On this week's high-as-a-kite weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles exolls the virtues of home schooling; This Modern World breaks down another public-outrage scandal; Jen Sorenson wishes times were changing a bit more; Red Meat dresses up as The Hulk; and Apoca Clips checks in at a press conference.
The recently concluded BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells has grown into one of the biggest events here in the valley; people flock from all over the planet to watch the greatest tennis players in the world ply their trade.
Along with the players and fans, members of the media also come from various places around the world—and one tournament volunteer has the job of making sure they all get what they need.
Judy Strobl of Oceanside is in charge of the press room of the BNP Paribas Open. She has been a volunteer for the tournament for 13 years. It’s no secret that any large event here in the valley is dependent on volunteers—and the BNP Paribas Open is no exception.
“We have over 1,500 volunteers who handle everything from the media, to ushering duties,” Strobl said. “It’s impossible to understate the impact these volunteers have. Without them, there is no tournament.”
Strobl is very diplomatic when asked what it’s like to deal with members of the media. When asked if they can be difficult, she replied: “They want what they want, when they want. I try to take into consideration that many of them are jet-lagged and are used to working on deadlines. We work very hard with the PR staff to try to be as accommodating as possible.”
Of course, there’s always a chance that problems will come up—such as what happened last year when a French TV crew arrived.
“They airline had misplaced their luggage,” Strobl said. “They literally only had the clothes on their backs. We set up appointments with local thrift stores so they could be properly attired. It was a mad scramble, but eventually, they were able get clothes and get it done. I don’t know how, but we got it done.”
As the tournament grows, so, too, does the workload in the media room. “We have already over 400 media members here,” Strobl said. “It will require more and more finesse, but we are ready.”
As part of the multi-million-dollar improvements made to Stadium 1, the press room just received major improvements. Everything is now state of the art, with TV screens and digital hookups throughout the press area.
“Even though the modes and methods of communication and media are changing, the media always needs to see a friendly face—and that one hopefully will continue to be mine,” Strobl said.
Politicians are corrupt. Voters base their votes on marketing and money. Politics is not the same as “real” work. The media as a whole has a liberal bias.
If only it were that simple.
I ran for Congress in 1996. I’d never run for public office before, and there were many things I had to learn. One key skill was how to respond to reporters. Since I had little money for my campaign, most of my exposure was via free media, as opposed to paid ads. That meant something would be in the news, and I would be asked to comment, or I would call a press conference to make an “announcement,” followed by questions.
When I ran, most local media sources were pretty conservative. The majority of registered voters in this area were Republicans. Democrats could be found in pockets here and there, but most locals then—even in the gay community—were self-described “economic conservatives,” concerned primarily about the economy while being non-dogmatic on social issues. Oh, sure, we had those few rabid pro-life factions, or critics of “liberal” education (like sex education in schools), but mostly, local voters wanted the economy to keep working, with the underlying belief that smaller government was in people’s best interests, and government should work effectively but be non-intrusive.
When most reporters pose questions on a specific issue or news story, they generally already know what slant they expect to give the story. The questions they pose are intended to get a response that fits that narrative.
If you only catch politicians on the news, you’re lucky to get, at most, 15 seconds of their response to a question. So how does the candidate make sure you get their best sound bite, regardless of how the piece is edited? Politicians have a bottom-line message they want people to walk away with. What I learned was that no matter what questions were asked, every answer had to include my sound bite, because I never knew which 15 seconds would make it onto the air. The reporter might ask five or six questions; each answer must sound responsive, but you still need to get the sound bite in there. While you’re doing it, it seems horribly repetitive, but it’s the only way to overcome whatever slant the reporter may have.
Students who want to go into media take courses to learn how to interview. Business people and public figures join organizations like Toastmasters to learn about eliminating “um” and “er” and “ya know” from their speech patterns. But who teaches politicians about the ability to be responsive in a way that will actually inform?
Debates are clearly different than interviews, if only because candidates are up against others who may be more skilled at the techniques. Those trained as lawyers, for example, are good at jousting with questioners, but they can also come across as argumentative. Educators can come across as pedantic. Business executives can come across as clueless about the difference between being “the boss” and leading a government.
The most recent GOP presidential debate, on CNBC, was roundly criticized for political bias, badly framed questions, poor research and a lack of follow-ups. It’s not that smart, probing questions weren’t asked; it’s that questions were clearly framed to generate controversy rather than inform. Even when good questions were asked, the participants went after the panelists rather than responding to enlighten voters.
