Journalistic conflict on the gold mine coverage?

I noticed the editor/publisher of The Union wrote a column today supporting the reopening of the Idaho-Maryland mine. Fine: It’s what publishers do, promote business, (though some local businesses are still undecided about the mine).

But the editor/publisher also directs the paper’s news coverage nowadays, which included two other recent front page stories in support of the mine: Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote this weekend: “The local paper seems to be gung-ho for the mine to reopen — both in its editorials and on the news pages.

I was surprised to see an article above the fold on Feb. 4 (with no byline) about an alleged vandalism incident way back in May 2006. The headline read ‘Grass Valley Mine Shaft vandalized.’ It was not breaking news. It should have been promoted in a less prominent place.

Then on Saturday, the lead news item is ‘Mine touts investments as gold hits a grand.’ It suggested that the mine would fetch $5 billion on the open market.

But that’s misleading: Gold price fluctuate wildly, the city would see no sales tax from that, and sales from the ceramic tile plant are highly unpredictable.

I’m glad the article raised some of these issues, but I wondered about the article’s positioning on the front page — as with the earlier one. ”

(end of excerpt)

This is *not* a simple growth vs. “no-growther” issue. A lot of *business* people here are on the fence about the mine, including developers, high-tech executives and the board of the Economic Resource Council (of which I have been a member). Most are waiting for more information.

The environmental report is not even approved, the air pollution could impact other projects such as the Loma Rica housing development, and the vibrations could impact high-tech firms.

Others worry that Emgold has no experience opening or running a mine; its stock trades at pennies per share.

There’s a lot of complex issues at play here. It’s not like opposing the no-growth initiatives last year, which was a “no brainer” for businesses and many people for that matter.

Even the ERC’s draft economic development report does not mention reopening a gold mine as part of its strategy. It focuses on attracting “green” business and technology.

“It is indeed what got you here…..a 19th century mindset,” Steve Frisch, president of the Sierra Business Council, wrote at the bottom of today’s column. “The mine is another ‘silver bullet’ instead of a real economic development strategy.”

The news pages and the opinion pages have separate missions. Otherwise, people will lose trust in the information they are receiving.

I’m a pragmatist, too. When it comes to reopening the Idaho-Maryland mine, there’s a pragmatic mission to avoiding a journalistic conflict or the perception of one (a la the Bruce Conklin affair):

People who get information that is not colored by bias or opinion might be more inclined to get off the fence and support the project — rather than recoil and think they are being bamboozled.

We have a lot of “conspiracy theorists” around here, some of whom think the paper is a lapdog for any business. We need to prove them wrong.

In the meantime, it it matters, gold has retreated for a second straight session in trading today.

Where were you in 1997 when Dow was this low?

Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton

The Dow is at its lowest point in 12 years, a grim sign of our deepening recession. It got me thinking, what was I writing about then? Here’s what I found from some clips:

•Pac Bell Park. I broke a page 1 story in The Chronicle that the Giants new downtown stadium was going to be named Pac Bell Park. The $50 million naming-rights deal was the biggest of its kind. Since then Pac Bell was bought by SBC and renamed SBC Park. Then SBC bought AT&T, and now it’s AT&T Park. That’s enough telco consolidation to make your head spin.

•Whitehouse.com. Entrepreneurs were taking advantage of “Netizens,” as we called them then, who didn’t understand the nuances of URLs. Here’s an article about a guy who turned whitehouse.com into a lucrative porn site. The White House, AKA whitehouse.gov, was miffed. Now we’re more sophisticated, building “social networks,” communicating on Twitter and such.

•Steve Jobs saved Apple. An ineffective CEO named Gil Amelio was ousted from Apple, clearing the way for Steve Jobs to return to the company he founded and turn it around. Jobs is now on a medical leave, sadly, but the company is a powerhouse.

Some other highlights of the year: Clinton began his second term, Princess Diana was killed in a car crash, the Florida Marlins won the World Series and the first color photograph appeared on the front page of the New York Times.

