Sunday, January 30, 2005

Ask The Union's Editor

Make up your own mind.

Yubanet pointed to a recent Sac Bee article on widespread contamination of foothill household wells:
More than half of the 513 foothill wells sampled [in Yuba and El Dorado counties] contained bacteria or chemicals such as pesticides and fuel ingredients that do not occur naturally in groundwater...
[...The] region's geology renders wells more susceptible to contamination.
The topsoil is relatively thin compared with that in the Valley, and the foothills bedrock is heavily fractured, giving contaminants on the surface a quick ride down to groundwater tapped for drinking.

Yubanet also linked to the Sac Bee articles on asbestos in dog lungs and likely asbestos in road gravel.
(Also see 1998 Bee series, Feb. 2000 Sci. Am.)

To our knowledge, neither news has received any mention in The Union.

We asked the acting editor why, and got this response:
These are indeed good stories, and we could definitely visit them ourselves. The Bee has a good staff that can more easily take the time to do regionwide stories. Unless the AP wire picks up these stories, we can only attempt to re-create them if we feel it's necessary. We've focused largely on specific cases of contamination, largely from the remnants of the mining industry. But, like I said, that's not to say these aren't good ongoing stories to look into.

>Do you:
>a) have any arrangement with The Bee to reprint their stories, or

Nope. Just with the AP and the L.A. Times-Washington Post service.

>b) consider it appropriate to write stories about
>stories that appeared in another paper?

That varies case to case. Large enterprise pieces by metro papers are generally pretty tough to reproduce from scratch, but then there are stories such as the chronic foothill ozone problems that both we and the Bee have covered repeatedly in recent years. The easy answer is, there are no easy answers when it comes to how you allocate limited news resources.

Now it's your turn:
Got any questions? answers? Please share.

p.s. Saturday's editorial surprised us.

Friday, January 28, 2005


Last week's post on crime needed updating.

And we'll have to find a new subject to harp on; The Union's Archive Search, dysfunctional for over half a year, is back up and running, mostly. (A tip o' the hat to those who restored it)

'Mostly', because last fall's misclassification and hiding of letters critical of The Union has not been fixed. Two examples: this Sept 30 letter does not show up when you do a "search by date" for everything (including letters) that was published on Sept 30, and searching Oct 5 doesn't bring up this letter.
(You can still find these letters if you know which keywords to search for - e.g. Ackerman Conklin - but since different writers used different words, results aren't likely to be complete.)

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Of publishers and newsroom involvement

We were curious about to what degree publisher attendance at newsroom meetings was typical, and whether the "wall between church and state", a.k.a. "firewall", a.k.a. "Chinese Wall" (intended to prevent business pressures from sullying the newsroom), is expected to keep a publisher away from the newsroom.

So we asked some nonlocal people with newspaper involvement, who shall for the most part remain nameless.

The general consensus seemed to be that the publisher can pretty much do whatever he wants, although typically he doesn't; and the larger the paper, the less likely he is to get involved in the newsroom.

The question "doesn't this compromise newsroom independence"? was met with "he's the publisher; it's his job to balance news and advertising sides" - or "he can do what he wants".

Responses are at this post on NCDocuments.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

our flora and fauna are confused

Jan 28: minor edits
(A very irritating, frequently made observation: Ctrl-S, which means Save to any self-respecting software, means Publish to Blogger.)

Swollen verdant buds were observed on the flora over the weekend.

The fauna is ribbeting outside the office window.

As anyone looking at the calendar can see, winter is not over.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Some fine posts on planning - and a puzzle

Davids Sucher and Wharton have put their respective noses to the grindstone, cranking out some lucid and thought-provoking posts that are required reading.

David Sucher (scheduled for an interview on Booktown Feb. 7) has outdone himself this month; be sure to read these:
From David Wharton ( a Republican ), a series of posts from "Smart Growth Will Be Driven by Greed and Envy" through Is "Smart Growth" Just for Liberals?

From his post on historic preservation and real estate values:
[Donovan Rypkema:]"In most cases properties in local historic districts appreciate at rates greater than: a) the local market as a whole, and b) similar neighborhoods that are not designated"
[Wharton: (emphases added)]
Lots of free-marketers -- and I'm one -- are regulation-phobic, and plenty of people in Greensboro have complained about historic district designation trampling their property rights. But there's another way of thinking about it.

