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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Zack Darling, head honcho at Zack Darling Creative Associates and local legend of dance party fame, recently introduced Go Local to the Ladybug Demographic, something University of Kansas demographer Dr. Harold Swanson calls "mostly 18-24 year old women skulking the underground club scene in mid-western small towns."
Thinking it was a joke, Go Local dismissed Darling's claims until today, April 1, when they realized Darling's cutting-edge conception is indeed a reality - and decided to tap into that demographic with a new branding concept.
It promises to be a brilliant breakthrough for Go Local, which until now was reaching somewhat older small business owners, local bankers and overly-hippied-out Sebastopudlian Earth mamas.
The catch? To reach the "Ladybugs," as they like to be called, Go Local has teamed up with genetic engineers and is creating a ladybug that, instead of spots, has "Go Local" and "Local First" and "Grown Local" all over its back.
Sorry Mother Nature, Zack Darling is in the house, and it's about to get crazy up in here.
The investment group—which already owns the Sonoma Index-Tribune, the Press Democrat, the North Bay Business Journal and the Petaluma Argus-Courier, along with the rest of the Press Democrat's magazine and online properties—is headed up by lobbyist and developer Darius Anderson, a man of increasing infamy around these parts.
Anderson, speaking at a CNPA convention in Sacramento earlier this year, emphasized his desire to own more newspapers (to wit: he wants to "rape and pillage" other media properties). The Napa Valley Register, located just over the hill from Anderson's home in Sonoma, makes for a convenient newspaper to rape.
It might also be an easy one: I called the Napa Valley Register repeatedly today for a confirmation or denial of the rumor, and for hours, there was no answer. How does a newsroom get tips without answering the phone? (Neither the Sonoma Valley Sun nor William Hooper, one of the main investors of Sonoma Media Investments, responded today to calls either.)
The Napa Valley Register predates the Civil War—it was founded in 1853. Now, 160 years later, the paper is published by Napa Valley Publishing, which also publishes a series of smaller newspapers throughout the Napa Valley: the St. Helena Star, the Weekly Calistogan, the American Canyon Eagle and Hispanos Unidos. (Presumably, those papers would be included in a sale of the Register.) Napa Valley Publishing is owned by Lee Enterprises, which is headquartered in Iowa.
Meanwhile, Darius Anderson has been in the pages of his own paper quite a bit this week.
The special zoning amendments for small grocery stores in Santa Rosa's federally-designated Food Desert were rescinded at a City Council meeting last week. We've reported previously on the lawsuit filed by the Living Wage Coalition, which contended that this ordinance violated the general plan.
The Living Wage Coalition told us that they would drop the lawsuit if the ordinance was repealed.
The lawsuit was a response to Walmart's national trend of opening "small marts" or smaller, neighborhood grocery stores, in areas that are underserved by vendors of fresh fruits and vegetables.
According to newspaper coverage, councilman Gary Wysocky, who did not vote for the zoning amendment, criticized it again when it was rescinded, pointing out that the data was old. He had previously brought up that other grocery stores have entered the supposed desert since the 2001 statistics that were used in determining its status.
Still, residents of the wide swath of Southeast Santa Rosa along Santa Rosa Avenue face difficulties in procuring food despite the grocery additions. Last summer, we went to the food desert and checked it out.
Dearest Bohemian reader: Perhaps you, too, were bumming around the blogosphere this morning and saw that another work of Twilight fan fiction got a book deal.
If you're like me, you feel outraged at first. You think: Isn't Twilight strange and disturbing enough? Isn't it already shameful that a work of fan fiction then became a wildly popular three-part series? Do we really need a third set of tomes inspired by the already-flat characters of a sparkly deer-eater, a sometimes-wolf with rapist tendencies and a teenage girl who could really benefit from some kind of extra-curricular activity?
But then, if you're like me, you admit that you're strangely compelled by the whole notion of fan-ficiton. You overhear 16-year-old boys talking about their Game of Thrones fan fiction in coffee shops (but they're mostly writing about Cersei so you don't really want to know). You once wrote an article about Gone with the Wind fan fiction, for which you spent three months listening to Gone with the Wind fan fiction, which is so full of bizarre plot twists and decadent clothing that you felt bored and empty when you were done. You remember this term from college, "intertextuality," which is basically a smart way of saying that everyone writing literature is ripping someone off.
So you take to the Internet and Google "Twilight fan fiction," to see what horrible and fascinating things emerge.
First, you find that there are several professional-looking forums, in which hopeful writers of Twilight fan fic post their plot ideas. They list the number of chapters, the language, the genre. They include summaries—everything from future snapshots of the Cullen clan to this one, which is kind of awesome: "Falling asleep on a bus and missing his stop, a man ends up in Forks for the weekend...poor guy."
Then, you find that Googling "Twilight fan fic" brings up a number of Tumblr pages. Apparently, if you're wanting to write Twilight fan fic and can't find the words to express the wonder and longing inspired by the original series, you can use pictures! But, wait, never mind. Don't click on those links! While there are some lovely watercolors of wolves (which would look right at home on a tie-dye shirt), there are also some photoshopped images of Edward in pants that zip...oh my goodness. You can't un-see that.
Finally, in a moment of soul-crushing despair, you'll realize that the worst has already happened. Frankenstein's monster has birthed a child, who has, in turn, birthed a child. Or, to be more Twilight-appropriate, that half-human, half-vampire child from the series that started it all has found a half-human, half-vampire mate, and their sparkly progeny is destined to outlast us all.