sides ( "we offer the memo without comment"); also without comment, it had published letters like this -
Gaebler was hired after our county leaders did a nationwide search for the best of the best. Translated, that means everyone in Nevada County was too stupid to qualify for the position and I'm sure he thinks we're dopey enough to buy this [department heads'] retreat nonsense...let's collect whatever money is needed to ensure that he have the ultimate bonding experience of his lifetime ... a one-way ticket to Afghanistan!
The Union's publisher had commented, as follows:
Speaking of more government ... I heard that the county manager wrote a book about reinventing government. Then I read about the retreat to Placer County that cost taxpayers a good chunk of change [ .01% of yearly budget, I've read] and wondered if I really wanted him to reinvent my government. It sounds very expensive.

In the run-up to the Nov. 2002 election, I don't recall seeing any mention in The Union that the "old guard" candidates aimed to remove Gaebler. If The Union had publicized this fact, it probably would have changed more than the 19 votes by which the Board of Supervisors' majority was changed - and we'd still have Ted Gaebler, if he could still stomach us.

The candidates' intent ("...if [B] and [S] are elected...their first order of our county administrator, Ted Gaebler") was known**, and written up, by a regular columnist for The Union; but it ended up getting published over on Yubanet instead, because The Union refused to publish it*** (Editor "requested that [columnist] not write [his] last column about the election") two weeks before the election. (Read the column; it gives a good picture of what is at risk up here.)

Once Gaebler was leaving, the paper expressed some remorse:
We will miss Ted Gaebler. Nevada County was lucky to have him, even for only three years...we worry about a throwback to the bad old days...
Not that it did the community much good, at that point. The damage had been done.


Just for reference:
Table of Contents for Osborne and Gaebler's Reinventing Government:
Catalytic government: steering rather than rowing -- Community-owned government: empowering rather than serving -- Competitive government: injecting competition into service delivery -- Mission-driven government: transforming rule-driven organizations -- Results-oriented government: funding outcomes, not inputs -- Customer-driven government: meeting the needs of the customer, not the bureaucracy -- Enterprising government: earning rather than spending -- Anticipatory government: prevention rather than cure -- Decentralized government: leveraging change through the market --Putting it all together.

* But not clear enough for your correspondent, who was too dense to realize that the ceaseless attacks on Gaebler meant that the attacking faction really would boot him out at the earliest opportunity; it took reading the column on Yubanet to achieve enlightenment. Thanks to Yubanet, once again, for informing its readership. (From Andrew Cline of Rhetorica: "The loss of 2-paper towns in America is, to my way of thinking, a civic catastrophe." - Yubanet keeps our county from being resigned to this fate.)

**In email Editor implies he did not know of the plan (does this mean he didn't read the column?):
The first I knew about it was after the election when Gaebler came into the office and told us about his departure. We ran a story at that time.
*** Why the refusal to publish? From editor, Oct 21 2004 email: "we had put a moratorium on political Other Voices [columns] in the weeks leading up to the election..."
Why the moratorium?
Editor, Oct 26 2004 email: "The 2002 moratorium, if there was one, was decided before I joined The Union, so I can't answer your question."

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Focus on The Union's publisher

Jan 20: added 'title' tag to "year of columns" link.
Misc cleanup Nov. 7,12, including new "false equivalence" quote. Also see "Engles' letter to Swift" summary post.

This post documents some of the more egregious sins over a period of more than two years. It is not a random sample, but it is characteristic. Follow the links, read the columns, read the other columns, make up your own mind.
(Here are a full year of columns)

We have a media oxymoron in Nevada County: our local newspaper The Union has grown into the Shiva of our community.

During his tenure here, The Union's publisher has written several fine - and surprising - columns - among them Listen to the SMART GROWTHERS, and a reaction to Abu Ghraib.

But still - overall, he's been a divider, not a uniter. Here are some of his other writings, and their contexts:


Let's you and he fight

During the period - Summer 2002 - when "Citizen H" (in Oct 13 post) was characterizing the state of the community (with prescience) as follows:
...symptoms of the same "diseases" are metastasizing here - something terribly wrong is happening in Nevada County - as can be seen by the bitter polarization of our community as evidenced in the pages of this newspaper.
- The Union's publisher humorously set forth guidelines for letters to the editor as follows:
...this election year has generally lacked a sense of humor. None of the candidates are particularly funny....[Keep letters short:] let's say you wanted to bash [candidate R] for her apparent inability to handle her finances. ...with some good editing, you could cut that down to "[R] wouldn't know a checkbook if it climbed up her shirt...Or...let's say you wanted to say something really mean about [candidate I]...[Your letter can be longer if it's funny;] I've been dying for a good laugh...[Candidate DB]'s black helicopter conspiracy doesn't count as funny....

