Journalism’s code of ethics

As I’ve written before, the lines between editorial and advertising have become blurred during the recession in some newspapers — predictable but short sighted.

Some of it is blatant: A sizable number of U.S. marketers – 19 percent – say their groups have bought advertising in return for a news story, despite growing criticism of these “pay-for-play” practices, according to a recent survey conducted on behalf of PRWeek.

“Without full disclosure and transparency, media lose credibility and their value as an unbiased source of information for consumers,” said Mark Hass, chief executive of Manning Salvage and Lee, which conducted the survey

Journalists embrace a code of ethics, led by the Society of Professional Journalists and others, to prevent such practices.

Most of it is voluntary, but some is involuntary: I’ve always worked at places where you were required to sign and abide by a code of ethics.

Here’s a voluntary one from the SPJ; most are similar:

— Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.

— Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.

—Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.

— Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.

— Disclose unavoidable conflicts.

It’s a balancing act for sure, but one that generates a long-term bond between a newspaper, its readers and its advertisers. It’s also good for business.

Why decision-making here is so negative, nasty

images-14-25-03I wrote this weekend about the how the closing of Nevada City’s lone ice cream store led to some vitriolic online comments. It sparked a good dialog on my blog about our reputation for creating a negative atmosphere for community decision-making.

As Steve Frisch put it, “The negativity does not just come out in the letters to the editor, although it is most accessible there. It comes out in community forums, where people are allowed to speak to each other with disrespect.

“It comes out in the occasionally paranoid observations of elected officials who sometimes think that anyone from outside the community, or their own ideological belief system, is out to get them.”‘

Check out the constructive dialogue, with signed comments:

1. Tom Grundy:

Jeff – Good point at the end: The hate and bile that comes up in so many of the online comments is probably a bigger deterrent to any new business than is the legitimate concern shown by the “lib lefty wacko commie fascist enviro-freaks” (or whatever the slander of the moment happens to be).

Take a look at online comments on any of the Union’s recent articles or opinion pieces regarding the Caltrans detour. Take a look at articles and opinion pieces about the mine.

Heck, if I owned a responsible Bay Area start-up and was looking to move the business to the foothills, and I saw some of these comments, I would run as fast as possible the other way!

2. Steve Frisch:

I could not agree with Jeff and Tom more. Anonymity is a real problem. 
You know I think there needs to be some sort of community dialogue in Grass Valley/Nevada City about how unbelievably contentious even the simplest things can be.

It seem like every community decision, action, statement, idea (even things that are fundamentally private or personal) is instantly attacked with vitriol and downright hatred. I am mean really, attacking the owners of an ice cream store in public as a result of a simple newspaper article stating that they are closing. What a waste of time and energy.


I have never seen another area of the region with a more negative atmosphere for community decision-making. And I say that as someone that spends 50% of his time traveling to communities to participate in or observe governance decisions and processes.

I am sure I will be excoriated by my friends down the hill for this observation, but this community really needs to deal with the problem. 
I recognize that there are many, many great things that happen in the community, and everyone that does them should be applauded. 
But to be frank, Grass Valley Nevada City now has a “reputation,” and it is not good.


The negativity does not just come out in the letters to the editor, although it is most accessible there. It comes out in community forums, where people are allowed to speak to each other with disrespect. It comes out in the occasionally paranoid observations of elected officials who sometimes think that anyone from outside the community, or their own ideological belief system, is “out to get them.”

It comes out in the inability to pioneer a new idea in the community without a fight over ownership, or power, or money or control. It comes out in how the community responds to problems, where it is assumed that everyone is corrupt, or self interested, or has an ulterior motive. It comes out in how the community represents itself at the state and federal level, where GV/NC have a reputation for being the most difficult place to work in in the entire Sierra Nevada.

There are a number of people I know in the area who I disagree with on policy, or approach, or even basic philosophy, but I do not think that they are corrupt, or evil or bad people.
 Why does GV/NC have such a difficult time collaborating? 
The inability to work together to overcome common challenges is great impediment to progress in the community and at some time someone is going to have to deal with it.

