Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Carl & The Great Art Heist

Carl Hiaasen shows up in Monterey County for the weekend on Sept. 25, the same day someone allegedly broke into a Pebble Beach home to steal of bunch of impressive artwork and launching one of the most intriguing ongoing dramas in recent local history.

I keep waiting for the emergence of a character with a chain saw surgically attached to his arm.

Weird mojo follows Hiaasen everywhere.

Friday, August 28, 2009


I got blamed/credited in the Letters to the Editor yesterday for coming up with the term "Prunetucky" in reference to the bucolic North County community I call home. Truth is, and if I'm not mistaken, I likely purloined the name after I heard it about 30 years ago during a friendly neighborhood pallet fire following a drunken Prunedale Outlaws bash out behind the house that used to have Christmas lights strung out to spell "Hells Angels" on the roof so that everyone speeding down Highway 101 could see it. Again, I could be mistaken.

The writer of the letter suggested that Prunetuscany might be a more appropriate name, inasmuch as Prunedale more closely resembles a bucolic over-promoted region of Italy.

Someone, another Prunedale resident named CMarie, responded in the letters' online comments section:

"I laughed out loud when I read Jim Hommes letter suggesting that Prunedale should be referred to as "Prunetuscany" rather than the local favored "Prunetucky". He said that he and his wife had traveled to Tuscany numerous times and likened it to visiting a friends terrace in Prunedale. Well, I do not know where his friends "Terrace" is. I didn't think we had any terraces in Prunetucky. From my home, I can see my neighbor's lifted white truck parked on what used to be grass. From my front window, I can see a mobile home with old and faded Pink Flamingos. Next to the home is a beat up trailer with "Roy and Erlene" and their one toothed dog who fight like hell. When they do, it makes for a great summertime nights entertainment especially if the police show up. Now granted Prunetucky has improved it's reputation over the years. We have two shopping centers, two Starbucks, and all of the conveniences without having to go into Salinas. We have million dollar homes next to shacks. We call it Prunetucky because we can laugh at ourselves for living in such a quirky place. Look, how many of you can say that you went to your car after grocery shopping and found a flier on your car advertising for "hot girls services". That brilliant guy didn't get far in life. I don't think this kind of stuff happens in Tuscany. "

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Gadflies and Kooks

Those of us who cover municipal government always struggle with what to do with the gadflies and kooks who haunt city halls.

For the most part, they are as aggravating to reporters as they are to the civic leaders who must indulge them as they are forced to allow the gadflies and kooks spew inanities during the public hearing portions of council or board meetings. We are aggravated because we are on deadline and the gadflies and kooks waste our time.

Several weeks ago a video of a gadfly at a Santa Cruz City Council meeting went viral after The Huffington Post and others posted her rambling rant on the Web. Her blathering was surreal, but it was no worse than what elected officials and reporters are forced to endure at any given council meeting everywhere in Monterey County.

Unfortunately, there exists a subculture of weirdos with nothing better to do with their time than to show up at each and every public meeting to whine, complain, moan and holler about the stupid things the civic leaders are trying to do. Healthy criticism and effective activism are great democratic tools, but the kooks and gadflies generally have nothing credible to say and they certainly have no valid solution to anything. They simply show up and let their jaws flap for three minutes.

Several years ago, the California legislature enacted what can best be described as the Equal Opportunity for Kooks and Gadflies Act, which mandates that all bodies of elected officials must allow time for random people to speak at public meetings. The idea is that the average citizen with valid issues can approach a board or a council to apprise the elected body of the issue.

Because of this legislation, a parade of gadflies and kooks are allowed to waste a whole lot of time during meetings to vent their spleens.

Unfortunately, the inhuman nature of the gadflies and kooks serves to undermine the intentions of the valid and well-meaning citizens who come to elected bodies with valid issues.

Here's how it typically works:

The valid citizen arrives at a city council meeting with an issue he or she believes the council needs to address. The valid citizen works hard to present the issue, to condense the problem in an effective three-minute presentation that will impress the council and force a resolution. The valid citizen is credible and articulate.

But when the valid citizen completes the presentation, the kooks and gadflies descend. They tell the valid citizen that he or she has a great issue. They tell the valid citizen that they can help resolve the problem because they have been coming to council meetings for years and they know their way around city hall.

The valid citizen, who is well intentioned but rather naive in the workings of kooks and gadflies, will be grateful that other people care about his or her issue. So the valid citizen will allow the kooks and gadflies to get involved -- until he or she starts working with these people and recognizes that he or she has thrown in with the nutty fringe, at which point the valid citizen backs away from the issue altogether. And the problem never gets resolved.

I've watched this unfortunate dynamic play out countless times in the decades I've covered local government.

But I've never seen it undo a mayor, until now.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Reflections on The Carmel Follies

It’s uncomfortable to be cast as the talentless doofus at a musical review meant to showcase local artistry. Even more so when wearing a hula skirt and a coconut bra.

But testing my discomfort level appears to have become a midlife challenge, which is why I found myself on the Pacific Repertory Theatre stage in Carmel over the weekend, plodding along, like a dancing bear on mescaline, in a hula skirt and a tutu.

I suppose my appearance in the Carmel Follies is somebody’s notion of low comedy, but it was my idea of public humiliation. I was teamed with three other “good sports” – Sam Linder, Thompson Lange and Bob Mulford – to be the comic foils/horrors for a couple of numbers at the Follies. I call us the “Ick Girls.”

The show seems to have been a big success during its two-day run. The gala opening, which included an auction, was a successful fundraiser for PacRep. What’s more, I’m told that the Ick Girls were greatly entertaining, that we amused the crowd as we stumbled our way across the stage in a wretched display of choreography. It helped that much of the audience was appropriately inebriated.

I just hope that seeing doofuses stumbling about is not the lingering memory for the Carmel Follies audience; so much other unique and real talent was on display.

For instance, the multi-talented Gracie Moore Poletti was the host of the show. She is real talent. At the Follies, she showed she can dance, she can sing, she can make you laugh, she can memorize her lines and her dance steps, and she can hold a show together. I’m troubled that all the audience might remember of her is that a quartet of lumpish middle-aged louts in hula skirts managed to lift her without dropping her at the end of “Honey Bun.”

And then there’s Allyson Spiegelman, the captivating ballerina who appeared onstage early in the second act. She is beauty, elegance, grace – and perhaps a better “good sport” than the Ick Girls after allowing herself to share the stage with a bunch of old guys in tutus.

Fortunately, our presence on stage was limited to a few slapstick minutes. That meant we didn’t have to destroy the tender “Beauty and the Beast” mood set featuring the splendid Reed Scott and the, uh, homely Steve Woods. That meant our antics didn’t interrupt a fun original Wizard of Oz number featuring Lydia Lyons and Otis Goodwin.

And there was so much more we did NOT ruin, including great solo work by Thelma Howard, Steve Guerra and Daniel Simpson. And we sure as hell did not want to upstage true talent like Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Hulsey, baritone Peter Tuff and Layne Littlepage. Director Walt de Faria was appropriately patient with the Ick Girls; in fact, he coached the terrible-ness into us.

All in all, The Carmel Follies proved a terrific introductory sampler of the real talent that blesses Monterey County. Producer Stephen Moore said he expects the Follies will be an annual event, and I do urge him to continue to scout for and feature the community’s hidden gems for future shows.

Meanwhile, the Ick Girls – Sam, Thompson, Bob and I – are already planning rehearsals for Can-Can, our act for next year. In our case, of course, it will be the Can't-Can't.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Completely unrelated to The Herald . . . I've been cooling my heels at the national convention of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in San Francisco this week. It's been an overwhelming experience; so many great people and so many difficult issues.

