Connecting the dots in local crime reporting

I read in The Union on Thursday where two residents of a local halfway house remain in county jail after one of them allegedly stole an ATM card to buy drugs.

Another day in Grass Valley. But if you dig deeper, you notice one of them was named Ian Seefelt, 26 — who’s been a “revolving door” offender. He was arrested on suspicion of grand theft, violating probation and using the personal information of another for unlawful purposes.

Does that name ring a bell? It does with law enforcement (who were shaking their heads at the Rood Center on Thursday) as well as a lot of residents.

Why? Seefelt was arrested in 2006 for allegedly stealing an elderly women’s purse in the Pine Creek Shopping Center, a case that drew considerable attention because it was so evil. The Union wrote about the incident.

“Seefelt has had brushes with the Grass Valley police. Five prior incidents were either theft- or drug-related,” the article said.

I have the same question that many people in law enforcement do: Why do we keep “catching and releasing” people such as Seefelt? Why aren’t we rehabilitating him? Where is the prosecution and judicial system breaking down?

These are still relevant questions. Tough questions can make the elected/appointed officials uncomfortable, but we have to keep asking and hold them accountable.

P.S.: I’m glad law enforcement and the DA’s office nabbed Thomas Hastert  in Santa Cruz. I still wonder why it didn’t happen last Friday, when the charges were filed.

Google leeches off the media when it’s down

Here’s audacity for you: On the same day the Rocky Mountain News closes just shy of its 150th anniversary, Google is adding advertisements to Google News searches.

Google doesn’t pay to create the content, mind you;  for-profit news organizations do. But Google will get money from the ads that go beside the stories.

“Trust me on this one, this one will kick up some dust,” writes longtime Google watcher John Battelle on his blog. He referred to a “***t storm,” in fact. 

It’s a real slap in the face to newspapers that pay for news gathering resources that Google is profiting from. In this recession, Google is hurting too, so it’s going to be an ugly scene.

Here’s some important background: Google was sued by Agence France-Press in 2005 for copyright infringement just after it launched Google News.

The Paris-based agency claimed the search giant was posting news stories and photographs without permission. The two entered into a licensing deal in 2007, ending the dispute.

This time around, news groups are likely to challenge Google on a wider scale — or risk losing money out of their own pocket. It comes just as many newspapers are up for sale or threatening to fold.

Newspapers have to share the blame: I never understood why they weren’t more aggressive with Google in the first place.

Meanwhile, it’s sad to see the Rocky Mountain News close. 

My family and I lived in Denver in the ’70s, and I remember the newspaper war between the two papers. For a while, their circulation was running neck in neck. Dallas had a similar newspaper war between two strong dailies.

The loser here is the public. I encourage you to read Ben Bagdikian’s book “Media Monopoly,” more relevant now than ever. (He was a professor of mine at Cal and later an acquaintance).

Here’s the silver lining in this dark cloud: When this shakeout is complete, more competition than ever will exist. Online ventures, with professional, not arm-chair talent, will fill the void.

At least 50 union jobs cuts proposed at Chronicle

Here’s the letter sent to union newsroom workers this week at The Chronicle, Northern California’s largest circulation newspaper. The highlights:

•Guild committed to keeping paper open. 

•At least 50 Guild-represented job cuts are proposed. “Other proposals include removal of some advertising sales people from Guild coverage and protection, the right to outsource — specifically mentioning Ad Production — voluntary buyouts, layoffs and wage freezes.”

•Management reiterated its commitment to keeping The Chronicle open and to working with the Guild to secure a viable future. 

In sum, both sides seem willing to get the job done without closing the paper. The Teamsters could be a tougher nut to crack.

Here’s the First Family’s new pooch!

lg_artworkThis is news I’ve been waiting for: The Obamas are close to getting the dog they had promised their daughters during the election, and the breed is . . . a Portuguese water dog.

OK.

“Known for centuries along Portugal’s coast and prized for its strength, spirit and soundness, the Portuguese Water Dog is a loyal worker and companion,” according to the AKC Web site. “Medium-sized and robust, the breed possesses a waterproof coat and the ability to swim all day. Its coat can be curly or wavy and is black, white, or brown, or combinations of black or brown with white.”

The dog is referred to as the Cao de Agua (dog of water) in its native Portugal, according to the AKC. It also has an allergy-free coat, according to Michelle Obama. The pooch is a rescue dog too — a good call.

“Temperamentally they’re supposed to be pretty good,” she told People Magazine, according to the AP. “From the size perspective, they’re sort of middle-of-the-road: It’s not small, but it’s not a huge dog. And the folks that we know who own them have raved about them. So that’s where we’re leaning.”

The dog is expected to be in the White House on April Fool’s Day.

(photo from the AKC)

Newspaper subscriptions a bargain in recession

 

Golden egg: still print ads
Golden egg: still print ads

Here’s a bargain during the deepening recession: get a newspaper subscription.

