Indy Digest: Sept. 5, 2022
The first journalism conference I attended was in January 2000. I had just been named the editor of the Reno News & Review, and my bosses sent me to the yearly West Coast conference put on by the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies—aka AAN West—in San Francisco.
The conference was held in SF every year back then, because there were a lot of strong, vibrant alt-weeklies in Northern California—with the two San Francisco newspapers, the San Francisco Bay Guardian and SF Weekly, leading the way.
While the SF newspapers were problematic in some ways, there’s no denying they were healthy—issue sizes back then were often triple-digits in page count—and churning out great journalism … and there’s no denying the papers’ owners hated each other. (The animosity between SFBG owner Bruce Brugmann and Mike Lacey, the SF Weekly’s primary owner, is the stuff of legend AND groundbreaking legal precedent—but that is a topic for another day.)
I’ve been thinking about these alt-weekly days of yore all day, since I read a story in Mission Local this morning headlined “SF is removing its city-operated, ad-free news racks.” An excerpt:
Every morning, Connie Ngarangad walks down Lincoln Way toward Ninth Avenue. Walking to the green city news rack at the corner, she picks up the San Francisco Examiner and the occasional Sunset Beacon, which she reads at her favorite bench in the San Francisco Botanical Garden.
On July 25, to her surprise, the news rack was gone. “Taking any source of information away, especially free information, was sad for me,” said Ngarangad, who does not own a computer. “That is one fewer source of information that people can use to figure out what’s going on in their city. I had no idea where else to find it.”
Ngarangad wasn’t the only one whose neighborhood news rack disappeared overnight. In May, the Public Works Department approved the removal of all remaining ad-free news racks in the city, estimated at around 200. The 20-year contract with Clear Channel to operate up to 1,000 green, fixed-pedestal news racks was inked right as the print media business model imploded. The contract expired this year. Publications will now be responsible for furnishing their own news racks. …
Public Works spokeswoman Rachel Gordon says this change allows the removal of news racks that were underused and vandalized. “A lot of the news racks were abandoned. They’ve become magnets for trash, drugs being stashed in them, and vandalism. Some of them were becoming a nuisance.” She noted that Public Works met with the publishers of all the papers that were renting a box in the city news racks (for $50 per box per year) to give them a heads-up about the removals before Clear Channel started taking them down.
Part of that aforementioned print media business model implosion involved SF’s two alt-weeklies. The Bay Guardian shuttered in 2014—its website is still active with endorsements and its Best Of contest, run by former staffers—with SF Weekly limping along until closing last November.
The same fate has hit a lot of other alt-weeklies who used to be represented at AAN West. The company that sent me to that conference published weekly papers in Chico, Sacramento and Reno for decades, until shutting all of them down when the pandemic hit. Today, the Chico News & Review publishes as a monthly, while Sacramento is online-only—and Reno was online-only until it became the Independent’s sister paper earlier this year, and is now four issues into its return to print as a monthly.
The fate of these papers is not only sad; it’s community-damaging. Fewer newspapers means fewer journalists covering City Hall, spotlighting local bands, and telling a community’s stories. Fortunately, the news is not all sad; a number of online-only publications, like Mission Local, have stepped in to fill the void somewhat—although there are still fewer journalists working than there were 10 or 20 years ago.
That’s why it’s important to support local media, wherever you are. One of the reasons the Independent was able to survive the pandemic shutdowns is reader support—and to all the readers who have stepped up to become financial supporters, I thank you with all of my heart.
Support local media sources. Because if you don’t … they’ll die.
From the Independent
An Encouraging Rally: After an Awful First Episode, ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’ Starts Showing Promise in Episode Two
By Bob Grimm
September 5th, 2022
While Bob is curious enough to stick with The Rings of Power and see where things are going, Amazon is probably a little worried at this point.
Mind Over Music: After a Mental-Health Break, Crystal Hernandez of Desert Crystal Is Back With a New Single and Music Video
By Matt King
September 4th, 2022
The punk-rock frontwoman of Desert Crystal (formerly Nein Lives and Fight Like a Girl) wrote a lot of music and played a lot of backyard shows with her band until stopping rather suddenly in 2017. Music recorded years ago went unreleased—until now.
