nameplate-logo.png - 100.3 KB

Ps. Dept: UNLINK!

Once again The Bee shoots itself in the foot...
the other foot!

The first time the Sac Bee attempted foot surgery by gunshot, was in its grand-charade about its online comment pages. I'd participated in those as a commenter for years. Then one day, the Bee began making noises about trolls, and "disturbing posters" and "net courtesy" such. I didn't see much of that on the varied articles where I'd made comments—a little name-calling, once in awhile. Nothing serious.—but, ok, I took them for their word. I figured they'd yank a few yahoo's posting privleges and that would be that.

But it continued. Then, sifted into that motif, the Bee editors started talking about how they were planning to "update" the comment system and make it a whole lot better. Well, that seemed nice. Even I could think of a few features that might improve things. So, ok, that went on for awhile. Then one day I dialed up the comment section to post something and, lo and behold, I couldn't sign on. I tried in numerous ways, attempted to access my login account, and a bunch of other things. No dice.

Finally, after yet-another-attempt to login, I got a message saying that the paper was using a "selected group" of readers to test out its new system. I think there was some invitation with it about "If you wish to participate...fill out..." some form. So I did that. And nothing happened. And I did it again, and again, over the next few weeks. Still nothing.

Now that part I didn't get.They couldn't be deliberately 'de-selecting' me, could they? I had been a good boy on the Bee's comment pages. Oh, make no mistake, I could be tough in an argument, and often was. But I never personalized, called anyone bad names, made ad hominem attacks, or even used bad words (well, maybe "hell" or "damn" a couple of times.) But nothing that could even remotely connected with crossing some netequette line. I was always on-topic, always thoughtful in my remarks, and sometimes even embarrassingly complementary to other posters. So no reason to '86 me from the joint.

Failing their online "selectivity" test, I then sent them a couple of emails explaining the problem, making sure to cite my impeccable record of participation over the years, and the fact that I was also a Bee subscriber. All to know avail. I didn't even get back an automated response to my requests to be signed up. And then it dawned on me...

This wasn't about a new "awesome, super comment system." Nor was it about getting rid of noxious trolls and such. It was really about weeding out readers and writers whose opinions the Bee didn't happen to like. I could think of no other good reason for the exclusions, though I could never verify this suspicion owing to the fact that I couldn't get on the system to see who the "selected group" really was.

After that, it didn't take much thought to realize, more than disconcerting its readers the Bee had really shot itself in its own foot. What happens when you shut down direct, bidirectional communications with the people who buy your product? In the newspaper game, that feedback and comment is critical. You cut it off, or cut out everyone but your own well-managed choir and, you really have no way of assessing whether you're on track, or taking sides and spilling ink that your readers don't and won't support. Indeed, you resemble little more than someone who cheerleads maybe 15% of the people, makes it sound like you're playing everybody's favorite song, and you don't even know the tune, let alone the lyrics. But oh, that's what the Bee did with the arena deal, isn't it? So it makes sense that the'd have so little regard for most of their readership. It's not how think they do business, perhpas. But it is, in the long run, how you lose business.

For awhile (maybe its still there), the Bee provided an ersatz substitute for direct comment, a Facebook page. Please, don't insult us with pretending that's a place we can reach-out and talk back. It's not, & and the Bee knows its not. Well, ok, that's a dead horse. No sense beating it.... They do that fine, all by themselves. Now, about that other foot...

So, I'm estranged from my former hunk-a-news. That's it. I don't have much to do with them, they have nothing to do with me. Until, I need to research a few local stories I read in the paper. So I'm online, on the Bee site and searching something or other. When I find what I'm looking for, I click it. The article comes up alright—for about five seconds. Then there's this dirty grey film over it and a message that tells me "articles over 30 days old have been archived" and are unavailable without paying some kind of fee (99-cents, I think, on a pay per view basis). Well, that's not even an "archive" anymore, is it. Its a retail showroom selling bits of bytes.

I suspect there's more than a few of you reading this who'd like to chime in, "Well, it is a private business, and they really have a right to do what they want, conduct it as they think best. And, besides, somebody has to pay for maintaining those archives.