The highlight of the week, at least for me, was an appearance by Nathaniel Ayers, the fellow that inspired Steve Lopez's "The Soloist." Ayers performed for about 20 minutes after being presented with a NAMI award for breaking down the stigma of mental illness and thanking the crowd with a rambling speech.

That he was there at all and was able to play his violin in front of a couple of thousand people was an act of courage.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Reflections at the Gate

There's nothing there, really. Just a bunch of guys selling t-shirts, MJ stickers and commemorative publications. By now, the U.S. news crews are gone, replaced by a dozen TV production crews from far-off lands, like Spain, the Middle East and Japan. Regular people show up with their cameras, their flowers and their posters. Everyone who shows up is guaranteed an interview by some news personality.

We happened to be in Santa Ynez this weekend, 10 minutes from the gate. I've always been ambivalent about Michael Jackson, but we're only a short drive away, so what the hell . . . We're staying with a fellow who used to deliver monkey chow and camel food to Michael Jackson's playland. The exotics are gone now, replaced with polo ponies. The amusement rides have disappeared.

But we wouldn't know. From the front gate, there's nothing to see but the gate and the people at vigil and the t-shirt hawkers. The mansion and what's left of the place are down the road, over the hill and past another gate.

There's an old hippie guy at the gate; looks like he's been there for a while. He plays Michael Jackson hits on his flute. Nice touch, but it seems meaningless.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Behind the Homeless Students Story

After the publication of a story last week about the worrisome increase in the number of homeless students now struggling to get an education in Monterey County, we learned that the woman featured in the account has had several encounters with law enforcement. The homeless woman has three children. They were living in a hotel room until recently while the kids were trying to stay in school with the help of a program designed specifically for homeless children.

According to court records, the mother has been convicted (twice) of domestic violence and for several other misdemeanor charges. This came to our attention after an attorney for her former landlord called to say the mother's account of why she is now homeless is in dispute.

Had we known now what we did then, we might have approached the story differently. On the other hand, the story was about homeless students — and representatives from the school district referred us to the woman when we asked for a good example of families who are trying to make do in these tough times. The fact that the woman has a police record does not diminish the fact that her children are homeless.

Some people are homeless because of the circumstances they confront; others are homeless because of the unfortunate choices they've made. When children are involved, it shouldn't really matter how it happened.

"The main point is that kids who are . . . living in the streets, we need to put them in schools," said Carlos Diaz, the homeless liaison for the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

True Believers

What do you get when you throw red meat into a packed house filled with true believers?

That was the social experiment I designed today by inviting Hal Ginsberg, Mark Carbonaro and their respective fans to Wave Street Studios on Cannery Row for a live taping of "Central Coast Views." The show aired today and can be found on www.montereyherald.com on Friday.

I'm proud to report that no blood was shed, no folding chairs were damaged and the law was not summoned. And while there was plenty of disagreement about the politics of the day, Hal and Mark proved that it is indeed possible to agree to disagree. The partisan crowd never let their rankle get the best of them; rather, they cheered and applauded their man and a good time seemed to be had by all.

Hal is the progressive radio maven, the owner and morning host on KRXA 540 AM radio. Mark teams with Jim Pearson on KION 1460 AM. Hal and Mark have significantly different listening audiences -- and neither they nor their listeners lack passion.

I served as both referee and cutman during the ten-round bout, but I'm not qualified to say who "won" the debate. Both were incredibly well prepared. Both were articulate and thought-provoking. 

All in all, and except for a few minor glitches and the mumbling moderator, I thought the first show was a rousing success. The lively live audience seemed to enjoy it -- at least they all said they looked forward to attending the next show. 

Based on the success of today's show, we expect to air new episodes of "Central Coast Views" monthly. And we are considering a change in the time of the show; we heard from dozens of people who said they would like to be part of the studio audience but couldn't break free at 3 in the afternoon. 

Stay tuned.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Radio Waves

If you enjoy rigorous debate — the type where principled people with faces and voices slug it out — you won't want to miss The Herald's first-ever meeting of the minds on Thursday at Wave Street Studios.

The program, called "Central Coast Views," will feature Monterey County's two most popular political talk radio personalities, Mark Carbonaro and Hal Ginsberg. Carbonaro teams up with Jim Pearson each weekday morning on 1460 KION-AM, while Ginsberg is general manager, talk-show maven and chief bottle washer at 540 KRXA-AM.

Ginsberg and Carbonaro both insist they transcend political labels. But for those of us who listen in, it comes as no surprise that Ginsberg's station can be found on the left end of the dial, while Carbonaro's is entrenched on the right side. Also, KRXA features Bill Press and Ed Schultz, while KION features Michael Savage and Glenn Beck.

For years, Carbonaro and Ginsberg have been preaching to their respective choirs about politics, big and small. But it occurred to me that we've never actually seen them in the same room together, discussing the issues with someone who might disagree.

Both are articulate. Both are passionate. Both are knowledgeable.

So, with the help of Wave Street Studios, The Herald is getting Ginsberg and Carbonaro together for a good old-fashioned debate. I will serve as moderator, referee and designated cutman. We'll take on the events of the world, the nation and the state. We'll go local, if we have the time, and might even take on our favorite weasel politicians.

The show promises to be a great opportunity for fans who would like to see their favorite radio personality go mano a mano against a rival. It's also a chance to visit Wave Street Studios, the local Taj Mahal of multimedia production, at 774 Wave St. in Monterey.

The fun starts at 3 p.m. Thursday and everyone is invited. The admission charge of $10 will help defray production costs.

The show will be streamed live on http://livenetworks.tv and will be rebroadcast on various platforms, including montereyherald.com, beginning Friday.

But we expect it will be more fun to see it live.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Bottom of the Page

Congratulations to PacRep. my personal favorite local theater company, for its stellar marketing campaign to promote its production of "The Blue Room." It certainly got what it needed from The Herald.

A couple of days before the May 28 opening of the show, we were told of a "late ad" that would be running on the front page of The Herald. Whatever. The folks in the newsroom don't actually see the advertisements before they get in the paper. But about 10:30 that night, our copy desk got a call from someone upstairs, in the production department, asking if anyone was aware that a woman's naked butt was scheduled to appear on the front page.

The production guy sent down a copy of the ad, our assistant city editor appropriately flipped, and she called her bosses at home to figure out what do do with the woman's posterior. Since none of us had actually seen the bare-assed ad, the assistant city editor was told to use her discretion. So she pulled the thing.

She was hailed as a Herald Hero for doing so -- and PacRep had its Eureka! moment for its follow-up ads. The Blue Room! A Production Too Hot for The Herald to Handle! The local weeklies had a great time of it, accusing The Herald of being censorial prudes, pointing out that the depiction of undressed buttocks was the work of a noted photographer, etc.

It seems like a silly thing to defend, the removal of exposed tush from the front page. But I think the assistant city editor made the correct call. She, for one, is not offended by exposed cheek action, but figured the majority of readers probably aren't prepared to confront a naked butt when they open their daily newspaper. Here on the Monterey Peninsula, people get so riled up that they call me to complain because they think Adam@Work is too racy, that the general's secretary in Beetle Bailey is profoundly sexist.

And what if, next time, the depiction of bare ass is not the artistic and shapely bottom of a model? What if PacRep chose instead to present an Andres Serrano photograph of the hairy, flabby keister of a middle-age man to promote its next show?

If I was promoting PacRep, I'd give it a try. It certainly got a lot of marketing mileage out of The Blue Room's tush.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Adventures with El Maestro Buffoono

The doofus rube without a clue (that'd be me) shuffled up to the stage yesterday for a public display of wretched orchestral conducting in front of 4,000 people.

It may have been the most fun I've had while humiliating myself in years. I've done some odd things in my career at The Herald — flown with the Blue Angels and the Canadian Snowbirds, interviewed royalty, sat through a Papal Mass — but this one takes the cake: I was a guest conductor for the Monterey Bay Symphony at its Memorial Day Concert at the Naval Postgraduate School.

