… Up first, a brand new 538 piece by Joshua Darr. The LSU professor worked with colleagues to show that “less local news meant more polarization” in communities. “Then, with a little luck,” he wrote, “we were also able to study the other side of the coin — whether more local news could actually bring people together.” The answer was yes, at least in Palm Springs, California.
But, Darr wrote, “the market is simply not providing local newspapers the resources they need to deliver the civic benefits they’re capable of, which raises the question as to what extent the government should step in to help.” He flicked at the proposed Journalism Competition and Preservation Act in the Senate and pointed out that “even bolder policies have been proposed to help local news, such as giving direct payments to news organizations to hire reporters or offering Americans vouchers to spend on local nonprofit media.”
Local news as civic infrastructure? With Democrats controlling the levers of power in Congress, these ideas will at least get a hearing. Whether they’ll come to fruition is another matter altogether. But Maria Cantwell, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, said earlier this spring that local news, “frayed beyond belief,” should be treated as “critical infrastructure” that “needs to be preserved.”
“National news outlets and social media have gotten a lot of attention for contributing to mistrust and disinformation, but local TV news is no less complicit,” Amanda Ripley wrote in this deep dive for The Atlantic last month. Ripley surveyed some experiments by Scripps‘ local stations to improve TV news and rebuild trust — from “increasing the length and complexity of its segments” to “backing away from crime coverage and other cheap thrills.” There’s a lot to think about here…
The “nationalization” problem
“Can local TV news keep politics local?” Matt Grossman of the Niskanen Center posed this question on a recent podcast. Here’s a transcript. Local coverage is “threatened by nationalization,” Grossman said, citing new work by two scholars. In summary: “Daniel Moskowitz finds that local TV news helps citizens learn more about their governors and senators, encouraging split-ticket voting. But Joshua McCrain finds that Sinclair has bought up local stations, increasing coverage of national politics and moving rightward. Local news coverage is in decline but offers one of the major remaining bulwarks against nationalization and polarization.” More here…
[Editor: The Fairfield Daily Republic is the only news agency in Solano County that covers meetings of the Solano County Board of Supervisors. Their coverage is decidedly conservative, but regularly contains valuable news about Solano’s response (and lack of adequate response) to the COVID-19 crisis. In today’s story, I will highlight several highly concerning quotes, followed by my critical observations below, after the Daily Republic article. – R.S.]
Solano close to ‘purple,’ again; Hannigan calls for public campaign
FAIRFIELD — Dr. Bela Matyas, the Solano County health officer, told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday that the state’s testing adjustments are not likely to save the county from regressing into the state’s most-restrictive purple tier if the case rate is not lowered.
“The county’s current experience with Covid-19 has not been good,” said Matyas, noting a case rate nearly as high as 80 per day over the weekend.
Add that to the 136 cases reported Friday, that four-day average was 93.2 cases – more than three times higher than the 30.7-case average the county needs to be at or below to stay in the red tier.
There were 64 new cases reported in Tuesday’s Public Health pdate, which would put the five-day average at nearly 87.4.
“Our current case rate is nearly as high as our peak (during the novel coronavirus pandemic),” Matyas said.
The update to the board included the usual discussion of the cause of the case increases, which in Solano County comes back to the usual response: social gatherings of friends and family.
Matyas noted that Public Health hears people say they are concerned about meeting strangers in public so they take precautions, but they do not take the same precautions around family and friends.
He also said that if the county does not want its businesses harmed, it needs to convince the governor’s office that the care rate has nothing to do with businesses.
“I think we need a mask and social distancing campaign,” Supervisor Erin Hannigan said.
She proposed a media campaign using social media, TV, radio, school education and even the back of buses to get the message out to wear face coverings and keep a safe distance no matter what the setting: work, home or in the community.
Supervisor Jim Spering was not convinced the expense would necessarily have the desired results, but he is increasingly frustrated that it will be businesses that will pay the price for the choices being made by county residents. “They are just ruining more lives, more businesses ; it’s unconscionable,” Spering said.
However, the board heard from several members of the public about their beliefs that face coverings do not work, and that the county should stop promoting it.
