Track the swine flu outbreak online

A Google map showing markers for swine flu outbreaks is here. The map includes details of the case that was reported on Monday near Sacramento.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has good information here.

Twitter is being criticized by some for its role in informing, or misinforming, people about the swine flu outbreak. In some cases, people are unnecessarily panicking. Tweets about “swine flu” are at about as much as 10,000 per hour, according to Mashable.

“Despite all the recent Twitter-enthusiasm about this platform’s unique power to alert millions of people in decentralized and previously unavailable ways, there are quite a few reasons to be concerned about Twitter’s role in facilitating an unnecessary global panic about swine flu,” according to a blog post in Foreign Policy, a well-respected publication.

Still, the Google map and updates from CDC are good examples of how real-time, Web-based data is helping communicate news and information — going well beyond the constraints of the printed medium.

Fox won’t show Obama 100-day press conference

Unlike the rest of the major networks, Fox will stick to its regular schedule rather than show President Obama’s press conference that marks his 100th day in office.

Many people have long criticized the network for its right-wing bias.

“The networks are not required to show presidential press conferences, but they generally take White House requests for airtime very seriously,” as a New York Times blog reports. “Millions of viewers who rely on over-the-air TV signals do not have access to cable news networks or C-SPAN.

“Then again, they also take their bottom lines very seriously.”

It marks the first time in Obama’s presidency that a broadcast network won’t televise one of his prime-time press conferences.

‘Glad you’re keeping an eye on community for us’

images5I posted two signed reader comments in The Union on Monday questioning its news judgment, but they have since been deleted. Others even commented on my remarks, but the original posts are no longer there.

•One questioned whether the *lead story* on page one of the newspaper, about people going to the paper’s own Home & Garden show at the fairgrounds, was over-played and too self serving. It seems like a photo and a caption would have been more appropriate.

There’s lots of events at the fairgrounds and elsewhere that don’t get that kind of play. (The show ended this weekend — or did it? It *still* is being promoted on the front door of theunion.com on Tuesday).

•The other questioned whether the “meet your merchant” story on B&C Hardware, a major advertiser, was probing enough. It did not mention any of B&C’s competitors or big challenges such as the newly opened Home Depot in North Auburn. Any business profile typically answers those questions.

The comments I made followed the policy and, in fact, were very circumspect, suggesting “maybe I’m wrong but . . .” Not everyone agreed but some did in postings that followed.

One example: “Responding to Jeff’s comment – you’re right, some of the articles in the paper these days are not very good. Many of the ‘true’ questions just don’t get asked.” He/she also praised B&C, as I did. I’m a regular customer: That’s not the point.

The publisher/editor (a dual role that raises inherent conflicts in newsgathering) called me an “armchair quarterback” once again. I’ll pass on the sentiment to my journalism professors at Northwestern, my journalism and business pals such as Will Hearst and CNET co-founder Halsey Minor. Oh, and my neighbors.

Here’s another email I received from a former colleague:

“Saw your comments today on TheUnion.com and then found your blog as well. Glad to see you still writing and keeping an eye on the community for us.”

On this blog, I hope you check out the robust political discussion going on recently between Aaron Klein and Doug Keachie, two regular participants in the local blogosphere. It’s a great example of how a blog can help generate community discussion.

Meanwhile, I keep wondering if I could write a book about my experiences in journalism here. Some of it seems like an episode of the “Twilight Zone.”

Amigos and Co. opens in Nevada City

Here’s a small-town economic bright spot: As I wrote earlier this month, Amigos and Co. is expanding to Nevada City, where Dos Banditos used to be located.

The Mexican restaurant, which also has a location on East Main in downtown Grass Valley, opened in NC this weekend. It’s good, reasonable food. We’re fans of the chile relleno. We also like Las Katarinas on Broad Street.

With The Stonehouse becoming a restaurant training center for some at-risk youths, at least one restaurant on “the other side” of the freeway will be open again for customers.