The local historic district program offers me an economic choice that I wouldn't have if the program didn't exist: namely, the ability to trade some of my property rights for increased capital appreciation. If I don't like it, I can move.
Jan. 25: From here:
How much time a person spent driving had a greater impact on whether a person was obese than other factors such as income, education, gender or ethnicity.


The puzzle:
Earlier today we introduced one of Booktown's hosts to Petals Around the Rose (*).
(hint for those playing it on the website: color doesn't matter.)
When introducing it to a group, expect great - and independent - variation in interest and aptitude.

We wish to thank Mr. Wharton (Ph.D.) for our new motto:
Custodientes custodes

Saturday, January 22, 2005


Imagine a Nevada County no longer riven by factions fighting over growth; where open space is unthreatened, where housing is affordable, where people of all income levels live cheek by jowl, not glommed onto one another's throats.

Imagine sailing through the Brunswick basin at noontime with ease.

Imagine heading over to the Sunday Night Movie at the Nevada Theater on the spur of the moment, knowing that there'll still be seats.

Imagine always being able to get a table at your favorite restaurant.

Be careful what you wish for.


Bird flu pages of the CDC and the World Health Organization

Pshaw, says Gilbert Ross of the American Council on Science and Health (which "stopped disclosing corporate donors in the early 1990s"*).

16 December 2004, WHO launches pandemic emergency response centre

Future flu epidemic 'controllable' through rapid vaccination

Updated Jan 23, minor wording, typos, stale title tag

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A question not (yet) answered

We'd rename the post, but that would change its URL.
Jan. 21 Update:
Publisher responds to request for clarification, answers question:
My involvement in the newsroom meetings during [now-departed editor]'s tenure was as a silent observer less than once a month.
time to go cut Hospice a check...

Jan. 20 Update:
The Union's publisher has responded with an email, which is now posted over here; it details his current (since former editor's departure earlier this month) and expected future (after new editor's arrival) involvement in The Union's newsroom.

Executive summary: it sounds quite reasonable.

What we wanted to know, though, is the degree of past involvement, and we're not sure that the email answered this question. which he lays out above.
Original post:

The Sacramento Bee article on the movement to oust The Union's publisher ** may have had more than just the single error.

To clarify the status of this second issue, we emailed the publisher last night to ask one question; we hope that he will consent to reply.

Subject: Question re Bee article and news meetings
To: [publisher of The Union]

For the record -

Kearns [author of Bee article] says:

[publisher] said he stays out of newsroom decisions.
"I don't have any idea what goes into the paper until
I pick it up in the morning"...

Roughly how many news meetings (i.e., discussions
about possible or actual upcoming stories) have you
attended since you became publisher of The Union?

Thanks -

Maybe the publisher was too busy to answer today; in any case, it's likely that he doesn't count corresponding with us as one of his favorite activities.
We will donate $100 to Hospice of the Foothills if he will answer the question.
See updates, at top of this post.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Space and Flight

In their weblog, the Nevada County Imaginarium solicits your ideas for their upcoming Spring exhibit on Space and Flight.

Featured local citizens could range from Lyman Gilmore to local boy Chuck Yeager to astro-luminary Don Machholz of Colfax.

All roads lead to home - a Metafilter post featured these stunning aerial photos (for a Calendar) taken from radio-controlled model airplanes; among them was this view of the Bridgeport covered bridge, which turns out to have been taken by Grass Valley Group engineer and aerial photographer Matt Woolsey.

Here's our interview with him.

Here are his photos, including these from

Nevada City:

Penn Valley:

We especially like this Nevada City photo - with Park St. in the foreground, running into Boulder.

Also via Metafilter, some nonlocal aerial photography:

Not aerial, but beautiful - landscape photography by Max Lyons, especially his Scotland photos.

Added Jan. 20: The Daring Visionaires of Fringe Aviation

Monday, January 17, 2005

Ticks, tubs, toilets and time

A sequel for Simon and Garfunkel; we needed a break.

Important scam alert from Andrew Tobias:
If someone comes to your front door saying they are conducting a survey on deer ticks and asks you to take your clothes off and dance around to shake off the ticks, do not do it!

Former Grass Valley Group engineer and Alaskan bathtub racer Les Brown makes a cameo appearance in this account.

From North Carolina, Lex brings news of a jet powered outhouse...

...and Giblets looks back at 2004.