June 1 2004, publisher lamented absence of civility in community *:'s too bad the so-called "Women In Black" anti-war protesters felt the need to protest during a recent Board of Supervisors meeting at the Rood Administrative Center that was designed to recognize our men and women in uniform.
[He also mentioned the Repub. Central Committee head's email which had led followers to threaten violence]
I bring both of these events up to illustrate how our community has been polarized by both the far right and far left**. I'm certain there are many in the middle as tired as I am of these extremists. Maybe we'll even start to hear from some of them on our Opinion pages one of these days. Voices of reason. Voices without screeches. Voices of respect and dignity. They're out there somewhere, just waiting to be heard.


...many publications prefer to correct the record via "rowback," [defined as] "a story that attempts to correct a previous story without indicating that the prior story had been in error or without taking responsibility for the error."

**False equivalence:
...false equivalence belongs in the trash heap of discredited journalistic shortcuts...In its most common form, it amounts to a reporter holding up actions on both sides as equally blameworthy, when it's clear that no such equivalence exists.


June 15 2004, publisher humorously addressed Republican Central Committee head's email inciting the 'troops (who had responded by threatening violence):
...The meeting was eventually moved after McAteer and the event organizer received several angry phone calls.

[RCC head]'s e-mail is a glaring example of all that's wrong in Nevada County today...And I blame e-mail for that.

From James Smith -
A sharp publisher in the newspaper business knows that readers care about their community and if readers know the paper cares, too, they are going to care about the paper.


Better to give

Enraged golfing readers by portraying them as wimps for not tolerating heckling (later, somewhat calmer followup column here); a reader responds, as does an employee, and another reader.


...than to receive

Did not appreciate having his newspaper dissed by Michael Moore.

Subsequently devoted an editorial to cannng Cannes for giving the nod to Moore - neglecting to mention just why a foreign film festival should merit editorial criticism from a small-town American paper like The Union.

Spent an entire column lambasting Fahrenheit 911 while announcing that he had no intention of seeing it; again, not mentioning the personal connection.

From the June 1 column. Your task: find the mention of threats of violence.
An anti-war group wanted to have a meeting at the Nevada County Superintendent's office on a Saturday to offer alternatives to military service. It was a pretty innocent-sounding thing, really. Anyone interested in attending could do so of his or her own free will.

But, after reading about the planned meeting, [RCC Head] sent an e-mail alert titled "Peacenicks" to members, warning that a "Peace Group of Anti-Americans and al Quida (misspelled) supporters are holding their rally and training at the Nevada County School Superintendent's office."

He encouraged members to contact schools' chief [TM], a Republican, to "tell him how you feel about allowing this traitorous activity to occur on Nevada County School owned property."

The event was eventually moved to a different location.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Kovach and Rosenstiel on responsible investigative journalism

To help you evaluate The Union's recent series on North Star - Bruce Conklin - Land Trust (See Oct 10 and Oct 7 posts), here are Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel (Vice Chairman and Chairman, respectively, of the Committee of Concerned Journalists) in The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect (p. 123):
Investigative Reporting as Prosecution

Though all reporting involves investigation, what we have come to understand as investigative journalism adds a moral dimension. It engages the public to come to judgment about the disclosure and implies that the news organization considers it important - worthy of special effort. In that sense, investigative reporting involves not simply casting light on a subject, but usually making a more prosecutorial case that something is wrong. Here journalists should be careful they have enough evidence to do so, especially since often pieces can be structured as either exposes or news stories....An expose is in effect a prosecutor's brief and the case it sets forth must be unambiguous; if the story does not meet this test, it should be written as something else. important issue that arises with the investigative model: the news outlet is taking an implied stance on the issue that some wrongdoing has occurred. This is why investigative journalism has been termed..."reporting with a sense of outrage"...Because what the investigative journalism discloses may lead to loss of reputation or change the flow of public events, it carries a greater weight of responsibility, not only in verification of fact but in sharing information about the nature of the sources of that information.

It is not clear that The Union has met these standards.

