View of King Fire from a satellite

A view of the King Fire from a satellite is here.



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Imagine a bar code that could tell you where your food comes from

Editor’s note: This is innovative. Food journalist Michael Pollan says imagine a bar code that could tell us the story of our food:

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The Union’s 150th: a case study in narcissism

Narcissus gazes at himself in an iPad

Narcissus gazes at himself in an iPad

The Union’s 150th anniversary has become a case study in narcissism. This morning’s edition continues the trend, with the newspaper heaping more and more praise on itself  — behind a “pay wall” no less.

It is a thinly veiled marketing exercise, not a journalistic one, because newspapers are struggling. (“Decline in newspapers” is now a stand-alone topic in Wikipedia).

The Union needs to find something — in this case shouting “we were here longer” — to differentiate it from an onslaught of new competition. Tell it to Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook’s founder) and others new media entrepreneurs, including enterprising locals.

This includes Facebook, social media, blogs, other media such as YubaNet, NC Voices aggregation blog (created by local Anna Haynes), and in a small town — people just visiting with each other in the SPD or BriarPatch, at the farmers markets, or at their children’s school. People hear things in a small town and share the information.

Inserts, the last big revenue source of newspapers, are going digital. This includes the Dollar General Store, which is expanding in our area. I’m testing it out, and I get emails from them directly about sales.

A better exercise would be for newspapers such as The Union to begin telling readers its plans for the next 150 years, because its not going to be like the “bottleneck” of communication in the “first” 150 years. Innovation and competition is circling the wagon.

Swift Communications (the Nevada-based chain that owns The Union) faces its own intense competition.

In Truckee, it has cut back on the Sierra Sun (in print and online) and the “alternative” publication Moonshine Ink is grabbing more readers and advertising.

In Truckee, the Sierra Business Council just awarded Moonshine Ink a “Vision Award.” It read:

“Mayumi Elegado, publisher of Moonshine Ink, whose ongoing editorial balance and expertise have fostered a successful local paper at a time when newspapers seem to be going extinct.”

In Carson City, an innovative publication called CarsonNow is providing competition. Like Moonshine Ink, Carson Now is staffed by ex-“Swifties.”

The Gold Country Media in Auburn is invading The Union’s turf with new publications, such as Foothills Entertainer, a version of The Union’s Prospector. The Foothills Entertainer contains ads from Hills Flat Lumber Co., a longtime major advertiser in The Union.

When it comes to wildfires, YubaNet — not The Union — is where people go to get real-time information. It has happened all summer; in some cases, The Union has struggled with its real-time efforts.

The Union’s circulation reflects an aging, declining demographic, not an up-and-coming one. It needs to find some younger “stars,” not the likes of “Bored Georgeman.” It is hanging on to the past, not articulating a course for the future.

Instead of heaping more and more praise on itself, like Narcissus staring into an iPad,  The Union (and Swift) needs to reinvent itself. Or merge with another newspaper.

The “conservation” in our towns is occurring in more and more places.

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Dollar Store customers are much poorer than Wal-Mart customers

Editor’s note: We’ve been exploring the “Dollar General economy” in some recent posts as the store seeks to expand to up to three stores in our community. This article reminds me of the figures I cited in “the Grass Valley Housing Element” document. In short, despite some of our highfalutin ideas (like luring a Trader Joe’s),  we have a lot of poor people living here. 

“Wal-Mart’s customers are considerably wealthier than shoppers at dollar stores like Family Dollar and Dollar General, according to new data,” Business Insider is reporting.

“Four in 10 Family Dollar shoppers have a household income of less than $25,000, which is slightly higher than the poverty level for a family of four, a survey from the consulting firm Kantar Retail shows.

“By comparison, 27% of Wal-Mart shoppers’ households earn less than $25,000. Overall, Wal-Mart customers have an average household income of $53,125, which is in line with the median income for all U.S. households last year.

“Shoppers at Family Dollar and Dollar General earn about $8,000 less annually, with average household incomes of $44,972 and $45,640, respectively.

“The dollar stores could be attracting lower-income shoppers because they have been offering lower prices than Wal-Mart. A Sterne Agee survey from earlier this year found that Family Dollar shoppers paid 2.7% less on purchases than Wal-Mart shoppers in January 2014, while Dollar General shoppers paid .2% less.”