Jan. 21:
Another quest for speed, the Idiotarod

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Bee's Public Editor gets it right

Just some words from Sacramento Bee Public Editor Armando Acuña's first column, published last Sunday:
...we have a special relationship with our readers...It is a relationship built on integrity, which we must guard vigorously if we are to secure our future.

We must practice the highest journalistic standards of ethics if we are to keep our readers' trust. We lose that and we lose everything.

[Otis Chandler:]"Respect and credibility for a newspaper is irreplaceable...Sometimes it can never be restored, no matter what steps might be taken after such an event in terms of apology by the publisher and the editor."
Acuña's column does not run weekly.(perhaps someone was slow putting it up yesterday; perhaps we were blind.)

Saturday, January 15, 2005

New, improved sidebar

The sidebar is the region to your left (unless you're reading this from an aggregator);
it now has a better "about this weblog" page. Other aspects of it still need work.

The only substantive difference (to the "about this weblog" information) is that we have dropped our previous "no looking at visitation stats" promise; we still don't, but we're probably about the last weblog on the planet that doesn't*, so we might get around to setting something up to monitor it in future.

* note: this is hyperbole.


I had an email exchange with a public person.

The person subsequently made it clear that he did not want the email exchange posted; I responded by assuring him that I wouldn't.

This creates some problems though:
  • He thinks I'm making wrong inferences* from the exchange; presumably he'll say this to others. But the only evidence I could provide to counter his view is the evidence I've assured him I won't print.

  • If he wanted, he ccould truthfully say he never asked me not to print it - since, literally, he didn't. But in order to show that this was what his writing conveyed, I'd need to give you the exact quote, which would be violating the privacy I said I'd uphold.

* This may be overstating the case; it's hard to tell.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

We Take The Dubner Oath

Jan 14, more graceful wording
It's started going around...italics are my additions:
I swear that I have never taken money or received services -- whether directly or indirectly -- from any political campaign or political group or government agency -- whether federal, state, or local -- or anyone else -- in exchange for any service performed in my job as a journalist (or commentator, or blogger, or whatever you think I should be called).

And an excellent essay by Zephyr Teachout on Financially Interested Blogging (which is a bad thing when undisclosed, and is problematical even when it is disclosed.)

For the record: our financial interests would be much better served if we stopped blogging.

Best (or at least pretty good) practices

[First in a series of "Rewriting the rules of journalism" posts, in which we will make bold assertions that our way is better, and then come back later on and retract them after running up against reality.]

When you're doing an interview, or otherwise requesting or providing information, the best medium for doing it, hands down, is text. This is for three reasons:

1. Those of us whose mouths are not firmly attached to our brains will be able to say what we mean to say, rather than whatever happened to escape this time;

2. We have some time for reflection, to decide exactly what it is that we mean to say;

3. The end product is a perfect record of the entirety of the communication.
By this I mean two things: I have a perfect record, since I can review it; and anyone else also has a perfect record, since they see exactly what was communicated. In contrast, face-to-face or phone conversations involve sending and receiving visual and auditory signals galore, any of which can completely change the meaning of the communication in a way that doesn't come across even if we were to type it out verbatim.

So, if I want you, the reader of my weblog, to know exactly what I think I know and how I know it (so you can judge for yourself), I should publish the email exchanges.

But there's an immediate, strong "invasion of privacy!" feel to doing anything of the sort; and if the other person didn't plan for the exchange to be public, it's just plain unfair.

My general rule of thumb on publishing emails - an unwritten rule until now, just based on what seems fair - seems to be this:
If it's out of the bounds of civilized discourse, and one of the parties has given permission, it can get printed. If it's so far inside the bounds as to be innocuous, ... not sure. I think I ask, just as I do if it's somewhere in between.

But what about a case (hypothetical, so far) where the emails are necessary to tell the whole story, but permission is not granted? I guess we'll cross that bridge when and if we come to it.
But first we'll try to find another route.[edited]

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Backstory to error in Bee article

Jan. 15: added link for "[didn't] respond to emails"
Jan. 14: clarified a quote from the publisher and the executive summary of this post;
incorporated feedback from one of the principals (we'd alerted them via email); the other does not read blogs, but hopes that the post is fair and balanced.
Jan 13: changed title, removed gratuitous emphases, added content.

In the Jan. 2 Bee article on the "fire publisher" movement (*), the section which set the tone for the piece as a whole was this:

But Engles doesn't really know the man he's trying to get fired. Except for once leaving an angry voicemail, he's never met his nemesis or even talked to him. And he doesn't plan to. "I think he's going to be so angry at me now, especially when the Web site goes up, that there's no chance of us having a civil discussion."