In addition to the state guidelines, face coverings are part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols and fully endorsed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Hannigan’s campaign idea, because it would educate children who would presumably take the lessons home, was also likened to a Nazi Germany propaganda approach.
The board also was urged, again, to take down from its website the phone number locals can use to report Covid-19 protocol violations by businesses.
Terry Schmidtbauer, the acting director of the Department of Resource Management, reported that since August, the county has received 267 complaints, which resulted in 203 site visits. Only seven of those have required a third inspection, which triggers the county referring the matter to law enforcement or state agencies.
In general, he said, the businesses are following the regulations.
Matyas said the Halloween numbers are starting to show up in the Public Health data as well, noting that the new surge is mostly younger residents. That means the hospitalization numbers are not spiking like in past surges , but the disease has made its way into 15 care facilities, and some of those who are transmitting the disease, Matyas said, are medical staff who have participated in social gatherings but without following safety protocols.
It is in those facilities where the fatalities begin to rise. The past three deaths in the county were in a memory care facility in Vacaville, bringing the total to 79.
The Public Health Division reported that with the 61 news cases, the countywide total is 8,430.
Matyas said he fully expects the state to put the county on notice, and while Solano will appeal the state’s position next week to put off a final state decision, in two more weeks the county could be going back to “purple.”
The other key piece to the state’s decision is the seven-day testing rate, which was reported Tuesday at 10.1% – well above the purple tier threshold of 8%.
California’s color-coded monitoring system designates the purple tier for counties where transmission of the novel coronavirus is considered to be widespread. Shutdown orders for counties in the purple tier are the most severe. The red tier is for counties with substantial spread of the virus. The orange tier designates moderate virus transmission, while the yellow tier is reserved for counties where the spread of the virus is deemed to be minimal.
Restrictions to slow the spread of the virus are eased as counties move from purple to red, red to orange and orange to yellow.
Hospitalizations across Solano County were at 31 Tuesday, the same as Monday ; and the number of active cases continues to rise, up from 577 to 580. [continued…]
Quote from the Daily Republic:
“[Matyas] also said that if the county does not want its businesses harmed, it needs to convince the governor’s office that the care rate has nothing to do with businesses.” Commentary: This sentence perfectly captures the business-centric approach expressed time and again by our Public Health Officer and by one or more of his employers who sit on our Solano County Board of Supervisors. I wish our businesses well, but it is not at all clear to me that “the case rate has nothing to do with businesses.” Solano’s contact tracing may show more transmission due to private social gatherings, but there is no doubt in my mind that our businesses remain a threat to viral exposure as well. Too often, our County leadership fails to properly call out businesses to enforce masking or face consequences. And our County leadership completely fails to acknowledge the value of returning to business and community shutdowns when the numbers indicate a return to the purple tier.
Quote from the Daily Republic:
“Supervisor Jim Spering was not convinced the expense would necessarily have the desired results, but he is increasingly frustrated that it will be businesses that will pay the price for the choices being made by county residents.” Commentary: Supervisor Spering has consistently over the years promoted business interests at the expense of human welfare on issues like air quality and regulation of Bay Area refineries. “Businesses will pay the price”?! While people are sick and dying? This sounds like the voice of a die-hard (as it were) right-wing doubter, not unlike the anti-government protesters spreading misinformation and casting nasty names at Board meetings.
Quote from the Daily Republic:
“Matyas said the Halloween numbers are starting to show up in the Public Health data as well, noting that the new surge is mostly younger residents. That means the hospitalization numbers are not spiking like in past surges…Hospitalizations across Solano County were at 31 Tuesday, the same as Monday…” Commentary: Well, we have learned directly from Dr. Matyas (in an email to me on November 7) that his office goes back periodically and adds large numbers of hospitalizations after the fact. This practice increased the total hospitalizations by 106 in a single day on October 29, a single-day increase of 25%. How can he with a straight face report that “hospitalization numbers are not spiking like in past surges,” when he knows from experience that he will likely need to go back and add hospitalizations at a later date?
Quote from the Daily Republic:
“Matyas said he fully expects the state to put the county on notice, and while Solano will appeal the state’s position next week to put off a final state decision, in two more weeks the county could be going back to ‘purple.'” Commentary: Solano’s kneejerk stance is to appeal. At every step, Solano has resisted the direction of our State health officials. Matyas has been featured on several Bay Area news media expressing disapproval of our State’s best guidance. He seems to fear “going back to ‘purple'” more than overseeing a surge in illness and death that is spreading throughout the nation.