It got off to a bad start; someone had stolen my conductor's baton. But I was able to improvise with a pair of chopsticks I happened to have with me.

Fortunately, the orchestra and the folks at the symphony were gracious and indulgent. They were, in fact, very sweet about my public embarrassment.

Many thanks to the symphony, to Ron and to the musicians. And I apologize to music fans, to the Arts Council and to the Naval Postgraduate School for klutzing my way through "Stars and Stripes Forever."

To witness the carnage yourself, see the video produced by Peri Basseri and BigTime Productions at www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRG1HRIX35A

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Call Me Maestro

A sign that the Monterey Bay Symphony is in deep trouble: They've asked me to be their guest conductor for tomorrow's Memorial Day Concert at NPS.

From the concert advertisement, quoting my email to the symphony: "I'm not sure how long you'd want a tenuous rube from Prunedale on the podium embarrassing himself and undermining the symphony, the spirit of Memorial Day, our integrity, (and) The Herald's credibility, while springing horror upon the audience, the musicians, the Arts Council and the impressive cast of sponsors . . . (but) I'm really looking forward to this unprecedented opportunity to humiliate myself publicly. I've done it in so many routine ways, but it's always nice to find new and unique vehicles for grandstanding embarrassments."

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Community Works

I was honored to attend three inspiring events this week, events that cemented my recognition that we live in a special community.

Tuesday morning I was up at dawn for a fundraiser for the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas. The place is struggling in the current economic environment, but it's a resource worth saving and I'm happy to say that the invited guests donated generously.

Wednesday morning was the American Red Cross tribute to local heroes, which is awesome beyond belief. It's always impressive to learn about people who are willing to step up, who go above and beyond to save a life or to improve conditions for those who are less fortunate. And it's comforting to know that the Red Cross will be there for us in times of trial.

And Thursday was very special for the three dozen graduates of Genesis House, the drug and alcohol program in Seaside where miracles happen every day. The event at the Oldemeyer Center in Seaside honored those graduates in recovery. Genesis House is operated by Community Human Services; it's a place where lives are changed, where hope is restored and where the human spirit prevails. Congratulations to all graduates. I love you, Josh.

Censoring phantoms

I've lately been charged with the mortal sin of committing censorship for deleting comments on this blog.

I'd feel much worse about this if I knew who I was censoring. In fact, if the phantoms who lurk on the web to spew cheap shots had the courage of their convictions to identify themselves, this wouldn't even be an issue. I would happily undelete their comments. But they won't. They'd rather hide behind the wall that encourages cowardice.

Of course, I'll be accused of hypocrisy and inhibiting public debate. The Herald will be accused of stifling the free flow of opinion.

In truth, The Herald has been much too lenient about the spew it allows to foul the comment section of its Web site. For the most part, we don't remove comments unless they contain excessively foul language or are dangerously racist. Every random coward can say any random thing in the comments section of the Web without fear that they'll be identified as the source of the spew. And so they do.

I've never understood why newspapers allowed this degeneration of public discourse, other than in their desperation to crank up their Web hits.

But if deleting anonymous twaddle is censorship, newspapers have been doing it for years. In the newspaper, we don't allow random cranks to share their opinions in letters to the editor and commentaries without attaching their names. We don't allow people to share obvious misinformation, to get away with venal below-the-belt cheap shots.

I will continue to allow random cranks to spew anonymously on this site -- and I will grant much leeway to those who identify themselves. But I won't allow gutless creeps the opportunity to drag my family into the deal.

Monday, May 18, 2009

DUI, or Didn't He

There appears to be a publisher in Carmel who believes that driving under the influence is not such a big deal. This same guy has apparently created a policy on behalf of The Herald which, he asserts with frothy indignation, it has violated with its coverage of the Marvin Biasotti situation.

First off, I make the following declaration: If the executive editor of The Herald (me) is ever popped for driving under the influence or for any other crime, the popping will be duly noted in the pages of The Herald. I hope it never happens. But if it does, The Herald has a responsibility to report that the leader of a community institution acted irresponsibly by endangering fellow motorists. And I have a responsibility to own up to it.

I'd like to believe that Biasotti accepts the same responsibility. Biasotti, the superintendent of the Carmel Unified School District, was stopped and arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence several weeks ago after returning from a district function. Biasotti drew attention to the entire matter himself when he sent home a letter of apology to parents and ran the letter on the district's Web site. (Cynics suggest he brought attention to the matter simply because he knew the high school newspaper would be running a story about the arrest, but . . . )

Anyway, the hometown weekly righteously avoided mention of the arrest and the resulting dudgeon within the district, then had the gall to whine indignantly about The Herald in an editorial last Friday. The weekly's publisher believes that our coverage is overblown. He believes DUI arrest is a "relatively minor event." In Biasotti's case, no property was damaged, he argues, no lives were lost. No harm. No foul.

This from the same paper that once invested a major Watergate-style investigation into some poor schlub who left town without paying her hotel bill.

Oddly, in the same issue as the snippy editorial excoriating The Herald and its coverage of Biasotti, the weekly reported that Biasotti was indeed arrested for driving under the influence, that the superintendent takes full responsibility for his lapse in judgment, and that the school board is tripping all over itself trying to figure out what to do with Biasotti.

For the record, The Herald does not run lists of all of the unfortunates who are arrested and cited for driving under the influence. We once did that, printing a big long list in agate type at least once a week, but stopped about two decades ago for a variety of societal and practical reasons.

But that doesn't mean we have a policy of ignoring all drunken driving arrests. Biasotti's case was a no-brainer for us. Biasotti directs a school district with a zero-tolerance policy, a district that sponsors terrific "Don't Drink and Drive" programs around prom, a district that promotes teachable moments. Not only that, Biasotti himself stepped forward, publicly admitted an error of judgment and mea culpaed his way around the district.

If a high-profile community leader doesn't want his reputation or career damaged, he should befriend a sober driver to get him home from the fancy party.

And if a high-profile weekly publisher chooses to ignore legitimate news that captured the attention of the entire community even before it landed in The Herald, he ought to at least avoid the preachy screed.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Be Kind to Your Web-Footed Friends

So I found myself in a big pickle several months ago when I innocently attended a Salvation Army function.

It was a terrific event, a fund-raising luncheon to kick off the Salvation Army's Red Kettle Drive before Christmas. Altruistic people poured money into big pots and folks were buying auction items at prices that far exceeded the values of the items. It was the auction that got me in trouble.

I had been somewhat interested in several of the auction items, but sat back quietly when bidding started on what was termed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to conduct a symphony orchestra. The "opportunity" at hand was the honor of serving as guest conductor for the Monterey Bay Symphony during the annual Memorial Day Concert at the Naval Postgraduate School.

When the bidding started, I couldn't imagine who on God's earth would bid on such an item. And I was surprised when the bidding moved apace quite briskly.

But I was even more surprised when a gentleman at my table, Ron Weitzman, a fellow I once thought of as a friend, jumped to his feet to announce he would bid an unmentionable amount of money if Joe Livernois agreed to conduct the symphony.

Every eye in the room turned to me, of course. And the look behind all those eyes seemed to indicate that it is so so wonderful that I would assent to such a thing. All that smiling. All that nodding. Put on the spot, I really had no choice. I agreed to lead the freakin' symphony.

But the thing is this: I don't know a damn thing about conducting a symphony, other than what I learned while watching Bugs Bunny cartoons about 40 years ago.

But I am a gamer. Dr. Carl Christensen, the symphony musical director, told me I'd be leading the symphony through "The Stars and Stripes Forever," which seems like a spirited selection (without, thankfully, any potentially embarrassing time changes).