As an example, when Donald Trump was asked whether his campaign might be described as a “comic-book campaign,” that was an opportunity for Trump to talk about the substance of his campaign (which is not always readily apparent). A good communicator would have easily made that pivot.
Let’s face it: When you’re president, reporters shout out questions all the time, often slanted to push a specific narrative or challenge a decision. If the president can’t handle that, how is that individual going to resolve intractable conflicts, both domestic and foreign?
I like to separate policy and politics, and I believe either is an appropriate subject for inquiry in a debate—they just should not be confused as being equivalent. The idea that candidates should only be questioned by people who share their ideology is ridiculous—but that is what’s currently being demanded by the candidates. I would think the opposite would be more enlightening: Only those who disagree with the candidates should ask questions: Let’s really see how they deal with having their ideas challenged.
Here are the kind of questions I would ask if I were running a presidential debate:
- What is the very first action you will take as president that will make the clearest statement about your administration’s focus?
- You claim one of your highest priorities is to create jobs, yet you also say that government itself doesn’t actually create jobs. How do you reconcile those two positions? What specifically can government do to create jobs without controlling the private sector?
- You may not have a Congress run by your own party or one that agrees with your priorities. Is bipartisan support something you would pursue? How?
- On what issues are you not willing to compromise, no matter the result?
- Is the threat of America as a superpower more important than soft power—the ability to negotiate and convince? Or does one require the other?
- How can we influence other nations toward peace in areas of the world that are plagued with violence and political upheaval? Would you ever act alone?
- What is government’s role in addressing homelessness and extreme poverty?
- With some states not as concerned as others with expanding access to medical care, what is the federal government’s role, if any?
- Education has always been seen as a locally controlled system. What exactly should be the federal role be in education?
Since the debate formats have been challenged, here are my suggestions for a format that should be followed regardless of party:
- No more than eight candidates should be onstage at the same time. Have a lottery to decide which candidates take part and hold as many as necessary.
- Limit total debate time to two hours.
- Allow each candidate to make 30-second opening and closing statements.
- Have a red light to let candidates know when they have 10 seconds left, and a buzzer that goes off when their time is up. Moderators should be able to shut off a candidate’s microphone if they go more than 10 seconds over their time.
- Answers that are nonresponsive to the question, or that stretch the truth, should be exposed with immediate follow-up questions. Moderators need to do their homework and cite sources.
- Audiences should withhold the temptation to cheer or boo once the debate begins. Perhaps there should not be an audience.
- Candidates should not know the questions in advance.
“We get the government we deserve” has long been the mantra of those who aren’t happy with electoral results. It shouldn’t be up to politicians and political parties to decide what we do and do not have the right to know, or how questions are asked. How candidates handle both policy and political questions is crucial information for voters.
We not only need good debate panelists and fair formats; we also need to hold politicians accountable for practicing their profession responsibly. When we tune in hoping for outrageous sound bites, we end up voting for entertainers, not leaders.
It’s not the “biased media” at fault; it’s us!
One of the traditional jobs of the alternative press has been to cover the faults and foibles of other local media. After all, if we don’t do it, who else will?
Here at the Independent, we have not been doing that as much as I’d like. Sure, we’ve done some stuff here and there—railing on the advertising that masquerades as editorial coverage in other local publications, for example. But I think we could, and should, be doing it more.
This is one reason why I am excited about, of all things, our recent Restaurant News Bites column. Much of the column, which I wrote, focuses on a lazy, inaccurate story one local TV-news operation did—unfairly maligning a local business in the process.
Check it out, and let me know what you think.
That’s just one of the things we’ve done recently about which I am excited. After a summer hiatus, we’re welcoming back Deidre Pike’s fantastic wine column, Sniff the Cap. Our news section has recently been packed with great stories—on the financial dilemma facing local water agencies as they try to meet state-mandated conservation goals; on a unique operation the Palm Springs Police Department is conducting to curb bicycle theft; and on the phenomenon that is presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. That Bernie Sanders story was done for us by a writer for Seven Days, the alternative newspaper in Burlington, Vt.—the place where Sanders got his political start more than three decades ago, when he became the city’s mayor.
There's also Brian Blueskye's in-depth music story on local band the Yip Yops—who just signed an impressive deal with a management company/record label. You won’t believe the story about the chance encounter that ultimately led the Yip Yops to that deal.