For reference: the Committee of Concerned Journalists' Citizens Bill of Journalism Rights

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Postcard from a SwiftNews tourist

To get a better feeling for what is and is not common practice (and by extension, whether website features that minimize the appearance of opposition were likely to have been implemented deliberately), I went looking at other SwiftNews newspaper websites; most of them seem to use a similar, though not identical, website template as The Union's.

Special virtual award to the Greeley Tribune's site, for three reasons:
  1. They show they care about their site users: rather than silently provide incomplete information, they've posted this message on their Archives page:
    MAINTENANCE NOTICE: You may may have difficulty finding articles when searching by keyword. While we work to resolve this issue, try searching by date or for a word or words that appeared in the headline. We apologize for the inconvenience.
    The Tribune Technical Staff
  2. Their editor has a weblog, Virtual Greality, in which he does the usual "editor's column" stuff, but in addition,
  3. he provides his readers with "the civic gestures we call links" relating to the topic at hand, even to 'outside' sites like other newspapers (e.g. in this post).

    No comments section, but if his community is anything like ours that's exceedingly wise.

Another SwiftNews paper, the News-Review in Oregon, has a group weblog - which might end up working better, since it shares the work[for no pay]load among several people. They used it to warn their readers as early as Oct 11 that their website was having problems.

With respect to treatment of aging letters to the editor, I only checked out the Greeley Tribune. It is simultaneously less informative, more consistent, and less misleading than The Union - in that:
  • Unlike The Union, when you use "Search for a specific date", none of their letters to the editor show up in it.
  • on the other hand, unlike The Union, none of their letters show up in it - there isn't (as there is with The Union) a group of "second-class-citizen" letters that's hidden, while the presence of other letters leads you to think that you're not missing anything.

So, what does this tell us about nefarious motives of 'chortling cigar smoking back-newsroom cronies' (lurid fictional imagery) in Grass Valley?

Answer: It tells us that there's enough variation in handling of letters that the selective-slide-into-invisibility of letters critical of The Union's coverage is not likely to have been deliberate. But I can't help but think that, were the Greeley Tribune faced with a similar situation, then - just as they took the extra step to inform their readers about the Search problem - they would likewise make an effort to report the community response in less evanescent* manner. They seem to "regard the reader as a master to be served"**.


* Wrong word. Request: if you run across a better one, send it my way.
** John Carroll quote

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The editorial that spoke for itself

Oct 21, minor edits...

In my view, this was one of The Union's more obvious attempts to manipulate its readers.

This is a recap and close reading of The Union's editorial that appeared just before last spring's election; to anyone who was paying attention at the time, it won't be new. However, it's more terse (than NCFocus coverage back in Feb and March) and has the benefit of perhaps greater understanding.

I'm bringing it up again for two reasons:
1. The same two candidates are facing off again next month (because there was a third candidate in the race last spring, neither got a majority); the more prolific candidate's writing is extremely revealing, when juxtaposed with what he's responding to.
2. The Union's treatment of this case may shed some light on its recent "North Star Controversy" coverage.

If you want to skip the background, go here.


  • First candidate for the election presents himself as moderate, which is very much at odds with his pre-candidacy writings.

  • Newspaper soft-pedals the discrepancy*.

  • Second candidate points out the discrepancy.

  • Newspaper castigates second candidate for having done so, in an editorial whose logical justification the editor refuses to discuss*, saying "the editorial speaks for itself".

Let's call the two sparring candidates [B] and [D].
(To help you keep them straight - [B] as in "boy", [D] as in "daughter".)

[Recap from this Feb. post:]
On July 4 2002, before becoming a candidate, [B] writes: (Please compare with the pieces he refers to)
Citizen H and Citizen L took us to a new low of mean-spiritedness in these pages with their recent fairy tales attacking the character of Supervisor [DB]. Their effluvium-laden columns, utterly barren of responsible commentary...
This writing was not out of character for [B] the pre-candidate*

Fast-forward 1 1/2 years:
In spring of 2004, when running for office, [B] was interviewed by newspaper:
[candidate says that it is] his ability to build consensus that makes him the best candidate...
he was disappointed by the polarization and divisiveness among the board [in Fall 2002]. 'It was so hateful'...
This [self-presentation as a moderate] was typical for [B] as candidate.

