Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Spirit, NCFocus style

The NCFocus news team wishes to apologize for giving the driver in front of us the finger this afternoon, in the parking lot at SPD.

And we wish to supersize our apology, since as it transpired, the driver's action did not even merit irritation, much less said finger.

that's one of the nice things about blogging, you can get apologies off your chest. Another one goes out to the Nursery Street Open House sellers from ~1989, for actions too shameful to be documented here, but which I fear they might remember as well as I.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

NCFocus archive as a Table

(modified from Anil Dash's, via Tim Bray)

2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
  Jan Jan Jan Jan
Feb Feb Feb Feb Feb
Mar Mar Mar Mar Mar
Apr Apr Apr Apr Apr
May May May May May
Jun Jun Jun Jun Jun
Jul Jul Jul Jul Jul
  Aug Aug Aug Aug
Sep Sep Sep Sep Sep
Oct Oct Oct Oct Oct
Nov Nov Nov Nov Nov
Dec Dec Dec Dec Dec

NC blog aggregation

I'm trying out Suprglu as an aggregator for the active NC blogs that I'm aware of. It's not ideal, still need a way to ensure that no more than the first few lines of a post will appear.
One way would be for the various blogs' owners (Jeff, Doug, Martin...) to change their feed settings....

(FYI, don't bother trying to leave comments on Ski The Far Stars as they seem to go into a black hole)

still need to add: sesf, broadband of brothers; what else?
(and if any of you don't want to be part of the aggregation, let me know.)

but i thought it was supposed to update - yet hours later it's still not showig this post. Maybe it only updates infrequently?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Thursday tedium-Commercial influence and the news

Sat. update appended.


For the record, I am not always Barbara Coffman's mouthpiece, and asking questions doesn't always mean I have the answers. I just want the issues discussed in a somewhat more straightforward manner. All the same, this case doesn't merit such a lengthy and detailed and tedious and relatively pointless treatment, so if you are a normal human being whose time has value, you shouldn't have to suffer through it; go read something else.

The Union has been raising plumes of steam from ears in Java John's recently, and for a change the ears are not mine.

Today's column by The Union Readership Editor Dixie Redfearn recounted an incident I'm somewhat familiar with, having heard the other side. It brings up questions.

From Dixie's column:
The role of a newspaper is to be the official record of what happens in a community. ... Sometimes the news isn't pleasant... remember, don't kill the messenger. We aren't committing the crime. We're telling the community about it.

One recent example is our coverage of the merchants in downtown Nevada City and the BID/Chamber of Commerce issue. If merchants weren't fighting with one another, urging boycotts and calling the police, we wouldn't be writing about it. Because it is an unpleasant topic, should we sweep it under the rug and pretend everyone gets along fine? Where is the truth in that?

Recently, a public official came into The Union office to ask that we delay printing a story that was in the works. There was nothing in the story that wasn't true. The official felt that because it dealt with the BID/Chamber issue, the story running on Wednesday might put a damper on that evening's Victorian Christmas.
"[people] should deal with bad news in ways more creative than clobbering the messenger."

Shorter Dixie Redfearn:
1. Reporting even bad news is good.
2. Therefore criticizing the paper for how it covers a conflict is misguided, it's akin to "killing the messenger".
3. Asking that the paper delay printing a negative story is misguided because ...? (it's akin to hobbling the messenger?)

Some questions for Dixie and/or The Union editor Jeff Pelline, who may be responsible for this column.
(tried calling Dixie to ask, but she's working at home today)

First, for transparency of authorship:
Was this column actually written by Dixie?
If so, was it printed substantially as Dixie wrote it?
Was the column Jeff P's idea?
Were the points in it dictated by Jeff P?

Second, the content.
Is the above "shorter Dixie Readfearn" 3-point summary accurate?
(and did I infer #3 correctly?)

If so, could we look at them one by one...

SDR#1. Reporting even bad news is good.
Agreed, generally.

SDR#2. Therefore criticizing the paper for how it covers a conflict is misguided, it's akin to "killing the messenger".
("If merchants weren't fighting with one another, urging boycotts and calling the police, we wouldn't be writing about it. Because it is an unpleasant topic, should we sweep it under the rug and pretend everyone gets along fine?...' with bad news in ways more creative than clobbering the messenger.'")

Can you think of ways of covering conflict that would deserve criticism?
(if you report on an incident, and everything you report is true, can the report still be irresponsible?)

(for example, what if it's reported in a he-said-she-said fashion, giving equal weight to "both sides" without making an effort to determine where the truth lies?)

for extra credit: what's meant by the expression "let's you and he fight"?

In Anchorage, we used to ask ourselves this question: If a Martian was coming to visit and had read a month's worth of the Daily News in advance, what would she expect to find?

Too often, our honest answer was, "a lot of really violent people who love to attend meetings."(*)
SDR#3. Asking that the paper delay printing a negative story is misguided...
("Recently, a public official came into The Union office to ask that we delay printing a story that was in the works. ...")

The "public official" was Nevada City councilmember Barbara Coffman; she asked that the story be delayed for one day, so that visitors on Victorian Christmas wouldn't see it on the front page of the local paper.

