Saturday, January 3, 2009

A tribute to attorney John Petrini: RIP

< A memorial service was held on a rainy cold Saturday for John Petrini, the local attorney who died Dec. 19 after a long bout with cancer. John was a prince, one of those local institutions who always had a smile and hearty handshake for anyone. It was John's father that helped found what is now Borton, Petrini & Conron, one of Bakersfield's premier law firms. John was born Catholic but migrated to the Methodist Church. The ceremony at the First United Methodist Church featured a little of both: Rev. Richard Thompson and Father Craig Harrison. John was just 63 when he died, far too young for such a nice man.

An idea for real, indepth education coverage

If local newspapers are truly going to move from mass to niche, and that means serving a better educated and more engaged audience, they're going to have to find a way to deliver the goods. And that means fewer stories about drivebys, fires and agenda-driven government news and more in-depth stuff that a reader believes "makes me smarter." Think the Economist as your local newspaper. Okay, it's a dream now but it should be our goal. One way to bring top notch reporting back to newspapers is being raised by Richard Lee Colvin, director of the Hechinger Institute on Education and Media at Columbia University's Teachers College. Colvin is a former education reporter at the Los Angeles Times, a dogged specialist who took his craft seriously and produced some stellar work. It's just an idea but he's considering a plan where Hechinger would produce the stories in partnership with local newspapers, bringing some much-needed depth to the resource-starved paper at (hopefully) a reasonable price. If we're going to survive, we're going to have to determine how to evolve from a product that simply serves up crime and courts and soft features to one that gives our readers something special. Stay tuned for more from Colvin and Hechinger.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Addressing overload: how reporters can help readers make sense of the world

More from the excellent Matt Thompson's blog, which addresses the information overload and how traditional journalists can retrain themselves to become relevant. I might add that becoming relevant means keeping one's job and staying in business. Some of Matt's recommendations, with my comments in parenthesis:
1) Are we making our community feel better informed or merely distracted? (This goes to the heart of the old way of simply "reporting the news" that may or may be of relevance to the reader.
2) How important is this for our community to know, and why? (It's not enough that "news" happens; it has to be relevant.)
3) Are we chasing the larger story, or just the latest story? (Simply "chasing" stories is not only the path of least resistance but it's also downright lazy.)
4) Are we synthesizing information, or merely aggregating it?
7) Are we using 1,000 words where a picture should be? (This is what I call the tyranny of the story form, where reporters build everything around a 20-inch bylined piece where other forms may be better)
The complete list is on Recommended reading.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The new journalism: why "context" matters and "mirroring" does not

I stumbled upon a provocative blog on the future of reporting and journalism at Written by Matt Thomspon, a research fellow at the Missouri school of journalism, it effectively argues that "context" is what's important, not simply "mirroring the community" (my words, not his) by reporting the latest driveby or what happened at the courthouse. This is important stuff because I believe it speaks to the increasing irrelevance of what comes out of newsrooms today. Too many reporters and editors don't have a clue who their core readers are, and they hide behind their own narrow definition of "news" as something that simply happened. From the blog:

Until recently, newspaper editors defined news as “important developments over the past 24 hours.” Editors of newsmagazines might expand that time horizon by a few days; Web editors will contract it to within a few hours. But there’s no escaping the time-bounded nature of “news.”

My understanding of journalism is broader. To me, journalism is the constant effort to deliver a truer picture of the world as it is. The “latest developments” provide one lens through which to capture that picture. And as long as journa
lism was primarily delivered by static media, that lens made perfect sense.

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.