In The Union's Q&A, the editorial board questioned him gently on the disparity of tone:
[B]: "...I don’t think the atmosphere of the county is as healthy as it could be in terms of mutual respect, civility and trust."
The Union: You were writing opinion columns for The Union during the NH 2020 controversy. Were you trying to be a voice of reason then?

[B]: I wrote a column debunking another guy’s column about a different issue, and I think the second column I wrote was about NH 2020 -that was a kind of a vehicle. I was saying it was a matter of trust, and it was a matter of our being able to get along. I don’t know if I used the word consensus or not, but that’s where it started.

The Union: Looking through some of your columns, you did throw around terms, labels - "environmentalists," "left wing."

[B]: I don’t think they are inconsistent at all. If you go back and look at what I was writing in that column - that was pretty hard-hitting language, I admit. But there was a motivation for it by a certain two or three parties, and I think it was accurate.

[Recap from Feb 29 post]
The week before the election, [D]'s campaign (Unnecessarily bad timing**, D - looked sleazy.) sent out a mailer with quotes from [B], taken from columns, debates, interviews, illustrating the difference in tone. Some were weak; some (like "effluvium-laden") were strong.

The Union, in their final editorial before the election, said roughly "All the candidates are qualified and we're not going to endorse any but we were sadly disappointed in [D]'s conduct in sending the mailer because it...
...misuses partial quotes by her opponent, [B]. Some are blurbs from columns written for The Union two years ago, which, by design, were point-counterpoint comments about opposing columnists' views, not about [D] or issues relevant to 2004. Others are taken from [B]'s recent interview with the Editorial Board which, when read in context, offer a different meaning. No doubt the same results could be achieved by selecting 'sound bites' from [D]'s transcript."

How can this be? What planet do they live on? [D] does not write (anything) remotely resembling [B]'s pre-candidate rants; is editorial board lying through its teeth?

No, it is not.

Go back, and read the excerpt closely.
Note that "Others...offer a different meaning in context..." and "No doubt the same results could be achieved..." refer to the quotes gleaned from the interview only; not to the mailer as a whole, or to either candidate's writings.

They're writing about the weak quotes only; they're marginalizing the strong ones ("not relevant to issues in this campaign", they say, although one might think that the future direction of the county would be considered an issue in this campaign), and ignoring the valid overarching message that the mailer conveys, namely that candidate [B] is misrepresenting himself.

To recycle a quote from Nate over at Dan Gillmor's -
It's a common [less than completely straightforward] argumentative technique, used by all sides in all contexts when you don't have an answer for the key issues, to pick on small errors on the edges while ignoring the elephant in the middle.

I believe The Union's editorial board misled those readers who expected the paper to take seriously its journalistic responsibility to improve the map of reality each of us uses for our own decisionmaking***: what readers needed was serious judgement as to whether [D]'s mailer contained legitimate evidence that her opponent was not the moderate he presented himself to be, but they didn't get it from The Union.


Oct 21: Fafblog weighs in:
Q: Is there an elephant in this room?
A: Of course not! How could we miss an elephant in the room? That's so crazy! You've been listening to crazy rumors about crazy elephants on the crazy internet, that's what we think.
Q: Then what's that huge gray animal in the corner with the large flappy ears and prehensile trunk surrounded by heaps of elephant feed, elephant dung, and a sign reading "Do Not Touch The Elephant"?
A: That is an armadillo...

*(Added Oct 18:)
Howard Kurtz in Wash Post:
Whatever their orientation, journalists are the last line of defense against public deception. If they fail to challenge distortions by politicians, they might as well join the stenography pool.

*In fairness, Editor's unwillingness to justify the editorial was expressed generally, as policy for _all_ editorials; i.e., this one wasn't getting special treatment.

**Thanks to Stephen Waters for the most excellent "improve the map of reality" expression.

**On the general topic of last-minute hit pieces, I have to agree with Andrew Greenberg (somewhere in here)
the trick here is in the timing -- proving that they have no faith in their arguments, foisting the piece upon an unknowing public at the 11th hour of the election. An honest broker of ideas would do so in the light of day, where the idea can truly win the election if proper, and where it can be amplified, diminished, contradicted or buttressed as a matter of public discourse.

It's pretty disappointing when someone with a valid message resorts to the last-minute approach anyway.


*Here are [B]'s "pre-candidacy" columns: (if I've missed any, please let me know)

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

What would Margaret Wade think?

