Indy Digest: May 24, 2021
I’ve been in the news business now for more than two and a half decades—and for almost that entire time, the industry has been in a state of decline.
First, Craigslist got all the blame, for taking away precious classifieds and personals revenue. Then the Sept. 11 recession was blamed. Then the internet in general. Then the Great Recession. Then social media, and Google, and now the pandemic.
While all of these blame-receivers have indeed played a role in the news biz’s decline, the REAL culprit has been crappy and short-sighted management and ownership. When Craigslist came along, for example, and started cutting into newspapers’ then-massive profit margins—because Craigslist handled classifieds FAR better than newspapers ever did—greedy ownership didn’t innovate and raise their game. Instead, they 1) whined and 2) started making editorial cuts to preserve the sky-high profit margins.
This theme has continued for the last two-decades: Whenever newspapers, TV stations, etc., faced a threat, they responded with yet more cuts. That’s how we’ve wound up with the number of newsroom employees being halved in the U.S. since 2008.
While the future of the news media in the U.S. isn’t all dark and dreary—take one look at the innovation and work being done by my fellow members of the Local Independent Online News Publishers for uplifting examples—it’s undeniable that the U.S. news media as a whole is continuing to weaken itself due to greed and idiocy. This point is made clear by two stories that have broken in recent days.
First off is the long-feared acquisition of Tribune Publishing by the Alden Global Capital hedge fund. Shareholders approved the acquisition of Tribune by Alden—a company with a sickening record of hacking newspapers to bits—on Friday. As NPR explains:
The purchase represents the culmination of Alden’s years-long drive to take over the company and its storied titles—including the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, New York Daily News and major metro papers from Hartford, Conn., to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Alden’s reputation as a “vulture” fund had set off a frantic effort by union members in Tribune Publishing newsrooms. Their organizer, Baltimore Sun education reporter Liz Bowie, dubbed the effort “Project Mayhem.” The journalists tried to secure potential buyers in numerous Tribune markets who embraced the public-minded aspirations of journalism, including the Maryland philanthropist and hotel magnate Stewart Bainum Jr.
After a process marked by intrigue and whiplash, Alden dashed all those hopes. The hedge fund already held a 32% stake in Tribune. Alden’s founder, Randall Smith, sits on Tribune’s board, as do two other directors with close ties to Alden.
The second story has to do with the inane and unethical depths some TV stations go to regarding the sales and presentation of “sponsored content.” It comes compliments of HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. I recommend you find 22 minutes of time to watch it (and consider yourself warned that some brief moments are NSFW.)
I don’t want to give any spoilers (as the piece crescendos to a hilarious and simultaneously appalling reveal); if you would rather read about what happens with the piece, here’s an article from Deadline. I will, however, share the main takeaway, which is: Many local TV news stations are using editorial staffers to present advertisements which are masquerading as news coverage—and doing so rather cheaply, and with no vetting whatsoever.
Our industry needs to do better. A whole lot of reporters and “little” media guys are fighting the good fight—but far too many owners and stakeholders are only concerned about maximizing profits. And that is a very, very bad thing.
From the Independent
Pet-Care Crisis: A Shortage of Workers, an Increase in Adoptions and Systemic Problems Have Led to Long Waits for Appointments at Local Animal Hospitals
By Cat Makino
May 21, 2021
An employee shortage has caused many Coachella Valley animal clinics to stop accepting new clients, despite frantic pleas from pet owners.
Dry Times: The Coachella Valley Is Not Currently in a Drought Emergency Like Most of California—but Local Water Agencies Say We Still Need to Conserve
By Kevin Fitzgerald
May 24, 2021
On May 10, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared that a drought emergency now exists in 41 of California’s 58 counties—but not in Riverside County. Still, local […]
By Charles Drabkin
May 24, 2021
This month’s restaurant-news column brings updates on a new ramen joint coming to Palm Springs; a new location for a La Quinta sweets spot; and […]
By Bob Grimm
May 24, 2021
Army of the Dead would have gone from OK to great if Zack Snyder were a better editor—and if he had let Dave Bautista do […]
• The state on Friday issued guidance for the state’s businesses as of June 15, the date when the county-based tier system is supposed to end … and the main takeaway is that, well, there really isn’t guidance, except for “Mega Events,” which is occurrences that include more than 5,000 people inside, or 10,000 people outside. Here’s a Q&A the state put out. Basically, it will be “strongly recommended” but not required for attendees of outside mega-events to be fully vaccinated or have a pre-entry negative COVID-19 test. It will be required for indoor mega-events … but “self-attestation” is also allowed. So, yeah. California will really be fully open 22 days from now.
• After pressure from groups including Vaxie, Riverside County announced on Friday that it had signed an agreement to begin vaccinations of homebound residents. From the news release: “Thousands of homebound residents of Riverside County will now be able to get vaccinated after the county signed an agreement with a Corona-based firm to provide the service. The $300,000 contract with United Lab Services was signed this week and the company has started to vaccinate residents. The county will provide the vaccine and pay United Lab Service $75 for each person vaccinated. ‘This is such a critically needed service,’ said Dr. Geoffrey Leung, public health officer for Riverside County. ‘Vaccines are available to so many in our community, and we did not want to leave out those who cannot come to our clinics for vaccine.’ The number of homebound residents in Riverside County is not known, but health officials estimate it is about 3,000 people.”
