Our local newspaper strikes again with poor judgment

We enjoyed the Wild & Scenic Film Festival this weekend and spent some money in town.

We attended films in Grass Valley and Nevada City. We ate dinner at Tofanelli’s on Friday night, before attending films at the Center for the Arts. We had espresso at Curley Wolf in Nevada City for a talk about “OR7,” the grey wolf being tracked throughout Oregon and California.

Grass Valley had a sign promoting the festival strung across Mill Street — a first for the city and welcome to me, compared with the drumbeat of reopening the Idaho-Maryland Mine.

We saw lots of visitors too: The Festival is an “economic engine,” a real plus during the slow season. All told, the Festival was a success.

Except in the weekend edition of The Union — the one that circulates during the festival — I was surprised to read an “Other Voices” titled “Safety Concerns at Wild & Scenic Festival promotion.”

Like the one-sided article about a “support our troops” church sign that drew scrutiny from county planning — strictly an ordinance issue — this issue also was handled poorly by The Union.

In the article, a mom was upset because students were let out of a Wild & Scenic show for children at the Del Oro with what the woman thought was inadequate supervision.

To be sure, it was a legitimate concern, but it was written in a dramatic fashion — with a photo, no less. The conclusion was rash.

“The kids told me that the field trip was ‘sad,’ ‘depressing’ and ‘a waste of time,” she concluded. “After this experience, my family will never go to this school event or the Wild & Scenic Film Festival.”

The Union did not publish the “other side.” For example, I also presume the school’s teachers had a role in controlling the children, not just the Festival organizers.

The Union could have waited for that perspective before going to print.

The Festival provided an educational screening for hundreds of children at our schools — a point that also never was made.

My own opinion as a parent is that it was unfortunate. But it seemed like an overreaction, without any context or “counterpoint.”

There is a pattern of poor judgment at The Union in handling sensitive topics, whether it’s this episode, the “save our troops” sign or suing the school district for an FOI request that is a personnel matter.

It’s often hard to tell whether it’s intentional — or inept.

Either way, the newspaper has a responsibility to uphold that just isn’t happening much. It needs some more “adult supervision.”

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

9 thoughts on “Our local newspaper strikes again with poor judgment”

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed the festival this weekend and was very happy to see Grass Valley being included. I do not know what was in the kids program this year but it definitely not Mickey Mouse clips. We are in the middle of crisis era and those the age of our children and younger are going to be the ones that have to deal with the lousy condition of the planet and ecosystem. The sooner they begin to start identifying our mistakes and thinking about possible solutions the better.

  2. I attended the Del Oro children’s screening Saturday morning with my children. Neither of them said it was sad, depressing or a waste of time or anything like that. I was outside the theater in front for a while as well and was not concerned about children being unsupervised. There was a vibrant and healthy energy in the atrium after the show.

    I did notice the seriousness of this year’s entries and myself and other parents agreed that it was probably a series of films better suited to children 10 and up. There were a couple of films that were fun for all ages though. Bear and Mouse flick comes to mind.

    I can only guess, but if you’re coming from a Fox News world of disinformation and ignorance, getting your first serious look at our planet’s climate change issues (it is an Environmental Film Festival) has got to be sad and somewhat depressing. The “waste of time” judgement might come then from a person’s unwillingness to consume reality which is a known achilles of the conservative, Fox News-drenched mindset, both for the parent and as taught to the child. That the Union can’t see beyond this obvious blinder is why I haven’t read that paper for years. Even when Jeff was editor.

  3. I should add that the show I attended might not have been the same show attended by the Other Voices writer.

  4. Good point, Jeff.

    The Union, the mother, and all of us need to be more aware of the how, why and when of what we communicate to make it helpful and beneficial.

  5. The Union contacted Caleb Dardick as soon as we received the letter, after talking at length with the unhappy parent and discussing how to handle the issue. Caleb was asked to provide a rebuttal prior to running the letter. He said he would provide a comment, requesting it run on Monday, which it did.
    We all are avid supporters of SYRCL and the film fest, and provided the event with a lot of positive press, including an interview with Debra Winger.

    1. Liz: You don’t get it. Why didn’t you hold the “Other Voices” from the Mom and run it at the same time as the letter from SYRCL? There was no rush. You could have presented both sides at once — a complete view, with context.

      “Requesting that it run on Monday.” Huh? You might circle back with some of the folks at SYRCL and see how they think you handled this. I know, because I heard from them.

      I’m reminded of your explanation about sitting on the story about the ex-publisher suing the grieving father because you were waiting for the D.A. to file charges. But he never did.

      The Union lacks common sense.

      1. Jeff:

        I recall a time when I submitted an Other Voices editorial questioning a need for the Nevada City Downtown Business Improvement District, and equal space was offered to –– and accepted by ––my good friend and former council colleague Pat Dyer to write an Other Voices in support of the BID. I thought that was a good way to handle it and I think most readers appreciate the point/counterpoint approach whenever possible.

  6. I noted the size of Ms. Nuemann’s letter, it’s prominence and the timing of its publiction and I even remarked to a friend about it.
    In today’s Union I viewed the pictures of the event on page 5 and from the look of the printed photos the event appeared practically deserted.
    “Damned by faint praise”, is the phrase my dad used to use for something like this, and I wondered if this is evidence of a growing conservative mindset, reminiscent of Mr. Ackerman’s tenure, at the the Union.

    As director of CHIRP, I may be disappointed in SYRCL for not reaching out more effectively to the Nisenan of Nevada City and featuring their history at the festival instead of consistently welcoming outside tribes (which creates confusion about the true first peoples of this area) the work it does for the environment is worthy and deserves better coverage in our newspaper.

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