Chris Satullo paraphrased from inside PressThink:
[The real job of journalism is] helping the public life of this nation work well...

and, later on:
Public life goes well when people have multiple, useful forums to identify the problems that affect their lives together in community, when their dialogue is civil and robust, and leads to the hope of solutions. Public life goes well when people know about and know how to use the instititions that are civic glue of the community. Public life goes well when elections are about the issues most on the mind of the electorate, when the voters voice helps frame the choices and the debate, and the candidates are required to respond to that voice.

Jeff Jarvis could be writing about us.

The Union needs a mom at the helm. We had one, once; we miss her.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

How should you form your mental map of reality?

Feel free to skip the plodding generalities and jump to the local content of this post.

This question has been coming up a lot lately - with the CBS News-Dan Rather letters, with Iraq, with Swiftboats, with The Union.

Unfortunately, it doesn't have a simple answer. If you rely solely on your own experiences and perceptions, your reality map might end up being extremely accurate, but it will take form extremely slowly - this is like insisting on building the house yourself before you move in, cutting the trees for the logs for the beams yourself, forging your own tools...In short, it's neither desirable nor attainable. We need others to provide us with the parts we need - we need to outsource much of our decisionmaking, we need others to inform us.

When we put the job of "Information provider" out for bid, we'll have plenty of takers: we can hire consultants, ask friends, get told by busybodies, read weblogs, read newspapers...but then we're faced with a new problem - who will do the best job? Some of them aren't competent, and can't do as good a job as well as we would (if we had the time) (of these, some can hide it well, some can't); some - perhaps serving two masters - might have their own reasons for not doing it properly; on the other end the spectrum, many are experts, who know the lay of the land far better than we and who can effortlessly produce top quality results.

How do we judge who to hire? We want the ones who are honest and have a good track record, who are sharp, who use good tools, who are dedicated, who are straight with us about what they can and can't provide. While they might not be able to provide exactly what we want, they shouldn't engage in deliberate omissions or misinformation.
[Obvious disclaimer: this is an ideal, nobody's perfect, everything's relative, etc.]

How can we judge whether they have these qualities?

One way is to listen to how they say they'll inform us, and see if it sounds like what we want. This method has two drawbacks - first, what they may mean might not be what we hear, and second, they may have the words down but be less strong on the execution, i.e. inflate their qualities beyond what's real. (in the absence of an objective metric for evaluation - or a good referee - this is bound to happen, like grade inflation in universities.)

So the words are good, but they're not enough. We need to look at how they do, not just how they talk.

But how can we know how they do? they're the experts, we're not.

Here are three methods:
  • Outsource the judging - in effect, hire a widely acknowledged (or at least disinterested) expert - perhaps an ombudsman, or a book reviewer, or an accredited institution - to judge the performance of our expert.
  • Back-seat driving - try, through reading, to learn about what our expert's results should look like, and try to judge based on that. But here, we don't know if we've learned enough to judge properly.
  • Calibrate - see what the expert says about, and how s/he handles, a case that you understand well. Here you can measure how well they perform, and extrapolate from this measurement to infer how well they're likely to do on cases that you don't understand well.

The problem I had with the North Star Controversy involved judging the experts - I didn't know who to believe.

On the one hand, Richard Somerville and Jeff Ackerman, editor and publisher of The Union respectively, appear steadfast in their conviction that Conklin behaved wrongly, and - I infer, since I haven't seen them retract it - in their conviction that he and the Land Trust hatched a deal ("How the plans were laid") long before Conklin got the job. If a newspaper editor is convinced, you'd think that this fact shouldn't be treated lightly.

On the other hand, Bruce Conklin (who I think I've only met once) appears - by reputation from people I respect, and by all actions that I know of - to have the utmost integrity.

On the other hand, money is a powerful motivator.

On the other hand (hoof?), politics as practiced by certain parties up here in Nevada County are far from clean; if some of Conklin's opponents had an opportunity to 'take him out' by smearing, they'd do it.

What initially tipped the balance for me was having an ideal opportunity to outsource the judging - if Andy Cassano, a 'widely acknowledged expert' (i.e. an ethical person who knows the participants well) says the Land Trust behaved completely ethically, that's convincing.

And yet, accepting Cassano's view would entail inferring that Somerville and Ackerman have been misled or are poorly informed or deceptive, and - having never met them at all, except via email - that's not a conclusion I would want to make.

