At the risk of detracting from important election issues, I will take just a moment to point out a few facts:
The Benicia Independent is a personal blog with my own take on local, national and international concerns of my choosing.
The Benicia Independent is not and does not present itself as a mainstream news media with “balanced” coverage and a staff of reporters who interview and investigate. In my blog postings I hold to ethical standards, citing my sources and maintaining truthfulness and courtesy.
Unlike many personal blogs, the Benicia Independent does post legitimate breaking news stories. This function is increasingly important given the cutbacks in staffing and coverage at our two local newspapers.
The Benicia Independent is not a social media forum like Facebook, Nextdoor or Benicia Happenings. The care and feeding of commenters is beyond my reserves of time and energy.
The Benicia Independent was criticized recently by one of the candidates for City Council at a public forum. That candidate is no doubt miffed by the relative lack of attention he has received on the Benicia Independent. That lack of coverage is intentional. His last-minute, eccentric, unfunded and poorly supported campaign will only draw votes away from more qualified and widely supported candidates.
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…)
These are hard times for print journalists, reporters and home delivery newspapers. Especially so in Benicia.
On July 6, the Benicia Heraldannounced a cutback in print publication to 3 days per week. And this week I asked the editor of our larger neighbor newspaper, the Vallejo Times-Herald who on their staff is currently covering Benicia and the editor replied, “Nobody is covering Benicia.” The East Bay Times, formerly the Contra Costa Times, quit covering Benicia long ago.
These days, knowing what goes on in Benicia is pretty much a do-it-yourself operation, with amateurs doing the reporting. For the most part, we need to log in to a social network on a computer or subscribe to alerts on a smart phone. It’s hit or miss at best.
The editor of the Vallejo Times-Herald is open to publishing stories about Benicia. In editor Jack Bungart’s words, “We’ll try and pick up what we can.” I take this to mean that we will see official press releases from the Benicia Police or City Hall. Hopefully, they will print stories and press releases authored by citizens, too?
Nick Sestanovich, editor at the Benicia Herald, has been responsive in publishing news generated by citizens, but he has no staff reporters other than himself. He has done a good job covering City Council meetings lately, but he can’t possibly attend the large number of other commissions, organizations and events, not to mention reporting on human interest stories, sorting out the facts regarding local controversies, doing interviews, and following up on investigative leads.
Now that the Herald will only go out on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, the number of Benicia stories will clearly decrease. We haven’t been told whether Nick’s hours will be cut – hopefully not. Will he continue to cover some – if fewer – important events, or, like the Vallejo paper, will he need to rely increasingly on official press releases?
This is important: city press releases don’t begin to approximate the important role of a free press. Nothing against our City staff, but news should be ABOUT the city, not BY the city. Same could be said of citizen initiatives and watchdog activities. Independent reporting is a foundation of American democracy.
The Benicia Independent can’t do it. I’m a one-person operation, and my work here has been and continues to be advocacy on select issues that are important to me, mostly local and mostly on the environment. I report on gun violence and a few other important issues of our times, but I don’t pretend to cover Benicia in the way that a local news periodical can and should.
It’s a sad day when there is next to no one actually reporting on the affairs of our beautiful and interesting, newsworthy town.