Not so, said [publisher]. "I sent him a card saying 'I'm not leaving, you're not leaving, let's get a cup of coffee.'"

He hasn't heard back.
Executive summary: The above statement has been false since mid-December, two weeks before the article got published - and it was only true until the day Engles received the card.

I was alerted to the article by Amy, who commented (in here):
Imagine my editor's reaction if I submitted a story without ever attempting to contact the principle subject of the report. The story wouldn't run.

Of course, Mr. Engles isn't bound by any journalist ethics or standards, as he isn't one. One presumes, however, that as an informed citizen, he understands that credibility is damaged when fairness and balance are absent.

("EE" below refers to Eric Engles)

In responding to Amy, we expressed some initial skepticism about the "[publisher] hasn't heard back" claim in the Bee article, but pledged to investigate and report what we found. We also mentioned in passing that the publisher doesn't answer our emails (*). In accordance with our Blogger's Motto ("Publish, then verify") we figured we ought to find out if it was still true: turned out it wasn't, he answered. So we asked him some questions, then got stonewalled, then contacted the Bee's public editor, then got un-stonewalled, so asked some more questions, and at various points asked EE a whole pile of questions. Here - with the stonewalls edited out - is what we found:

The "publisher hasn't heard back from EE" statement in the article is not correct; EE states that he responded within a day of receiving the publisher's card, and they made tentative plans to meet. This is not disputed.

So how could the reporter have come to believe that EE didn't respond to the card?

It turns out that the publisher met with the reporter "very soon after I sent the card...and in fact maybe the next day".
He stresses that everything he told the reporter was 100% true.

He also made the points that the story wasn't his idea, and that he thought it was going to be a "hit piece".

He states that the reporter "[did not] read me what he had written before sending it to the Bee. If he had, and I had been contacted by EE, I would have clarified that point [that EE had responded]."
(to reiterate, since this quote might create ambiguity: EE did contact the publisher, within a day of receiving the card.)

When I had initially asked him:
"Do you feel that [the article] represented you and Eric Engles fairly? and if there was any part that didn't seem fair, what would you have changed about it?"
he had responded that he thought it was fair, and had not mentioned the false statement.

We hope this account is a fair representation, albeit brief and leaving out much; please bring any oversights to our attention.

PhD post

Jan. 23: minor rewrites; Jan.14: Clarified that the community leaders' remarks diverged from reality; added "leaders in their communities" link, emphasis to a quote, another Phil Meyer link.

Several days ago we made the point (elsewhere) that anti-intellectualism in Nevada County thrives and was implicitly encouraged by gratuitous false statements from The Union's publisher and former editor, but provided no examples.

Here are excerpts from a couple of the letters that the above columns elicited (we're pretty sure there were more, but can't prove it)
(Jan 12 update: added 3rd letter. Ok, there was by no means a flood; but they were not countered by our 'leaders in their communities'*) :
  • I'm a card-carrying 'Republican' and I won't let Mr. Ph.D. or his comrades in arms run me out of town. (*)

  • Many years ago our sister had a supervisor (where she was employed) that loved to brag about his Ph.D. One day she'd had enough and informed him that his Ph.D. meant that what he had to say was 'Piled Higher and Deeper.'(*)

  • Did anyone notice the two letters, printed one after the other, urging that the Ph.D. opinion-submitter be allowed his opinion, but [publisher] should be fired for his? So much for free speech and the First
    Amendment. ( * )

Speculation from another local blogger here:
I once had a friend who graduated from Yale University. It became the pinnacle of his life. He was always reminding us, "I graduated from Yale." Everything after that was a down hill slide, he seemed to lack ambition to rise above this initial achievement. It could be that once Mr. Engle received his Doctor of Philosophy degree, it also was the pinnacle of his life. When he signs his name with "Ph.D.", he is reminding us he has peaked, and is trying to slow his slide in to oblivion.

But take heart, all is not lost: it seems that being a professor and having a doctorate are OK, and one can also escape derision by putting Dr. in front.


