Friday, April 19, 2013

Darius Anderson: Newspaper Owner and Subject of News. Again.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 19, 2013 at 11:17 AM

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Adding to an increasingly long list of stories in the Press Democrat about the new owners of the paper, a story by Derek Moore today looks into the "controversy in Sonoma" about the revised building plans for Chateau Sonoma Hotel and Spa.

Darius Anderson, founder and CEO of Kenwood Investments, backing the project, is also, as many know, one of the principals of Sonoma Media Investments, owner of the Press Democrat.

Of course Anderson and his partner Doug Bosco, another principal at Sonoma Media Investments, have been in the news regularly lately—story about lobbying, story about Jared Huffman, story about Gov. Brown. The two are newsmakers in this area, but the recent influx of stories "above the fold" about their dealings is a little hard to stomach.

Take the very well-written story by Kevin McCallum about the Sacramento Kings which graced the front page of the Press Democrat late last month. Fine, Anderson is a big wheeler-and-dealer in this situation, which is justifiable sports news . . . in Sacramento. This seemed like a story for the Sacramento Bee, or something the PD could have pulled from the Associated Press—not one to have a stellar reporter like McCallum spend valuable time covering when he could have been writing about more relevant things to our community.

As for the Anderson's hotel, I'm not suggesting the residents of Sonoma don't find this issue important. It is. In the story, Moore writes: "The Index-Tribune building, an adjacent warehouse and an antique store, all owned by Anderson, will be razed to make way for the hotel complex."

This is news, and I am glad it is being covered. The voices against the development were heard, and reported on in the Press Democrat, and that is important. But the more stories about the new owners that aren't relevant to the local community, the less inclined readers will be to take seriously the ones that are.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Project Censored: The Movie

Posted By on Tue, Apr 16, 2013 at 11:44 AM

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The 16th Annual Sonoma International Film Festival was host to a bevy of films, and one, Project Censored: The Movie, may be the most important film I've seen in terms of inspiring media consumers to seek outlets that speak the truth.

If you know about Project Censored, you're probably not surprised that I am a fan. For those unfamiliar, it is a nonprofit located at Sonoma State University whose mission is to "teach students and the public about the role of a free press in a free society — and to tell the news that didn’t make the news and why." Each year, Project Censored publishes a book of the 25 "top censored stories and media analysis." The stories are collected by students and faculty and are vetted by media professionals.

Project Censored was founded in 1976 by Carl Jensen and was housed in the Sociology Department at Sonoma State University until it spun off and became its own nonprofit, the Media Freedom Foundation. This allowed Project Censored to be more autonomous and to reach out to other schools across the country in order to have a wider net with which to catch untold stories.

Project Censored: The Movie is directed by Doug Hecker, a former participant in Project Censored, and Christopher Oscar. In it, the two attempt to answer the question: "What will it take to end the reign of corporate media's junk food news?" The night the film premiered at the Sonoma festival, 200 people were turned away. There was an additional showing later in the weekend, and a third showing was added at 9 p.m. Sunday night to accommodate the crowds.

Hecker and Oscar's inspiration to make the film stemmed from their role as fathers, and wanting to leave behind a news legacy worth something. They talk about "junk-food news" and why corporate media fails to report the truth. Interviews with Howard Zinn, Oliver Stone, Noam Chomsky, Michael Parenti, Daniel Ellsberg and Dan Rather, among others, are eye-opening, particularly to the uninformed media consumer.

Khalil Bendib, a political cartoonist, talks about the top-down structure of the news and how corporate ownership hides the truth.

"General Electric owns NBC. General Electric is a bomb maker. NBC is not going to be against war," he said.

My personal hope is that this film is widely distributed. It seems to me that often, films like this are only seen by people who already know the problems, and simply preach to the choir. If this film is seen by many, it could shed some light in otherwise dark corners of reality and inspire people to take a more active role in their news consumption.

When asked to reflect on the role of the alternative media, Bendib says, "I would compare it to oxygen, really."

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Friday, April 12, 2013

What Happened to the Covered Wagon at Montgomery Village?

Posted By on Fri, Apr 12, 2013 at 5:46 PM

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A covered wagon’s sudden disappearance might not be news in other cities. But in Santa Rosa, it nearly stops traffic.