I just got an offer from the Wall Street Journal for $99 for a full year.

A pitchman for The Union was offering the paper for just $39 a year in front of Raley’s on Wednesday. The Bee is offering six months for $39.

Why doesn’t some newspaper-loving philanthropist come along and subscribe to a bundle of papers at rock-bottom rates and donate the subscription to the schools? There’s a win-win. 

Though the deals are “loss leaders” for newspapers, they help pump up subscription figures to justify existing print ad rates (still the “golden egg”). This game gets tiresome, however.

Sometimes the printed news you get is a bit stale, too: “Facebook is pulling in — gasp — your parents,” reads a front-page article in today’s Sacramento Bee. 

No kidding! Or as we used to joke in newsrooms, “Have you heard about he Lindbergh kidnapping?”

Here’s a July 1997 report from Comscore showing a 98 percent increase in the number of Facebook users who are 35 or older — also representing the largest age segment of unique users.

Sometimes you have to wait for the ink-stained journalists to catch up with the digital trends.

Here’s the digital future for newspapers: The Bee also is running an online ad today that directs you to e-coupons for Raley’s.

With the e-coupons, you don’t need scissors or a printed newspaper — effectively cannibalizing the print product. Still, the newspaper is generating revenue from the Web ad.

This is a painful transition. One day, online revenue may get large enough to justify killing print — but not for a while. In the meantime, steep cost cutting will continue to offset revenue declines.

Fun business, eh?

Fond memories at the S.F. Chronicle

I’ve been reminiscing about The Chronicle this week. So many fond memories. I worked there from the mid-’80s through mid-’90s, writing and editing about energy and natural resource companies, the buyout of S.F. stalwarts such as Crown Zelllerbach, airlines such as PSA and United and the IPOs of Yahoo, Ebay and others in Silicon Valley. Among them:

•Herb Caen. My wife and I were good friends of Herb. He and I would visit daily at the office and have lunch together sometimes. Herb wrote us a thoughtful note (on his old Royal) when we were married, “Shannon, what a lovely name,” it read. We remember faxing him an item from the Albertville, France, Winter Olympics: We ran into the owner of the San Jose Sharks hockey team handing out pins at the match between Sweden and Germany. It ran the next day.

•The M&M Tavern. I was one of the youngest reporters, in my 20s, to join The Chronicle. I would join Harre Demoro, the transportation writer, and some other colleages for lunch or drinks after work. Then I’d ride the cable car home to my studio (with a futon) on Nob Hill, across from Huntington Park.

•Pacific Lumber Co. By reading SEC filings, I discovered that a Texas corporate raider was going to double the timber cut of the old-school redwood lumber company to pay off junk his bond debt. The Wall Street Journal followed the story, and credited The Chronicle, and it became corporate lore in books and a movie. Sadly, Pacific Lumber, with its quaint company town in Scotia, filed for bankruptcy later.

•George Keller. George was the chairman of Chevron Corp. He and I hit it off, and he gave me so many scoops that the P.R. people were running in circles. George’s son, Bill, is now the editor of the N.Y. Times.

•Randy Shilts. Randy was a colleague who broke the story about AIDS. He was so funny and such a professional to work with on stories. He later died of AIDS. I was glad to see “Milk” win an Oscar this week, because it was stemmed from Randy’s work.

•Labor strike. We had a labor strike when I worked there. It was sad to see non-union colleagues being bussed into work. The paper suffered. Striking workers put out a daily paper that was a free tabloid — the same business model that is popular now. I was proud of a scoop that TCI was buying the S.F. cable franchise in a multi-million deal. (A longtime friend was veteran cable guy Leo Hindery, who now is bidding on the Cubs). It ran on TV.

•Brandy Ho’s. An excellent Hunan restaurant within walking distance from the flat Shannon and I had on Telegraph Hill. It still is going strong and opening a restaurant in the East Bay. We ate there on a trip to S.F. earlier this month.

•Meeting Shannon. My wife and I met at a Super Bowl party (49’ers versus the Bengals) in Noe Valley. I had a strange haircut (the one with the angled buzz cut in the back), but she joined me for a wonderful first date. The rest is history.

•The IPOs of Netscape and Yahoo. I remember reading the regulatory filings about all the risks of the startups. It’s hard to think, from reading that sober-sounding narrative, how they would change our world.

Web coupon clippers surge in downturn

The deepening recession is leading to a surge in Web coupon clippers.

Coupon clipping has surged 10 percent in the past four months, the Wall Street Journal reports in a front-page story.

“And increasingly, shoppers are skipping the scissors and getting coupons online or having discounts sent to their smart phones and rewards cards,” according to The Journal.

Online coupon redemptions jumped 140 percent last year, the paper said, citing marketing researcher Inmar.

One mother said she saved $50 off a $120 shopping bill by jumping online before heading out to shop.

At Raley’s, for example, you can save $20 on a $100 purchase this week with an online coupon.