Let's take the last part of that first, its the easy one. Yes, there is some cost (though small) for maintaining a digital archive. However, consider that it serves them first; their reporters and editors and research staff and others who depend on those archives. So it is something they need to do in any case. Maintaing the servers for public access and such, marginal costs. So somebody "paying for those archives" is really a function of doing business, and shouldn't cost much more for maintaing public access portals for other readers and researchers. It's really just more of the corporate practice of putting a name on something, under the general rubric that, if you can put a name on it, you can put a $-sign on it.

Suffice to say that today's coporate climate has found ways to make you pay several times over what a product costs to make in the first place, plus a tidy profit—before you ever get the widget out the door.

The other part of this self-inflicted wound story has to do with what those archives really represent, and what media and news archives in general are about.

As digitized scraps of paper, yes, they they are just an item which someone collected and sells back to you. History's rag pickers. But newspaper scraps are a wholly different order of "rags". They're the stuff of our own history, the glue that helps to hold our culture together. Those little hide-'em-in-a-vault recollections are really a large chunk of our cultural memory.

In that, the role of a newspaper, lies not only in preserving that stuff, but in making it available to all (if that can be practically done). To put up a troll-gate and monetize those bits of our culture that have been given you by all of us, to them for free, is tantamount to a self-serving act of assault on everyone—us readers, non-readers, your kids, your parents, the rich and the poor.

Not that the Bee is the only one embarking on this path. The other day I got a note in my inbox inviting me to pay $29/yr to the Washington Post for access to its archives. It's become the next wave of inventing revenue streams out of nothing, out of thin air. No, worse, its inventing those streams out of stuff we all provided to them&mdsash;our stories, our events, our joys and our sorrows— absolutely free of charge. Indeed, it's one of the oldest jouralistic canon that a newspaper doesn't pay its sources or its news makers. It would be unethical to do that. So, we can only ask back, how ethical is it for the papers to charge us for things from us took from us, without paying us a nickle for them?

About the "shooting themselves in the foot, self-inflicted wounds" part? Consider, The Z has already made it a policy (a few places in this edition excepted, so readers can see what their toll-gate feels like) not to link to Bee articles. That is despite the fact that we will be discussing many Bee stories, as well as those of other publications and media in the future. I have also stopped posting links to Bee stories on social media, even when they are directly relevant, for the same reason. I will not have my friends and readers staring at a corporate cash-register everytime they wan't to look-see at their own culture-in-the-making for themselves.

Nor do I think I'm alone in this resolve. So what happens when more and more of us opt out of feeding the hand that bites us? Cut by paper-cut, the Bee and those who follow their lead will no longer be on our minds or in our view. We will leave them to slowly bleed out from their own self-inflicted wounds, wondering why all but a very small choir have gone elsewhere to retrieve the memories and histories that belonged to them in the first place.

The Bee won't get it. They will say something like, "Get a grip, red. Get real!" And I can only say back to them, "Get a grip, corporation. Start speaking another reality than the tiresome one you've been saying for so long. It's obsolete. Get real, and get a grip on that."

Now, its off to get some art & po pages designed and installed. That's the place where things that otherwise cannot be said, get said.
Love to all - your harried editor

Breton's Baton-
Lyrics for a Strong Mayor?

Is Marcos Breton really playing a new tune on his "skeptics harp" about the Strong Mayor proposal, or is he just making noises like he once had doubts about it and then changed his mind?

[For a related story on Measure L see page 1 "Nuance or Seance?"]

Bee columnist, Marcos Breton, tells us he's "gone from skeptic to supporter" over the strong-mayor, Measure L business. Is that right? We couldn't find any past columns where he might have hung his former skepticism out in public for us to see. Again, I didn't read the archived columns, not wishing to pay tribute to Ceasar (see "Unlinking", page 1), but the titles were suggestive.

What they suggest is that his columns on strong-mayor stuff weren't all that skeptical. You'd think if he'd had some real doubts at one time, he'd have done a column or two coming out and saying what they were. But it looks like his previous stuff is mostly, if sometimes oily, approving of the idea. We can't say for sure, but it seems so.

In any case, the impression he'd like to give by asserting a former skepticism— that he's somehow thought deeply and had to be convinced— doesn't really seem to wash, judging by the arguments he gives for his "change of heart".