We have plenty of company. From outside Nevada County:
If [intellectuals] are feared as sinisterly cerebral, they are also pitied as bumbling figures who wear their underpants back to front, harmless eccentrics who know the value of everything and the price of nothing. Alternatively, you can reject both viewpoints and see intellectuals as neither dispassionate nor ineffectual, denouncing them instead as the kind of dangerously partisan ideologues who were responsible for the French and Bolshevik revolutions. Their problem is fanaticism, not frigidity. Whichever way they turn, the intelligentsia get it in the neck. (*)

Even professors get the 'PhD' treatment:
  • On TV(via):
    Bill [O'Reilly], who kept on pointedly addressing me, with faint mock-deference, as "Professor"--an epithet synonymous with "jackass" in minds of many in his audience...

  • Moynihan:
    When addressed, with a sneer, as "Professor Moynihan" by incumbent Senator James Buckley, his opponent in his first Senate campaign in 1976, Moynihan mock-lamented, "Ah, the mudslinging has begun."

Alas, even Mr. Scott Adams got into the act with Dilbert, in late August 2003, and we'll try to find the episode and scan it in for you, and see if Mr. Adams comes after us with [PhD-free] lawyer in tow.

We'll be irritating and close with Philip Meyer's Why journalism needs Ph.D.s:
A Ph.D. is a research degree, and a craft that sees no need to change perceives little need for research.
...A craft is learned by emulation: watching a master perform and then imitating that person. A profession is learned from first principles so that when things change, the professional understand the changes and adjusts techniques to fit.

With stunning perspicacity, Dr. Meyer (Ph.D) asserts that journalists must be scientists:
[One way to add value to information] is to make it credible. And to do this, journalists need to borrow some of the tools of science.
Scientific method is designed to let us ask questions of nature without being fooled by the answer. Its objectivity is in its method, not in giving equal weight to all of the possible answers as journalists are wont to do.
...Scientific method also drives you to play devil's advocate with your data and carefully look for explanations that aren't the ones you want to hear.[snip]

And, coming full circle (Tim Porter on Meyer):
[Meyer] believes that "a newspaper's main product is neither news nor information but influence." This is absolutely correct. The value of a newspaper is its relevance to the community it covers and until the editors and reporters in the newsrooms examine their own work through the eyes of that community then all the publisher's millions spent on hardware will be good money tossed after poor journalism.

The latest from Meyer: Closely watched media humbled

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

"240,000 potential buyers" explained, NCFocus vindicated

[updated] least with regard to this issue.

In a post from last week, we made the offhand claim that the "over 240,000 potential buyers" of your classified ad in The Union (circ. 16,000), a number claimed for nine months (ending Feb. 2004) on the masthead of the classifieds section itself (photo) and on a billboard at the edge of town, was arrived at by multiplying an estimated 40,000+ readers by the 6 days a week that the paper is published.

The Union's current (acting) editor wrote to inform us that our "40,000 x 6" algorithm was incorrect:
As for the long-standing myth of a classified reader overcount, that number [240,000] stemmed from the fact our classifieds were circulated throughout the Tahoe-Carson Area Network, which includes several newspapers in the Sierra.

We were simultaneously chastened and intrigued by this claim, and asked who could explain the count; a name was provided.

On the verge of sending the query, we received a gracious apology and retraction from The Union's editor:
I just found out yesterday that we ourselves have been a bit confused on where that "240,000 readers" number came from. The Tahoe network wasn't really involved. The man who came up with that figure is...[in the advertising department]....[He counted] the same listeners each day of the week. So your assessment was pretty accurate... I'm glad we're now using a better total.
I'm not sure where that TCAN idea originated. I think it's just because we started using that number at the same time we started distributing classifieds across Tahoe/Carson. I think I and some others just assumed they were connected....Like a lot of businesses, we don't always communicate internally as well as we'd like.

Jan. 12 clarification: Some have also questioned the 40,000+ daily readership for a 16,000-circ. paper, but from what we've read, this is a reasonable number. From the Audit Bureau of Circulations: "Readers-Per-Copy is not a constant factor across all markets. ...national 2.3 readers-per-copy average...[but enormous variability]"

Monday, January 10, 2005

It is a dark and stormy night

Since the UPS isn't charged up yet, blogging will be brief.

The Sacramento Bee has a Public Editor; his first column appeared on Sunday.

From Scott Rosenberg:
...The value journalists continue to provide in a
'disintermediated,' Net-enabled world -- when they are
doing their jobs right, of course -- is to continue to
ask public figures the uncomfortable questions that
they won't choose to answer on their own.