A lot has happened in 12 years. Too bad we’re back to square one with the stock market. I’m glad to be a 40-something rather than at retirement age. We’ll all be working the rest of our lives, I guess.

Bill to legalize, tax pot could raise 1B for state!

imagesWant to close the budget deficit? Legalize pot and tax it, some politicians are arguing. I’ll bet you’ll hear a chorus of cheers up here!

The SFWeekly — an alternative weekly — broke the story on Friday, and it turned out to be true: Assemblyman Tom Ammiano from S.F. announcd legislation on Monday (AB 390) to legalize marijuana and earn perhaps $1 billion yearly by taxing it. 

“The bill would additionally prohibit state and local law officials from enforcing federal marijuana laws,” SFWeekly reported. “As for Step Two — profit — Ammiano’s bill calls for ‘establishing a fee on the sale of marijuana at a rate of $50 per ounce.'”

“(His spokesman) said that would bring in roughly $1 billion for the state, according to estimates made by marijuana advocacy organizations.”

The proposed bill also “would remove all penalties in California law on cultivation, transportation, sale, purchase, possession, or use of marijuana, natural THC, or paraphernalia for persons over the age of 21.” 

I can hear the cheers from Nevada City to the Ridge, among other neighborhoods, and the groans from the Sheriff’s office. The idea has been floated here before, meeting a mixed response.

While it won’t pass overnight, as Ammiano concedes, the bill could have legs. 

When government/lawmakers fail again and again to cut costs, we need to “get out the box” and consider all revenue-generating options.

GV tech woes make front page of Sac Bee

This morning, the Sac Bee has a front-page article “Grass Valley’s high-tech companies feeling recession.”

It’s sober but fair reporting, with some new details. I’ve blogged “scooplets” on the cutbacks at Benchmark and closure of a Open Solar plant, suggesting “too little has been said” about the plight of these backbone businesses for whatever reason.

The Bee gets into it: It also reveals cuts at ISSIS and Serra, two local tech companies, in the report. It reiterates the risk of losing Grass Valley Group, analyzed here previously.

The longtime Bee business reporter talks to a lot of tech owners, too, and makes the salient point in what journalists call a “nut graf”: “The recession has brought layoffs, cutbacks and ripples of anxiety to the technology companies of Grass Valley and neighboring Nevada City. Some firms are expanding, but what’s happening overall is a small-scale version of the slump in Silicon Valley.”

Not exactly Chamber fodder, but it chronicles what’s happening, with the “to be sure” acknowledgment that “some firms are expanding.” AJA Video is one example.

It’s always interesting to see how “outsiders” perceive us. We tend to be too insular.

Local boosters already are attacking the article. “Nothing but doom and gloom. Or, maybe this is yet another example of the media ignoring the good news. A brand new Home Depot was opened along Hwy 49, and they are thriving,” one writes in comments below the story.

But another — the local guy Keachie — counters: “Buying at Home Depot sends more dollars to China. Buying video gear from Grass Valley keeps them here.” Good point.

New rivals, Chapter 11 for flagship papers

pavelich4The Philadelphia Inquirer, once a pillar of  journalism, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy late Sunday, along with a chain in Pennsylvania, as Bloomberg reports.

But that’s not all of the change sweeping through the industry: The Union’s owner, Reno-based Swift Communications, faces new competitors as it shuts down some of its newspapers to cut costs. So are other chains with dominant newspapers in their markets.

In the case of the Pennsylvania newspapers, debt load was the big problem. Gene Roberts, a legend in newsrooms, was the Inquirer’s editor in its heyday. It won 17 Pulitzers in 15 years in the ’70s to ’90s, a record.

Most newspapers will survive because of their strong branding. Where some of them disappear or get sold, smarter, more nimble competitors will fill the voids.

Where closely held  Swift, owner of The Union, has closed some newspapers in its chain, new ones are popping up. One example is a Spanish-language newspaper in Colorado, backed by another startup, the Vail Mountaineer.