We'll skip his soft-core complaint about the "euphemism" 'strong mayor' which he tosses in as if that were the chief reason the mayor has to struggle to make the proposal fly. It is a "strong mayor" proposal. That's what it does. It gives more power to the mayor than he has at present. or perhaps we should call it a "stronger mayor proposal"? Whatever, Breton is using the complaint to undermine the validity of other arguments that might really stand in the way. If he felt so strongly about euphemisms, I'm wondering why he never seemed to have much trouble with calling people who wanted to let the voters decide whether to risk substantial public assets on on the arena deal as "anti-arena" folks? Some kind of euphemistic inconsistancy there, I'd say.

After that, he launches into the "two-force productivity" theory of municipal managment, which he attributes to Darrell Steinberg. More push and shove, he suggests, because the more power a mayor has, the more productive they all are, or so the theory seems to go. But Breton's suggestion that it's the strong mayor stuff that makes that happen, or that the mayor doesn't have the power to do what he does (wants to do) is sheer nonesense."

There's already oodles of push and shove going on. Just watch a Council meeting closely. You don't even have to know what's going on in the back rooms, there's enough of it right in public view to figure out. And the idea that the mayor, under the current system, doesn't have enough push & shove to get the job done is pretty much voided by the facts on the ground. He has gotten things done under the present system; plenty of things. And big things too.

Couple that with another fact, that our "weak mayor" (or what Marcos would have us believe is weak) actually has a very significant power that none of the other individual Council members enjoy. It's a power that also slices and dices Breton's argument about the mayor "having no corresponding authority attached to the will of the voters."

Has Marcos forgotten the unique power the executive authority, at any level of govenment has, which no one else can quite measure up to (though they like to think they do sometimes, and try.) It's the power of the bully pulpit, if I need remind you. And it's a considerable power.

It's the power that's gotten us into wars, and out of them. It's a power which gave us a social security system, kept us from going under through dozens of crises. Hell, its the power that got us "a republic, if we can keep it." It's a power which is more directly connected to the people than any other power any public official might have. It is the power by which the people are moved in one direction or another, and to which all other public officials, elected or not must yield. That's what really connects our chief executives with us, and it doesn't require a lot of legalese to be effective.

Now Mayor Johnson may not have had a good deal of skill in using that power when he first took office. But he's certainly learned along the way. And it has gotten much done, whether his contentious Council wants to go along or not. Sometimes they win, it's true. But that's the nature of the push&shove which also is well represented in our current system.

Yes, it gums things up sometimes. And yes, there are things with it that might be fixed. But changing your system of governance in a single election cycle because "the mayor might not get elected" if we don't? That's akin to the NBA's "You lose the team if you don't get it together by this arbitrary deadline." That's used car lot governance, not municipal responsibility at work.

Sure, I'm inclined to think that the mayor's office should have a little more to say about the executive operations of city staff and their implementation of both the mayor's and the Council's prorams. But I'm not sure we have to restructure our government to do that (and is there a parallel here to how we just restructured our economy to underwrite a private sports arena?)

'oxymoron', late Greek oxymoron, from neuter of oxymoros pointedly foolish, from Greek oxys sharp, keen + moros foolish, First Known Use: 1657

[fr. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary]


This is—yes we have one—The Editorial Section of the The Z Newspaper.

In fact, the whole damn paper is an editorial section—every article, every word, every typo you find in The Z is an editorial. And, in this,—the premier edition of The Z—ariZing out of the ooZe of "Enough! is Enough!"—& for reasons of prior non-existance—it's my editorial, right down to the last mdash & ampersand—

But then, so is every word you get from every newspaper, broadside, magazine, t.v. broadcast, supermarket tabloid, cat-fancier newsletter or back-fence gossip—all unvarnished

editoralized story-telling...