So your correspondent would be an utter waffler, except that The Union's website appears to sheds some light, by enabling calibration.

Go to The Union's North Star Controversy 'front page'. Do you see a veritable plethora of articles, all - with the exception of Conklin's "I did nothing wrong""We made a wise decision" - forming a uniformly disapproving chorus?

Do you see the piece from Andy Cassano, headlined "Political naivete by Land Trust"?

Read the article. Does the headline in any sense match the thrust of Cassano's piece?

Answer: No. However, it's just one item, copy editors are rushed, let's not be so distrustful.

I asked The Union's editor in email:
>Do you feel that this representation of Cassano's article is appropriate?

was told:
...that was the headline on his column, based on his key statement...In this case, we wrote a head that we felt represented his key point

Look at the piece again, and see if you think that Cassano's key point was that the Land Trust was politically naive.

Everyone makes mistakes and omissions, but usually they don't influence - negatively - how a community perceives one of its most prominent members. I believe The Union seriously misrepresented Cassano's article in their overview page - which will mislead the casual reader into assuming that the condemnation is unanimous. And please use this opportunity to calibrate my credibility too- as Jay Rosen said today, "This is the great thing about blogging, seems to me. You can judge [for] yourself". And, if I'm way off base, you can infer that the rest of this post - and the weblog as a whole - is probably garbage.

Because of this misrepresentation, I find it harder to put a charitable spin on The Union's not showing any of the flood of anti-Union-coverage-of-Conklin letters on their "single day" pages (you can specify on the Search page that, for example, you just want to see - online - what was in the 'paper' paper on Sept 25, 2004; but if it's a letter about this coverage, you won't find it there). It turns out these are considered "election letters" - and, in a new setup, these letters go into a separate ghettosection over on the "Election" page, where the casual reader is extremely unlikely to find them. Plus, after they scroll off the bottom of the page, there's no "next page" link (AFAIK) by which you can reach them; so, unless you do a Search for keywords (which fortunately still works, at least for recent items) you won't be able to find them.

Editor R.S. says: "All election letters can be found online under the opinion page, through the election page, or by typing [keywords] in the search engine."

Will look into this; I could be wrong, but this (availability under the Opinion page) might be new. In any case though,
It appears that the "Union criticism" letters are still only visible for a couple of days even on the Opinion page, after that being invisible unless you know what keywords to search for.

Maybe the fact that letters critical of The Union's coverage get hidden away more than 'normal' letters do is a feature. Maybe their becoming invisible to the casual browser after a few days is an oversight. Maybe the fact that the standard Archive Search doesn't bring up salient articles is (as I'm told ) a technical problem. Maybe for The Union to tell the Search users that it's broken would be "too much information". Maybe the title of Cassano's piece just happened to get written in a negative way, because The Union staff misread the column.

Maybe they don't think it's important to fix.

Maybe it's forming a pattern.

I don't want to be claiming that The Union's management sit around in the back room smoking cigars and laughing diabolically as they plot how to bring down their customers' political opponents - it's more that the absence of consideration for fairness, as shown by their disinterest in rectifying the misimpression that their oversights have produced, is likely to have affected (or effected) the original series of articles as well.

Oct 16: OK, not effected - the rapid slide into invisibility of critical letters was probably not deliberate, but to be complacent about this situation and allow it to remain thus, when a man's reputation is in the balance, is not responsible behavior.

Oct 13: to belatedly mention the most important point: we the readers have yet to see a clear, concise account - with evidence to support it - as to exactly what "unethical behavior" was engaged in.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Fame, Fortune and Good Works, several times removed

We interrupt our regularly scheduled coverage of intra-county warfare and meltdown to bring you the following post.

Amy Smith - "Inventor cobbling sophisticated, life-enhancing devices from inexpensive materials for people in areas with little access to technology and even fewer resources to obtain it" - upon whom the MacArthur Foundation bestowed one of its "genius grants" last week - is the sister-in-law of a friend of mine from school.

Wonderful article on her in NY Times Magazine last year, Necessity Is the Mother of Invention. And from Wired, Oct 11 2004, A MacGyver for the Third World.

We are all very proud, including those of us who never met her because she was in Botswana at the time.

Along related lines:

Eva Harris (via)
In her own soft-spoken way, Dr. Eva Harris, 38, has become the Robin Hood of biotechnology.