The column failed to mention that the requested delay was for just one day.
Does it seem relevant to you that the delay was this short, and that it would not meaningfully impact residents?
(Should a small town paper make small(?) commercial concessions like this, or would that be a slippery slope best avoided?
Addressing this question would be more valuable than conflating "delay for a day" with "don't publish".)

Also literally true but somewhat misleading:
> "...came into The Union office to ask..."

A minor quibble, but "called The Union to ask" would really be more accurate. Barbara said she phoned Jeff P to ask for the delay, and got his voicemail. When Jeff returned her call he requested that she come in, which she then did.
In other words, she didn't stomp down to the paper, pound her fist on the table and demand change; she came by in response to Jeff P's request.

And she's a bit steamed because - if I understand correctly - she had been led to believe that Wednesday's paper would be positive in its Nevada City coverage, but she didn't perceive it as having turned out that way.
(take with salt; there've been misunderstandings before.)


Our Armchair Opinion at NCFocus:

The NCFocus editorial board is quite uncomfortable skating this close to defending an attempt to wield commercial influence on the news side of the paper; on the other hand, we unanimously believe that Dixie's column
a) should have mentioned the extent of the 'transgression' (a one-day delay seems minor);
b) could have stated whether The Union's policy is to avoid such commercial concessions regardless of their magnitude; and
c) should _not_ have presented a false dichotomy between 1) reporting "all sweetness and light" and 2) engaging in the practice of hosting he-said-she-said cockfights. There are other options.


Update (added Sat. pm):
Emailed a heads-up re the questions in this post to editor Jeff Pelline and readership editor Dixie Redfearn; they both replied to the email, but neither answered the questions.
Also posted a heads-up and URL as an online comment to the column, but my comment did not appear. Comments are pre-moderated, so I infer that mine did not meet The Union's unwritten standards.

Paper did however publish an article today giving more context, about the history of Grass Valley's BID; at the outset it got as mixed a reception as NC's is getting now.

(Background on the news topic, for out of towners - BID=Business Improvement District (a new one in Nevada City, a decades-old one in our sibling city Grass Valley); some turf wars with NC's Chamber of Commerce; some business owners don't want to pony up the additional fees; issues of taxation and representation; free rider issues; property rights issues; loudest opponent making noises about how he's going to get a concealed weapons permit, etc. In other words it's just your basic Nevada County disagreement.)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Once more, with feeling

Update: Wendy, Wendy, Wendy, what has happened to your mind? Suing the reporter (and a hair stylist) does not make you look good.

For those of you who love deja vu -
Santa Barbara Smackdown, a long, thorough AJR article documenting owner Wendy McCaw's abuses of power at the Santa Barbara News-Press. Because it's a standalone paper rather than a chain*, the management and staff had little reason to leave silently, so her actions were widely reported.

In her few public pronouncements, McCaw has blamed the turmoil on "disgruntled ex-employees" ...
...after buying the paper from the New York Times Co. in 2000 and promising to have no role in newsgathering, McCaw began whacking away, her lieutenants firing one editor after another, presiding over the dismissal or resignation of five publishers in five years...
Under McCaw, a Libertarian, News-Press editorials evolved from respectful, cautious, reasonably argued pieces to raucous assaults. ...

and more: 11-year veteran who lost her column in August after publicly declaring her support for the newsroom and the union...gave Scott Steepleton her resignation letter, said, "Fuck you" and walked out. Huff issued a press release scolding [her] for her "use of profanity"...

(via Tom Abate)

Doc Searls toured the News-Press in 2003, in a better time:
Our tour guide, the photo editor of the paper, talked about how hard it is to get new subscribers when so many readers were getting their news elsewhere, or just seemed to give too small a shit. Yet he remained no less motivated, for the simple reason that daily papers remain highly civilizing forces for the regions they serve, and he felt privileged to be part of one.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Monday, December 04, 2006

Such a handsome young man...

(Updated below, and edited for clarity and accuracy)

...going door to door on an early weekday afternoon, peddling a homemade cleaner in refillable spray bottles

...knocking on door of a house where the shades were all drawn

...not trying the neighbors next door, nor those I asked from further up the street*.

Polite and friendly too.

Lacking a larcenous background, I have no experience, so must ask: how likely is it that he was legit?

I did call the police dept; got the sheriff's dispatcher, asked if this was something worth reporting - the answer is apparently not, unless he lacks the required peddler's license(?).

Do door-to-door evangelists need a license? If not, that'd seem a more prudent method of doing pre-burglary research.

(and do the legitimate evangelists evangelize alone, or do they always work in pairs?)

Morning-after update:
Walked across the street to City Hall after coffee and asked, and heard:

1. Yes, sounds like my handsome visitor was legit; someone of same description had come in yesterday and taken out the papers; is from out of town, I believe Sacto area.

2. Unless you're evangelizing for profit, you don't need a license to go door to door proselytizing your religion (which is obvious, in retrospect)

So the only thing left to wonder about is the one-evangelist-vs.-two question, whether they do always travel in pairs/groups when going door to door.

Confidential to reader wondering at the suspicious consider-the-worst mentality evinced here: au contraire, history ("all the data that we have so far") reveals your correspondent to be a clueless blithering idiot. Trust me on this one.