Behind-the-scenes activist/reporter ending public service – group organizing to continue the online news and views
BENICIA – Longtime Benicia activist and reporter/publisher of the Benicia Independent Roger Straw will retire soon. Old issues of the Benicia Independent will be archived and saved for future reference.
Today’s good news is that you can continue to read BenIndy news and views – but with an impressive new design and staffed by a small but growing group of dedicated volunteers. They need more of you to help! If you are even just a little bit interested in contributing, please contact the BenIndy transition group by emailing Nathalie Christian at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Roger will continue to work with this group during a brief transition and will post new content occasionally until the start-up of the new BenIndy.
About the Benicia Independent ~ Eyes on the Environment / Benicia news & views
In 2007, two years after Roger retired from his service in ministry at Benicia’s Community Congregational Church, UCC, he founded the Benicia Independent, an online source for local news and views. The “BenIndy” as it has become known, served initially to highlight charges of political influence in the firing of the editor of Benicia’s print newspaper, the Benicia Herald.
Over the following 16 years, the BenIndy has published over 4,100 articles. It has gone through design changes, upgrades, and a series of single-issue coverages, including the championing of progressive electoral candidates, reporting on environmental issues local and beyond, calling for sensible gun control, racial, cultural and gender justice, immigration reform, a long-running daily log on the pandemic in Solano County (now archived), and more. Perhaps most importantly, the Independent played a major role in stopping Valero Benicia Refinery’s dangerous and dirty crude by rail proposal (also archived) and has kept a close eye on the refinery at every stage since. More: benindy.wpengine.com/about.
How to say good-bye? A brief personal reflection from Roger…
I’m in relatively good health, so no dramatic health concerns are behind my decision to leave public service. But I’m thinking about the future. It’s important to me that I focus on some unmet personal goals. I need to attend to home chores and spend time with family, and I want to slow down a bit for the first time in a more-or-less driven life.
So I’m saying good bye to a fulfilling 25-year chapter of public service in Benicia and welcoming in a new chapter of being productive in an entirely different way.
Please know that it’s a thrill to give over the Benicia Independent to talented others. The BenIndy will no longer be a one-person operation. Any number of you can now volunteer to write up the Benicia news and to express your views on important issues of the day. Contact Nathalie at email@example.com Who knows? I may have to join in on occasion, but not every day or every week, and not under a self-induced pressure to produce on deadline.
… 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.