She takes new discoveries in molecular and biological technology, breaks them down into their simplest forms, figures out ways to replicate them at lower costs and then transfers the information to public health workers in the developing world.

New O'Reilly magazine/book, Make ("The First Magazine for Technology Projects"), planned for January launch (via)-
Our premier issue will show you how to get involved in Kite Aerial Photography
...we chose to focus on cool things you can do with technology, not just what to buy
..."Martha Stewart for geeks."

If you can't wait for their first issue, here's the S.F. Chronicle on Kite Aerial Photography

David Butcher's Pedal Powered Generator
I have powered 12V CHAIN SAWS directly (yes, while someone else cut wood with them) with this unit.
At one point a ball-bearing 3600 GPH pump was substituted for the generator, resulting in amazing water pumping capacity....

Wanted: Innovations to feed the hungry
"Prizes have been used to solve many seemingly-intractable problems, from an 18th-century prize for determining longitude at sea, to the 20th century prizes for long-distance flight given to Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart. These prizes work well when governments or philanthropists anticipate that a breakthrough would be valuable, but are unlikely to be easily sold in the marketplace or obtained from university laboratories"

Last year's attempt to bring bicycle-powered wireless Internet to Laos didn't succeed in its stated goal, but has spawned other ventures. From this update on the rugged PC they developed -
The Jhai PC, meanwhile, appears to have exposed an odd little niche. There appears to be quite a few places on the earth which are tantalizingly close to Net connections and telephony, but have no electricity, no cellphone coverage, and no landlines. Think of it as the developing world's equivalent of the last-mile problem.

WorldChanging (site with links to many more such stories)

Excellent 4-part series in Washingon Post (Dec. 2003) on Kakenya Ntaiya's path from a Maasai village in Kenya to college in Virginia (here she is now)

From Paul Graham's new essay:
...I explained what a nerd was. What I came up with was: someone who doesn't expend any effort on marketing himself...

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Links to all parts of the Bruce Conklin /Nevada County Land Trust / North Star controversy

Nov. 22: additional articles are now linked to from The Union's "Series" page (as of Nov. 18); removed gratuitous commentary; added links to Wright letters

To recap: local, historically conservative newspaper (with right wing publisher and 'fair and balanced' editor) runs series attacking integrity of local former county supervisor (who subsequently lost), alleging shady dealings in his taking a job in the interim (2003) with local nonprofit - a position funded with money he helped to allocate before leaving office several months before. The evidence, sadly for The Union, does not appear to support the paper's view.

Bruce Conklin is the local former county supervisor.
The Nevada County Land Trust is the nonprofit.
The late Dryden Wilson bequeathed the money to the county, with a desire that it be spent on open space.
Incoming supervisors, not partial to open space, were looking at other ways to spend it
The Union is the local newspaper.
Yubanet is the understaffed online upstart, beholden to no one, AFAIK.

Recommended overviews:

Nov. 13, 2004: Excellent column by Jim Hurley:
...The accusation raised by Mr. Ackerman that 'Conklin traded integrity for money' has itself raised an issue of intent. Did [Ackerman] trade journalistic integrity to engineer a Board of Supervisors more to his political liking?"

Oct 7, 2004: YubaNet Editorial: Tempest-in-a-teapot Strikes Small Sierra Town.

The Union's Series (also has PDFs of relevant letters, etc). Fascinating...the Oct. 27 article, which reported that no wrongdoing was found, was not added to the "Series" page. (it is now; page just hadn't been updated, mea culpa for jumping to conclusion)

When scanning their page, don't be misled by the title ("Political naivete by Land Trust") given to Nevada County Land Trust President Andy Cassano's
September 30, 2004 response
; it's certainly not the thrust of its content (The NCFocus post Andy Cassano on Conklin - North Star - Land Trust prints excerpts from Cassano's response and provides context that will be helpful to readers unfamiliar with Cassano and the area.)

The Union's series is not complete without the letters to the editor written in response to its publication. To get them, you'll have to Search the archives for "Conklin" (which works sometimes, but not always), since the letters are interspersed with all the rest. Here are links to letters from Stephen Munkelt, Michelle Olsen, Bob Mora, and
David Wright (architect, "founding board member of the Nevada County Land Trust and is on the North Star House steering committee."; letters here and here)

Yubanet News, Oct 6, 2004: Nevada County Land Trust Speaks Out
Following two weeks of allegations regarding the hiring of former supervisor and now candidate Bruce Conklin by the Nevada County Land Trust as project manager for the North Star House, the directors of the Land Trust invited local media to attend a news conference on Tuesday to hear their side of the story and answer questions...

