An Ackerman disciple rejoins The Union as City Editor: Woo-hoo!

Remember Jeff Ackerman? The “Donald Trump of western Nevada County journalism”?Well, he’s baack! – at least a protegé has returned as the City Editor.

Ross Maak apparently has rejoined The Union as its City Editor, at least according to a weekend article on the newspaper’s website. (The masthead still hasn’t been updated). He replaces Liz Kellar, who moved to Alaska.

Ross is a longtime pal of The Union’s current editor Brian Hamilton; Brian was the sports editor and Ross was a sports writer and copy editor. Jeff, Brian and Ross were bosom buddies.

You can read Ross’ “swan song” here, from The Union, though it is locked behind a paywall. He transferred to retail (selling appliances) and Swift’s Greeley Tribune.

Small-town journalism in communities like ours is a hoot! Like recycling. The future of journalism is HERE, not here.

A real question for The Union’s readership is why can’t it attract any new blood outside of shifting people around within the Swift newspaper “empire”? It keeps happening.

The Union’s owner sells its Roseburg, Ore., newspaper, but snaps up another mountain resort newspaper

Park Record was once in my great-gramps family
Park Record was once in my great-gramps family (Credit: Park City magazine)

What is the strategy of The Union’s parent, Nevada-based Swift Communications, going into the New Year and beyond?  We wouldn’t know much from reading The Union. But as the year winds down, here’s some news to ponder, gathered from elsewhere:

As the year drew to a close, Swift sold the Roseburg News-Review, a subscription-based broadsheet that caters to an older demographic (like The Union) around the same time it bought another newspaper in a mountain resort town (like its Vail Daily and Aspen Times). And this is a hoot: the newspaper Swift bought, the Park Record in Park City, Utah, was once in the hands of my great-grandfather’s family (more details below).

•In September, without fanfare, Swift sold the Roseburg, Ore., News-Review to Roseburg-based Lotus Media. It was announced on Sept. 3 in a mere five-sentence article in the Roseburg newspaper.  Jeff Ackerman (once a publisher of The Union) “will continue” as publisher and editor of The News-Review and http://www.nrtoday.com, according to the Sept. 3 press release. “I’m pleased to be part of this local ownership and looking forward to running what is now a locally owned and operated independent newspaper,” Ackerman said in the press release. The local television station report is here.

Yet a few months later, on Dec. 20, Ackerman announced he was retiring from the Roseburg, Ore., newspaper on New Year’s Day. He wrote: “It’s time for a parade. ‘Jeff,’ a guy once advised. ‘If they decide to run you out of town, get to the head of the line and make it look like a parade.’ I’m retiring New Year’s Day, and I can’t think of a better day for a parade.” Ackerman and the Roseburg, Ore., newspaper no longer appear on Swift’s corporate website.

•At around the same time  Swift sold the Roseburg newspaper, the closely held newspaper chain purchased the Park City Record, a ski-town newspaper. “The acquisition of the publication in Park City adds another mountain-town newspaper to the Nevada-based company’s collection,” as the AP reported on Dec. 1. “The company already owns the Snowmass Sun, Aspen Times, Summit Daily News and Vail Daily in Colorado and the Tahoe Daily Tribune and Sierra Sun in California.”

The Park Record publishes twice a week. “Swift Communications’ chairman and chief executive officer Bill Toler agrees that The Park Record is a good fit for the company,” the Park Record reported. “Swift Communications feels a deep connection and commitment to mountain communities and resort markets.”

“Specifically, Toler noted the benefits of networking with publications in other resort towns.”

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds. As an aside, The Park City Record was in the hands of my great-grandfather Raddon’s family in the late 1800s. More details are here. I was close to my great-grandpa as a child; he later went to work at the L.A. Times. My grandmother and I also discussed his newspaper life.

As a result, I hope Swift is a good steward. But Swift’s track record as a chain owner is mixed. One example that made the national media is here. Some have dubbed Swift “McMountain News.

I did not read about either the sale of the Roseburg newspaper or the purchase of the Park Record in The Union, but it would be interesting to know exactly how Nevada-based Swift feels The Union (a subscription-based broadsheet that caters to an aging, declining demographic) is a good long-term fit for the company.

My own thinking is that The Union is a better fit for The Auburn Journal’s owner, Gold Country Media, rather than Swift, but that’s just a personal opinion. Gold Country Media is owned by another out-of-town newspaper chain, Brehm Communications of San Diego. At any rate, the newspaper industry is in a great state of flux in the New Year and beyond. And our community is touched by this.

The Union columnist George Boardman gets it wrong — again

Editor’s note: The Union’s weekly columnist George Boardman has posted a formal “clarification” (AKA correction) on his blog for a post titled “Making a concealed weapons list, check it twice.” This has been a pattern with George’s journalism, causing considerable consternation in the community. Here’s another: Confusing the Auburn and Folsom Dams. Duh. As I said last week, The Union needs to dump George before it’s too late. The Union links to George’s blog — at its peril.