By the way: You can find all of the aforementioned stories in the September print issue, hitting streets now.
In other news, I’d like to remind everyone of two things I mentioned last month: First: The initial round of our Best of Coachella Valley voting kicks off here at CVIndependent.com on Monday, Aug. 31.
Second: We’ve finally launched our Supporters of the Independent Program. Like what we do? Consider supporting us with an annual, monthly or one-time contribution. If you consider it and decide to contribute—fantastic! You’ll get some cool perks in return. If you decide against it, or are unable to do so, no worries: Our content, both print and online, will always remain completely free of charge. Find details on the Supporters of the Independent Program on here.
As always, thanks for reading.
In December 2006, I flew from Tucson, Ariz., to Boston for a job interview.
The Boston Phoenix—one of the most venerable and respected alternative newsweeklies in the country—was looking for an editor, and my application had caught the Phoenix’s collective eye.
The part-day I spent in Boston was one of the most intense of my life: If memory serves, I had six separate interviews, with a total of 13 people, over a 6 1/2-hour span. If that wasn’t mentally grueling enough, I had to go through that gauntlet on three hours of sleep, because my flight into Boston was delayed.
It became apparent during the interviews that some of the managers there felt that I, as the editor of a paper in little ol’ Tucson, was too small-time for the Phoenix; I knew before setting foot on the plane back home I would not get the job. I was fine with that, even though I had—and have—great respect for the Phoenix.
That weird, exhausting December 2006 day came to mind today, when the owners of the Phoenix announced that the paper was ceasing print publication immediately, and that next week’s online edition would be its last.
The news was heartbreaking to me. I love alternative publications; after all, I quit my fantastic gig in Tucson after a decade to move to the Coachella Valley and launch the Independent, so this area could have a real, honest-to-goodness publication in the alt-weekly vein. This news should be heartbreaking to everyone who loves good, edgy, fun journalism.
In a news release announcing the closure, Phoenix executive editor Peter Kadzis—with whom my first interview was on that December 2006 day—hit the figurative nail on the head, as he explained that although the Boston Phoenix was closing, its sister newspapers in Portland, Maine, and Providence, R.I., would remain in business.
“I started reading the paper when I was 14 years old and had the fun and challenge of running it for 20 years or so,” Kadzis said. “Political Boston, arts Boston, just won’t be the same. We are a textbook example of sweeping market-place change. Our recent switch to a magazine format met with applause from readers and local advertisers. Not so—with a few exceptions—national advertisers. It was the long-term decline of national advertising dollars that made the Boston Phoenix economically unviable. Providence and Portland, however, don’t suffer from that problem. The local advertising market is sufficient to support those publications. You can see why Warren Buffett favors small market papers over their big city brothers and sisters.”
It’s a shame that, essentially, the Phoenix became too dependent on non-local advertisers to succeed. And it’s a crying shame that Boston won’t have that strong, alternative media voice any more (although the smaller Dig Boston, owned by my friend Jeff Lawrence, lives on).
Diverse media voices are important to a community. I have seen this firsthand; in my hometown of Reno, Nev., I was lucky enough to edit the Reno News & Review in my mid-20s, and watched the arts scene grow in Reno along with the paper. I saw it in Las Vegas, where I worked for CityLife. And I saw it in Tucson, where the Tucson Weekly is, in every way, an important piece of the fabric of the community.
Just like the Phoenix was in Boston. That important piece of fabric just got ripped out of Boston. And in its place will be a gaping hole.
The lesson here for those of us outside of Boston is this: Support good, ethical local media. Good, strong, entertaining journalism can make a community better.
I recently met with a local advertising-agency head; he was kind enough to take the time to allow me to introduce him to the Independent. At one point, our mission statement came up, and I spoke a bit about how I believed in quality reporting and writing, as opposed to the regurgitated-press-release-style of writing that’s far, far too prevalent in the Coachella Valley today.
He responded that while creative types like himself appreciate good writing and reporting, most businesses who are spending advertising dollars don’t care; instead, they care about getting their message out to the right customers, period, no matter the quality of what surrounds their ads.
I told him that while I was confident the Independent would indeed be a good fit for his clients’ customers, I was banking on the fact that I believe readers and advertisers still want quality journalism, too.