• The Wall Street Journal (subscription required to read the whole piece) says there are increasing questions about the genesis of SARS-CoV-2: “Three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report that could add weight to growing calls for a fuller probe of whether the COVID-19 virus may have escaped from the laboratory. … The disclosure of the number of researchers, the timing of their illnesses and their hospital visits come on the eve of a meeting of the World Health Organization’s decision-making body, which is expected to discuss the next phase of an investigation into COVID-19’s origins.”
• If you missed the news about the crap that Belarus pulled yesterday, here’s The New York Times update page. The Cliff’s Notes: “Shortly after Ryanair Flight 4978 crossed in the airspace of Belarus, an alarming message came crackling over the radio. The pilots were told of ‘a potential security threat on board.’ A possible bomb. The plane, headed from Athens in Greece to Vilnius in Lithuania, would have to be diverted to Minsk, the capital of Belarus. And if there was any doubt about the seriousness of the situation, the pilots only needed to look out of their window, where a MIG-29 fighter had suddenly appeared to escort them. Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the ruler of Belarus who is often referred to as ‘Europe’s last dictator,’ personally ordered the fighter jet to intercept the passenger plane—a fact his office proudly noted in a news release. According to the statement, Mr. Lukashenko gave an ‘unequivocal order’ to ‘make the plane do a U-turn and land.’ After the plane was forced to land, Roman Protasevich, a dissident journalist, was arrested. His girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, was also on the flight, and she, too, did not board the plane again.” Yikes. Thankfully, Europe and the U.S. are taking action—or at least trying to do so.
• Piece of evidence No. 378,654,089 that the vaccines work: The Washington Post crunched the numbers, and discovered this: “The country’s declining COVID-19 case rates present an unrealistically optimistic perspective for half of the nation—the half that is still not vaccinated. As more people receive vaccines, COVID-19 cases are occurring mostly in the increasingly narrow slice of the unprotected population. So The Washington Post adjusted its case, death and hospitalization rates to account for that—and found that in some places, the virus continues to rage among those who haven’t received a shot.”
• Our partners at CalMatters look at which bills survived, and which died, on “Suspense File Day.”: “Forget about new protections for California kids cruising the internet. There will be no new requirements for crime labs to process old rape kits. And some households behind on their water bills won’t get more time to pay them back before their pipes get shut off. Those were some of the more than 200 bills California lawmakers killed today in the rapid-fire and often mysterious procedure known as the suspense file. Officially, the procedure promotes fiscal responsibility, allowing lawmakers to consider costly bills together and weigh their priorities. But it’s well known at the state Capitol that the suspense file is also a political tool that allows the most powerful legislators to keep controversial bills from reaching the Assembly or Senate floor—typically with no explanation, and sometimes without a public vote.”
• Well, this bit of Olympics-related news is certainly alarming. As CNN explains: “The Tokyo Olympics, postponed in 2020 during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, are facing increasing hurdles in putting on a 2021 show. The latest troubling sign for the Summer Games came Monday when the State Department advised US citizens against traveling to Japan because of a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases. The ‘Level 4: Do Not Travel’ advisory is the highest cautionary level in the department’s hierarchy of warnings. It’s been more than a year since Americans have paid tourist calls to the nation. Japan has been closed to US leisure travelers throughout the pandemic, with only ‘very limited’ circumstances in which US citizens could enter. The Games are still scheduled to run from July 23 to August 8 in Japan.”
• Two public-policy researchers, writing for The Conversation, say that the federal residential evictions “ban” is not necessarily working all that well, as illustrated by an analysis of evictions in the state of Idaho: “From March 25 through April 30, 2020, state courts were closed, except for essential hearings—which could have included evictions relating to illegal activity. Most other eviction proceedings would have been delayed. In addition, some landlords may have decided to seek resolutions other than eviction, especially as cash aid came in from federal and state governments. However, when the courts reopened in May 2020, eviction filings and formal evictions spiked. And monthly statistics show the rates rising almost back to 2019’s levels. This raises the question of the ability of federal bans alone to decrease eviction rates.”
• Sort of related: The New York Times Magazine did a fantastic if sad piece on the rise of extended-stay hotels and motels—because they’re often the last place certain people with low incomes or bad credit can find a home: “Having few other options, those whose incomes are extremely low are more and more finding shelter not in apartments but in roadside motels or aging hotel rooms that have limited, if any, cooking facilities. Or they end up in what are known as extended stays, designed for longer—but not permanent—occupancy. In some cities, such accommodations, which include small kitchenettes, are referred to as ‘weeklies,’ where rates are guaranteed for only seven days at a time. Total costs per month often exceed those of a traditional apartment, and because occupancy taxes are required in many cities for the first 30 days (or more) of a hotel or motel stay, these can add $100 or more per month to someone’s rental costs.”
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