Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Why it's okay for reporters to have opinions

It's been my belief for some time that one of the problems with traditional journalism - least the way I was taught - is that it is increasingly seen as bland in this age of visual journalism, YouTube and blogging. When compared with the fire and crackle of its competitors, old school reporting can seem well... simply boring. We try so hard NOT to have opinions that our writing (and reporting) is so bland as to become irrelevant. The San Francisco Bay Guardian tackles this issue on its website with an interesting piece that quotes Arianna Huffington from her Huffington Post. To wit:

"Our highest responsibility is to the truth," Huffington told us in a recent interview. "The truth is not about splitting the difference between one side and the other. Sometimes one side is speaking the truth ... The central mission of journalism is the search for the truth."

I'm not advocating for every reporter to become an opinion writer, but sucking the life out of copy just to remain "unbiased" isn't the way either.

Surprise: Internet top news source for young people

It should come as no surprise that the internet is now the preferred source for news for young people. The only surprise is it took this long. Alan Mutter's Newsosaur blog (link is below) triggered a sharp exchange of what this means for traditional media. What is clear to me is that "old media" (and that includes newspapers) has to change the way it views the world and open itself up to more user generated content. The newsroom does a splendid job of building high walls to keep non traditional news sources out of the paper; now it's going to have to learn to let people in. Consider this comment from Mutter's blog:

Once newspapers go broke, they won't be a source for the Internet anymore. But I can think of several good sources right off the bat:

(1) Media releases and other information provided by corporations, institutions, political parties and lobby groups. Of course, this will be biased, but no more so than the existing media. As it is, much 'journalism' consists of transcribing these sources anyway.

(2) Citizen reporting. With mobile phones becoming ubiquitous, capable of taking photos and even sending video streams in real time, it is increasingly likely that someone will be present at a breaking news event, recording it on the spot.

(3) Interested amateurs -- bloggers with a day job who are enthusiastic enough to pursue a story and analyse the details. We have quite a few good ones already.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Milt Younger, the old lion, still manages a growl

< It's interesting to watch the public breakup of the old Chain, Younger, Cohn & Stiles law firm, one of the preeminent "slip and fall" firms in town. The firm is now under firm control of David Cohn, Milt Younger's nephew, and his partner Dave Stiles. Milt, who has long fancied himself as something of a kingmaker in local Democratic politics and has an ego to match it, didn't go quietly into the night when he left the firm. Instead, despite some health problems, he teamed up with his old partner Timothy Lemucchi to take on his old firm. They've launched an ambitious TV campaign featuring the two old lions. It will be fun to watch what happens. Stay tuned.

Monday, December 29, 2008

How small towns mimic social networks

A healthy discussion is being held on how small towns actually mimic social networking, and for me the larger question is how we can encourage more civic engagement by promoting by making social networking a core part of our media business. An interesting post from the thread:

The key to effective social networks is maintaining a common sense of purpose and a feeling that change and progress is still achievable.

Small towns benefit greatly from the goodwill and influence of individuals. So do neighbourhoods, alumni classes, your work unit and other small groups.

The challenge for social media advocates will be to mute all the talk of larger networks influencing the individual, and learn to emphasize collective benefits (that might not necessarily be to the advantage of corporate or organizational sponsors)

B-town makes Top 10 list of worst real estate markets

Not that anybody suspected otherwise, but once again Bakersfield shows up on a newly released list of the nation's worst real estate markets. Eight of those ten are in California and Bakersfield is ranked No. 9. It's another indication that we've got a ways to go to dig out of this mess, and any recovery will be half hearted with real estate leading the way. The list is from the NBC affiliate in the Bay Area and was compiled by the S&P Case-Shiller national home price index. 2009 looks like another tough year.

Top Ten Worst Markets
1) Los Angeles: Projected to be down 24.9 percent in 2009
2) Stockton: Projected 2009: down 24.7 percent
3) Riverside: Projected 2009: down 23.3 percent
4) Miami-Miami Beach: Projected 2009: down 22.8 percent
5) Sacramento: Projected 2009: 22.2 percent
6) Santa Ana-Anaheim: Projected 2009: down 22 percent
7) Fresno: Projected 2009: down 21.6 percent
8) San Diego: Projected 2009: 21.1 percent
9) Bakersfield: Projected 2009: down 20.9 percent
10) Washington, D.C.: Projected 2009: down 19.9 percent

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Olive oil and the brain drain