And I've been practicing a lot lately, to the bemusement of my family. I've pulled down a YouTube video of Leonard Bernstein, yanked a couple of versions of the song from iTunes, and rented the appropriate tails. And I believe I've done a credible job during my personal rehearsals in the living room, even if I'm using a chopstick in place of the conductor's baton.

Aside from witnessing my own public humiliation, the rest of the concert should be terrific. Joe Meyers, a tenor who bills himself as the "West Coast King of the High 'C's'" will be there. Caitlin McSherry, a violinist with the Monterey Symphony, will perform traditional American fiddle music. And Rep. Sam Farr will narrate the "East of Eden Symphony."

Gates open at 10 a.m. on Memorial Day, May 25, and the concert starts at 2 p.m. It's free -- and I guarantee you'll get your money's worth from me.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

When the Allegations are Sexual

The Herald has taken its fair share of hits recently from among Dr. Carl Bergstrom's patients who complain that he is being "tried in the press." We are told that Bergstrom is a great and caring physician who works tirelessly with his patients.

Bergstrom is accused of sexual assault -- the sort of allegation that is difficult to extricate oneself from even if acquitted. At The Herald, everyone involved in preparing news stories about the allegations and the court proceedings are well aware of the implications of the charges. We do not take the presumption of innocence lightly.

At the same time, the fact that a high-profile citizen of our community has been charged with such a crime is not something The Herald can or should ignore. The Herald did not file the complaint against Bergstrom; that is the job of the District Attorney. In cases like this, we must presume that prosecutors have what they believe is a case they can try -- and now it is up to a judge and a jury to decide whether the DA can provide the evidence.

In looking back at the stories The Herald has published about the case, I believe we've actually been quite circumspect. We are not splashing sordid details all over the front page. We will continue to cover the case. And we will certainly report the ultimate resolution.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Biting the Hand That Feeds Her

When last I saw Arianna Huffington, she professed a deep respect for newspapers. A featured speaker at a Monterey Peninsula College event not long ago, she told the crowd she reads newspapers voraciously and hinted that those who don't are blithering idiots.

She was called upon the other day to testify at a Senate committee looking into whether newspapers and their readers would benefit if they operated as nonprofits, sort of like the print versions of NPR or PBS.

Unfortunately, her testimony displayed an odd lack of understanding of the role news gatherers now play in the over-tech world of information management. Not to mention her own reliance on true journalism to propel the Huffington Post.

"Can anyone seriously argue that this isn't a magnificent time for readers who can surf the net, use search engines, and go to news aggregators to access the best stories from countless sources around the world -- stories that are up-to-the-minute, not rolled out once a day?" she asked the senators.

"No, the future is to be found elsewhere," she continued, seemingly inopposition to the nonprofit idea. "It is a linked economy. It is search engines. It is online advertising. It is citizen journalism and foundation-supported investigative funds. That's where the future is."

Like several successful "news" blog sites, Huffington's Post utilizes a mix of news from legitimate sources with a healthy diet of blathering opinions written by blowhards with little more understanding of the issues beyond what they've read in the newspapers.

Granted, this is my own blathering opinion, but . . .

If news-gathering businesses go away, from where would Huffington pull the stuff that has made her blog so successful? And if news gatherers disappear, what context would the bloviators have from which they can form their blathering opinions?

And Americans would be better served because all we would ever know about an issue will come from the blathering blogging bloviators we've bookmarked? I doubt it.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Passing through

My heart breaks for the souls on the tour bus who died or survived the horrific crash Tuesday near Soledad. Who can imagine the terror?

They were nearing the end of their extended tour of the United States from the tight quarters of buses. Together they had experienced all the landmarks and the terrific things to see in the Western States, so they must have developed friendships. The sense of camaraderie created among fellow travelers on such trips are often the highlight of travel. But in an instant, the trip of a lifetime turned to horror. New friends were lost. Family members died. They are far from home, they don't speak the language.

It is rather phenomenal that none of the travelers on the fated bus care to share their experiences and their thoughts about the accident publicly. We respect their wishes, of course, and I'm not aware of any local reporters trying to bully interviews from the victims. But it's something American journalists aren't really accustomed to.

In America, survivors of tragedies seem more than willing to tell their stories whenever someone with a camera or a notebook shows up. They'll tell us all about the phone calls they made before the plane went down, the calm response of fellow passengers before the ferry sunk, the heroic efforts of the crews who came to their rescue.

I don't know what conclusion to draw from the reaction of the French travelers aboard that bus on Tuesday. I would guess that perhaps they are more circumspect, that the permeation of the culture of celebrity, in which all Americans expect to someday find their 15 minutes of fame, has not yet reached France. Perhaps they believe that the "healing process" does not necessarily require an appearance on television.

Nevertheless, we wish our visitors well and we pray they may soon recover from this horrible tragedy.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Fun and Kooky Facts About The Herald, Past and Present

In no particular order:

1. The first banner headline in The Herald (then known as The Peninsula Daily Herald) in June 1924 read: “Great Whiskey Haul.”

2. Sports writer Kevin Merfeld chased a squirrel out of the snack lounge the other day.

3. Edward Kennedy, the editor of the paper until his death in 1963, is best known as the man who gave the world an extra day of peace after he broke the embargo on the German surrender at the end of World War II. He was an AP reporter covering the war at the time, but lost his job and was all but blackballed in journalism for breaking the embargo.

4. Ted Durein, who was editor of the paper for a time, is credited with bringing the Crosby Pro-Am Golf Tournament to the Monterey Peninsula while he was sports editor.

5. I can think of at least three couples who married after meeting in The Herald's newsroom.

6. The Herald's founder, Allen Griffin, commanded Company F, 364th Infantry Division, during World War I. He rejoined the Army during World War II and participated in the war in Normandy, Brittany and Belgium.

7. There's a King James' version of the Bible published in 1936 in the newsroom morgue. There's also a French-English dictionary that doesn't seem to have been used since 1936.

8. The Herald published a couple of editions from the King City Rustler’s office in the days immediately after the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989.

9. One of The Herald's former interns, Clara Moskowitz, appeared on the ABC News Now program earlier this week to talk about a story she wrote for Live Science that describes studies indicating that prove people who smile a lot seem to have better marriages.

10. You can find sportswriter Dave Coffin’s byline in copies of The Herald dating back to 1968.

11. John Steinbeck occasionally wrote articles exclusively for The Herald.

12. The Herald won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for a photo essay produced by John Kaplan shared by The Herald and The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

13. Not a day goes by when someone doesn't mention "Fresno" in the newsroom.

14. While working for The Herald, I got the chance to attend a Papal Mass and meet the Prince of Luxembourg in consecutive days in 1987.

15. The Herald office was located on the corner of Pacific and Jefferson for more than 30 years. It was easier to get to a restaurant for lunch back then.

16. Nowadays, a lunch truck pulls into The Herald parking lot each day around 12:30 p.m.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Senior Achievers

Thanks to Grant Nakajima for sharing these photos from The Herald's Senior Achievement Awards program Wednesday at the Beach Resort Monterey.

Pacific Grove High's Honor Students Molly Speacht, Jaclyn Carpenter and Jeehee Cho

Monterey High School's Kayla Harvey, Kasey Nakajima, Ariel Dooner and James Caress

Monterey High's Kasey Nakajima

Thanks to Grant Nakajima, who shared these photos from The Herald's Senior Achievement Awards ceremony at the Beach Resort Monterey on Wednesday.

Ariel Dooner of Monterey High School

James Caress, Monterey High's valedictorian, below

Top, Carmel High School's Caelan Urquhart, Shannon Mae Welch and Tyler Greenway.

Above, Monterey High's Kasey Nakajima, James Caress, Ariel Dooner and Kayla Harvey.