The Mountainer already is competing with Swift’s flagship paper, the Vail Daily, sucking away some revenue. Here’s the background on the Spanish-language paper, as well as a report on the Vail Mountaineer and its millionaire owner Jim Pavelich (who, ironically, sold the Vail Daily to Swift back in 1993) and is shown in the photo.

Don’t worry. Most  small towns will still have a newspaper. Just stay tuned for the shakeout.

(photo coutesy of trekkerphoto.com)

Citizens Bank’s troubled loans total $12.4 million

Nevada City-based Citizens Bank had $12.4 million in troubled loans as of year-end, The Sacramento Bee reported.

As was stated previously, Citizens received $10.4 million in TARP funds.

This is the first time, however, that an aggregate figure for troubled loans has been reported for the bank. In the past, it has been piecemeal, such as the foreclosure proceedings of North Star or The Highlands in Grass Valley. 

The Bee did a good job summing up that “Federal aid fails to spur lending at two Sacramento-area banks.”

I wonder what Silicon Valley VCs could do with that kind of money. (See my post below).

It’s the Silicon Valley stock options, stupid!

Lost in all the hundreds of billions of dollars in Fed handouts to banks, the automakers and others is how we — and in California in particular — really pump up our economy, balance our government budget and fuel home sales.

It’s the stock options, stupid, largely the ones from Silicon Valley. It’s fun to joke about the dot.com boom and all the failures, such as Webvan and Pets.com.

But Silicon Valley innovation also propelled the stocks of a wide range of tech and NASDAQ companies in the late ’90s. It even prodded some Dow stocks out of their slumber.

More important, people forget that the wealth created by Silicon Valley stock options — and people cashing them out — helped pay for government’s mounting bills. You know, CALPER’s generous pensions and social services in rural counties (with little job creation) such as ours.

When I worked at CNET (taking a career risk) I got taxed up the wazoo for cashing out stock options, including the dreaded alternative minimum tax.

Living in a rural county now, in a land dominated by government jobs and “double- and triple-dippers,” I see where the tax money went. Much of that is OK, though not the double-dipping part.

The money also helped propel our housing market, and the housing market in Tahoe. That’s OK too, though real estate and mortgage people who accelerated the trend with questionable loan practices, ruined it for the rest of us.

(Thomas Hastert of Loan Sense in Grass Valley is just one of them who comes to mind. There are others around here.)

Most people, including the press, doesn’t understand the “trickle down” from Silicon Valley to the rest of the state or nation. They’re too busy chasing down scoundrels on Wall Street.

I’m glad Google chief executive Eric Schmidt is an adviser to President Obama. Bush never got that.

(Schmidt’s connections in Silicon Valley, more than phenomenal smarts, got him that job. Schmidt’s tenure at Sun Microsystems wasn’t that successful. You know, the “good old boys network,” just like here. In this case, it was venture capitalist John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins in Silicon Valley who was Schmidt’s “rainmaker.” Doerr invested in Sun and Google.)

Still, recruiting Google’s Schmidt is a step in the right direction for Obama, just like having ex-Ebay chief executive Meg Whitman run for governor in our state. Both of them get the SV-California connection.

So maybe we should get some policies in place to encourage innovation in Silicon Valley again. Not every venture succeeds, but the ones that do can drive our economy and balance our growing government budgets.

Nowadays the bet in Silicon Valley is on “green” technology. Despite the naysayers, the idea has legs.

Maybe it’s time to roll the dice with the Silicon Valley VCs instead of the banks or automakers. That’s where I’d put my money.

In fact, without it, we’re in deep trouble. Our governments have shown time and time again they don’t know how to cut costs, so we better raise some revenue. The banks and automakers are a defensive play, not an offensive one; AKA “yesterday’s lettuce.”

Will a stripper win an Oscar tonight?