I hope to God I am right; I am betting my personal financial future on it. While, at first glance, the closure of the Boston Phoenix worries me, Peter Kadzis’ words about applause by readers and local advertisers—combined with the fact that the papers in Portland and Providence live on, and will even be adding staff—give me hope.
Watching the birth a brand-new publication has been one of the weirdest, yet coolest experiences of my life.
It’s been one fascinating trip after another. Fighting with the website’s template during the build. Explaining to people, or trying to explain to people, what the Independent is. (“It’s like an alternative newsweekly, but it’s updated daily, and it’s online-only—except for the quarterly we’re printing, starting the first week of April, and we’ll probably increase print frequency later … oh, hell, just go read our mission statement.”) Watching the unique visitors go from single-digits per day to double, and to triple, with four digits just around the corner.
It’s been frustrating and awesome and bizarre and rewarding.
Now that the Independent has a fair number of actual readers (including you, and I thank you for that), we’ve started to get that most vexing of all things to an editor: reader feedback.
One on hand, reader feedback is the most important thing to an editor. We do what we do for our readers, and if our readers aren’t responding, then how in the hell do we know people are reading?
On the other hand, a lot of (but certainly not all) reader feedback is … well, inane at best, and horrifying at worst.
If you’ve ever perused the comments on a large newspaper website, you know what I am talking about. Ignorance! Racism! Name-calling! It’s all there!
Anyway, I wanted to take some time to address two bits of reader feedback we’ve received in recent weeks.
So, the poorest school district in the desert and our only community college found ways to educate the most underserved in the desert … and your point is? Students at (Coachella Valley Unified School District) need help. (College of the Desert)? Guess what, it's the only way a lot of locals can get training and education while staying in the desert. I don't see your point. Biased reporting, too. After all, isn't there another side to these bonds? As in, what are they being used for? Oh, that's right. Construction of new campuses, offering more opportunities for locals. But I can see why you'd leave that out—after all, it wouldn't fit your sensational agenda here.
I appreciate this comment from Krystal (despite her misplaced barbs), even though … well, it shows that she misses the point of Saxon Burns’ story, which we posted on Feb. 15.
I think it’s splendid that our community is investing in schools. Krystal’s right when she says College of the Desert is the best way for locals to get an education without leaving the Coachella Valley. And she’s right when she says students at the Coachella Valley Unified School District need help.
So the issue is not that these school districts issued bonds to bring them much-needed money for much-need construction projects. The issue is the fact that the way in which these schools issued these bonds is literally going to cost us taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars more than needed.
College of the Desert and CVUSD could have issued more-traditional bonds and gotten the same amount of money upfront. The problem is, the districts (and, therefore, the taxpayers within those districts) then would have started paying that money back right away. That could have meant tough choices for school administrators if the economy did not continue improving.
Instead, these administrators sold capital appreciation bonds—a type of bond that does not need to be repaid right away. But in exchange for that flexibility, more money—a lot more money—needs to be paid back, over a longer period of time. It’s like buying something with a credit card with zero interest at first—and a ridiculously high interest rate down the line.
In this case, College of the Desert and CVUSD used that credit card knowing that they weren’t going to be making those payments until the ridiculous interest rate kicked in. And we taxpayers are the ones who are getting screwed in the process.
As I said, I really appreciated Krystal’s comment. On the flip side, there’s … this, presented here unedited, which recently appeared in my email inbox with the subject line “CV INDEPENDANT”:
With great enthusiasm I welcome you to the most media cluttered place on the planet. For a valley of around 300K, there now seems to be a publisher for every 100 residents. I live in LA and I have property in the CV. We have about half of the publiishers here that the CV has.
Oh, and by the way, love your line about 'indepedent journalism', free of the influence from our advertisers. I have a lifetime in publishing and, if you haven't already experienced it, having your biggest advertiser quit because of something you published is the most embarrassing and company-killing thing I can think of. You don't have any advertisers...so, either you will alienate your advertisers or you are independently wealthy and don't need them. Nice line, but complete bullshit.
Let me tell you a cool little story. When I was a young advertising representative I walked into a local car dealership and asked for ads. The GM looked at me and said, 'You know young man, I see or talk to about 50 of you guys a week. If all you publishers and ad people were buying customers, I wouldn't be in the sad shape that I am in.'
Remember what I said above about “inane at best, and horrifying at worst”?
