CVIndependent

Thu12122019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

On Saturday, July 13, I was sitting in a conference room at the Hotel Boulderado in Boulder, Colo., during the 2019 AAN Awards Ceremony, the finale of the annual Association of Alternative Newsmedia conference.

The ceremony honored the amazing and inspiring journalism done last year at alternative newspapers across the United States and Canada—including the Coachella Valley Independent. For the fourth time in five years, we earned an AAN Award, this time an honorable mention in the Column category, for Anita Rufus’ fantastic “Know Your Neighbors.”

As I applauded my friends and colleagues who were going up to accept the various awards, I was watching my cell phone—because I was expecting a call from staff writer Kevin Fitzgerald, with an update on the story we’ve featured on this issue’s cover.

People might assume that I took delight in the Independent publishing and reporting this story, because it deals with possible wrongdoing involving a competitor, of sorts, to the Independent. But that couldn’t be further from the truth: While I am proud of the story, which you can read on Page 12, the content depresses me.

I love the Coachella Valley. This is the first place I’ve lived in that I chose; fate, in some form or another, led me to all of my prior homes. I also love journalism; I wouldn’t have put up with the mediocre-at-best wages and long hours for almost 2 1/2 decades so far otherwise. When I combine these two loves … the state of journalism in the Coachella Valley makes me very, very sad.

I am not talking about The Desert Sun; while its diminished state compared to what it once was is alarming, there are still good journalists there doing some fine work. I am also not talking about Palm Springs Life, which is fantastic as far as city magazines go … although its “prestige” content is clearly not meant for people who don’t make six-figure-or-more incomes, aka the vast majority of us.

I am talking about other publications in the valley, where original reporting and competent writing are nigh impossible to find. The best of the bunch is CV Weekly, the aforementioned competitor, of sorts; within CV Weekly’s pages, one can indeed find some good writing and well-intentioned work, especially regarding support of the local music community. Unfortunately, CV Weekly also regularly sells editorial content—particularly cover stories—and does not disclose that these pieces are actually paid for by the subjects. Not only is this a disservice to CV Weekly’s readers; it’s an unethical practice that every serious journalism organization would condemn. And when that content is posted online without disclosures, it’s a violation of Federal Trade Commission guidelines.

On a personal level … the practice is also quite unfair to those of us who try pretty darn hard to do things ethically and honestly. A great community like the Coachella Valley deserves strong journalism … which is why the Independent is here, even if our efforts are modest and imperfect.

As always, thanks for reading the Independent. Don’t hesitate to contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.—and be sure to check out the August 2019 print edition, hitting streets now.

Published in Editor's Note

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.

Krystal Herrera, on "Taxpayers on the Hook for Hundreds of Millions After School Districts Issue ‘Irresponsible’ Bonds”

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”:

Dear Sir(s);

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.'

Good luck!

Ben Dover

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.

Published in Editor's Note

If you've ever been confused about which channel you're watching here in the Coachella Valley, you're not alone: It's been a year since the merger between the former KPSP Channel 2 and KESQ Channel 3, which left some people scratching their heads.

CBS affiliate KPSP, otherwise known as "Local 2," was the only locally owned station in the valley. Philanthropist Jackie Lee Houston and her husband, Jim, started the station several years ago and used it to raise awareness of community-based efforts.

When Jackie Lee passed away, Jim decided to sell the station to the company which owns ABC affiliate KESQ, otherwise known as "News Channel 3." Channel 2 immediately moved operations into Channel 3's building, and now both stations broadcast their news from the same studio in Palm Desert. They also now use the same call letters.

If you think that is confusing, it doesn't end there.

News Channel 3 continues to air their evening newscasts at 5 and 6, while Local 2 broadcasts theirs at 5:30, and 6:30. But wait, there's more. The company that owns News Channel 3 also owns KDFX, otherwise known as "Fox 11." At 10 every night, they air a newscast called "CBS Local 2 News at 10 on Fox 11." This newscast is replayed on Channel 2 and airs as "CBS Local 2 Night Side."

This gives the anchors at Local 2 the opportunity to go home early where they can snuggle in bed and dream of greener pastures, presumably without the ubiquitous blue backdrop.

But wait, there's even more. Every morning, News Channel 3 airs a morning show from 5 to 7. Then from 7 to 9, it's replayed on Channel 11, where it's called "News Channel 3 in the Morning on Fox 11."

If you tune in on the weekend, both stations have different anchors, but use the same weatherman and sportscaster. And no matter which day you tune in, you'll always find both stations using the same reporters.

Some have complained that the merger has led to a lack of diversity, while Local 2 management contends that it gives them more resources to cover the news. Both viewpoints are actually correct: The merger does give Local 2 more resources with which to cover the news, while at the same time becoming a clone of News Channel 3.