The Vallejo Times-Herald’s headline writer was decidedly NOT impartial this week.
Local commercial news media in one-paper towns are obliged to do their best to present a balanced perspective, especially on controversial topics. True objectivity is difficult, but the public’s primary source of news needs to do its very best.
And yet, consider the Times-Herald’s headlines Oct. 13-16, each of which accompanied a sweet photo of the fast-tracked Trump/GOP sham nominee, Amy Coney Barrett:
VALLEJO TIMES-HERALD HEADLINE DEPARTURES FROM ORIGINAL AP HEADLINES
Original AP headline on Oct. 13: “Barrett vows fair approach as justice, Democrats skeptical”
VT-H headline: Barrett vows fair approach
Original AP headline on Oct. 14: “Barrett bats away tough Democratic confirmation probing”
VT-H headline: Barrett unscathed by tough questions
Original AP headline on Oct 16: “GOP pushes Barrett toward court as Democrats decry ‘sham’”
When approached by email, Times-Herald Editor Jack Bungart let me know that staff does not write the paper’s headlines. Their “pagination hub” converts from an Associated Press headline according to “what fits in each situation.”
So who or what is the “pagination hub” serving our friendly staff at the Vallejo Times-Herald? Is there bias at work here? Who, exactly, is responsible for the seemingly partial editing of the AP headlines that came up with these pro-Barrett Times-Herald headlines?!
Come on, Vallejo T-H “pagination hub”. Who are you? In the future, give us a more nuanced and accurate first look at the day’s highly controversial news.
As I read the headline, “Times-Herald staff will work out of Vacaville office,” my heart sank a little. It’s a sad, albeit inevitable, sign of the times to see the Vallejo Times-Herald leave Vallejo.
My relationship with local newspapers began before I could read. Twice a day, the Vallejo papers (morning Times-Herald and evening News-Chronicle) were tossed onto the porch by a kid flying by on his bike. Between the covers of each issue lay a fascinating world of first, pictures and comics and later, articles and ads. As I grew, my favorite stories were society-related. Each baby shower, wedding and anniversary event carried 2-3 pictures, an extensive guest list (using the “Mrs. [husband’s name]” designation for the women) and descriptions of the fashions of the day on display.
There were the columns like Dave Beronio and Marion Devlin. Oh, and the ads — for the Redwood Inn, Levee’s department store, Terry’s Waffle Shop, the Grotto, City of Paris, Stillings toy store, Higgins shoes, Home Bakery, Market Town, Liled’s candy store, Casa de Vallejo, the China Barn, Red Top dairy, the Golden Bubble, Tarantino’s, Helen Lyall’s, the Village, Palby’s, Vallejo Travel, the Elbow Room, Passini’s, and later, on the growing east side of town, Rudy’s supper club, Purity market, Toby Jean’s hamburgers, Gentleman Jim’s, Springhill Foods and Yardbirds.
Over the years, I turned to the Vallejo paper daily for horoscopes, Ann Landers’ sage advice, to catch a movie (at the Rita, then then El Rey, and later at the Cinedome 7), see who was racing at the hardtops, and to check out the newest sounds at Munter Music.
As TV news gained prominence, the morning and evening editions of the Vallejo newspaper were combined into the one evening edition. However, the paper’s strengths of excellent journalists, columnists, photographers and staff were undiminished. The Vallejo Times-Herald gave us in-depth stories about the in-our-backyard Zodiac killings, lurid Associated Press pictures of the Vietnam war along with how our hometown recruits were faring, and extensive coverage of local sports.
We got the big Vallejo stories, like the sinking of the Guitarro, a nuclear submarine, in the Mare Island Channel (for which Vallejo was awarded “Laugh-In’s” ‘Fickle Finger of Fate’), Joey Pallotta’s world-record catch of the largest sturgeon ever out in the Carquinez Strait, and the amazing boosterism of local residents like my Aunt, Donna Jean Hines, to bring the Marine World theme park to Vallejo. We also got the “little” but vital stories, like upcoming class reunions, GVRD summer playground dates, and the annual County Fair prize winners.