Oct 28 post on how results of Land Trust audit were reported.

See also (if you must) April 10 2003 post (second half) for your correspondent's judgement at the time.

From the PDF letters posted by The Union:
From May 2002 letter from [benefactor] Dryden Wilson's attorney
Mr. Wilson was a person who very much wanted to help in saving open space and allow for land to be used for the benefit and enjoyment of the public rather than allowing it all to turn into subdivisions or sprawling suburbs. Therefore, it is hopeful that the County of Nevada will give due and serious consideration toward using this legacy furtherance of preserving any open-space land programs.

(To reiterate: Incoming supervisors, not partial to open space, were looking at other ways to spend it)

From the March 2003 Bruce Ivy letter to Land Trust (PDF):
The Land Trust board can mitigate the damage that has been done to your image and standing in the community by returning the money to the Board of Supervisors and allow the current Board to distribute the money in a manner that would benefit the community more broadly.

but...the March 2003 Board was not a fan of open space; they gave every indication of wanting to fill it with subdivisions and sprawling suburbs. How would giving the money to them have been in accordance with Dryden Wilson's wishes?

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Editors need editors too

foolish title for post, please ignore it. am afraid changing it might break the permalinks.

Wednesday update: Part II: Ideal fit or 'fiasco'? Despite criticism, Land Trust stands by its hiring of Conklin. Your task: read the piece, find the 'fiasco'.

Also, added link to (and excerpt from) The Union's past Cassano profile at end of the previous (below?) post. It's worth reading, if you don't already know him.

The Union has Part I of a 2-part news article on Conklin-NorthStar-LandTrust issue today.
The four aligned supervisors - Conklin, Martin, Green and Peter Van Zant - feared the new board would use Wilson's bequest for something other than open space, which was translated by the supervisors to mean anything related to recreation

Roads, mental health, and the general county budget are also not open space.
They had reason for concern: Bedwell (who recently wrote this) had spoken of the need for softball fields and mental health services, while Sutherland had often discussed the importance of roads.

(a bit timidly stated - see Gift of park funding causes clash(Dec 2002) for background)

On the North Star House:
After a school for troubled youths failed and left the North Star House vacant in the mid-1980s, no one seemed to want the dilapidated building.

Designed by acclaimed architect Julia Morgan...scarred with crude graffiti, smashed windows... Owning it, much less restoring it, would require a colossal commitment of time and money.
"no one seemed to want" it? Was it available? My recollection (perhaps flawed; perhaps The Union could check its archives for this? articles were written) was that the (previous) property owner would not allow anyone to protect the building from vandals and the elements.

A spokesman for Terra Alta Development, which owned the house from the mid-1980s until April 2002, declined to comment on the house for this story.

Who was the individual who declined comment? Who comprised this group?

From Dec 7 2002 article on then-pending sale of North Star to now-current owner Sandy Sanderson:
Lowell Robinson (of Robinson Timber), one of the [then-]current owners...
[ironic...:] Andy Cassano of Nevada City Engineering, a representative for the [then-current] owners...
The land is also home to a house designed by Julia Morgan, who also designed the San Simeon mansion for newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst. The house has reportedly been in dire need of repairs for years.

In the older (for pay) archives:
  • 4/11?13?/2000
    As stewards, we must preserve Northstar Mine's history
    The Union's Opinion
    Historic buildings are among the strongest fibers knitting together any group of people. They serve...

    (Times (and leadership at The Union) have changed. From the current publisher today: "If given a say-so in the decision on how best to spend Mr. Wilson's money, I suspect that most Nevada County residents wouldn't have placed the North Star House at the top of the wish list. Not even in the top 10.")

  • 11/22/1997
    Evelyn Foote Gardiner grimaces when she recalls how her family's once-proud home at the North Star Mine has deteriorated over the years. Vandals have caused extensive...

  • 10/2/96
    Locals protect pioneering woman architect's work

Another irony - Bedwell had an opinion column a month or three back (The Union's Search didn't find this one either) in which he defended spending Calif-voter-approved Open Space money for public buildings. Or so I recall; it would help to have the column at hand.

To my first commenter:
1. Thank you!
2. I wish you were someone more civil and evidence-based - recommend you find congenial territory elsewhere.