Spent a lovely evening last night at Luigi's where banker Bart Hill held a private reception to unveil his latest sideline: extra virgin olive oil. Seems Bart, president of San Joaquin Bank, has 13 acres of olive trees near Visalia and is now marketing his own boutique brand, appropriately named "13 Acres." Luigi's is of course a special place and it was packed with Bakersfield business people, along with a lot of their kids home from school. What struck me were the number of bright, articulate youngsters we send off to school who never come back. There's simply few opportunities for them here. Among them were Bart's girls, Paige (University of North Carolina) who is now in grad school at the University of South Carolina, and Elizabeth (also UNC) who is working in Washington, D.C. Also there were Katie Benham (UC Davis), working in Newport Beach, Sam Brandon, a sophomore at Colorado at Boulder, and my own daughter Lauren Beene (UC Berkeley) who is working in New York. "13 Acres" is on sale now at Luigi's but unfortunately we only see these promising young people there on rare occasions.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The heart of B-town

There are plenty of things wrong with Bakersfield. Start with the foul air and go from there: a general lack of vision among our elected leaders, apathy among the public, low expectations, high illiteracy and drop out rates, an appalling low percentage of college graduates. We all have our lists. But there is something else that we can't overlook and that is the genuine goodness of most of the folks who dwell here. It's that "small town" feeling when we are anything but a small town, but it exists and everyone can attest to it. It's the kind of place where people are ready to help, and if you open yourself up, you'll find yourself with friends in about every trade. Today for example my heat went out (yikes it was cold) and I was headed to the Yellow Pages for a round of cold calling when a friend mentioned a mutual friend we shoot skeet with. Sure enough one call later and owner Ben Wagoner (by the way he is one terrific skeet shooter) sent his crew over from Air Control Services to fix the problem. We all have these stories - mechanics, handymen, painters, plumbers, even lawyers and law enforcement officers - all found via word of mouth from friends who are eager to help. That's when B-town feels like home.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A New World Order

Jeff Jarvis (a link to his buzzmachine is listed below) is one of our great thinkers and today he puts forth a good argument linking the current economic upheaval with the maturation of the internet. I lifted this straight from his blog:

Fred Wilson says what I’ve been thinking: That we’re in more than a financial crisis, we’re in a fundamental restructuring.

Clearly the economic downturn is the direct cause of most of these failures but I believe it is the straw that broke the camel’s back in most cases.

The internet, now closing in on 15 years old in its mainstream incarnation as the world wide web, is in many cases the underlying cause of these business failures.

Bits of information flowing over a wire (or through the air) are just more efficient than physical infrastructure….

This downturn will be marked in history as the time where many of the business models built in the industrial era finally collapsed as a result of being undermined by the information age.

Fred outlines fundamental changes in retail, banking, and auto sales, to name three industries, and then is kind enough to plug my book for more.

I also argued in a recent Guardian column that not only will specific industries be overtaken by this change but so will the structure of the economy as - post-crisis, post-Google - companies and sectors will no longer grow to critical mass through vast ownership funded by vast debt but instead, Google-like, by building networks atop platforms. Industries will change and so will the structure in which they operate.

The point in any case is that it would be a mistake to think that we will come out of this financial crisis soon wounded but still seeing the world the way we saw it before. In the graveyard of camels with broken backs, we will see a new world newly structured and we’re only beginning to figure it out.

In this sense, media - music, newspapers, TV, magazines, books - may be lucky to be among the first to undergo this radical restructuring. Communications was also early on because it - like media - appeared close to the internet and Google (though, as I say in the post below, it’s a mistake to see the internet strictly as media or as pipes; it’s something other). Other industries and institutions - advertising, manufacturing, health, education, government… - are next and they, like their predecessors, don’t see what’s coming, especially if they think all they’re undergoing is a crisis. The change is bigger, more fundamental, and more permanent than that.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sheryl Barbich keeps Vision 2020 alive

Remember Vision 2020? This was the energetic grassroots attempt to help mold public policy to what really matters to folks in our community-things like the need for clean air, green space, water parks, good zoning. These may seem like small things in most communities but in a town where developers rule, they are the first to go in the rush toward development. But hand it to Sheryl Barbich to keep the dream alive. It was Sheryl's iron will that pushed the Vision 2020 process to fruition (she's too modest to admit that) and it is her drive that almost single handedly keeps it alive. If enough has not been accomplished, it's not because she hasn't been trying. So it didn't surpise me when I was included on a group message from Sheryl trying to rally the troops once again to support our community...