That’s what Santa Rosa residents discovered today, upon seeing that the iconic covered wagon, which for over 50 years has stood watch at Montgomery Village on the corner of Farmers Lane and Montgomery Drive, has been taken down.

I drove by Montgomery Village this morning, wondering why cars were moving so slowly. But as I got closer and noticed the wagon gone, I wasn’t the only one craning my head out the window to stare at the empty space. The wagon had been there my whole life. What happened to it?

Says David Codding, owner of Montgomery Village, “I think it’s run its course.”

The wagon was taken down yesterday, and it'll be given to Cattlemen's to use at one of their restaurants. But that's not why the wagon was taken down. To hear Codding tell it, during the remodeling process of the northwest quadrant of the shopping center, Santa Rosa’s Design Review Board had told him to get rid of the wagon.

“They said, 'We like the building and what not, we’ll approve the building,'” Codding told me today, “'but we want that wagon gone. It just looks ridiculous.'”

I knew Codding had some disputes with the city over his initial remodeling plan (disputes with city planners run in his blood, after all) so I wondered if this was all just residual sour grapes. But I called the architect on the job, Warren Hedgpeth, and another planner at city hall. Both confirmed that the city encouraged the wagon’s removal.

To longtime locals, hearing that the City of Santa Rosa wanted a landmark like the Montgomery Village wagon taken down is downright crazy. But here’s something to consider: the wagon that was taken down yesterday isn’t the original, historic wagon. It’s a replica. The original one was moved to the corner of Patio Court and Farmers Lane years ago—where it still stands, and where Codding says it’ll stay.

It took moving the wagon to show Codding just how much people cared about it. After he took over Montgomery Village and moved the wagon three blocks south, he got so many complaints from residents that he hired some Amish workers—“back in Utah or someplace”—to build another one for the corner at Montgomery Drive and Farmers Lane.

As for the future of that now-empty corner, a landscaped plaza is planned. Several bronze statues will depict children holding an American flag and, also, children feeding deer, Codding says. A sign telling the story of Montgomery Village will be set in a rock wall, with bas relief plaques of both Hugh Codding and village namesake Billy Montgomery, who was the first person from Santa Rosa to be killed in WWII.

The original, larger wagon has a special significance: it was a gift to Hugh Codding in the mid-1950s from Hollywood actor Fred MacMurray. As Codding says, “He called up dad and said, ‘You know, what you need at Montgomery Village is a covered wagon. I have a covered wagon at my ranch that would just be perfect.’ And Dad said, ‘That’s a great idea.’”

Here's how the wagon looked in 1962, courtesy of the Sonoma County Library History Annex. Note the payphone and corner mailbox, things you don't see much anymore, as well as the lack of sidewalks. (Zoom in and you'll see signs for Hal's Toyville, Eisenhood's Deli and the Maple Shop... anyone remember these places?)

The original wagon has been through a lot over the years. Once, when maintenance workers were repainting it, they found arrows with charred tips inside. “I think kids, at night, they’d go and they’d pour gasoline on an arrow and shoot it at the wagon, trying to burn it down,” says Codding. “I heard another report that another kid, or group of kids, tried to put a detonation device in it, with wires—and it malfunctioned, obviously.”

Of course, what everyone really wants to know is: has anyone ever managed to climb up inside the wagon? “Yeah, I think some kids have climbed up into that wagon,” Codding laughs, “and God knows what they were doing up there.”

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Jimmy Carter is Literally Saving the World

Posted By on Fri, Apr 12, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Can you believe Jimmy Carter was President? Of the United States of Deadlocked Congress, nonetheless? In this interview from the Tuesday's airing of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart Carter describes how in just 27 years the 3.5 million cases of extremely painful guinea worm have been eradicated (It was in Asia and Africa). He's pretty modest about his involvement, but President Carter was the leader of the organization that did this.

Let's find a medical problem in this country that can be easily eradicated with knowledge and simple behavior changes and eradicate that problem in less than 30 years. I'd like to see a president who could do that.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

This Time Google Did it Right

Posted By on Wed, Apr 10, 2013 at 3:44 PM

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Holy mackerel, media junkies! I came across this gem on Salon.com and what a doozy it is.