3. Doug Keachie:

GV/NC has long had a chip on its shoulder, and somewhat rightfully so. When I attended Sierra, 1962-1964, the kids who bussed down to the Rocklin campus were second class citizens there, including Dan O’Neill. Even as an outsider from the Bay Area, I heard enough comments to understand this.

Since it is so easy to blame outsiders in the midst as the root cause of all evils, it is done. Such is the way of humanity, all over the planet. We can do better, as Steve Frisch points out.

4. Anna Haynes:

re Steve F’s “I have never seen another area of the region with a more negative atmosphere for community decision-making. ”

It’s a power struggle between cultures, and *everything* becomes fuel for that struggle. Like the Cold War. Or like sibling rivalry among children. An inch on the car seat becomes momentous.

I don’t know that a general “can’t we all be nicer” will help though – our community really could use a Mom, one with experience in these things, & one who can’t be gamed.

5. Steve Frisch:

Dear Anna:

I agree that it may be a culture war analogous to a cold war, but the same culture struggle is going on all over the region, to different degrees, and has been transcended in many communities.

I am not sure what the causes are in GV/NC, but I have my suspicions (totally observational not empirical):

1. The GV/NC community is in the middle of its transition from resource-based economy, through service economy, and on to its next thing (perhaps innovation economy) and there is a struggle for economic hegemony.

2. The community is in the middle of a transition from late baby boom to Gen X values and there is a struggle for value dominance.

3. The community is made up of old time residents and newcomers and there is a clash of cultural values.

4. The community’s population is divided roughly equally between “conservatives” and “progressives,” and there is a struggle for political leadership.

5. The community has always attracted the “rugged individualist”, both conservative and progressive, and that has created certain cultural and behavioral norms.

6. The community has not had a history of investing in leadership development that would lead to a strong civic infrastructure—leading people to be more likely to prosper from self-aggrandizement than cooperation.

7. The community, long stable in the period between end of gold rush and end of resource extraction economy, has experienced 40 years a profound change, (rapid growth, in-migration, economic dislocation, increasing ethnic and racial diversity), and no conscious effort has been made to recognize or manage that change.

8. Certain community decision-making events in the past 20 years have been managed poorly (1994 GP update, NH2020, political transitions, individual development projects, etc). and have contributed to community conflict.

9. The community has tolerated bad behavior and rewarded people that act out and speak irrationally with political power.

All of this has occurred in the context of broader social and cultural changes that have diminished social connection and tolerance.

I think the issue in your neck of the woods is that all of these things are present concurrently. In many other regions big pieces of the puzzle have been dealt with: the economy has already made the transition, or the power structure has already changed, or there is no challenge to the power structure, or there is a clear majority of ideology, or institutions of civic infrastructure that maintain stability have been retained or created, or processes have been managed well and created new norms.

We could learn a lesson from work being done in other areas of the county to encourage dialogue and reconciliation.

In San Diego, there was a highly successful community dialogue process that helped create understanding between different sectors of the community around health, education, economic competition and cultural issues. The effort has led to real improvement in the prosperity of the targeted community, and an improvement in their ability to work together to reach common objectives.

In Greensboro these was a highly successful process to help improve race relations after the “Greensboro” massacre in 1979, that led to a whole program of civic engagement and community-building. This effort led to a dramatic reduction in violence and racial tension.

Typical tools used to achieve these objectives include intentional relationship building across diverse sectors of the community, community history projects, story telling, study circles, youth development projects, shared values development exercises, and engagement in specific projects, designed to build capacity rather than immediately take on the toughest issues.

Many of the next generation of these processes include an intentional program of building emotional intelligence (the ability to identify, assess and mange ones emotions) social intelligence (the ability to get along well with others while winning their cooperation) and civic intelligence (the ability to transfer cooperation to community decision-making in order to improve society as whole rather than increase personal advantage).

The basis of this work is to attempt to capture each participant’s unique “cognitive profile” (usually done through some form of personality and learning exercise like the Meyers-Briggs analysis) and use it to create outcomes that are collectively approved.

Defining this work was pioneered by Howard Gardner in Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligence), and was originally focused on education and learning at an institutional level, but the ideas have been adapted by community building practitioners (in some cases unconsciously) and have contributed to new school of community building.