I’m sure the patio of Amigos and Co. will be a hit once the weather warms up more consistently.

Welcome to our hometown!

Showing my son how to play a record

Our happiest times in the Sierra — where we’ve been coming since childhood — are at our cabin at Lake Tahoe more than our home in Nevada City.

We hope that changes some day, but our memories here are clouded by the lingering death of our parents (and our 13-year-old dog), too many encounters with duplicitous people and just plain nasty people who shout too much. (Mud slinging is relatively new to us).

It’s also a hard place for any family to scratch out a living, no matter what your resume says. Too often, it seems, it’s not what you know but who you know.

It’s easy to see why families pull the plug and bail. One story — told to me by the county Economic Resource Council — sticks in my mind: A couple, where the husband’s father ran an accounting firm here, moved up to be close to their parents.

Trouble is, the couple found the lifestyle they were looking for — children who ran their Big Wheels around on a cul de sac — was noticeably absent. They also disliked the political nastiness. So they moved to Roseville instead and commuted “up the hill.” How sad is that?

As for us, being an independent minded journalist — what you’re trained to be — doesn’t always help either. We’re an awfully insular bunch. But my wife and I understand the fallout: You make your bed, so you have to rest in it.

A few months ago, I expressed interest in buying a local business publication. I could see how you could ramp it up to be a real community-wide B-to-B publication, offering a more analytical voice than “meet your merchant.” I also wanted to expand it to Truckee; as I’ve said, we’re too insular.

But the owner sold it to her friend, partly because her friends in the 49er Rotary Club spoke out against me for some pointed columns I wrote. She made a point of this.

(The 49er Club is where the courts and law enforcement types hang out, and I have written openly about “conflicts of interest” and the “revolving door” of our justice system. It’s ironic because the group meets for breakfast just a block from my home. Some nice people, but I’m sticking to my opinion. Aren’t I entitled to one?)

“It’s a small town,” she said. “And that’s why it will stay small,” I told her. Since then, other opportunities to launch a media business here have popped up, but it was a telling story about what I and others see as a lingering “good old boys/girls network.”

I’m working with an out-of-town startup now, but the response to this blog alone indicates the demand for an honest approach to journalism from a stakeholder in our community. (The traffic and comments are growing; it seems that more people than we think feel “disenfranchised” from the “powers that be.”)

Still, we love our neighbors and have forged some excellent friendships. Waking up in a forest (with no fog like S.F.) is a treat. We’re doing just fine, compared with most people.

It was with pleasure, though, that we holed up in our place on the West Shore of Tahoe — my wife, myself, our son and our new puppy — for a quiet weekend. The heating was out, so we stoked the fire instead.

In Tahoe, we’ve noticed, people get along better: We think the cold weather and relative remoteness of the place is a bond.

During the day, we swept some pine needles, walked the dog, and I showed my son — again — how to play a record.

We have a good record collection up here — ranging from Bing Crosby and Leroy Anderson to Puff the Magic Dragon — and an old player, with a soft cloth to clean the LPs. (My favorite remains Elton John’s “Madman Across the Water.”)

“Dad, sorry I scratched it,” my son said as he dragged the needle across “Puff the Magic Dragon & Other Friends from Fairyland.” No problem.

Playing records is an art, I reminded him, at least compared with an iPod or Mac. (He’s adept at both). I guess plunking down a needle in the right spot to play a song is a dying art.

Boy, it’s quiet up here. Reminds me of the last recession, in 1983. On the one hand, I hope things perk up. On the other, we’re enjoying the solitude, with all the simple pleasures, including our LPs.

We hope you enjoyed your weekend. It’s good to know summer is just around the corner. There’s so much to do outdoors.

To some Tahoe City residents: “The Sierra Shun”

I’m hearing many complaints recently about the way the Sierra Sun covers Tahoe City. I’ve alluded to it before, but the anger is rising. Some have dubbed the paper the “Sierra Shun.”

