Who benefits from combining editor/publisher?

The Union’s “flagship” sister paper, the Vail Daily, on Thursday combined the roles of editor and publisher to cut costs.

It comes after the Swift-owned Nevada Appeal and The Union also combined the two roles – traditionally separate. In olden times, the editor managed newsgathering and the publisher ran the business side of the operations.

This “Chinese Wall” was there for good reason: to generate revenue but not compromise news coverage, such as putting “advertorials” on the news pages. As I’ve blogged before, such advertorials are on the rise.

Times are tough for newspapers. As reported, the Vail Daily is facing stiff competition from the guy who sold the paper to them and now has started his own free daily, The Vail Mountaineer.

The background on the latest chapter is here.

“He complements his obvious talent as a writer and editor with excellent instincts as a salesman and business manager,” the statement read about the combined roles in Vail.

My graduate journalism professors at Northwestern University, among others, would have a cow.

The Vail Daily’s previous publisher went on to the Colorado Springs paper, where they still have a publisher *and* and editor.

As in Vail and Carson City, The Union also has combined the roles of editor and publisher. The paper’s publisher/editor lately has been a vocal advocate of re-opening the Idaho-Maryland mine, a controversial issue. Some of the sentiment has bled onto the news pages, some residents have observed.

I like our local publisher on a personal level, but it’s time to draw a line in the sand. Readers aren’t stupid. You just undermine your credibility (and readership).

The papers here, in Vail and Carson City are owned by Swift Communications of Reno, a family owned local business. What would the founders think?

In fairness, I see similar “blurring of lines” problems at KNCO (which doesn’t even disclose its full ownership and should) and yubanet.com, which has an obvious “pro-left” bent. Most of our bloggers are idealogues.

I think we can do better. We have a lot of smart people around here, who deserve more from their local media.

At the bare minimum, let’s hope the economy recovers soon.

Can bloggers provide a ‘public service’?

Public service awards are a big deal in mainstream journalism.

But “citizen journalists” can do their part, in a small way.

Here’s an example: I blogged on Thursday about a cool regional map for electric vehicles, noting that the our local ones should be included.

People who are involved in the program read the item, and now they will include it.

This is a “win-win.” In fact, I think promoting our EV recharging stations can also help promote our area to some enterprising “green” tourists. I’d love to have them come to my hometown of Nevada City, look around and buy lunch. Maybe they’ll come back.

Here’s the note: “Just spoke with the folks at EVA, they agree. So now we begin the process of interfacing to larger sites. Great way to expand advertisement! It will be interesting to see how many sites are out there that have charging maps and how up to date they are, and if they have facility to easily add new stations. Thanks for the nudge.”

This blog is is a fun exercise and an avocation, not a vocation; I’m working with a media startup now. But the traffic has been growing, and more important, I’m impressed at the quality of the *signed* comments.

The comments are generating some interesting, thought-provoking dialogue, not the “f bombs” you read in The Union’s comment section. I never see many comments on yubanet.com, and KNCO doesn’t even offer them.

I hope that intriguing online dialogue becomes more commonplace in *all* our media and blogs. The potential for raising the bar and providing thought-provoking discussions in real-time is enormous in our community. We have a lot of smart people here.

But it starts with signed comments, not anonymous ones. And it starts with a nonpartisan approach to journalism. Our local media, in print and online only, as well as most bloggers, seem to “take sides” too often. Once you get pigeon-holed, you lose your effectiveness and credibility.

I see too much of that around here. How sad. If you want to get down to brass tacks, just get the voter register and see how journalists and bloggers are registered to vote. It’s all very predictable.

BTW, I’m “decline to state” and swing both ways. I voted for Obama in the last election, and I think he’s doing a good job. But I’ve also voted for Republicans in the elections since I was 18 years old. We need a new political party system.

Is our high school drug testing ‘random’ or not?

Some parents are raising concerns that the ballyhooed program of random drug-testing of our local high-school athletes is not random after all.

Some of the *same youths* are being repeatedly tested, some parents charge. What about the others?

Is this just a coincidence? Let’s hope so. Otherwise the program is a sham.

Parents still raise concerns about whether drug or alcohol use is occurring among athletes. I’m reminded of episode involving the girls’ basketball team at Bear River and the fiasco about a baseball team going to Mexico before that. (The former was well covered; the later less so).

At The Union, we took a lot of heat for reporting allegations involving the girl’s basketball team. People yell into your face (or your reporter’s faces) or they work behind your back.

I think the problem is real (though the DA made some political hay out of it). Above all, an independent media who “shines a light” on real issues that impact our community is a great public service. It definitely can help bring about reform, rather than sweeping it under the rug.

Let’s hope the local media digs into this latest episode of nonrandom, random drug testing. I hope it’s not off limits.

Follow the money; don’t run from it!

As if we didn’t have enough troubled 501(c)(3) status outfits in northern California and elsewhere, along comes a U.S. Senator from Maryland proposing that newspapers be allowed to operate as nonprofits.

U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin’s “modest proposal” comes as half a dozen media outlets have filed for bankruptcy, including the Baltimore Sun’s owner Tribune Co., often under the weight of too much acquisition debt.

“Under this arrangement, newspapers would not be allowed to make political endorsements, but would be allowed to freely report on all issues, including political campaigns,” according to the Newspaper Preservation Act. “Advertising and subscription revenue would be tax exempt and contributions to support coverage or operations could be tax deductible.”

Thanks but no thanks. Let the market forces work this one out.

As I blogged the other day, the business model of the newspaper industry is broken, just as it is with autos.

This type of government “bailout” won’t change the crux of the problem: management’s inability to reverse the decline in print revenue, coupled with its inability to “monetize” Web content – a true “lose, lose” proposition.

