Coachella Valley Independent

Indy Digest: May 27, 2021

On Monday in this space, I discussed the fact that far too many local journalism sources are not doing very well—both financially and in terms of the content they’re producing.

Today, I’d like to focus that topic in on the local daily, The Desert Sun, owned by Gannett—and, specifically, the fact that the company can’t seem to keep most its good reporters.

While there is much about The Desert Sun that deserves criticism—don’t get me started on the god-awful websites and email newsletters The Desert Sun and its sister newspapers have—the local daily still does a lot of fine journalism, and employs some great, hard-working journalists. It’s one of the better Gannett newspapers out there.

However, its parent company is a mess. Rather than investing in its newspapers, Gannett keeps making cuts. Last year, the company shut down its press operation here, and then sold the building that’s long housed the newspaper to new owners that are in the process of turning it into a pinball museum. Yes, really.

Meanwhile, a lot of talented reporters are leaving The Desert Sun. Earlier this year, the 20 or so newsroom employees who are left voted to form a union—and that union, the Desert Sun NewsGuild, pointed out something both fascinating and depressing in a recent tweet regarding the newspaper’s recent awards in the California News Publishers Association’s journalism contest:

“Of The Desert Sun’s 35 awards in this year’s @CNPAservices contest, more than 60% came from journalists who have already left the paper or have announced their departure (including teams w/ at least one such member). That includes 5 of the paper’s 8 first-place finishes, as well.”

This Gannett exodus is not just happening here. The Phoenix New Times last month reported on the spate of departures at The Arizona Republic—The Desert Sun’s sister paper and, following the closure of the press here in Palm Springs, its printer. Key quote:

Observers are left to wonder: Why are so many journalists jumping ship at a flagship newspaper in a major metropolitan area like Phoenix? The answer, according to some current and former staffers, is multi-faceted. Some employees have moved on to jobs at other media outlets, including top-tier publications: reporter Angel Mendoza is now a social media editor for the Washington Post, for example, and education reporter Lily Altavena went to the Detroit Free Press. Why others left the paper isn’t as clear. Insiders cite factors such as low pay, burnout, a toxic work environment created by the paper’s executive editor, Greg Burton, gender and race-based pay disparities, and management’s allegedly superficial commitment to diversifying its staff and supporting women and people of color in the newsroom.

(Burton, for the record, was the executive editor of The Desert Sun from 2011-2018. He was replaced by Julie Makinen, who represents a marked improvement.)

This exodus of reporters is bad for journalism—and bad for the Coachella Valley. Unfortunately, this is what happens when bad companies own much-needed local journalism outlets.

—Jimmy Boegle

From the Independent

Know Your Neighbors: Meet Carol Koby, a Former ‘Alice in Dairyland,’ an Ex-Radio Host—and a Strong Voice for Public Health

By Anita Rufus

May 26, 2021

Meet Carol Koby, a part-time Coachella Valley resident who fights for good health policy.

A Cosmic Journey: Circles Around the Sun Emerges From Tragedy to Perform Two Shows at Pappy and Harriet’s

By Matt King

May 25, 2021

Circles Around the Sun is bringing its instrumental jam-band vibes to Pioneertown for a two-show stint at Pappy and Harriet’s on Sunday, June 6.

On Cocktails: Big Crowds Have Our Bartending Scribe Dreaming of Escaping to a Desert Island—but Only if He Can Take Negronis With Him

By Kevin Carlow

May 26, 2021

It’s three ingredients, equal parts—gin, Campari and sweet vermouth—but there’s just something so calming about a negroni.

The Shame Game: Are You Avoiding the Doctor? If So, the Reason Might Be Embarrassment

By Jack Bunting

May 25, 2021

Shame—not cost or convenience—is causing far too many people to avoid medical and mental care, even when that care is free or low-cost. How someone […]

The Indy Endorsement: The Side Dishes at K-Tofu House

By Jimmy Boegle

May 25, 2021

We had a fine lunch at K-Tofu House—but supporting players definitely upstaged the headliners.

The Weekly Independent Comics Page for May 27, 2021!

By Staff

May 27, 2021

Topics tackled on this week’s comics page include Instagram influencers, Jan. 6, white editors, second-hand clothing, and more!

The Lucky 13: Ross Murakami, Drummer for Yip Yops, Which Just Starred In a 7-Eleven Commercial

By Matt King

May 27, 2021

Meet Ross Murakami, half of one of the valley’s most traveled bands—Yip Yops.

More News

• After success in other states, California has announced its own vaccine-incentive lottery. The Los Angeles Times has the deets: “Along with the 10 grand prizes (of $1.5 million each)—the winners of which will be chosen June 15, the date the state is set to fully reopen its economy—California is also putting up 30 prizes of $50,000 each, with half the winners selected on June 4 and the rest on June 11. All Californians who have gotten at least one dose will be eligible for those prizes, and those who have previously received their shots are already entered, according to state officials. Should someone under 18 win, the prize will be put in a savings account until they come of age. Additionally, starting Thursday, the next 2 million people who begin and finish their COVID-19 vaccine series will automatically be eligible for either a $50 prepaid card or a $50 grocery gift card. … Officials peg the total size of California’s incentive program at $116.5 million.”