Clarification of ‘Making a concealed weapons list…’
Posted on February 21, 2014 by George Boardman

Sheriff Keith Royal said earlier this week he didn’t provide a list of Nevada County residents with concealed weapons permits to The Union when the newspaper requested the information in 2004.

In accordance with the law, Royal said he first notified permit holders about the paper’s request. He said he subsequently received a call from publisher Jeff Ackerman canceling The Union’s request for the information.

The original post, “Making a concealed weapons list, checking it twice,” has been revised to incorporate this information.

–George Boardman

Why I don’t subscribe to our local newspaper

Jeff, I’m looking forward to reading what George (Boardman) has to say…
—Bonnie McGuire

Hi Bonnie,

To be sure, George Boardman will keep you on board as a subscriber to The Union newspaper. He shares your political and social values, and like you, he is a retiree. He’s a Jeff Ackerman “mini me,” in style and substance. You’ll have to see that over time, mind you, not in a single column or two. So, yes, he views the world largely through your “lens.”

The real question is whether he will be able to help reel in any new subscribers, including me, which is why The Union does a “readership survey.” I wouldn’t sign up for The Union because George Boardman writes a weekly column, RL Crabb draws a cartoon, there is local news and so on.

It’s not because of any “grudge” or their manners, it’s business: I don’t find the “content” interesting enough to pay for a subscription – print or online. The local news reports also come from Yubanet, social media, KNCO, KVMR, blogs, and government websites — for free. The Union news reports are often incomplete or amateurish.

And therein lies the problem for The Union. Competition and its content. And my time.

I’m also a would-be advertiser to The Union. I advertised once, but didn’t find it effective or a good customer service experience. It was more just about a blank face selling me a display ad and taking my credit card number — before the ad even ran. The fellow was polite but not experienced about business — he was more of an “order taker.” The Union’s content also is locked behind a “paywall,” which limits its reach for advertisers.

In truth, people like me are George’s “customer,” RL Crabb’s customer, Brian Hamilton’s and Dave Schmall’s customer. The same is true of Jeff Ackerman, who is an employee of the Swift chain, which publishes The Union. He’s a “representative” of this publishing company.

And there are a lot of people like me for The Union to sign up. Just look at the subscriber numbers and the skewed demographics (toward older, not younger). Its next 150 years depend on it.

People in our demographic tend to decide the local elections (“moderates”), shop in town (not Roseville), support “sustainability,” generously support nonprofits with checks, and we are growing local business owners with local contractors.

We go to church, send local flowers to our friends, belong to nonprofits and our local Chamber of Commerce, attend local events, subscribe to a newspaper (The Bee), buy food from our farmers at the farmers market and through CSAs and so on.

We are little local “economic engines,” and we always “shop local.” We also are raising a child in our community (a “millennial” consumer for The Union if he decides to live here).

All told, The Union should be working much harder to “sign us up,” with better content and a reader demographic that is more diverse (including politically) for advertisers to reach. It’s not personal, Bonnie, it’s business.

Our local newspaper bags ex-publisher “mini me” to write a weekly column — whoo hoo!

UnknownLess than a few days after The Union painted our community as yahoos to the world with sloppy reporting on a “Support Our Troops” sign at a church, the editor is gleefully announcing that George Boardman — a “mini me” of our ex-publisher, in style and substance — will write a weekly column each Monday.

George is a friend of Jeff Ackerman and his glory days of journalism were spent at The Union, though he might have climbed as high up the ladder as the Palo Alto Times. George’s family was involved in running The Stonehouse Restaurant in Nevada City, which closed.

He also worked in PR, often considered a “cop out” for serious journalists, at least in George’s era.

George lives in Lake of the Pines. When I read his columns, I regularly conclude that he should mingle more with Californians — on the Coast or at least in Sacramento or Tahoe.

My main complaint about George is that he’s really average, bouncing around in the minor leagues of journalism without much entrepreneurial achievement, but he pretends to be a real “know it all.”

In fact, he’s guilty of the same common journalism flaw as his friend Ackerman — “jack of all trades, master of none.”

It’s a classic “big fish, small pond” syndrome, “all hat, no cattle,” or a guy who throws rocks from the sidelines but never has won many big games.

I figure The Union brought him onboard to placate the “righty’s” of our community, who complain the new publisher is too soft compared with Ackerman. It came after a “readership survey.” On the hard-right political blogs, one reader has been speculating about another looming management shakeup.

It’s a safe move too. George also is popular with the RL Crabb contingent, many “shifters” and other community old timers. They defend him wholeheartedly, like mother hens.

It’s a big mistake if The Union ever expects to grow its readership — and a classic “inside the box,” “cul de sac” recruit. And to preserve what? The readership is aging and declining.

On George’s blog, you’ll find headlines like “Is ObamaCare on its way to becoming ObamaGeddon?”

Or “Transgender bathrooms? In elementary school?,” where he writes: “But the conservatives have it right with their latest cause, repeal of a new California law that lets transgender students choose which bathrooms and locker rooms to use, and which sports teams to join based on their gender identify.”

George also thinks Tom McClintock’s bill to salvage timber — widely criticized by knowledgeable environmentalists — “should be given serious consideration.”