Newspapers had 10 years figure this out, learning from the mistakes of the dot.com’s, but mostly sat around hoping for “divine intervention.”

They should have been training their advertising (not newsroom) staffs to be Web centric a long time ago and asking “why rush online if we can’t make any money”?

Ironically, they failed to heed the advice of their own newsroom legends, Woodward and Bernstein: Follow the money – don’t run from it!

It was bizarre to watch, coming from a online-only publication for 8 years – like stepping into a “time machine.” Few wanted to listen, however. It was like watching a “slow burn.”

Here’s the biggest myth: When newspapers fold, communities will left out in the cold.

Baloney. New entities will pop up with better business models. People are waiting in the wings to do just that. It’s already happening.

Newspapers have come and gone for hundreds of years. It’s the “law of the jungle.”

What’s remained constant, however, is the demand for relevant information and entertainment, and somebody will always step up to provide it.

The Internet, and what it offers in terms of content and distribution, makes meaningful competition all the more possible, removing the barriers to entry that often protected mediocrity.

E-map of electric vehicle charging stations

Electric vehicle charging stations are popping up throughout our area, and the nation.

Here’s a cool feature I found: A map of electric vehicle charging stations.

It focuses on California, Arizona and Georgia, including a color-coded Google map, by city, address or zip code. The map can be handy for planning an out-of-town trip (so you don’t run out of juice)!

It also includes comments from users that can be updated in real time, including some local color.

One recent posting for an EV charging station in Auburn read:
“williamwauters reports: 2/17 Ranger charged on Avcom fine. Original Pete’s is now where Tom talked of Hanford’s. Pizza, Italian, brew like downtown Sac.”

The charging stations I know about in Nevada City, such as at Miners Foundry, aren’t listed, so somebody should include them. It’s a collaborative effort.

This is the type of information that could go on a newspaper Web site if they’re serious about differentiating their content from what appears in the print edition.

You could jazz up this map, regionalize it, provide a link “E-vehicles” and host it yourself. And, most important of all, you could find a sponsor, such as a regional dealer who sells EV cars. This is the way to “monetize” your Web traffic, but it’s not happening nearly fast enough.

As I’ve written before, the Bee has done a good job with their Web databases, at least content-wise. For a community newspaper, the Marin IJ has some interesting ones. Go to the newspaper’s “data center” toward the bottom left corner of the site.

Holiday Inn ‘detainees’ go Waiters-on-Go

Turns out one of the biggest customers of Waiters On The Go, the new restaurant-food delivery service in our rural county, is people who are staying at the Holiday Inn Express in Grass Valley, according to my sources.

One of their favorites is the pizza pies at Lefty’s Grill in Nevada City.

I always thought it was a bad idea for the Holiday Inn not to provide any on-site food service beyond a vending machine. The hotel relies on catering from the Holbrooke Hotel, but that’s it. (And you know what tough times the Holbrooke has been going through).

Short of walking across the street to Villa Venezia, a good choice, or into town, the Holiday Inn guests are turning to the handout flyers from Waiters on the Go.

It’s only $10 (plus tip, I hope) beyond what the restaurant menu charges.

With our older demographics, this is a good business model. I’m sure the volume will pick up as we keep getting older, and people can’t drive out as much.

Apple Computer still on fire; my memories

My history with Apple Computer is a lengthy one – both in my work and play.

I first wrote about Apple as a reporter at The Chronicle in 1983, just after I joined the paper.

Reporter Gayle Schares and I broke some stories about how John Sculley had orchestrated an ouster of Steve Jobs from the computer startup he had founded.

It was tragic: how the board turned against its founder for a soda pop salesman. (I can’t provide links, because it was before The Chronicle had an Internet database; stories were clipped by hand in the library and stored in envelopes with each reporter’s name on it).

I wrote about Apple for many years at The Chronicle, including how a guy named Gil Amelio was hired to supposedly rescue Apple. As it turned out, Amelio almost ruined the computer maker (though he did land a McMansion on the shores of Lake Tahoe, and it sold for a record price at the time).

Then, when I joined CNET, we broke the news late at night about how Jobs sold his Next Computer to Apple, clearing the way for his comeback. It was a pioneering effort of original reporting on the Internet, later taken for granted – and now a fading memory in the era of “big oven,” AKA, cost-cutting journalism.

I laugh when I hear print staffs complain about posting Web “briefs,” compared to the multi-story (and award-winning) packages we produced then. We won a National Magazine Award at CNET, something reserved for the likes of Time and the New Yorker. The awards ceremony is held at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan.

At CNET, I helped orchestrate a journalism triumph when it comes to Apple: persuading Jobs to meet with the staff for a two-hour tete a tete on Apple’s future plans. Turned out, he nailed the plan: expanding beyond the computer into iPods and iPhones.

Along the way, I’ve become an Apple fan. In 2000 we bought our first Mac – a G4 tower – and we’re now big Mac fans.

This week, I upgraded to an iMac with twice the power for one quarter of the price – a testament to the power of computing. We still own a PC, though, for the Word and Excel programs (though you can buy them for a Mac).

Our family also bought some stock in Apple along the way – *after* we moved here and I stopped covering it. My investing philosophy: If you like the product *and* understand it, invest in it. (I’m not a big fan of McDonalds, though I guess the stock has done OK.)

Apple has been a “win-win-win” for our family: in my career, in the product and later, as stockholders.

Steve Jobs is sick now, and we are hoping for a recovery. (A cancer such as his is tough to beat).

We talk a lot about jump-starting our economy, but it’s people such as Steve Jobs, not a government-led “economic stimulus” package, that make it happen.

I’ve followed California’s history for my lifetime, and Apple Computer takes up many chapters.