Left, Monterey High's Jodie and Kasey Nakajima.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Youth Not Wasted on the Young

By far, my favorite duty as editor of The Herald is hosting the annual Senior Achievement program.

We finished up the 42nd presentation of the banquet last night. It was an inspiring evening that recognizes accomplished, talented and genius high school seniors. Each of these students, the cream of the crop, will be lauded by their schools and by different organizations within their school districts during the weeks leading to their graduation. But The Herald's Senior Achievement Award program is the only time that these students, from different schools and with a wide range of talents, come together to be honored.

This year The Herald recognized 62 students at about two dozen schools from King City to North Monterey County schools.

For the past two years, I've been responsible for introducing each of the students at the event, which this year was held at the Beach Resort Monterey. It's an arduous task; I'm at the lectern for 90 minutes and describing the accomplishments of so many wonderful kids (I tend to develop a bad case of the flop sweats when speaking to crowds), but I can't help but get charged up by the students' enthusiasm and passions.

They are focused and disciplined. And they should inspire us all that our future generation will be in good stead.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Savvy & Thoughtful

I spent several fascinating hours with The Herald's Readers Advisory Committee on Tuesday. It was only the group's second meeting, but they are a smart and articulate bunch and they have plenty to say about the direction of The Herald.

We will approach future meetings with better focus, but Tuesday was my first opportunity to hear their opinions and their ideas. I came away loaded with ideas that can fill a focused agenda for the next five years.

While no recommendations came out of the most recent meetings, several issues were very clear to me.

First, members of the panel all agreed that The Monterey County Herald should not pull back from its coverage area. Faced with continuing reduction in resources and staff, we have toyed with the idea of scaling back our coverage of Salinas to concentrate more on what we consider our "core," which is the Monterey Peninsula. Salinas, after all, has a newspaper of its own. But our advisory panel seemed to be collectively aghast at the thought of ignoring Salinas. The folks on the Peninsula do not live in a vacuum, they said, and most of them recognize that news from Salinas does impact them in meaningful ways. Ignoring Salinas would simply foster additional misunderstanding among the citizens of Salinas and the Monterey Peninsula, and would make it that much tougher to tear down the "Lettuce Curtain" that divides the two communities.

Second (and this was gratifying to hear), committee members told me they actually appreciated the diversity of opinion that we allow to inhabit our Opinion pages. Whatever their political stripe, they said they enjoy reading reasoned arguments from folks with whom they disagree, particularly the syndicated columnists. They like that we allow locals to mix it up with their letters and their extended pieces -- and they encouraged us to foster even more of it. Diversity of opinion, they said, is what democracy and freedom is all about. They are grateful we provide the outlet.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The New Champs

Saturday was a banner day for the athletes at The Monterey County Herald. The newspaper's basketball team swept through the media competition at the Good Old Days invitational tournament to earn the championship trophy. 

I don't mean to trash talk the competition -- specifically, KSBW-TV, The Weekly, The Californian, Jammin' 97.6 -- but The Herald was simply superior. 

It was a great Pacific Grove type of day. The sun was out, the wind was down and the crowds at Good Old Days really seemed to be enjoying themselves. Mayor Dan Cort was a gracious host: He was furious at The Herald for the front-page tree ordinance story on Saturday, but refrained from griping about it when I encountered him at Good Old Days later that day. 


Friday, April 3, 2009

Twitter Dither

The Herald is plunging headlong into the digital age with its Twitter and its Facebook presence and its Web sites and its blogs.

In my travels, reader reaction is all over the map. Our core readers (about my age and set in their ways) tell me they don't cotton to all this Internet junk and they don't think we ought to waste a lot of our time with it. They prefer the feel of a real newspaper, especially now that The Herald ink doesn't come off on their hands.

But times have changed and The Herald can't afford complacency. It's no secret that newspaper circulation continues to take a hit. In readership, if not on the financial ledger, newspapers make up for that reduction with unique hits to their Web sites. As many people are reading The Herald now than when I first started working here, but about a quarter of them are doing it online.

So that's why I'm learning to Tweet.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Would We Be Missed?

Interesting discussion on politico.com about newspapers. Specifically, a collection of engaged and involved people were asked the following questions: "Will you miss your newspaper when it's gone? How much will the decline of the paper hurt our democracy?"

The engaged and involved people who weighed in were overwhelmingly supportive of the notion of newspapers, which makes sense because, as I mentioned, they are a collection of involved, engaged folks. Many of them seemed to think that newspapers with "nonprofit" status might actually be a healthy model, acknowledging that the ravenous need for big profits have decimated journalism's primary goal.

A couple of keen observations:

Sylvia Lovely of the Kentucky League of Cities pointed out that "our community banks, community and small town newspapers are actually thriving" and that bigger papers in metropolitan areas, owned largely by out-of-town interests, are turning to the small-town models: "a local spin, informing intelligent, thoughtful citizens of the texture behind every story" rather than passing sound bites.

Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman and now a Princeton lecturer, noted that "freedom of speech" and "freedom of the press," while both first amendment guarantees, are separate and distinct. "Think of the distinction as that between what we are permitted to say . . . and what we are permitted to hear. The difference is absolutely crucial to democracy, and that is why the decline of the newspaper is not an interesting phenomenon but a serious blow to democratic government."

Bradley Blakeman, a Republican strategist, said that market forces are the primary indicator: "You can't force upon the consumer something they don't want. The US Constitution guarantees free press, not a free ride."

For the full discussion, see www.politico.com/arena/

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

If We're So Narrow-Minded . . .

In this day and age, when everyone is so bollixed up with their entrenched ideals, it's apparently difficult for some folks to comprehend that contrary points of view can be respected. So they always seem befuddled when The Herald prints letters to the editor that blast The Herald.

When's the last time you've seen a bank tape a nasty note on its front door from a customer complaining that a clerk botched a transaction? Or a lawyer post a letter from an angry client on his Web site? Yet newspapers routinely run letters from readers pointing out that the newspaper is full of hooey.

Following the unfortunate headline on Page 1 on Monday, I got an earful from a guy on Tuesday who was understandably upset with the paper. During his rant, he declared his utter surprise that we carried letters that crucified us for running that story with that headline. I've stopped being surprised that guys like him are surprised.

Guys like him tend to think people who run newspapers are maniacal conspiracy mongers determined to shove a certain point of view down the throats of unsuspecting readers. Guys like him believe we are hellbent on protecting the institutional status quo, or else they are convinced we are out to destroy those institutions. 

If we were as narrow-minded and conspiratorial as guys like him think we are, we'd never run letters that criticize us. Fact is, we prefer the great American tradition of honest debate and lively disagreement that is fundamental to a free society. And because newspapers rarely dodge contentious relevant issues, they naturally become part of the debate. We understand that the messenger often ends up with the arrow in his back, but that doesn't stop us from loading our critics' quivers. 

You can disagree with your neighbor or you can disagree with us. Your neighbor might never speak to you again, but we'll run your letter.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bum Head

Well, there's nothing worse than an unfortunate front-page headline on a Monday morning to greet the editor on his first day back on the job after an extended furlough/bereavement leave. 

Many readers, myself included, were upset with the headline over the story this morning about the shooting of four police officers in Oakland on Saturday. The follow-up story, written by our friends at the San Jose Mercury, was actually nicely done. But our headline -- "Cop killer was depressed, struggling" -- seemed to indicate an insensitivity to the slain officers. 

One caller complained that the headline showed "sympathy for the devil, rather than sympathy for the good." Another suggested the headline should have read "Hero Cops Killed Chasing Madman." 

The latter caller echoed my own sentiments: Lots of depressed and struggling people manage to get through the day without killing police officers.

The headline was an unfortunate approach to a sad story.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

He's Back (for a couple of days, anyway)

I've returned to the office and wish to thank the hundreds of wonderful people who went out of their way to call Loma and I, to greet us, to send sweet cards or to contribute to Genesis House following the loss of our son. The sentiments and kind acts help ease our aching hearts.