The bottom line: someone needs to take the time and trouble to start a community building effort in the GV/NC area. It needs to go beyond the leadership training being done and get to teaching people how to work together to collaborate on community issues. It needs to include all sectors of the community, could leverage some of the existing efforts, and should be an on-going commitment to overcoming conflict.

It is time that an effort to improve community communication and dialogue became intentional. If not GV/NC will continue to spin its wheels and waste time, effort, money, capacity, and people spirits on destructive community debates over picayune issues.

Auburn, Marysville papers join ‘The Union news’

Editor’s note: UPDATED on Monday, May 4 to include Marysville Appeal-Democrat *and* Auburn Journal:

The Union in Grass Valley has quietly started running stories from the Auburn Journal and Marysville Appeal-Democrat on its Web site, labeled as “The Union News Service.”

The Union ran a story from the Auburn Journal on Sunday’s Web site and in Monday’s paper under “The Union News Service.”

An article from the Marysville Appeal Democrat ran on Monday’s Web site under the same byline.

I’ve long said it behooves community newspapers to strike alliances with one another as the industry consolidates. The background is here.

One downside risk: filling precious space in the print news hole with out-of-town content and losing your “hyper-local” community focus.

The Journal is run by a family-owned newspaper chain called Brehm Communications of San Diego, while The Union is run by Reno-based Swift.

The Marysville Appeal-Democrat is part of the Freedom Newspaper chain, whose flagship paper is the Orange County Register. Freedom is working to restructure its debt to cope with the industry downturn.

As reported, The Union’s sister papers, in both Truckee and Carson City, have been cutting back print publishing days.

Starting Monday, the Nevada Appeal, one of The Union’s sister papers, will cut print publication to five days a week from seven.

Also starting Monday, the Sierra Sun will begin a weekend e-newsletter. It recently stopped publishing on Saturday, cutting its print production to just two days a week from five in mid-January.

The hyenas vs. a Nevada City merchant

images-11On mid-day Friday, I offered my readers a small-town scooplet: The lone ice cream store in Nevada City, the Confectionary Mine, was closing.

The Union wrote about the closure the next day.

The reader comments that were posted below the story in the local paper were a sight to behold.

I’ve never been a fan of unsigned comments. Here’s an editor’s note from the San Jose Mercury News that goes with each story: “We are pleased to let readers post comments about an article. Please increase the credibility of your post by including your full name and city in the body of your comment.”

All papers should adopt this kind of language.

In short, more than two dozen unsigned comments attacked the couple, who ran an ice cream shop, no less.

I spent some time with the Crowders on Friday when I wrote my item. They came here from the Bay Area with a vision of Mayberry.

But it turned out to be more like Stepford. They stepped into the middle of a fray over the dysfunctional Downtown Association, and drew fire for, well, just stating an opinion.

They showed me photos of homeless people sleeping on a nearby bench — not always good for business — and said the police department turned a blind eye.

In the comments, the couple was roundly attacked anonymously, but each time they took the time to provide a civil, fact-based *signed* response.

Here’s an example:

“The Independent” wrote:
“Their prices were quite high for items offered. I bought their chocolate coins in a bag. Five small pieces of chocolate — $4.95 each bag. Would not have bought them if I didn’t need them for a project.”

Steven Crowder wrote:
Independent: “Your quote that five little netted coins were $4.95 each is a lie. Our netted coins were $2 per bag.

Seven years ago, they were $1.50, but when rent is in excess of $3,000 per month and the cost of goods goes up, we can’t afford to absorb it all.

You can slander me as much as you like, but at least tell the truth!”

It’s amazing when you think about it: How a couple who came here to run an ice cream parlor is attacked, including many personal insults.

It’s typical around here: If the word gets out how small-minded we are — from reading comments like this — it will be hard to get anybody to come here an open a business.

Or maybe that’s the goal.

Will a racehorse bring us out of the recession?

images-08-01-37Nowadays people want change: Whether you agree with his politics agree or not, Obama has helped bring our country out of a psychological funk. The polls clearly show that. The stock market has rallied too.

Now in the sports world, a 50-1 longshot called “Mine that Bird” has won the Kentucky Derby, a come-from-behind story that reminds me of “Seabiscuit.” The payoff: $103.20 on a $2 bet.