This is in response to the Independent’s mission statement, which, in part, reads: “We believe in true, honest journalism: We want to afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted. We want to be a mirror for the entire Coachella Valley. We want to inform, enlighten and entertain. We will never let advertisers determine what we cover, and how we cover things. In other words, we will always tell it how we see it.”
Well, apparently, Mr. “Dover” took umbrage with said statement. And he's about 100k short on the number of people here. Anyway, here’s my response to him:
“I appreciate you reading the Independent, and encourage you to keep doing so. As for the line about independent journalism, Google me, or ask around Tucson journalism circles, or ask around alternative journalism circles, and you'll find that I practice what I preach.
“I hope the Independent's brand of journalism and ethics can heal your cynicism a bit, too. :)”
So, there you go. Keep the feedback coming, folks; we’ll run that feedback, sometimes with responses, periodically in our Opinion section. And, as always, thanks for reading the Coachella Valley Independent.
Ever since I was an intern at the Reno News & Review in the summer of 1996, I have been something of a newsweekly nerd.
Every time I’d visit a new city, I’d scour newsracks and bookstores for the local newsweekly. I love the mix of hard-hitting local news, compelling commentaries and unmatched arts-and-culture coverage.
Sometime in the mid 2000s, I visited the Coachella Valley for the first time, when my significant other and I came to visit a friend. I did my usual find-the-newsweekly thing … and I couldn’t find one. There was the Desert Post Weekly, a weak Gannett-owned faux-newsweekly in which the locally produced stories could be counted on one hand. There was The Desert Entertainer, which seemed to specialize in coverage of events that took place at the local casinos. And that was it.
Meanwhile, Garrett and I started to fall in love with the place—the culture, the mountains, the diversity, and so many other things.
I decided to look into starting a real newsweekly in the Coachella Valley. Over several years, I crunched numbers, did interviews and got bids; I put together a business plan; and in the spring of 2008, I presented the plan to Wick Communications, the company I have worked for since November 2001, and for which I have been the editor of the Tucson Weekly since January 2003.
My plan was to start a print weekly, the Coachella Valley Independent, with a staff of about seven folks—in other words, I wanted to hit the ground running. However, the budgeted first-year financial loss—in the neighborhood of a quarter-million bucks—was unappetizing to the Wick folks, and understandably, they said no, especially since the economy was at that point showing sides of weirdness. Several months later, we’d all begin to realize that weirdness was actually the first manifestations of the Great Recession.
In the years since, I have visited the Coachella Valley several times every year, falling in love with the area a little more each time. During every trip, I’d think of that business plan. And I’d pick up every publication I could find. Some publications—the Desert Star Weekly and then later, the Coachella Valley Weekly—came. Others—like the LGBT-focused The Bottom Line—went. While some of the valley’s publications had their positive moments (as well as not-so-positive ones), I learned some of them were selling editorial articles to advertisers—and not labeling those articles as advertorials. That, combined with the continuing mediocrity of the daily Desert Sun, was disheartening.
As it stands right now, if a Coachella Valley reader wants honest community news coverage, or an unbiased food review, or just good, compelling writing, where can they go?
Enter the Coachella Valley Independent.
I, along with my partner, Garrett, have decided it’s time to make the leap. I have given my notice at the Tucson Weekly, and in January, we’re moving to the Coachella Valley so I can dedicate myself to the Independent full-time. We’re winging it as we do this on our own; the plan is to spend a good chunk of the year building up the publication online, and if all goes well, in the fall, we’ll launch a print version.
Seeing as we’re building this from nothing, there will be growing pains. We started the website from scratch, and as of now, it’s probably about one-third built. (Call it our very, very beta version.) Most of the content currently on the site is nowhere as in-depth as the content will be when we’re here full-time. And we’re doing this on a budget that makes the word “shoestring” sound generous.
But we’re going to pull this off. We love good, honest, true, fun journalism, and the positive effect it can have on communities. As we say on the (very, very beta version’s) “about” page: “We believe in true, honest journalism: We want to afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted. We want to be a mirror for the entire Coachella Valley. We want to inform, enlighten and entertain.
“We will never let advertisers determine what we cover, and how we cover things. In other words, we will always tell it how we see it. For example: Some other publications in this valley do puff-piece reviews or feature stories on advertisers to make said advertisers happy. We will never, ever do that. If we lose an advertiser due to an unflattering story, a negative review or something else, so be it.”
Welcome to the Coachella Valley Independent.