If you need my attention, please call or email through Thursday, since I will be gone on furlough next week.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Getting Schooled

The Herald recently learned that Marc Cabrera, our features staff writer, has won a fellowship with the NEA Institute in Theater and Musical Theater at the USC Annenberg School of Communication.

The institute is an 11-day workshop for writers, editors, broadcast and online producers from throughout the United States. 

He's among several Herald staffers who have won prominent fellowships recently. Julia Reynolds is currently participating in a 10-month Nieman Fellowship at Harvard. Claudia Melendez is also gone for 10 months on a learning experience at Annenberg, while Jim Johnson recently completed an Annenberg health journalism fellowship that resulted in his three-part series about Natividad Medical Center.

I'm obviously proud of our talent and their willingness to continue their education.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Our Cinema Experts? We have a tie!

Congratulations to Geraldine Rodriguez and "Rejinther," the c0-winner of Professor Toro's first-ever Oscar Pool.

It was a tight race. Geraldine and Rejinther picked up 23 points, even after both of them picked Mickey Rourke to win best actor. They nailed most of the technical categories and both were among the few entrants to select Spietzeugland to win best live action short. The Professor will hold a drawing Monday to select who gets the best goodies from our paltry prize pantry.

Tied for second were Margie Nicklaus and Millie Artellan. Margie slipped in picking the wrong Slumdog Millionaire song, while Millie selected the WALL-E song. 

In selecting winners, points were graded: 3 points for picking best picture, 2 points each for director, actor and actress, and 1 point each for all other categories.

For the record, The Professor finished in the middle of the pack, with 15 points.

To arrange delivery of prizes Geraldine and Rejinther should call 646-4306.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Noon today is your deadline to enter Professor Toro's 2009 Oscar Pool. It's free, it's easy and the winner will see their name in print and will win some Herald stuff. 

Just follow the link at http://www.defectiveyeti.com/oscars/?38278

If for some reason that doesn't work, you can also go to http://www.defectiveyeti.com/oscars/ and enter this pool id: 38278.

100 Years of The Good Fight

There was much to celebrate tonight at the annual banquet of the Monterey County branch of the NAACP in Seaside.

President Barack Obama is in the White House. Ben Jealous, a native son, is the national president of the NAACP. Leon Panetta, long a NAACP supporter, is running the CIA. And Dick Gregory showed up to remind us that sacrifice, activism and humor are not mutually exclusive.

What struck me about the night was how the confluence of talent can have such profound connections. Dick Gregory spent much of the night thanking the NAACP for its influence on his struggles through his life and establishing how its activism forged a new dynamic in American society. The result is Mr. Obama. 

Leon Panetta is now Obama's CIA director. And Jealous, as a young York School student, once served as a page in Panetta's Congressional office.

The celebration at Embassy Suites tonight was much fun, of course. Hal Ginsburg, owner of KRXA-AM radio, was honored by the NAACP with a Spirit of Partnership Award. The organization also presented Herbard Olsen, the omnipresent videographer, with its President Choice Award. And Panetta was presented the group's The Ties That Bind Award. Leon wasn't in town to accept the award, but Sylvia Panetta accepted in his absence.

Congratulations to this year's NAACP local president, Sylvia Waldrup-Quarles.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


So you think you're a know-it-all cinema snob? Enter the Professor's Oscar pool. Winner(s) will see their name in print and might win some Herald swag.

Just follow the link: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=51267934627

If for some reason that doesn't work, you can also go to http://www.defectiveyeti.com/oscars/ and enter this pool id: 38278.

Send your picks by noon Feb. 22.

Herald employees may play but are not eligible to win stuff.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Slam City

We're not sure that David Pendergrass is reading this blog. I rather doubt it, given the Sand City mayor's current antipathy toward The Herald. But it might be useful if someone tips the mayor off about it so that the council and its staff doesn't waste a lot of time demanding that our Opinion page editor be terminated.

The mayor's dander is up over an editorial The Herald carried on Sunday suggesting that Sand City disincorporate itself.

This morning, during an interview on KNRY-AM radio, Pendergrass called the editorial atrocious and horrible, and demanded our Opinion page editor's head on a platter. He said the Sand City Council and its staff would be preparing a letter to the publisher, demanding Opinion Page Editor Royal Calkins be canned for expressing the paper's opinion. (The show's host had not read the editorial, but Pendergrass did a splendid job, without prodding, of trying to eviscerate The Herald and the alleged offending editor.)

The mayor's reaction is understandable; I can't imagine a mayor anywhere who would want to support the dissolution of the city he or she represents.

But calling for the termination of an editorial writer for doing his job smacks of Blagojevichism. As you might recall, the disgraced former Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, tried to get the editorial writers for the Chicago Tribune fired for the Tribune's opinion-page criticism of the governor. Blagojavich tried to withhold state money for Wrigley Field renovations unless his demands were met, a real threat considering that the Tribune Company owns the Cubs. Obviously, Pendergrass couldn't hurt us that bad, unless he threatened to somehow withhold the jerseys from The Herald's softball team.

Anway, the council and the staff would be wasting its time with the letter seeking any terminations. Truth is, the thrust of our editorials are discussed and agreed upon by committee, and the committee includes Calkins, myself, Publisher Gary Omernick, HR Director Gladys Valenzuela, Circulation Manager Mazi Kavoosi and Graphics Editor James Herrera. We all debated the Sand City editorial before its publication, and we all came to the same conclusion.

Having said that, The Herald does invite Pendergrass to write a conterpoint to the editorial, to tell us why we're wrong.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Men with putters

The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am kicked off this morning. The tournament is always a big week for The Herald and we traditionally cover it to death. It's not like we are maniac golf fans, though some of us do hit the courses occasionally. And we are certainly aware that many of our readers are reflexively opposed to all things golf.

But the annual event is difficult to overlook. The many millions of dollars it generates for the local hospitality industry, scheduled as it is in the middle of what otherwise would be the doldrums of winter, is certainly welcome. More important, the millions of dollars the tournament generates for dozens of local charities is astounding. Last year, the tournament raised nearly $7 million for those organizations.

The issues surrounding this year's tournament are of particular interest because of the impact they have on the local economy and the charities. The economy will obviously have its impact. People don't have the disposable income they have had in the past to spend on a weekend at a golf tournament. Also, this year the PGA scheduled the AT&T through the Valentine's Day weekend, which means that the hospitality industry will benefit from the tourist boom only once this month. And the weather promises to wreak havoc, with a big storm due in Saturday night.

So The Herald is geared up (we haven't forgotten our slickers!) and ready to go.

If only we could get the pairings listed correctly on the sports page . . .

Friday, February 6, 2009

A penny for your hit?

Newspaper executives everywhere are rethinking their business models, trying to come up with fresh ideas to resurrect what the analysts, critics and new-world information disseminators are calling a "dying industry."

The future of news, all agree, is on the Web. The Web provides instant access to the 24-hour news cycle, while a daily newspaper lands on your doorstep once a day with yesterday's news. The Web allows a jam of news, information, documents, audio, video and the opportunity for immediate reader response.

So newspapers have rushed to the Web, providing no end of news, photos, comments, blogs, audio and visuals and an assortment of oddball things their brain trusts can conjure.

Using the old print model, they expect to sell lots of advertising around those postings to make up for their print losses. It hasn't happened yet.

(Incidentally, I am very aware that most traditional newspaper readers still love their newspapers. They tell me, every day, that they want to "hold" their newspaper and that they abhor the stampede to the Web. I am grateful for those readers, but I'm also aware that they are a dying breed.)