• Yet another sign that we’re finally on our way out of the pandemic: Government offices are beginning to reopen. This just in, from the city of Palm Springs: “With COVID-19 cases decreasing in the County of Riverside and more than 80% of residents over the age of 12 now fully vaccinated, the City of Palm Springs is pleased to announce that City Hall and other city facilities, including the lobbies at the police and fire departments, will re-open to the public for business again on Tuesday, June 1.”

Here’s the latest report on the amount of SARS-CoV-2 detected in Palm Springs wastewater. The key takeaway: “The amount of viral copies detected at the city’s wastewater treatment plant in the past 90 days continues to be low.”

• And here’s the latest Riverside County District 4 COVID-19 report. (If you’re in the Coachella Valley, you’re in District 4, as are rural points to the east.) All the numbers are holding steady—but the pandemic is not over yet, as three people died of COVID-19 here during the week ending on May 23.

It’s looking like Riverside County will never achieve yellow-tier status before the “full reopening” wipes away the county tiers on June 15. As of Tuesday’s data. the county had 2.5 COVID cases per day, per 100,000 people; that number needs to get below 2 for us to move from orange to yellow—and that needs to happen for two weeks, unless the state changes the way it does things.

Here’s the latest news on the mass shooting that took place yesterday at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority rail yard in San Jose. CNN reports: “The gunman who killed nine colleagues at a light rail yard … before killing himself appeared to target his victims, a sheriff told CNN on Thursday.” Our country is very, very broken.

• If you’re a Palm Springs resident, or you simply have an interest in Palm Springs news, you should be following the new Palm Springs Post. Here’s one of the latest scoops from the Post: “Owners of two dozen local retail cannabis businesses, already required to charge high taxes on the sale of their products, may soon experience additional sticker shock just for the right to open their doors. A proposal making its way through Palm Springs City Hall calls for some of the fees they pay the city to rise by almost 900 percent. The proposal, outlined in a staff report being discussed Thursday evening at a regular meeting of the City Council, calls for annual cannabis business permits to increase from $1,000 to nearly $11,000. New cannabis permit applicants would see a similar hike—from $4,092 to the same nearly $11,000 fee. The city currently has 67 existing cannabis permits for both retail dispensaries and grow operations. It collected $2.8 million in sales tax revenue from dispensaries in the last fiscal year.”

• If you drive on Southern California’s freeways much, you have a reason to breathe a sigh of relief … maybe. The Press Enterprise reports: “A 34-year-old Anaheim resident was arrested on Tuesday, May 25, after several car windows were shot out on the 91 Freeway in Riverside, and authorities are attempting to determine whether he was responsible for more of some 100 such incidents that have terrorized Southern California motorists in the past two months.”

• Following up on last week’s Indy Digest regarding the ample amount of rent relief help that’s out there: Our partners at CalMatters report the state is attempting to make the application process much easier: “A new survey finds tenants are having a hard time accessing the state’s $2.6 billion emergency rent relief, which is contributing to the slow distribution of California’s marquee program to thwart a potential statewide eviction tsunami. With one month until the end of the state’s eviction moratorium, the survey of 177 tenant advocates released Tuesday found that tenants had trouble applying in languages other than English and Spanish, and that a lack of digital proficiency and access to documents showing income losses due to COVID limited tenants’ ability to apply. … The state has pledged to fix some of those issues as early as this week. Russ Heimerich, spokesman for the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, said application websites in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Tagalog will be available as soon as this week. The state also intends to issue a second, simpler rental relief application this week, Heimerich said, that would cut down the time it takes to fill out the forms from approximately 90 minutes to 45 minutes. Perhaps most importantly, the new application asks for less documentation to show pandemic-related income losses.”

The latest data crunch by the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership shows how each of the nine valley cities’ unemployment rates have risen and then fallen through the pandemic. Some takeaways: “Desert Hot Springs saw the most severe rise in unemployment from 2019 to 2020, a 19.1 point rise. Rancho Mirage saw the smallest rise at 8.8 points. Cathedral City has seen the greatest recovery from 2020 with a 13.8 point drop from its 17.4% high. Rancho Mirage, with consistently lower unemployment throughout the period, saw the smallest recovery at 5.5 points.”

And finally … something fascinating is happening at oil giant Exxon. NPR explains: “In a dramatic boardroom battle on Wednesday, a tiny hedge fund fought with the energy giant ExxonMobil over the future of the oil and gas industry—and won. The brand-new activist hedge fund, Engine No. 1, successfully placed at least two new candidates on the company’s board of directors in hopes that they can use that position to push Exxon to take climate change more seriously. For two more seats on the board, the vote was too close to call. Winning a seat for any directors at all is an unprecedented achievement by activist shareholders, who have spent decades trying to persuade companies to cut their carbon emissions. To do it at ExxonMobil, once the world’s most influential oil company, makes the feat all the more astonishing.”

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Jimmy Boegle

Jimmy Boegle is the founding editor and publisher of the Coachella Valley Independent. A native of Reno, Nevada, the Dodgers fan went to Stanford University intending to become a sportswriter—but fell...