The issue is not the quality of the newscasts. Both stations do a surprisingly good job for a smaller market. It's the duplication. If you were to watch both stations' newscasts back-to-back, you would essentially be watching the same program, but with different anchors.

There is one bright spot, though: Every weeknight at 6:45, you can watch "Eye on the Desert." The 15-minute program, anchored by Local 2's weatherman, is the most informative arts and entertainment show in the Coachella Valley.

By the way, there is another TV player in town: The NBC affiliate, KMIR 6: The call letters were named after the historic El Mirador Hotel, where the station was originally located.

The two principal anchors on Local 2 and News Channel 3 are rumored to be golf buddies, which makes me wonder what they talk about on the golf course. Could they have inside information about their parent company's plans to take over more stations? Could CNN be next? What about "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer on News Channel 3." Or perhaps "Anderson Cooper 360 on Local 2 News at 10 on Fox 11."

But why stop there? They might as well go worldwide. Don't be surprised if you find yourself watching "BBC World Service on News Channel 3 in the Morning."

What would Walter Cronkite think? Or more importantly, what would Ted Baxter think? The future of serious journalism in the Coachella Valley is at stake.

The least they could do is use a different-colored backdrop for each station so you can remember which channel you're watching. For instance, KESQ can keep the blue; Local 2 can use green; and Fox 11 can be red.

Or better yet, they can have a strobe light shining different colors and play disco music. I'd rather watch the anchors get up and dance than watch the same newscast on the same set all day long. After all, it's all about diversity. We'll be right back.

Published in Humor

What's 32 pages, has a total of zero locally produced stories, and is most decidedly not read all over—because there's nothing in it to read?

The Desert Post Weekly, that's what.

This week's edition (Jan. 10-16) is notable in that there are a grand total of zero locally written articles. Zero. None.

The content in the issue, owned by The Desert Sun and its parent company, Gannett, consists of:

  • "The Burning Question," in which four people affiliated with the paper—people for whom I have a great deal of sympathy, as they're forced by Gannett to put their name on this embarrassment of a publication—disclosed their personal highlights of the Palm Springs International Film Festival. (However, the festival was only about halfway over by the time the DPW went to press. To which I reply: WTF?) After that 46 words (yes, I counted) were:
  • A quarter-page or so of events listings. Apparently, only five worthy things are happening this week in the Coachella Valley, because that's all that's there.
  • A page of music crap from USA Today that has no local ties whatsoever. (There must be no local bands in the Coachella Valley to cover. Oh, wait ...)
  • Two pages dedicated to mountains in Southern California from McClatchy-Tribune Media Services. Yes, mountains. Did you know that Southern California has mountains? In the winter? OMG!
  • Two Associated Press film reviews.
  • Three pages of movie listings. (At least someone presumably local took the time to type in the local theaters at which the films in question are playing.)
  • A page of classified ads, followed by 19 pages of legal notices. Those legal notices are presumably the reason why the DPW still exists: Gannett can pass notices that don't require publication in a daily from The Desert Sun to the much-lower-circulation DPW—saving a lot of money on newsprint in the process.
  • A crossword and a sudoku puzzle from King Features.

That's it. 32 pages, and the only local editorial content consists of five events listings, someone typing in theaters, and four answers to a premature question.

This bothers me, because I love alternative publications—I have edited two of them, worked at a third, and served on the alternative newspaper trade group's board of directors. Heck, I moved here to launch the one you're reading right now.

And the crud that the DPW has become chaps my figurative hide, because once upon a time, the Desert Post Weekly was an honest-to-goodness real alternative newspaper. 

It's hard to find, in public at least, a copy of the DPW from the first half of the Aughts, back when it was a real newspaper. (I tried; I contacted the Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Rancho Mirage public libraries, and was told they didn't have copies of the DPW, old or new.) DPW does not have a website (Let me repeat that so it can sink in: In 2013, there's a newspaper that does not have a website!), so there are no online archives to peruse.

However, the Internet does offer some documentation of the Desert Post Weekly before Gannett bought it and slowly started squeezing its life away. You can find a fair number of links and references to old stories, and the Wayback Machine has some snapshots of www.desertpostweekly.com back when it was an actual thing. A capture from Jan. 20, 2002, shows a preview webpage promising that the paper is about to go online, and includes a graphic with a rotation of old DPW covers touting stories about imprisoned women caught in the drug war; dowsing; the McVeigh execution; "America's obsession with reality TV" (a prophesy, perhaps?); "Will e-books replace the real thing?" (more prophesy); and gambling addiction.

In other words, real stories. In a real newspaper.

The paper carrying that once-proud name today is a sad joke, a paper in which there's no there there. If Gannett had any decency—and it does not, as the company has proven time and time again—it would retire the Desert Post Weekly with some dignity.

Published in Media

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.

Published in Editor's Note