It has to do with the way some residents believe the paper covers (or doesn’t cover) the community. Tahoe City used to have its own weekly, The Tahoe World. Now the city is covered out of Truckee by the Sierra Sun.

Company-wide cutbacks at Reno-based parent Swift — also the owner of The Union — have led to cutbacks in distribution of the free print edition. Both the editor and publisher are from outside of the area and trying to bone up on local issues.

But many residents think Tahoe City’s perspective is slighted in what they see as the paper’s “Truckee-centric” coverage. The two towns are distinct, not unlike Grass Valley and Nevada City.

The latest example: a controversy to restructure the public schools to provide “immersion programs” in English and Spanish in the elementary school in Kings Beach.

Many parents understood the idea but were concerned about the fallout: busing children outside of their neighborhood school and creating a middle school that goes all the way from grade four to grade eight — a big age range — to help accommodate the program.

Plus, the Tahoe City middle school is adjacent to the high school, creating concerns about mingling among students of widely ranging maturities.

The parents also said many Hispanic families were eager to be immersed in an English education to help them succeed in the American business world.

The parents feel the paper “took sides” with the Truckee “perspective”: go ahead with the program, without reporting much on its drawbacks.

In addition, they say two school board members had a *conflict of interest*: They sent their children to the “immersion” program. But they still voted to approve the deal and did not recuse themselves.

None of this was covered in the paper, the parents complained. They also sent letters to the editor, expressing their concerns. But some of the letters were not published because they were deemed “negative.”

This comes as Tahoe City residents already have complained about a lack of community, partly because the paper pulled out.

Many of them built the “mom and pop” businesses that have helped create jobs in Truckee, not just Tahoe City, so they feel doubly slighted.

It’s a good example of how cost cutting at newspapers has alienated some of the very readers that newspapers hope to attract — or at least retain.

This is happening in communities all across America. For example, the former dean of the U.S.C. school of journalism has singled out the Los Angeles suburb of Alhambra as a city that “newspapers forgot.”

He is launching a Web site to better cover the town. Newspaper groups such as the Knight Foundation are providing money for new media startups to better cover the forgotten burghs.

The restructuring of journalism is creating problems — but also opportunities.

Renowned beer ‘pub’ magnate in our midst

Local Tom Dalldorf: King of craft beers
Local Tom Dalldorf: King of craft beers
In a small town, people think they have the place all figured out: the politics, the businesses, who their neighbors are. We’re an insular bunch.

But here’s one I’ll bet many of you didn’t know: A highly respected publication dedicated to “craft” beers and its publisher — Tom Dalldorf — is based here in Nevada City.

Celebrator Beer News for craft beer fans — what Wine Spectator is for wine aficionados — just completed its 21st anniversary. The online version is at celebrator.com.

“You can pick up a copy of Celebrator at Cooper’s Ale Works. That’ my local,” he told me.

Dalldorf is a well know expert when it comes to craft beers.

As the Washington Post observed: “A former wine guy who jumped on the craft beer bandwagon in the early ’80s, Dalldorf knows the lay of the land.”

You often find Dalldorf quoted in the mainstream press when it comes to craft beers.

One of Tom’s fans is Jack, a regular reader of this blog.

Here’s an excerpt from Tom’s latest column:

“Wall Street is in shambles, banks are on life support, bankers have surpassed even lawyers and used-car salesmen as the most despised professionals in America.

“Credit is the new dust bowl, and the housing market is a disaster. Discretionary spending is indiscreet with China and Saudi Arabia holding our debt notes. What’s a beer lover to do?”

“Good beer (craft beer) sales continue to climb in the face of challenging economic times. Brewpubs report declining food tickets, but beer sales remain strong.

“Pubs and restaurants continue to see growth in craft beer sales. Some microbreweries struggle with difficult distribution issues, but many cite record sales.

“Is good beer really recession-proof? Is the mantra of beer as the “affordable luxury” really true? We think so.”

Good stuff. Wouldn’t this be a good story and blogger for The Union or other local media?