This is a Cinderella story: The owner drove the horse from New Mexico on a 21-hour ride in a trailer. Contrast that with horses that were flown by jetliner as far away as Dubai.

The horse was dead last in the beginning, but made a spectacular run along the rail to win. Jockey Calvin Borel showed a wonderful display of emotion upon winning.

It was the second biggest upset in Kentucky Derby history, going all the way back to 1913.

In the Depression, “Seabiscuit” brought a feeling of optimism and hope to the country.

“This horse helped bring a country back from the Great Depression,” as author David Cole wrote.

Maybe we’ll experience that again.

The perfect mint julep for Derby Day

Commander's Palace
Commander's Palace
The Kentucky Derby is on Saturday, and people like to make Mint Juleps to watch the event.

My wife and I are thoroughbred racing fans, and we’ve been to Churchhill Downs to watch the “Breeder’s Cup,” the World Series of horse racing. It’s an awesome venue.

Our favorite Mint Julep comes from the Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, a classic New Orleans restaurant. Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse both were the executive chefs there.

The Commander’s Palace bar is “old school,” looking out on a garden. A bartender named Leroy held court for years.

The typical Mint Julep recipe, from a video clip on YouTube, is here.

By the way, the cocktail is more read about than consumed: One survey revealed that while 70 percent of Americans not from the South had never tasted a Mint Julep, 73 percent of Southerners had never had one either, according to Chow, a good food site to bookmark.

We’re going to drink one Saturday, but it’s mainly because we have an abundance of mint growing in our small portable greenhouse and aren’t sure what to do with it. The drink is a little sweet for us.

The Printed Blog, ‘beta’ copies

images-2Responding to my blog readers’ requests, here’s some ‘beta’ copies of The Printed Blog that we’ve been handing out in some major U.S. cities (two PDFs are below).

The free, weekly publication is based entirely on reader-generated, online content and photos, and the material is published with the creators’ explicit permission.

It’s a full-color, tall tabloid format on high quality paper. It is meant to be read on subways and trains but also passed around in coffee shops and other gathering places.

We’re distributing “beta” copies in four markets: Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles (even L.A. has metro lines now), with four “hyper-local” editions in Chicago neighborhoods. We find “hyper-local” content to go with it.

As the managing editor, I focus on compiling, reading and publishing the reader-generated content and photos with a team, as well as getting some editorial processes in place.

We work “virtually,” though we get together now and then. This is a months-old startup publication in every sense: Lots of positive energy, and people “rowing” in the same direction. It reminds me of the early days at CNET.

We have some “heavy hitter” bloggers who have granted us permission to “reverse publish” their blogs.

This includes Internet businessman and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, American Express “open forum” with Guy Kawasaki and other “thought leaders,” Masahable and the Bloggess. We have some popular, offbeat ones too, such as Neal Boulton’s “Bastard Life.”

images1We do not edit the content, respecting the bloggers “creativity.” Some of the content definitely is “racy,” reflecting the Internet itself. But some of it is analytical — Cuban and Kawasaki are smart “thought leaders.”

We add bloggers all the time: from the left and the right.

Here’s a good one from a youth GOPer that I added this week, called “Pink Elephant Pundit.” “Unapologetically Christian and Conservative,” is Tabitha Hale’s tag line.

We also profile one of the bloggers in each edition. This week it’s Tabitha.

We also have syndication deals with Yelp and Eventful, two well-known Internet brands. Yelp provides reviews and Eventful provides calendar listings.

We have thousands of blogs to choose from, compiled on a Google “reader.” We’ve received some good publicity, too, from The New York Times, Editor & Publisher, Le Monde and the Chicago Tribune.

It’s what the VCs call a “disruptive” business model, targeting newspapers, including The Trib’s “Red Eye” (a free subway tab), and magazines with “legacy” operating costs.

A Chicago edition is theprintedblogvol1no13_chi_loop.

The Obama photo is a never-before published image, taken during campaigning by a freelancer whose work has been published in Time magazine and The New York Times. It is a good example of the high-caliber photographers we’re getting.

A Los Angeles edition is theprintedblogvol1no11_la:

Warning: The files are big (3.3 MB to 5.1 MB).