You can also read George making fun of real-food author Michael Pollan when he came to town, while also belittling the sustainable food movement — even though it is gaining traction in our community.

“GM crops have helped ensure food security and bolster incomes for farmers, and better GM crops are in the pipeline. Billions of people are leading longer, healthier lives since the commercialization of GM foods over 17 year ago,” he wrote.

George also likes to bring up the old saw that healthier food costs more. “Duh”! as he would put it. “Organic? Eat a Big Mac and pocket the change,” he writes.

George likes to make fun of our County officials, referring to their “clueless comments” but again, I’d cringe to think of him executing any county responsibilities. Talk is cheap.

He also was a business writer but shows a poor understanding of Silicon Valley’s role in propelling our state economy out of the recession, using trite phrases such as “irrational exuberance.”

George makes fun of Netflix, which would have made him a bundle if he’d bought the stock instead of made fun of it.

Like Ackerman, George has a chip on his shoulder and is insecure around people who are smarter or more successful than he is.

Congratulations to The Union! It is starting off the new year taking a giant step back to the days of its ex-publisher. And drawing a smaller circle around itself.

The Union publisher/editor sues local family in tragic incident

Jeff Ackerman, the publisher/editor of The Union, has filed a civil lawsuit against Jim Knight of Lake Wildwood, alleging “bodily injury and emotional distress” involving an incident that occurred at the newspaper on Oct. 20, according to public documents on file in Nevada County Superior Court.

Ackerman is seeking $1 million in punitive damages, including $250,000 for “pain, suffering and inconvenience” $250,000 for “emotional distress” and $3,200 for “medical expenses,” according to the documents.

The $1 million claim “adds insult to injury,” said Brad Thomas, Knight’s lawyer, who claims “willful and wanton conduct on (Ackerman’s) own part proximately caused and contributed to the happening of the incident in question.”

Thomas said he was referring to a column Ackerman wrote on Oct. 20 about the death of Knight’s daughter. “It’s tough to keep a 17-year-old’s death by heroin overdose a secret, try as some might to put a pretty picture on it,” the column said in part. Knight is the golf pro at Lake Wildwood.

Knight’s response also claims “(Ackerman) initially attacked (Knight) and if, in fact, defendant committed any assault on plaintiff, said action was performed to protect the person and property of the defandant and was performed in self defense.”

The actual amount of damages in the case will be “according to proof,” however, said Craig Diamond, Ackerman’s lawyer.

The lawsuit was filed on Nov. 20, and Knight’s wife later was served with the complaint at their home after two previous attempts failed, according to court documents. Knight responded to the allegations on Jan. 22.

No one in the local media — The Union, KNCO, KVMR, the Nevada City Advocate or Yubanet — has reported on the case, though it is a matter of public record and civil legal cases are routinely reported in the media.

“I have no idea,” Diamond answered as to why the case had not been covered in the media. “I’m not the decider.”

Some friends of Knight family members have attempted to contact the local media, including KNCO, KVMR and Yubanet, to tell their story — but without any success, according to a Facebook page they created. (The details are on the posts).

Thomas said Knight was fully aware that the case was a matter of public record and that he might be identified.

A case management conference for the case (75539) is set for April 5 at the county courthouse.

Ackerman’s column was titled “Heroin menace lurks within our midst.”

It began: “A 17-year-old Penn Valley girl died of a heroin overdose one recent Sunday morning, and four days later Grass Valley police raided a home on Doris Drive, where they arrested 10 people for selling, using or trying to buy heroin.

“I connect the two because I think there’s a connection.

“This is a small town and you hear things. It’s tough to keep a 17-year-old’s death by heroin overdose a secret, try as some might to put a pretty picture on it.”

On The Union’s website some readers complained it was insensitive and unnecessary to include the information. Others alleged it was incorrect or inconclusive.

“How could you do this to a family that is obviously in pain?” one reader wrote on The Union’s site.

According to a Grass Valley police report on Oct. 20, there were “multiple reports advising of an employee who was just assaulted by a male subject wearing a red sweatshirt” at The Union’s offices.

“Contact was made at The Union who declined (a citizen’s arrest). Knight was admonished not to return or face trespassing,” according to the blotter item.

The Union reported the police blotter item but no more details.

“Defendant Jim Knight, intentionally and without justifiable cause struck plaintiff Jeffrey Ackerman, causing him to fall to the ground,” according to the complaint. “As a result of the conduct of the defendant, the plaintiff suffered bodily injury and emotional distress.”

Knight’s complaint said, “by reason of the doctrine of comparative negligence, plaintiff is barred from recovery, in whole and/or in part, of such portion of said damages, if any, as proximately resulted from the aforementioned conduct.”

The county district attorney has not pressed any charges over the incident.

UPDATE: I posted the legal documents here based on reader requests. This story is based on publicly available court documents, as well as interviews with the attorneys from both sides. Anybody can get copies of such documents at the county courthouse or (in the case of the police blotter item) at the Grass Valley police department. This is not “investigative journalism” — it is routine police/court reporting.