The Times-Herald kept me informed as the city leaders tore down our Carnegie Library for an ugly, needed-but-not-right-there senior high-rise and closed lower Georgia street in the first of 37 failed attempts to “save downtown.” I heard they passed on Sunvalley Mall to build Larwin Plaza. Our community college left our community.
The Times-Herald covered local politics, protests, and picnics with equal zeal. It supported local arts organizations and locally-owned businesses, sponsored Little League teams and maintained a staff of crack reporters whose focus was (and has been) relentlessly local — bowling tournaments, Fourth of July parades, water and sewer rate hikes, church socials, car washes, Hal’s Appliance sales, elections, and the heart of any community: Births and deaths.
Vallejo’s diversity was and is its greatest strength. While much coverage was positive — Filipino community Pista Sa Nayon festivals, and (later) homegrown Black hip-hop stars, for example — the racism that stained every aspect of community life (so deep that Black residents had to literally build their own housing development, Country Club Crest, in order to buy a house in Vallejo) was seldom mentioned. The city leaders remained almost exclusively white, male — Mayor Florence Douglas notwithstanding — and (and since the closet was firmly shut, who knows?) straight, long past the Civil Rights and women’s movements and the rise of the fight for LGBTQ rights.
Times continued to change. A failed VTH strike in the ’70s, which birthed the short-lived Vallejo Independent Press, mirrored the nationwide decline of unions, manufacturing and working class-prosperity. Mare Island Naval Base, arguably the lifeblood of the local economy, closed after 125 years. Again and again, the city leaders’ nostalgia for a ’50s-style downtown won out over common sense, and commerce fled to Fairfield, Concord and Vacaville, resulting in even fewer print ads.
With the rise of the internet and the collapse of ad revenue, the Times-Herald, like most print journalism entities, began to shrink in earnest. The paper was sold to a chain, its building on now-Curtola Parkway, with its giant printing press, clocks of the world, darkrooms, news bays and clattering Linotype machines, also sold and eventually demolished. The staff downsized again and again, reporters doubling as photographers, columns and editorials increasingly nationally-syndicated, and local sports the biggest driver of community news.
Yet the Vallejo Times-Herald hung on, covering local arts, politics, education, business, sports and community events. I still subscribe today, from our retirement home in the foothills above Sacramento, to see who died, the specials at Gracie’s Barbecue and who’s appearing (pre-Pandemic) at the Empress. I read the wacky letters to the editor, featuring endless debates among five or so locals whose beefs go as far back as the Hatfields and the McCoys, and whose letters should be serialized so the occasional reader could have even a clue as to what they’re writing about.
I enjoy the latest jewel of artistic creativity otherwise unnoticed in our midst that Richard Freedman illuminates, and Brendan Riley’s periodic chronicles of our more distant past. Sadly — but glad that it is being covered — I keep abreast of the developments in the deaths of Vallejo residents of color at the hands of police that, if not in part for the dogged persistence of Vallejo journalists in continuing to shed light on these events, would not finally be gaining some statewide and even national traction.
The announcement that Vallejo Times-Herald operations are moving to Vacaville marks the end of an era — for journalism and for Vallejo. We all know what happened when the Contra Costa Times became the East Bay Times. Want to know about Oakland? Just pick up the EBT. Concord? Not so much. And local in general, vs. national/world news? Even less.
So I predict I will be learning more about Vacaville, and less about Vallejo, from the VTH (or soon-to-be “Solano Reporter?”) in the future. No offense meant. It’s the way of the world, and I want the VTH to survive in some, even regional, form so that our talented local journalists can continue to work, and so that “USA Today” doesn’t end up our local newspaper!
I guess we were lucky to have a hometown paper survive this long. That said, give me a moment to mourn and mark the passing of an enterprise that has informed and affected my entire sentient life. Maybe not perfect, just like our world, but trying its damndest to fulfill its mission – to reflect one community, at its best, worst and most mundane, for posterity.
Vallejo Times-Herald reporters, editors, circulation and advertising staff, I salute you for your diligence, integrity and commitment to my hometown, Vallejo. Thank you and farewell.