Newspapers cut back on Benicia reporting
These are hard times for print journalists, reporters and home delivery newspapers. Especially so in Benicia.
On July 6, the Benicia Herald announced 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.