The Oscars are tonight, and some people think a stripper will win — in this case Marisa Tomei for her role in “The Wrestler.”

Sex sells in Hollywood, as the Wall Street Journal points out.

The paper reminds us that Natalie Portman was nominated four years ago for playing a stripper in “Closer,” while Elisabeth Shue, Mira Sorvino and Julia Roberts all were Oscar nominees for “playing women who sell their bodies but guard their heart.”

I enjoy reading the weekend Journal. It is a good example of retooling a newspaper for a broader audience. You can get a one-year subscription to The Journal for $99 now with a special offer. How sad but a good recession buster.

On weekends, I also like reading The Union’s “Sunday Express.” Check out the cover story on the new nonprofit theater group, “Sierra Stages.” 

(You’ll have to look past the glaring typo at the beginning, however: confusing “its” and “it’s.” It’s  — as opposed to its — why you need an editor, who always spent extra time on the Sunday cover for just this reason.) C’est la vie.

The Oscars start at 5 p.m. on ABC and at http://www.oscar.com. Might be good weather for a fire in the fireplace and lap food such as a bowl of chile verde.

Enjoy!

UPDATE:

Marisa did not win.

Will the mine rancor trip up other projects?

The groundwork is being laid for a knock-down, drag-out debate whether to reopen the Idaho-Maryland mine.

But here’s a twist: I’m starting to hear buzz whether the fight to reopen the mine — more contentious than the growth measures or NH 2020 — will stall what some leaders see as more desirable projects that are in the pipeline, such as housing at Loma Rica Ranch and Kenny Ranch.

While die-hard no-growthers oppose all housing projects, more middle of the road people see both of these as “smart growth” plans, with lots of walkable space. This group includes influential people in business and government.

The same people are more on the fence about reopening the mine, however, citing concerns about air pollution and traffic. Others point to some tech firms — a real asset here — who fear vibrations from the mine will interrupt their business.

The local paper seems to be gung-ho for the mine to reopen — both in its editorials and on the news pages.

I was surprised to see an article above the fold on Feb. 4 about an alleged vandalism incident back in May 2006. The headline read “Grass Valley Mine Shaft vandalized.” It was not breaking news. It should have been promoted in a less prominent place.

This morning, the lead news item is “Mine touts investments as gold hits a grand.” It suggested that the mine would fetch $5 billion on the open market.

But that’s misleading: Gold price fluctuate wildly, the city would see no sales tax from that, and sales from the ceramic tile plant are highly unpredictable.

I’m glad the article raised some of these issues, but I wondered about the article’s positioning on the front page — as with the earlier one. 

Some smart, middle of the road business people around here also are questioning the experience of Emgold, which is trading at 5 cents per share and has not opened a gold mine before. 

I like the idea of a ceramic plant as a side-light business and think the management is earnest. But it would be a big mistake to assume that just the “no-growthers” are opposed to reopening the mine.

It will require some straight talk and diplomacy for both sides to get their arguments across — not the same old “Yosemite Sam” shootout.

I’ll be watching for that, as well as the impact on the housing projects.

Hastert charged — read the complaint here!

Here’s the press release for the charges filed against Thomas Hastert at “Brown Files Criminal Charges Against Broker who Masterminded Elaborate Real Estate Scheme.”

Hastert, who ran the Grass Valley mortgage firm Loan Sense, has been under investigation for months. A source told me just this week that charges were expected to be filed within the month. Bingo!

To read the complaint online and the declaration from the investigator, just click on the PDF at the bottom of the press release. The complaint is 30 pages long and offers lots of details, as does the 9-page declaration.

You might recognize some of the names in the narrative. I did!

Being able to access these court documents online is a good example of the benefits of Web versus print. 

““This man brazenly deceived investors and borrowers, promising high returns and easy loans, ripping off his customers for his own personal enrichment,” said state Attorney General Edmund Brown. “Ultimately, this criminal scheme collapsed when many of these loans failed, costing hundreds of people more than $20 million.”