Here's how an incredibly thoughtful (z-axis?) blogger (a new teacher taking on his first classes in the Bay Area) contextualized the matter for himself in the 'about' section of his blog, zunguzungu:

"I'll sometimes mention my academic work here, which is doubtless fascinating and of great interest to at least one or two other people in the world besides myself. But what I'm slowly groping towards in this blog (by trial and error) is not so much analogous to scholarly writing but something different, what seems to me more suited to the "web-log" form, as you kids are calling it. Scholarly writing aspires towards abstraction and finalized truth, it presumes comprehension of massive data pools, and it brandishes lit reviews and bibliographies as a way of putting forward the polite fiction that we've all read every important book on the subject at hand. We haven't, of course,..."

...and that's the way its been since homo-erectus ran home from his first bee sting—How big was that bee again?—not bothering to mention he was poking the hive with a big stick or humping the neighbor's wife at the time, or whatever he left out, re-framed, talked-around, understated, over-emphasized or pointed at for distraction during the telling. And it's been that way ever since, despite the fact that your news purveyors, reporters and back-yard story tellers alike will all swear they've stuck to the "facts", winnowed everything but the 5W's, remained poker-faced "objective", told it like it was, double-sourced it, and vetted it for any possible strange inclination that might have crept into their editorialized, fantasized, embellished retelling of events no one could dispute.

And The Z's no different than the rest, except...we won't try to hide the fact that it's all editorial, all story-telling. And we won't be pretending you can insulate editorial editorializing from non-editorial editorializing and call the one "hard news", and the other whatever you want to call it. There's just no bright-line between the two, other than pretending there is one and slipping all manner of agenda into something under the cover of that pretense.

more than any other reason I can think of, it is that pretension in our media that shocked&awed this newspaper into existence. The barrage of things pouring out of our mainstream and alternative press that assert their ubiased reportage. No, they're simply unreflective about their own behavior.

Will we succeed? The Z is bound to make some of the same mistakes as all other media do. But what we will try to do for our readers is remain mindful that we are biased, that we cannot avoid inserting our own narrative into everything we offer. We will, however, try to let you in on the hidden narratives behind our articles, rather than trying to manage your thought by pretending there is no editorializing going on around here.

The notion of "pure journalism" is a myth, and one we need to get over if the 21st century is to arrive in time to save itself. The first step in that direction is to admit story-telling is what we do, every time an editor, or reporter or "unbiased observer" puts a —30— at the bottom of their page. We're not simply telling someone else's story, we're telling our own as well.

We can't help it, its hard-wired into our species—

We're Storytellers!

for crissakes. Though, why evolution would have found it useful to throw that capability into the mix of its Best Great Hope For The Future, is anybody's guess. I suppose it seemed like a good idea at the time. And it probably was. At least its been the principle source of endless variety and enrichment for our always-meandering species ever since. I suspect its one of the chief reasons for having great regret about not eating of the fruit of the Tree of Life as well. Wait! That reminds me of a story...

There's More...!

There's a lot ahead and a lot to do for The Z in the months to come...

There's a full comments section that needs to be designed and installed (you know, the kind the Bee shut down on its online pages). You can use the tiny Contact form in the sidebar for now, but we know its not what our readers deserve.

And there's photo and art and other gallaries to get up. Those aren't "extras", we consider them of central importance and absolutely essential for the Z to fulfill its mission. There's oodles of stuff to be done. Most of all, to begin getting your help and contributed articles, which is where The Sacramento Z really begins. For the rest, well, we will all just have to see where it goes. Meantime, here's a preview of some of the things we may be covering in the future:

  • The end-run our city made around democracy, and the media that aided and abetted them. (a Kings arena story)
  • Certainly more on the oil train story as things continue to develop
  • A pretty close look at Cal-Expo's fixation with putting the last large, undeveloped urban public commons in the state on the auction block.
  • How, perhaps why, our local public media stays so risk-averse, refusing to fulfill the real mission of public broadcasting - to provide information of local interest and importance that reflects the issues and diversity of our community.
  • A z-axis solution-set that might yet help to make our corporations "socially responsible".
  • lots of local poetry, art, short stories and such. We view poetry and the arts as that other great creater and repository of our culture and the last, best hope of awakening the imagination that others have tried so hard to kill.
  • Plus a whole lot of articles and ideas that you and other readers of the Z will need to provide. That's where the rubber really meets the road. But for now, you'll just have to put up with my babble and get busy on your z-stories. Arghhhhhhhhhh.
  • ...and, wait! there's more...
  • Yes, we will have a full, open comment section where you can discuss the articles, offer opinions and, most of all, discover each other.
  • Art/Writing pages & layouts worthy of the work of local artists, poets, writers, performers of all kinds. Maybe video, too, someday. For now, you'll have to settle for plain vanilla, and mostly my work at that. Sorry. There's just no time. But the call will go out, and soon....
  • What else? Oh, a zillion ideas come to mind when you put a little imagination and some z-axis thought to it. Till then, I'm solely responsible for all the short-comings, inadequacies and plain old pratfalls. Just blame it on "Red" and let's move on, together.
  • Almost Forgot Dept: 'Letters to the Zee' - yup, we'll have them. Indeed, we'll even take the old ones—you know, the one's you sent to the Bee or SN&R or whereever and they didn't print them. I don't mean the toss-offs and rants and cute-doncha-thinks? But the really tight ones, ones that had something unique to say, something that wasn't same-old-same-old. And you just knew the next day, or week when you saw the spate of trivia and mediocre been-there-done-that stuff they did pick that you weren't rejected for lack of significance or writing caliber. Some other reason, perhaps?

    Well send them to us. If we think they're important and well-written we'll put them in the Z so everyone can read and think about something they might not have seen before.

    And, so we can all get an idea of the kinds of things the other media are rejecting. Is it just "space/topic/quality" call that rule the roost of Ltrs-to-Editors, or is it the fox who is doing the reading? They won't tell us, so maybe we just have to find out for ourselves, yes?

    Good. We'll have more to say on that when we get those pages up. Till then, go fish your wastebasket and see what you've got.


Just for suppose, suppose the Council and the mayor got together and hammered out that, if the mayor wished to hire or fire a senior city executive (the police chief or the city manager), and he could get four solid votes on the Council, then the Council would agree that two other members, even if reluctant, would cough up the other two votes. Yeah, a handshake thing, no absolute legal manacle to enforce it. But that's not to say it couldn't be done,and I know of no law that says it can't be done, with enough accord and co-operative theory of governance.

But, changing the structure of your government is a BIG deal. It might be the thing to do, ultimately. But, I'm equally certain it shouldn't be undertaken in a single election cycle, or even two or three. There's no big rush about this. Nor do I believe the Mayor's re-election (or not) at all depends on the outcome of the strong mayor vote.

That's just a ploy the Bee and others dreamed up to tie the two things together and try to get both. Not much different than the end-run around voter approval for the arena they managed to pull off.

At any rate, I have no idea if the proposed system is a good idea or not. As I mentioned in another article, changing the system by which we govern ourselves isn't about Johnson, or what he can or cannot do, one way or the other. It's about all the mayors that follow him. And a lot may find it helps them accomplish things. But it only takes the one or two bad apples that every city eventually finds themselves stuck with, and regrets won't be hardly enough.

I'm not going to offer any opinion on this proposal at all. Changing systems is a very complex thing and should be approached with the utmost caution. It's not a "lots of other cities have done..." affair. For all we know, they may be headed for some deep doo-doo noboby knows about. We simply don't know. But I can say, in contrast to Breton, how I think people should vote. I think they should vote it down, simply because it needs a few years of real reflection, real public exposure to the idea and real consideration of alternatives we may not even know about at present.

All that, and more, argues for rejecting the strong mayor proposal for the time being. That's not a vote that rejects it outright. Just one that says, this is serious business and we can afford to take are time, here the arguments over time. The NBA isn't calling these shots. We're not competing with some other city to see who gets governed.

And Mayor Johnson? Well, I'll tell you what I think will be most likely to get him elected. It's how he responds to losing the vote— just how gracious and positive and willing to embrace governing without his strong mayor portfolio. Something like him saying, "You know, I got things done in the past under this sytem, and I will keep on getting things done for this city in the future, if you vote me another term. I'm a strong enough mayor, even without a strong mayor system. Now that's a real vote getter in my book, and ironically could only be used if the strong mayor proposal failed. How's that for reasons to vote no?

Well they wouldn't listen to me and the lever was right there so I just *whooooosh* pulled it. - Theodore Honey (Jimmy Stewart), "No Highway in the Sky"