During the past week, a number of experts who think hard about the future of newspapers have debated the possibility of requiring Web readers to pay for the content they view. Some argue that newspapers simply shouldn't give away the stuff they've worked so hard to gather and produce.

The debate emerged after Walter Isaacson, a former editor of Time, suggested that newspapers ought to embrace the iTunes model: offer a listing of news and content, and charge viewers a penny, a nickel or a dime for each "hit" on the Web.

"The key to attracting online revenue, I think, is to come up with an iTunes-easy method of micropayment," Isaacson said. "We need something like digital coins or an E-ZPass digital wallet — a one-click system with a really simple interface that will permit impulse purchases of a newspaper, magazine, article, blog or video . . . "

Assuming this is a great idea, which I'm not, the immediate problem is in the practical realities. Micropayment companies have failed miserably, probably because so many of us don't care to jump through hoops to get nickeled and dimed for Web content we can likely find elsewhere for free.

On the other hand, the news content that viewers now get for free would all but disappear if newspapers fade away. For the most part, the likes of Drudge, Huffington, Google News and Yahoo! News scavenge the free stuff that newspapers provide.

The Herald appreciates the added Web traffic it gets when we're linked to the big-time aggregators. As journalists, we are mostly interested in spreading news. But, as a business, maybe we should instead place value on our hard work.

While the jury is still out on this issue, at least with me, I'm interested in what readers think.

The Herald Sizzles

Our editors are constantly seeking new ways to attract more eyes to our Web site. And as much as we love our breakfast meat, I have rejected this idea.

Everything goes better with bacon!


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Shameful Excess

Having read the latest news about Wells Fargo Bank executives planning the opulent retreat to Las Vegas after receiving a $25 billion bailout, I figured it's time to come clean about The Herald newsroom's most lavish recent excess.

Because our people have been working especially hard lately and because I am a generous editor, I broadcast across the newsroom on Tuesday morning that I would treat everyone to lunch. This generous offer was not embraced with the same enthusiasm that Wells Fargo executives likely generated with the offer of 12 days at Wynn Las Vegas, inasmuch as my offer was limited to the purchase of a Grand Slam breakfast at Denny's.

In fact, only three employees joined me. I'd like to think the icy reception is not a reflection of my popularity in the newsroom, but rather a philosophical resolve that no one should spend more time waiting in line to receive a meal than it takes to consume it.

Denny's was, of course, offering free Grand Slam breakfasts to all on Tuesday, an offer that attracted a great many diners. We arrived at the Fremont Boulevard Denny's in Seaside shortly before noon and joined a small throng waiting outside the door. But we were seated in less than 15 minutes, the service was actually quite good considering the substantial number of diners, and the food is what you expect from Denny's: solid, with no surprises. And, accounting for coffee, orange juice and the tip, we spent less than $20.

If Wells Fargo executives wanted to reward its troops, it can't go wrong with Denny's.

Live large.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Opinion, Not News

There exists a substantial number of readers who would prefer we keep our opinions to ourselves. They don't want to see — and I won't tolerate — our opinions in news stories. And some readers get burned up because we get opinionated on our Opinion page. They just don't understand how we get off thinking that anyone cares what we think. They wish we would simply print the news and not raise the hell.

Opinion pages are long-standing traditions in newspapers. Mostly, they are meant to generate community discussion about topical issues. We think of our own editorials as base-line opinions that, hopefully, will present readers a point of view from which they can opine their own opinions, in letters to the editors or with an occasional column.

Based on the number of letters we receive, we are well aware that our Opinion page is among the more contentious but best-read sections of the paper. We are blessed to be operating a newspaper in a community that is fully engaged, very educated and exceedingly opinionated.
We love it -- and we welcome opinions different than ours. We like to think of our Opinion page as the last bastion of civilized discourse, where reasonable people can agree to disagree.

On Sunday, you'll notice that we took our opinion off the Opinion page. This is a rare occurrence for us, but the issue at stake is too great to leave hidden in one of our inside pages. California government has reached a state of calamity, and its leaders have embarrassed us all.
Most newspapers in California owned by MediaNews are running similar editorials on their front pages.

In this case, we do not seek to generate public discussion. There's been plenty of that already. Instead, on behalf of residents who are sick of the deadlock, we hope to get the attention of California leaders. It's likely futile, but worth the effort.

Along for the Ride

The Herald is having a fine time carrying Elliot Vallejo's daily journal as he absorbs the overwhelming Super Bowl experience. The daily feature has been a terrific read for those of us who wonder what it must be like to participate in America's most-hyped annual sporting event. His observations and his humor are a hoot.

Vallejo, born in Monterey and schooled at Palma, is a backup offensive tackle for the Arizona Cardinals. He's a member of the scout team and he won't play on Sunday. In his self-deprecating way, he admits to being "Mr. Irrelevant" around Super Bowl camp. "Being the worst player on the two best teams isn't that bad," he wrote. And his lowly status on the team certainly hasn't kept the media jackals from approaching with some wacky questions.

Read his journal entries:
Jan. 27: 'There are Super Bowl XLIII signs everywhere'
Jan. 28: 'There were some really weird things'
Jan. 29: 'We're not here for a vacation'
Jan. 30: 'I'm floating through it'


Thursday, January 29, 2009

In case you missed "Throwdown" ...

Mike didn't want to give away the ending in his story on Wednesday, but for those of you who missed the show last night, here's a glimpse:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fun with Phil & Flay

We had fun watching three of our favorite local foodies on the Food Network tonight.

Phil's Fish Market was the victim of sublime deception on Throwdown with Bobby Flay, but it worked out (predictably) when his prized ciopinno won over the judges, John Pisto and The Herald's very own Mike Hale.

It was all fun and games, of course. But it was also great promotion for Phil DiGirolamo, Moss Landing and Monterey Bay fisheries. 

We were amused to note that the Food Network misspelled Phil's last name (DiJirolamo). But we were proud of Mike, who looked great and hammed it up appropriately for the TV cameras. We especially enjoyed the introduction of the judges, standing back-to-back, arms crossed, on the beach of Moss Landing. 

Mike has earned respect and a following with his weekly restaurant reviews. While the work of a critic is thought subjective, his credibility as a reviewer is beyond reproach, which is likely the reason the Food Network sought him out as a worthy judge for Throwdown. There are times, of course, that a review will create internal issues at The Herald, particularly among our advertising staffers. Painful as that can sometimes be, Mike has developed a reputation of trust among readers -- and his reviews hang proudly in a growing number of restaurants throughout the county.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Gran Snubino

It's just gotta be said . . .

Our admiration for the body of Clint Eastwood's work is not mitigated by the fact that Clint constantly refuses interview requests from his hometown paper, that he won't say boo to us, and that he brushes us off with such regularity that we're starting to feel like home plate. We know he has his reasons, but . . .

So it's not like we're provincial clodhoppers when we say that Eastwood was robbed by the Motion Picture Academy this year. His terrific and tragic "Gran Torino" received not a single Oscar nomination. This seems a travesty, considering that even "Australia" managed at least one nomination.

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is a nice gimmick, well-crafted and jammed with sweet performances, but wasn't "Forrest Gump" nominated 15 years ago?

If it's any consolation, "Gran Torino" remains box-office gold and has already earned $78 million. Also, "The Changeling," which wasn't quite as successful among movie-goers, was nominated for three Oscars.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The BS Express

The daily community newspaper comes with a tacit understanding that it won't offend its readers with a lot of BS. Some readers will swear we are offensive enough, even without the BS.

It's not an easy task, upholding basic community standards for decency.

The latest case in point is the news we carried this week about a publication recently released by one of our more popular columnists, Dr. Carl Alasko. The book is titled "Emotional Bullshit: The Hidden Plague to Destroy Your Relationships — And How to Stop It."