My impetus in writing on media issues for the Bohemian is to make the media landscape a better place. That may be bold and ambitious, possibly megalomaniacal—and oddly enough, if it worked, I would ostensibly be making myself irrelevant. But that's my goal.

I was a reporter with the North Bay Business Journal for about three and a half years. I have written for myriad other publications, but nowhere else did I receive regular press releases about and from businesses and institutions I wrote about. The job of marketers is to market, and they did it, and did it well. My job as a reporter was to sift through and find the "news," and this was my judgment call. For some reason I was allowed to be the "gatekeeper." (A term thrown around in J school which I find sort of funny.) But the point is that I looked at these releases and determined whether there was real news value or whether they were things marketers were trying to slip past me as news so they wouldn't have to pay for advertising.

It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Anyway, this well-written column from Salon, by Andrew Leonard, is about exactly the sort of thing that has troubled me.

That trusted news sources (in this case, the author is calling out a Forbes magazine article for saying Google shouldn't discriminate between news and sponsored content, i.e. ADVERTISING) aren't making sure their readers know the difference between actual stories and advertising is maddening.

The Forbes writer, Jeff Bercovici, argues that Google's recent stance against this kind of media manipulation is OK.

He says:


But even if Google’s stance isn’t a threat to the native business model, its approach here leaves something to be desired. When Google wanted to address the infestation of content farm crud in its search result, it didn’t have to threaten to block the perpetrators from showing up in search unless they played by its rules. It simply watched how its users responded to content farmed articles and used those signals to adjust its algorithm accordingly.

That’s the sort of elegant engineering solution we’ve come to expect from Google, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t apply here. If Google News users think some sponsored content is news, who is Google to say otherwise?

I'm sorry, but I am a Google News user, and I absolutely mind if there are paid-for or even not-paid-for advertisements posing as news stories!

How can we have a press that actually makes a difference in our lives if it is half advertising masquerading as editorial? We can't. I think they call that propaganda. Kudos Google, at least this time, for drawing a line in the sand.

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Misappropriation of Funds at SRJC

Posted By on Wed, Apr 10, 2013 at 3:32 PM

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An inquiry into the alleged misuse of two student funds at Santa Rosa Junior College has spurred questions that could turn into a statewide investigation at the community college level.

On Easter, the Associated Students, in concert with Director of Student Affairs and New Student Programs Robert Ethington, sent questions to the district counsel, the School and Colleges Legal Services of California, about the legality of the current use of some of these student funds to pay salaries.

Each semester, every SRJC student is asked to pay an optional $1 Student Representation Fee, amounting to between $42,000 and $45,000 annually in recent years, according to Robert Edmonds, executive vice president of the Associated Students. The fund was created by special election, and its stated purpose is to be used by students to lobby government to change policies as they see fit.

The other fund is the Student Activity Fee or Student Program Fee, a $15 fee paid by students to join the Associated Students and reap the benefits thereof. Discounted parking, free admission to events and games and discounts at the CyBear lounge are among such benefits.

But instead of going solely to programs and lobbying, these funds are paying for the salaries of two positions, Administrative Assistant III and Account Specialist, and have for a number of years, says Edmonds. A total of roughly $111,000 per year goes to the salaries, benefits and expenses associated with the two positions; $75,000 comes from the Student Activities Fund, and $36,000 from the Student Representation Fee.

"The Associated Students develop a budget every year at this time and they recommend that budget to the trustees,” Ethington said. “This year, that process is being put on standby because of this inquiry.”

Ethington has been working with the students to determine if funds are being used in an appropriate way.

"First and foremost, we want to follow the law," he said.

Every year, the Associated Students develops a budget and takes it to the Board of Trustees for approval. “It is part of the student experience,” said Ethington. “Just like they would in a nonprofit, they recommend that budget to the board. In the 13 years I have been with the college, the board has always approved what the students bring.”

That the students’ budget is approved annually without trustee intervention means every year, the students have passed this line item, approving the funds to be used for salaries.

That is, until now.

Edmonds is the first person in charge of the budget who has taken the inquiry this far. He said as long as it’s clearly and transparently communicated to the students what they are getting for their money, there is no issue. But, he added, if it is considered legal, “I think the district should be responsible for at least half of what the students are paying now.”

“I have been advised that if, as I believe, the use of these funds is illegal, and that I am being compelled to continue including salaries in the budget that I believe is illegal, that I should resign from my position,” he added.