• If you have not yet voted in the Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll’s first round yet … well, you’d better get on it ASAP! Because of the holiday, we’ve extended the deadline 24 hours, to 11:59 p.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, Sept. 26. Head to vote.cvindependent.com!
• Even though today’s a holiday, the city of Palm Springs still posted last week’s wastewater testing results … and it pains me, greatly, to say I need to take back everything I said last week about the downward trend in SARS-CoV-2. As the report states: “The average number of copies (per liter) recorded at the city’s wastewater treatment plant increased. The average of 315,529 copies/L from the previous week went up to an average of 838,057 copies/L for August 29 and 30, 2022.” Yikes! The numbers are so different—the Aug. 30 reading was more than double the Aug. 29 reading—that I’m wondering if there was an error or a statistical fluke at play. Yes or no … there’s still a WHOLE LOT of COVID-19 out there.
• Brace yourself for a weird weather week. SFGate explains: “’The coming week is shaping up to be a pretty crazy weather week in California, TBH–even more so than previously thought,’ Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA, wrote on Twitter Sunday morning. ‘Ongoing heatwave expected to be longer & peak even higher, & now we have potential influence of a soon-to develop hurricane to consider.’ With the heat wave persisting, the risk for wildfires, power outages and heat illness continues. Added to the fire risk, remnants of Tropical Storm Javier rotated into portions of Southern California on Saturday, bringing a push of monsoonal moisture and a chance for thunderstorms on Sunday. The moisture is expected to reach the Sierra Nevada range on Wednesday.”
• Related: As of this writing, firefighters are ordering evacuations due to a wildfire near Hemet.
• Time magazine reports that unions are “having a moment” this Labor Day: “Sixty-eight percent of Americans approve of unions, the highest level since 1965, according to Gallup. There are at least 143 unionized Starbucks locations. Earlier this year, Chris Smalls organized the first successful union drive in Amazon history at a Staten Island warehouse. And this summer, employees at an Apple store in Maryland voted to form a union—the first in the chain’s history—while Chipotle employees in Michigan became the first store in the restaurant chain to vote to unionize.”
• Speaking of Starbucks: The company is being sued because of what the plaintiff calls the company’s “deceptive” gift-card policy. The Seattle Times explains: “A Boston man tried to redeem a card with a $4.92 balance for cash at his nearest coffee shop. When he was refused, he filed a proposed class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle, alleging the coffee retail giant has unjustly enriched itself by millions of dollars by making it difficult to redeem small balances remaining on gift cards for cash, even when the law requires it. … According to the lawsuit, Massachusetts is among 10 states that have laws requiring companies that issue gift cards to redeem in cash any balance of $5 of less. Washington, Oregon and California are among the Western states with similar statues on the books. The small print on the gift cards states they cannot be redeemed for cash unless required by law.The lawsuit alleges Starbucks does not emphasize this caveat and that company policy states ‘gift cards are completely nonrefundable.’”
• And finally … Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill this Labor Day that could lead to better conditions for the state’s fast-food workers. Our partners at CalMatters report: “On Labor Day, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he’s signing a first-in-the-nation bill creating a council to regulate wages and working conditions in fast food restaurants. The new law will give labor advocates a long-elusive bargaining foothold in a low-wage industry that employs more than half a million non-unionized workers statewide. … Pushed by the Service Employees International Union and fiercely opposed by business groups, the FAST Recovery Act barely passed the state Senate with the minimum number of votes. The vote was just as narrow in the Assembly hours later. Several Democrats abstained; after it passed six switched their votes to support it. The new statewide council would be able to set standards across the fast food industry on wages and workplace conditions such as safety measures and even the temperature of a restaurant. Labor advocates say the bill would give workers bargaining power in an industry where union representation is difficult to achieve because of high staff turnover and franchise ownership. Lawmakers pared back the bill significantly to push it toward final passage after several moderate Democratic legislators balked at earlier proposals to give the new council sweeping regulatory authority over the industry. Lawmakers added a bevy of amendments last week to address the concerns of business owners. In one major concession, lawmakers stripped out a provision that would have held fast food corporations jointly responsible for wage and labor violations at franchise locations.”
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