As our deputy features editor, Mike DeGive, prepared the story for Sunday's edition, he felt obliged to ask: "Do we use the word 'bullshit' if it's in a book title? And if we don't, how should we refer to it?"

These are the sort of questions that editors dread. On the one hand, a newspaper wants to be able to provide its readers with the full and useful truth, and doing a shorthand number on a book title is not fully honest. On the other hand, we are aware that readers invite us into their homes and schools and we are expected to mind our manners. The BS word isn't the sort of language many, if not most, of our readers want to see in their daily paper.

It didn't help that the best photo we had to accompany the story depicted the author holding the book, which obviously had the BS word all over it.

Journalists are told, quite strenuously, that they are not to mess around with anything they publish with quote marks around it. We don't consciously change quotations and we shouldn't fool with book titles.

As we mulled our dilemma, we debated our options. Running the title was not an option. But how do we present the title without offending many of our readers? I argued, for a time, that we should simply change it to "Emotional BS." The handy "bullbleep" was another possibility. But others argued, and I eventually agreed, to go with "Emotional Bull***t." And we cropped the book out of the photograph, which left us with only Alasko's mug shot, essentially dropping it from consideration as the "centerpiece" story the front of Sunday's Leisure page.

We figured most readers would prefer seeing pretty pictures of Oahu than have their consciousness slapped with BS.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Raw Feed

This blog is generally designed to weigh in on the challenges and issues we face in The Herald newsroom to produce, on a daily basis, the equivalent of a paperback book.

With the well-documented reductions in resources that newspapers are dealing with in these tough economic times, the challenges and issues in all newsroom are becoming more difficult. We recognize that readers do not want to hear excuses; they want news and we are well aware of our responsibilities.

So I want to use this opportunity to publicly thank our copy desk for their front-line work, on deadline, every day of the year. Led by Christy Hoffknecht, the copy desk is the production end of the newsroom. They are not the "feet on the street" and they do not get bylines and they do not often get the credit they deserve. They compose pages, edit copy, plow through reams of wire stories, tend to our Web site and write headlines as the clock ticks down to press time. It's the worst sort of job: They are typically only noticed when something goes wrong.

More often lately, they must scramble to make the important late calls. Late Thursday night, for instance, details were sketchy about the numerous shootings in Salinas, but our copy desk continued to plug away on the phones until they were able to verify much of what readers got on Friday morning.

The subject of Thursday night's shootings should not pass without extending professional kudos to Dan Green at KSBW. His live six-minute interview with Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue about the increasing incidents of violence in the city was great to see, a reminder that Green has not lost his journalistic chops and that he is capable of asking the right questions. It was tense, raw and challenging, and Green did not let Donohue off the hook. Viewing the interview, it reminded me of what our reporters go through with sources virtually every day — except that our interviews are not broadcast live.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A post about a turtle

 This is not the first time we have been accused of being unwitting accomplices to the dissemination of inappropriate commentary regarding our next president.

 A letter to the editor last July referred to Barack Obama as a "post turtle." It went on to explain that when you're walking down the road and spot a turtle stranded atop a fence post, you can be rather certain that it didn't get up there all by itself.

  It apparently is a Southernism, one that I must have missed during my middle-school years in Virginia. (At Jefferson Davis Junior High School in Hampton, Va., in the early '60s, the racism was not subtle.)

 After receiving some criticism for allowing post turtle it into the paper quite near Obama's name, I checked a database of news stories and found the term had been applied with some regularity to the current president, less often to Sarah Palin and fairly often to many other people, none of them black, as far as I could tell.

 Checking further, I found that it is meant to convey the view that the person being so labeled wouldn't be where he/she is without help from others but that the meaning can be somewhat meaner, that whoever is being called a post turtle doesn't deserve to be where he/she is.

 I learned all of this shortly after a frequent letter writer complained that "post turtle" obviously is a racist term. If I remember our subsequent conversations correctly, I believe he accused us of A. Knowing it was racist and B. Using it anyway. 

 They say ignorance is no excuse, but actually it can be a darned good one.

  I'm not convinced at all that it is a racist reference and I certainly wouldn't have allowed it into the paper if I thought it would offend more than a handful of reasonable readers.

 What I conclude from this is that the Obama administration is going to get its fair share of criticism and that we'll need to be on the lookout for letter writers who feel compelled to put a racial spin, obvious or not, on their commentary. 


Is Mister Bluebird harmless, innocuous and exceedingly treacly? Or blatantly racist?

The questions arise after an author of a Letter to the Editor wrote that Barack Obama will be our "Zip-a-dee-do-dah" president. In several subsequent letters we've received, the writer has since been called a racist and we've been accused of racial insensitivity for printing it.

In this case, context is the key issue. The lyrics of the song itself is all happiness and light. I can feel my blood sugar rising just reading the following lines:

"Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay,
My, oh, my, what a wonderful day.
Plenty of sunshine headin' my way,
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay!

"Mister Bluebird's on my shoulder,
It's the truth, it's 'actch'll'
Everything is 'satisfactch'll.'"

The problem is that the song was featured in "Song of the South," a 1946 Disney production, and presented by Uncle Remus, a character rife with racial stereotypes. As presented in 1946, the depiction of Uncle Remus reeks of the era's white ignorance toward post-Civil War reconstruction and the African-American culture. So the ditty, on its face harmless in its thick corn syrup, is considered by some a relic of America's racial divide.

For others, it's an anthem of optimism that has been covered by everyone from Michael Jackson to Billy Ray Cyrus to Louis Armstrong to The Hollies. And the term itself has wedged its way into English vernacular, usually as a signal to others that they're communicating with a hopeless square.

So was the Letter to the Editor inappropriate? Given the breadth of sarcastic rhetoric throughout the letter -- land of milk and honey, the fiddling Nero, blue bird of happiness -- I doubt the author had racist intent. And, given the ubiquitous use of the term among a certain generation, it never occurred to us that it might have negative connotations.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Welcome to Ask the Editors

The folks at The Herald will occasionally, if not inevitably, do something that a lot of readers can't figure out. The natural response by some readers is to complain to friends, place angry telephone calls to the appropriate editor, write letters to the editor, bang out an outraged comment on our Web site or cancel subscriptions.

As with newspapers everywhere, we are accused of every sort of wacky conspiracy. It is assumed we kowtow to advertisers. Advertisers complain that we aren't nice enough to them. Liberals assume every story we do promotes establishment conservatives. Conservatives assume every story we do promotes the radical left. We ignore the righteous. We play up the negative.

For the most part, the editors suck it up, chalking it all up to having the misfortune of being the messenger. For decades, we have allowed both the legitimate concerns and the utter nonsense to pass without comment, which is a disservice to our readers — and to ourselves. Rarely have readers been given an explanation for the things we sometimes do that might seem odd.

Most recently, for instance, we were ripped a new one by the anonymous haters who lurk in the comments section of our Web site, charging that we are part of some silly conspiracy, because a small item in a Prof. Toro column did not include the name of the ice cream shop owner in Pacific Grove who told a soldier that he wasn't welcome in his shop.

In that case, we thought we had good reason not to include the name of the shop or the owner and we would have loved to explain our rationale.

We are aware that our explanations will never mollify the temple-throbbers who habitate the cowardly confines of anonymous Web comment boards.

However, our explanations might provide a better understanding to the greater sphere of rational readers about how newspaper professionals grapple with our rights and responsibilities.

We might not always be right, but our loyal, rational and engaged readers at least deserve to know what we were thinking.

Which is why we are unveiling our Ask the Editors blog.

In this blog, we will discuss the challenges we face in The Herald's newsroom. We will answer readers' questions. We will address some of the nonsense that goes on in our comment board. And we will likely go off on the occasional weird tangent.

Executive Editor Joe Livernois will host the blog. But other editors at The Herald will also participate, answer questions and go off on their own occasional weird tangent.