A PressThink comment:
The blogosphere, in large part, is simply taking over the role that second- and third-tier newspapers used to play in most cities and that alternative weeklies have played since then. Real-time fact checking is a potential blessing, but it pales compared to the fact checking that competitive media once exercised on each other.

BDL: road reporters take--reporters who could, if we had a better system of molding them, turn out to be quite excellent--is one of Agnosticism: "I am a camera, and I simply report what people tell me, and I give greater authority to people who quickly return my phone calls and give me interesting quotes. I don't care about what's 'really going on' because that's a matter of opinion, and who knows anyway."
...Deliberate ignorance of the substantive matters one is covering...becomes a reporterial strategy: a way of (a) making your job easier, and (b) not getting any of your sources really mad at you.
...And by the end of the process of reporter-molding our reporter finds it bizarre and inexplicable that anybody actually cares about the substance of the issues.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Name it after what used to be there

On our growing-ever-less-Free Republic -

Year-end thoughts from libertarian Lew Rockwell:
The most significant socio-political shift in our the dramatic shift of the red-state bourgeoisie from leave-us-alone almost totalitarian statist nationalism.
...[T]the very people who once proclaimed hated of government now advocate its use against dissidents of all sorts, especially against those who would dare call for curbs in the totalitarian bureaucracy of the military, or suggest that Bush is something less than infallible in his foreign-policy decisions...The American right today has managed to be solidly anti-leftist while adopting an ideology ...that is also frighteningly anti-liberty.
... there are two main dangers to liberty, one that comes from the left and the other that comes from the right...What is the most pressing and urgent threat to freedom that we face in our time? It is not from the left...

David Neiwert isn't liking it much either.

Why does this remind me of Nevada County? Some letters responding to Al Neuharth

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Sick search stretches six months

Feb. 16: We need to quit speaking too soon; it still has issues.

Jan. 26: Fixed at last! To verify, search for "functionaries"; when broken, no hits were returned.
[previous overly-optimistic updates removed]

Yesterday marked what we'll consider the six-month anniversary of The Union's (and other Swift papers') broken Archive Search:

July 7, Greeley Tribune:
Our technical folks tell us they’ll get this problem resolved quickly, so bear with us. Searches for recent copy seems to work, but a lot is missing if you try to go deeper into the archives.

Oct 7, The Union:
Swift Newspaper techs in Reno (where our site is hosted) says it is a problem with Publicus, our Web software. Publicus needs to reindex our archive. Problem is, Publicus tells us it has no time because of something to do with the Florida hurricanes...In any case, we are still working on it...

Jan. 8, 2005, The Union's Search page:
MAINTENANCE NOTICE: You 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 Union
And yes, it was still broken.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Stop the presses

Jan. 11 update:
Nah, run 'em!

This post has been superseded.

...or at least put them on Pause, and occupy your mind with higher things.

We've been informed of three issues regarding the "counting writers and readers" post from Monday:

1) We're told that the "duplicated readers" apparently only exist in the online paper, not the paper paper. This new information appears to be correct although we need to investigate more carefully.

2) The post can be interpreted as suggesting that there were shady dealings in counting writers - that the "919" gives the impression of invalidating the "over 3000" - which wasn't our intent at all, but we now see that it could be read that way. We have absolutely no reason to believe that the "over 3000" is anything but solid (i.e. we consider it solid)

3) We're told that the algorithm for calculating the 240k "potential buyers" was not "40k readers x 6 days per week", but instead involved including ads that were delivered outside The Union's coverage area. In any case the take-home message is this: The "potential buyers" details we printed are disputed by others who know more than we do.
So, please to take the post with several pounds of salt until further investigation is completed.

Thanks to the gentlemen who brought these issues to our attention.

Disclosure: the pronoun that we are using is the "royal we".


A year of job postings at The Union. In chronological order, so the new posting for the position of Editor is at the end.

Feb 2004:
Become a vital news link to the Web
The Union, a progressive daily newspaper serving the scenic Sierra Nevada foothills communities of Nevada County, Calif., is seeking applicants for its newly created Web Editor position. Serving a wired, high-tech community, we already have one of the most-trafficked small-newspaper sites in the country...

Feb 2004:
The Union, a progressive daily newspaper serving the scenic Sierra Nevada foothills communities of Nevada County, Calif., is seeking a business reporter... This 17,000-circulation newspaper, part of the family-owned Swift Newspapers group, is quickly evolving into one of the most innovative, reader-oriented small papers in the nation...You'll cover it all, from tourist-packed downtowns to cutting-edge tech companies...

