Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald [Editor: Thanks to the Vallejo Times-Herald for it’s front-page photo of yesterday’s local protest against the ouster of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Trump administration cannot be allowed to work this outrageous obstruction of justice! Coverage of the MASSIVE nationwide protests was buried this morning by news of the California wildfires and mass murders in Thousand Oaks. NOTHING in the SF Chronicle, but here’s the East Bay Times coverage. (See also Google’s full coverage.) And, oh by the way – that’s Benicia’s own Lee Wilder Snider, Susan Street and Donna Shehan front and center in the photo! And I’m sure that’s Craig Snider behind Susan’s right arm. See also “Oh, please – not again…” – R.S.]
If you are on the Benicia Independent email list, I can pretty much be sure that your alarm bells – like mine – are going off. A sampling…
Christine Blasey Ford and others accuse Judge Kavanaugh – the #MeToo movement and an FBI investigation
A “push poll” with Benicia election meddling by outside forces
Positive and effective support for one or more local City Council candidates
The Trump administration’s alarming “rollback” on oil train braking regulations
Urgent calls to help “flip” California congressional districts from red to blue
Continuing detention of immigrant children and families at our border
Deadlines for financial contributions needed for countless important causes
A Benicia resident – a neighbor – arrested and charged as the NorCal Rapist!
…and of course, I could go on. I confess that it all leaves me somewhat at a loss, personally. We’ve been on alert since The Donald won the presidential election, vowing to stand vigilant, to resist, to move the country back into the progressive mainstream. But we’re tired. How do we cope?
I take slivers of hope from a few recent sources:
Earlier this month, Barack Obama slammed the Trump administration and addressed us all in a speech at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The line that stood out to me and continues to hold me up was, “If you’re willing to fight for it, things do get better.” And, “Better is good….Better is good.”
Making democracy work means holding on to our principles, having clarity about our principles, and then having the confidence to get in the arena and have a serious debate. And it also means appreciating that progress does not happen all at once, but when you put your shoulder to the wheel, if you’re willing to fight for it, things do get better….Better is good.
Now just yesterday, we saw a composed survivor of sexual assault and a historically intemperate and deeply suspect judicial candidate followed by two US Senators, a Democrat and a Republican, reaching a sensible compromise on the horns of the partisan dilemma in the U.S. Senate. Watching the proceedings from afar, we sat by, most of us helpless and dreading the outcome. But those who could, opted for public outrage, with signs and shouting. A few incredibly brave ones went public with their stories, and two made history confronting a Republican Senator in an elevator booth. The combined efforts of all these activists stopped the elevator ride for Brett Kavanaugh – at least for a week. Definitely NOT perfect… but BETTER.
Here in Benicia, the clearly partisan attack of a telephone “push poll” could have powerful electoral results going into our local election. We probably will never know to what degree. Yet, it’s GOOD that our City Attorney is looking into it, with a tough communication to the company that was hired to phone us with an attack on Kari Birdseye and thinly disguised promotional statements for one of her opponents. It’s good that the City’s Open Government Commission will hold a last-minute public hearing on November 3rd, giving candidates a chance to defend against hit pieces and misinformation. It’s good that there are a number of public hearings in our small town where we can go listen to and ask questions of the candidates themselves. See the schedule of forums at birdseyeforbenicia.com/candidate-forums.
Here in Benicia, I have come under personal attack for favoring one candidate, Kari Birdseye, over other credible opponents. The Solano County Democrats and Progressive Democrats have been criticized for endorsing only Kari while the Labor Council and its member unions endorse without blame. (Well, except for complaints by some of our Benicia teachers, who resent the controlling influence over their endorsement by the Labor Council.)Kari Birdseye is in my opinion far and away the most environmentally aware, progressive and highly qualified candidate for City Council. I personally hope that Christina Strawbridge comes in second. It will be great – no, GREAT – in this #MeToo year to have 3 qualified women on our City Council. But my first priority has been and remains, to secure a seat for Kari Birdseye. See more at birdseyeforbenicia.com.
Here in Benicia, there are excellent substantiated reasons why NOT to vote for City Council candidate Lionel Largaespada. His registration as a Republican aside, he stood with Valero and Texas executives and attorneys in favor of dangerous and dirty oil trains cutting over the mountains and through California to Benicia. He was paid to help defeat a 2012 California tobacco tax initiative that would have funded cancer research. His friendly outreach and community service is notable, but he is undeniably a supporter of big business, and has demonstrated that he was impervious to community activist’s efforts to educate and organize for environmental health and the safety of the community. Let’s cast our votes and hope that the Council can proceed without that kind of drag on a bright future for our beloved city.
Finally, here in Benicia our local news is disappearing. Cutbacks at the Benicia Herald and the Vallejo Times-Herald have meant that increasingly, regular citizens have no idea what is going on at City Hall. We are assuredly in a “news desert.” As of this writing, yesterday was Benicia Herald editor Nick Sestanovich’s last day, and there’s no news as yet as to his replacement. Giventhe Benicia Herald’s poor track record of owner support for staff AND the hard financial times for print media in general, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the paper close. Wait and see. (Nick’s good-bye is a poignant moment in local news.)