To: V2020 Facilitation Team

Holly Culhane called with a request to identify a 1-2 day project for 500 local volunteers. Think back on what the community said they wanted and send me (or Holly) some ideas for this energetic group that can help our community become a better place. With the proper publicity, this volunteer activity could inspire others to do similar projects, and voila! Meantime, all the best wishes to you and your families for a wonderful holiday. Wishing peace for you and for the world, in the new year. Sheryl

We could use a few more Sheryls in this town....

Ralph Bailey: breath of fresh air

Bakersfield isn't known for the quality of its local talk radio. The hosts (that's a charitable title in some circumstances) can be blissfully ignorant, dealing in half truths, rumors or internet conspiracies, or at worst just downright mean spirited. But one exception is Ralph Bailey on 1560 KNZR. Ralph has attracted strong ratings and a growing following through a fairly simple formula: be informed, be interesting, don't take yourself too seriously and most of all, exhibit a sense of humor and fair play. He's by far the most intelligent and well-read of the local talk show hosts and enjoys a solid lineup of guests: Rep. Kevin McCarthy, former Sheriff Carl Sparks (always good for a laugh) and Lois Henry, the opinionated Californian columnist who can go toe-to-toe with Ralph's wit. (Ralph and Lois go way back incidentally) He's worth tuning into every afternoon for a listen.

Ford Fusion Hybrid: 50-plus mpg?

Got an email today from Kyle Northway, the marketing manager over at Jim Burke Ford, a Bakersfield institution that has done much to give back to the community. Kyle was pointing out (with justified pride, given the bad news surrounding the car industry these days) that the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid is being praised as the most fuel efficient mid-size car in America. The Fusion Hybrid gets an incredible 41 mpg in the city and 36 mpg around town, and one review (not cited by Kyle) had it getting 56 mpg around town. Ford needs some good news and for the life of me I don't know why they're not promoting the Fusion every hour of every day.

We're No. 1! (In polluted air)

It's no secret that Bakersfield has some of the worst air in the nation and occasionally you'll find lists in the paper. But check out this list from the American Lung Assn. on the top 10 polluted cities. It's humbling (and scary) and it's appalling that so many of our local politicians ignore the consequences of such unhealthy air.

The 2008 Lists:

Top 10 U.S. Cities Most Polluted by Short-Term Particle Pollution:

1) Pittsburgh, Pa.
2) Los Angeles/Long Beach/Riverside, Calif.
3) Fresno/Madera, Calif.
4) Bakersfield, Calif.
5) Birmingham, Ala.
6) Logan, Utah
7) Salt Lake City, Utah
8) Sacramento, Calif.
9) Detroit, Mich.
10) Baltimore, Md./Washington, D.C./Northern Virginia.

Top 10 U.S. Cities Most Polluted by Year-Round Particle Pollution:

1) Los Angeles/Long Beach/Riverside, Calif.
2) Pittsburgh, Pa.
3) Bakersfield, Calif.
4) Birmingham, Ala.
5) Visalia/Porterville, Calif.
6) Atlanta, Ga.
7) Cincinnati, Ohio
8) Fresno/Madera, Calif.
9) Hanford/Corcoran, Calif.
10) Detroit, Mich.

Top 10 U.S. Cities Most Polluted by Ozone:

1) Los Angeles/Long Beach/Riverside, Calif.
2) Bakersfield, Calif.
3) Visalia/Porterville, Calif.
4) Houston, Texas
5) Fresno/Madera, Calif.
6) Sacramento, Calif.
7) Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas
8) New York, N.Y./Newark, N.J.
9) Baltimore, Md./Washington, D.C./Northern Virginia
10) Baton Rouge, La.

Lois hits another one out of the park

Lois Henry, the Californian's primary Metro columnist, hit another one out of the park today with a compelling piece about the need for more civic engagement in our community. The apathy in our town is disturbing, and it is prevalent no matter of income or education level. Check out Lois Henry's latest musings at

"I’ve often heard from people that they would like to get their foot in the door of community life but

1) nothing ever changes, so why try?

2) they’re overwhelmed by the size and number of our problems and 3) they don’t know HOW to get involved.

I’ll try and address the issues listed above and, hopefully, Santa will sprinkle a little “anti-apathy” powder over Kern County tonight. But the rest is up to you!

Yes, things do change when average people get involved."

Amen, Lois, amen.