April 2004:
The Union, a progressive daily newspaper serving the scenic Sierra Nevada foothill communities of Nevada County, Calif., is seeking a government reporter and a growth reporter... The Union is a 17,000-circulation daily based in Grass Valley, Calif., with a strong Web presence.

Sept 2004:
The Union, a six-day daily newspaper serving the scenic Sierra Nevada foothills communities of Nevada County, Calif., is seeking a sports writer... This 17,000-circulation newspaper, part of the family-owned Swift Newspaper Group, is quickly evolving into one of the most innovative, reader-oriented small papers in the nation, and you could help us reach that goal... Preference for West Coast applicants.

Jan 2005:
We’re 140 years old, but still wake up each morning with more excitement than a kid in a candy store. If you can bring that same kind of energy and excitement to work every day and want to live in one of the best communities in the world, The Union newspaper in Grass Valley, California is looking for an editor to lead its newsroom. We publish six mornings a week (Monday through Saturday) with a circulation of roughly 16,000. We are committed to the Internet and have another 4,000 or so unique readers each morning on, where we post news updates at least three times per day. We’d like an editor with a minimum of five years of newsroom management experience, but it’s more important that we hire one who can help our group of talented editors, reporters and photographers write better stories and take better photographs. We think it’s imperative that we delight, surprise, entertain and enlighten our readers each and every morning and we’re searching for an editor who can make that happen. Our community is unique. It expects great things from its hometown newspaper and let’s us know when we fail to deliver. We’ve published more than 2,700 letters to the editor so far this year, which gives you some idea about the passion and interest this community has in The Union. We’re looking for someone who can teach and inspire and lead. We’re looking for someone who wants to call this home and take a personal interest in helping shape the future of this Gold Country community. We want someone who enjoys talking to readers and encourages the art of "people journalism." If you can do all of that and more, we want to hear from you.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

What Do You Believe Is True Even Though You Can't Prove It?

Jan. 23: added individuals' links.
(Previous posts cherry-picking from Edge are here and here.)

Cherry picking from Edge's World Question Center - 2005's question is What Do You Believe Is True Even Though You Can't Prove It?
Oliver Morton:
As far as knowledge goes I'm a consumer, and sometimes a distributor, not a producer; most of what I believe to be true lies far beyond my capacity for proof... I know that almost all my beliefs are based on faith in people, and processes, and institutions, and their various capacities for correcting themselves when in error.
Chris W. Anderson:
The Intelligent Design movement has opened my eyes...
[read the rest]
Robert Provine:
Instead of considering whether other animals are conscious, or have a different, or lesser consciousness than our own, should we question if our behavior is under no more conscious control than theirs?
David Gelernter: can people say "a brick wall and a hard problem seem wholly different yet I can draw an analogy between them?"... The answer is: we are able to draw an analogy between two seemingly unlike things because the two are associated in our minds with the same emotion.
Alex (Sandy) Pentland:
Tribal Mind....Even for lengthy interactions, accurate predictions can be made by observing only the initial few minutes of interaction...the largely unconscious social signaling that occurs at the start of the interaction appears to be more predictive...the linguistic and factual content seems uncorrelated with the pattern or intensity of social signaling...It is also provides a concrete mechanism for the well-known processes of group polarization ('the risky shift'), groupthink, and the sometimes irrational behaviors of larger groups.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb:
We are good at fitting explanations to the past, all the while living in the illusion of understanding the dynamics of history....
severe overestimation of knowledge in what I call the " ex post" historical disciplines... reading the newspapers, history books, analyses and economic reports; all you get is misplaced confidence about what you know.
...The evidence can only be seen in the disciplines that offer both quantitative data and quantitative predictions by the experts...the economists got caught because we have data...
Elizabeth Spelke: of our shared core systems centers on a notion that is false: the notion that members of different human groups differ profoundly in their concepts and values. This notion leads us to interpret the superficial differences between people as signs of deeper differences.
...the most striking feature of human cognition stems not from our core knowledge systems but from our capacity to rise above them. Humans are capable of discovering that our core conceptions are false, and of replacing them with truer ones.
Bruce Sterling:
I can sum my intuition up in five words: we're in for climatic mayhem.
Alan Kay:
there are very few interesting actual proofs in computing. A good Don Knuth quote is: "Beware of bugs in the above code; I have only proved it correct, not tried it."
Roger Schank:
I do not believe that people are capable of rational thought when it comes to making decisions in their own lives...
Susan Blackmore:
...I long ago set about systematically changing the experience[of feeling free will]. I now have no feeling of acting with free will, although the feeling took many years to ebb away....
As for giving up the sense of an inner conscious self altogether-this is very much harder. I just keep on seeming to exist. But though I cannot prove it-I think it is true that I don't.
John McWhorter:
Much has been made over the parallels between the evolution of languages and the evolution of animals and plants. However, I believe that one important difference is that while animals and plants can evolve towards simplicity as well as complexity depending on conditions, languages do not evolve towards simplicity in any significant, overall sense-unless there is some sociohistorical factor that puts a spoke [Spike? -Ed.] in the wheel.
Alison Gopnik:
I believe, but cannot prove, that babies and young children are actually more conscious, more vividly aware of their external world and internal life, than adults are. ...when we need to learn something new, say when we learn to skydive... we become vividly, even painfully, conscious of what we are doing...As we become expert we need less and less attention...