The Vallejo paper covers Vallejo, with only an occasional nod to Benicia news. Mostly we only see press releases issued by the city of Benicia and police and fire departments. The Times-Herald can only do so much with so few staff since Katy St. Clair was let go. (Note that both Nick and Katy went to work in Vacaville. No news desert up there.)
Where can we look for BETTER here? Not perfect, but better? Increasingly, we must rely on digital media, like The Benicia Independent, NextDoor, Facebook’s BeniciaHappenings, Patch, and Google groups like BeniciaResist! Definitely far from perfect. Let’s make those sources BETTER.
Well, if you made it through this lengthy analysis, you deserve a thanks and kudos. I’ll try to be more regular with my newsletters in the future. Nice chatting with you – let’s all make Benicia a BETTER place.
Repost from Nick’s Facebook page [Editor: Take care, Nick! Indeed it was a tough test here in Benicia, given everything, but you overcame, and you did well. Best to you, and enjoy your work in “CowTown.” – R.S.]
Let me go back to what my life was like in the summer of 2015: I had just gotten laid off from a good position at The Sacramento Bee which I had gotten straight out of college. I still had a backup position at that same paper which I had gotten while still in college, but that too did not last. On top of that, I had gotten into a car accident that left neither party injured but still resulted in my car being totaled. All of these moments triggered a bit of a quarter-life crisis that was not helped by the fact that I was having so much trouble finding another journalism job that I was even applying for retail jobs just so I could be employed. It was a mess.
It was toward the end of this summer that I saw a Craigslist ad for a reporting position at the Benicia Herald, the same paper that I had interned at six summers earlier when I graduated from high school. I figured I would give it a shot. When applying, I decided to go for an assistant editor position instead. Long story short, after a particularly grueling six months for the paper, I was promoted to editor.
I hope people don’t take for granted the importance of community news. The things that happen in Benicia aren’t always covered on CNN or in the New York Times, and the Herald doesn’t have much in the way of competition. The Vallejo Times-Herald is the closest and they do cover Benicia to the best of their ability, but they also have a small staff and are a Vallejo newspaper first and foremost. Patch hasn’t been a real competitor in years, and while “Benicia Happenings” and Nextdoor are great places to discuss news, they are not substitutes for news. My desire to remain a print journalist isn’t even a fight over survival for the medium, it’s a fight for credibility. I wouldn’t mind seeing the newspaper model move to the web where trained journalists write the stories, cover a wide array of beats, and present the news in an accurate but fair way, but not every community has something like that of their own. Until that happens, I say let’s continue to support community newspapers which have proven credibility. There is a lot more to this story, but I just wanted to point out how important the Herald has been for my growth and confidence as a journalist. Despite having very few resources (which also seemed to get even smaller over time), I think I gained a lot of important skills in covering meetings, interviewing, building connections, editing, customer service and more. It was far from an ideal company to work for (to put it mildly), and I’d be lying if I said I was proud of every story I wrote, every issue I put together or even every decision that I made. Still, I think for what I was tasked to do when I took over– take a newspaper that many felt had deteriorated in quality in recent months and return it to form– I’m proud of the overall job I’ve done. It took a long time to get there, but I think the paper throughout 2018 is better than it was in 2017, which was better than it was in 2016, which was better than it was in late 2015. I’ve been glad to oversee or contribute coverage to things like the defeat of the Crude-By-Rail Project, the Valero flareup, the impasse over teacher contract negotiations (both times), one and a half elections and, of course, construction of that infernal stadium. I’m grateful for the people who helped me get in this position, the staff I’ve gotten to work with, the people I’ve gotten to reconnect with, the many amazing people I’ve interviewed or helped arrange for interviews and, of course, the many readers who have supported us even throughout the direst circumstances.
Normally, I would sign off with a goodbye, but I don’t think this is a goodbye. Even when I moved out of Benicia seven years ago, I never entirely stopped visiting and have no plans to do the same when I’m working in Vacaville. (Besides, I want to try that new bakery when it opens.) It has truly been a privilege to return to the community where I spent my adolescence, and please know that the door is not necessarily shut. Thank you for taking the time to read, and play me off, Tom!
Repost from CNN’s Reliable Sources [Editor: The Benicia Independent continues to be alarmed at the loss of local news coverage in our area. Cutbacks at the Benicia Herald and the Vallejo Times-Herald are part of a wider trend. Note that the Benicia Independent is a one-person blog, NOT a local news media outlet. Lacking the resources of beat reporting and investigative journalism, Benicia is definitely located in a “news desert.” Now that New York’s Village Voice has folded, the danger of “news deserts” gets a well-deserved spotlight. Take a look below. – RS]
VIDEO: Solving the problem of ‘news deserts’
With New York’s newsweekly The Village Voice ceasing publication, Michael Daly and Errol Louis discuss the consequences of local “news deserts” and alternative business models for regional media. (Click the image below for the video…)