This advice, among other things, created a desire in Edmonds to dig deeper into the issue that had been raised semester after semester by the associated students, but never fully addressed and solved.

Jessica Jones, the president of the Associated Students, created the budget last year, and says she wasn’t made aware at the time that the funds that were allocated to pay the salaries were even accessible.

“I had no idea I could access these funds,” she said. Her chief concern with the current inquiry is that it takes months for the Associated Students to access the funds. She envisions a future where on-campus clubs can easily access funds for appropriate usage such as travel to conferences and putting on events.

According to Edmonds, Ethington is taking steps for this to happen now, but Ethington said that it is difficult once the budget has been passed to get to the reserve funds.

In 2005 there was a memorandum of understanding stating the associate students would pay 75 percent of a .6 full-time equivalent position, according to Ethington.

That later morphed over the years, and the students agreed to pay 45 percent of one full-time equivalent position. At the time of the MOU, there was no specification as to which funds the monies came out of. Over the years, the item in the budget has just passed on and been approved. The number changes every year with contract negotiations and healthcare rate changes.

“The specifics aren’t something I can even look at,” Edmonds said, citing confidential personnel issues. “I can just see the big number.”

The questions that Ethington and the Associated Students sent to district counsel are:

1) Use of Student Activities Fee revenue (pursuant to EDUCATION CODE SECTION 76060-76067):

a) Is it legally permissible for the Associated Students of Santa Rosa Junior College (ASSRJC) to authorize the use of revenue collected from the optional Student Activities Fee to fund salaries and benefits for Sonoma County Junior College District (SCJCD) classified employee position(s) whose duties include work performed on behalf of the ASSRJC?

b) If it is legally permissible to fund such a position, and such a position is fully funded (1.0 FTE) by Student Activities Fee revenue, can the position perform work for the department that supervises the position and provides administrative oversight of the ASSRJC? Background note: some of the work performed may not directly benefit ASSRJC, but it does support the overall financial operations of a college department that has historically maintained a reciprocal support and consultative relationship with the ASSRJC.

2) Use of Student Representation Fee revenue (pursuant to EDUCATION CODE SECTION 76060-76067):

a) Is it legally permissible for the ASSRJC to authorize use of revenue collected from the optional Student Representation Fee to fund salaries and benefits for SCJCD classified employee position(s) whose duties include performing work to support “students or representatives who may be stating their opinions and viewpoints…”(California Title 5, Section 54805) before legislative bodies?

b) If it is legally permissible to fund such a position and such a position is partially funded (.45 FTE) by Student Representation Fee revenue, must at least .45 FTE of work performed by the position be in direct support of activities related to “students or representatives who may be stating their opinions and viewpoints…” before legislative bodies?

c) Must language of intent to authorize salary and benefit funding for SCJCD classified employee position(s) be included in the ballot text of a student election that would include authorization of payment for salary and benefit funding of said position through collection of a Student Representation Fee?

Typically, answers to questions like this come within two weeks, but Edmonds said Monday that district counsel has sent clarification about some of the questions.

Regardless of what the opinion is by counsel and what the district chooses to do at Santa Rosa Junior College, Edmonds said he will likely be taking this issue to the chancellor’s office, and that he hopes the Student Senate of California Community Colleges is on board with him to look deeper into this issue at each college.

There is a General Assembly of the SSCCC at the end of April. Hopefully, said Edmonds, counsel will give their opinion before then so they can bring it up at the annual meeting.

As to the positions and whether the college would be able to fund them if the AS monies dried up, Ethington couldn't comment at this time.

"But," he said, "I think the college would work to find a place for the employees. I am hoping by the end of next week we will have a legal opinion," he said.

"It is a big institution, there is a lot of bureaucracy," Ethington said. "But I think there will be a good outcome. Jessica and Robert [Edmonds] have been great and I commend them on the amount of work and good things they have done for this college. Their job is to advocate and they feel like this is an issue that needs their attention."

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

More Local Media Buy-Ups

Posted By on Tue, Apr 9, 2013 at 5:39 PM

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Sonoma Media Group (not to be confused with Sonoma Media Investments, who own the Press Democrat, the Petaluma Argus-Courier and the Sonoma Index Tribune and other associated publications) today announced a $4.5 million deal to buy five local radio stations which were owned by Maverick Media Group, LLC.