Monday, January 03, 2005

Started celebrating New Year's early? or mad scientists at work?

Jan. 14: tidied up somewhat.
We may be were not all wet on this post; see Jan. 11 post for details.

However, the cloned writers almost certainly were an honest error. Lord, forgive us our snark...

The Union's been enumerating writers like it used to count readers*: on Friday (*) it cloned its voices of freedom:
We are one of the few newspapers in the United States that tries to publish all the letters it receives, either in print or online. How many letters, guest columns, kudos, interviews, and other reader opinions did we publish in 2004? More than 3,000. Who were they from? You, your neighbors, and Nevada County's leaders. Today, in appreciation of this expression of the First Amendment's precious freedoms, we list many of our contributors. If you're not among them, join them in 2005.
. . . and hundreds more.
Now pick someone at random - say, Nory. Do a search for his name on the page. Surprise! there are two Norys! And two of everyone else, including two "and hundreds more"s.

For the pedantic only: Textpad reports that 919 unique individuals are listed.

I looked for the "corrections" section on the website today, to see if the error had been caught, but can't find any such section online.

Jan. 11,14 Update:
Bill Larsen (yes, that Bill Larsen) offers an opposing "Voices of Freedom" view, bringing up a new angle to The Union's having systematically misclassifed "I'm aghast at your coverage" letters as "Election letters": given the set limit of one "election letter" per writer, if you sent in an "aghast" letter, sorry - your actual election letter (supporting a candidate) wouldn't be printed.
(This feature joins the other "special features" of election/aghast letters (details), in order of increasing importance: that they aren't necessarily published in the paper paper, that they scrolled off the end of the "election letters" page and into invisibility after a couple of days, and - most importantly - that they don't appear if you do a "search for this date" (am assuming this is still true; haven't tried lately))

*(corroborated) "used to count readers":
For a while (May 2003 through Feb 2004) The Union advertised 240,000 readers...

...which was calculated by multiplying the 40,000 estimated daily readership by 6 publishing days per week. Suggestion: Counting eyeballs could raise the total to almost 480,000.

Just to make it clear - we at NCFocus are big fans of the First Amendment; it's our favorite. We hope that what we are poking here is "good natured fun", although other objects do come to mind.

Locals in the news

Jan. 12 post, important, on the Bee article error

See comments related to the Kearns (Bee) article (which was linked to from Romenesko today) at the Dec 2 NCFocus post about NCCRJ. Apologies for requiring registration for comments; completely anonymous ones were not civil.

Jeff Kearns in Sac Bee on the dump publisher movement, with a piece that comes out sounding pretty sympathetic to said publisher; it's interesting how differently someone can come across in the absence of links and quotes. People do say that he's a very likable guy in person.
(even if he does look scary in the photo)

At last we learn the position of Swift CEO Arne Hoel (who never did return my phone call, and who apparently wouldn't talk to Kearns about it either - "wouldn't talk about Ackerman, referring questions to The Union") - on a letter to a local resident:
"I have worked with thousands of newspaper people over the years and Jeff, in my opinion, is one of the best," Hoel wrote. "Jeff also has the gumption to take a position. Consequently, some readers love him, some readers hate him and some governmental officials fear him."
Publisher made waves in his previous position at the Nevada Appeal, here - partial results here, here.

New Doolittle-supported Sierra College trustee alleges funding improprieties and calls for Sierra College president's resignation.*