The rest of the article is here.

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Local Alasdair Fraser on Scottish vote: “A missed opportunity”

Bx4nobeIcAA1lGuScotland will remain part of the United Kingdom, along with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, following a historic referendum vote. By 55 percent to 45 percent, a majority of voters rejected the possibility of Scotland breaking away and becoming an independent nation.

Here’s what’s interesting, however: More younger people were in favor of independence, with the youngest voters overwhelmingly approving the referendum. (See chart).

Sean Connery, Annie Lennox and Alan Cumming all favored independence, while Emma Thompson, David Bowie and J.K. Rowling all wanted Scotland to stay. Our local resident and world-class Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser was in the independence camp, along with “James Bond.”

Alasdair_Fraser“Still processing …trying to understand …,” Fraser wrote on Facebook.

“A great opportunity for social change has been missed. A great opportunity for Scotland to lead with a new paradigm for democracy in the 21st century has been handed back to an out of touch Westminster,” added Fraser, who lives in Nevada City.

“Scotland the mis-informed and mis-led by an unbelievably biased media/press machine. We now know what we are dealing with. There is hope in that knowledge and change to be made.

“Thanks for all the messages of support. And thanks for the inspiring positivity of the YES campaign. What tunes will we play today?”

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New Union publisher giving himself a lot of ink while others wish he’d focus on “fair and balanced”

In “Hall deserves more ink,” a letter writer wrote in The Union this morning, “Ms. (Heidi) Hall’s views and opinions, on the other hand, were limited to five paragraphs on page 5 while LaMalfa dominated all of the front page and most of page 5. Since Ms. Hall is the lesser known and the opposing candidate, it seems that she should have been allocated at least equal space and exposure so that we could learn and evaluate her positions.

“A more balanced coverage of candidates would benefit your readers, and diffuse the impression of favoritism — as your newspaper should be doing.”

It was a good point. The Union long has been criticized for favoring conservatives at the expense of Democrats. Some label it the “Tea Party Gazette.” Its publishers long have been politically conservative and often been known more for glad handing than journalism.

At the same time this letter ran, I notice The Union’s new publisher, Jim Hemig — though “lesser known,” like Heidi Hall — is giving himself lots of ink in the newspaper. Now it has even spilled into the news stories.

Today a staff photo on the front page of shows Jim talking a lunch walk with the NU principal in a story about the principal inviting parents, educators and residents onto the campus. It was gratuitous to include the newspaper publisher. This week alone, we’ve seen photos of Hemig picking grapes on The Union’s Facebook page, or “Hemig: Breakfast with the publisher,” or “Hemig: You’re invited to our party.” (For the record, Jim is a Republican). Or another news story: “2 Measure S debates, 1 Union publisher.” Huh?

A publisher can’t be in all places at the same time. But readers here have raised good points about the publisher spending more time “back at the ranch” worrying a lot more about being “fair and balanced” rather than promoting the newspaper and even himself its own pages. It’s a balancing act, to be sure.

But here’s what readers want the publisher to focus on to improve the newspaper: “I’m going to ask him, in a friendly way, to edit the OpEd’s and letters submitted to The Union for truthfulness,” as a reader here wrote. And here was the response: “Good luck Greg. I won’t be holding my breath.” Seems like there’s some work to do on this front.

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GV debates vs. local media on politics: “A tale of two cities”

I watched much of the debate between the four candidates running for two Grass Valley City Council seats on Thursday night.

For the most part, the candidates were more similar than different — offering thoughtful, nonpartisan views.

I do think Terry Lamphier’s experience being a county supervisor showed up as a real strength compared with the other candidates, including Council Member Jason Fouyer.

What I heard was a stark contrast to the “negative campaigning” that shows up in The Union — both on the Op-Ed page and in some news reports. The “negative campigning” includes personal attacks, misleading statements about the candidates and outright lies. Some of the letters are “plants.”

I suspect we’ll see more of this as the election nears, because, as I said, the candidates are more similar than different. It’s the political puppet masters and special interest groups that screw up our local politics.

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