I wish the investment group had chosen a different name, as it could be confusing to media consumers which local group owns which local press. The similarity is reminiscent of when North Bay Biz magazine changed their name after the North Bay Business Journal, which targets the same audience, changed its name so long ago.

Maverick Media sold KSRO, The Mix, Hot, The River and Froggy in the multi-million dollar deal. According to the Press Democrat's story, Lawrence Amaturo, "who previously owned KSRO and several other radio stations," will take over the radio stations as owner/operator in May.

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Neil Gaiman Coming To Santa Rosa; Tickets Selling Fast

Posted By on Thu, Apr 4, 2013 at 12:34 PM

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If you want to see Neil Gaiman in Santa Rosa on July 6, you'd better act fast. Tickets for his appearance at Santa Rosa High School went on sale yesterday, and even without much notice or advertising, they're already selling quickly.

In just one day, reports Vicki D'Armon from Copperfield's Books—sponsor of the event—roughly a quarter of the tickets are already gone. "I think I'll probably have them through next week," says D'Armon.

Gaiman is no stranger to local readers. I mean really—American Gods, Anansi Boys, Coraline? The Sandman? (To the uninitiated: Gaiman wrote a children's book. He called it The Graveyard Book. That about sums it up.)

He's also committed to his fans at a level that's pretty unusual for authors of his stature. After the reading and Q&A, D'Armon reports, "he says he'll stay until 4am to sign books."

$35 gets you into the event and a copy of Gaiman's newest, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. If you want to go with a friend and share the book, special $50 tickets allow two entries and one copy of the book.

While available, tickets are being sold at Copperfield's stores. You can also get them online here.

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Coursey: Strong Enough to Admit Lapse in Judgement

Posted By on Wed, Apr 3, 2013 at 8:11 PM

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A round of applause to Chris Coursey for his self-critique published today in the Press Democrat.

After going through several front-page stories that acknowledged "human error" (Winnie-the-Pooh fake being one) or otherwise contained mistakes in judgement, he chastised himself for not seeing the forest for the trees in the Willits bypass story—i.e., calling the Mendocino County tree-sitting demonstrator's tactics "futile and dangerous" and having faith that "cooler heads" (i.e. CHP and Caltrans) would work something out.

Of course, that was before bulldozers and SWAT teams were unleashed.

Whoever made that call was obviously a lot more of a hothead than anyone predicted, and I'm not sure Coursey needs to concern himself with too much hand-wringing in this case. (Not like the torrent of apologies a few weeks ago by journalists who supported the Iraq War.) But we have to say, it's always nice to see some self-editing and ownership when errors have been made.

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NIMBY? Not I, Said the Little Green Marin

Posted By on Wed, Apr 3, 2013 at 11:26 AM

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In a Los Angeles Times article republished Monday in the Press Democrat, reporter Maria L. La Ganga writes about the saga starring George Lucas, his abandoned film studio project (pictured) and his promised replacement of hotly contested affordable housing.

She writes:

His next move, some here say, was payback for what Lucas described in a written statement as the "bitterness and anger" expressed by his neighbors.

Interesting to me is that this story is written by someone from the Times, over 400 miles away. A planning commission meeting where affordable housing minimums are discussed isn't often statewide news—but then again, this is Marin we're talking about here. La Ganga mentions the statistic that that 60 percent of Marin's workforce commutes from out of the area. She also reports there have been protestors seen in Marin wearing buttons with the slogan "End Apartheid in Marin County" as a stance against the disparity.

A report from Live Local Marin, Miles From Home, puts into detail the commuting numbers mentioned above, along with plenty of other pertinent info—like that many of those workforce commuters make less than $40,000 per year.

Lucas' projects, along with the topic of affordable housing in Marin — which some would call an oxymoron — have garnered quite a bit of attention in the local press. The issue is far from resolved, and this reporter is looking forward to reading the sequels and finding out how the story unfolds.

For a little back story on the project and Marin's housing issues:

A Bohemian article on Marin's affordable housing issues.

A Bohemian article on Lucas' promises of affordable housing.

A Press Democrat article on Lucas abandoning the original project.

A Marin Independent Journal article on the local opposition of the zoning.

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