Category Archives: Community journalism

Schadenfreude alert: Setback for a troll


An old friend forwarded an email to us this week, and the body of the text was brief:

Bulldog Reporter has filed for bankruptcy and has closed its’ door for good as of today. It has been a rough road for us and will be an even rougher road ahead for Jim.

The Jim is James Sinkinson, and Bulldog Reporter was a newsletter for the public relations industry, full of tips on how to cozzen an already enfeebled press into reproducing corporate, political, and NGO press releases in the news media.

More on the bankruptcy from O’Dwyer’s:

Bulldog Reporter, founded in 1979 and which has covered PR and the media for the Infocom Group since 1986, has ceased operations, it was announced by Jim Sinkinson, publisher.

He said that many of the website’s key products and services have declined in profitability and it is winding down its relationships with clients and vendors.

Legal assistance has been retained to assess options in bringing the business to a close.

Some of the 11 members on the masthead of the publication are in the job market.

Sinkinson is also a militant Ziocon, and one of the three main instigators of a ruthless campaign that finally cost the Berkeley Daily Planet many of its advertisers, hastening the newspaper’s demise as a print publication and leaving the city without a non-collegiate newspaper.

Sinkinson and his partners smeared the paper and its publisher with the brush of antisemitism and made all manner of false charges, which we debunked in an extensive investigation.

Sinkinson wrote each of the Daily Planet‘s advertisers and warned them that should they continue to buy ads, they would create backlash in Berkeley’s richest neighborhoods, where the city’s Jewish population is concentrated.

In addition, militant acolytes would show up in businesses, and one advertiser told us she had been left frightened for her well-being after one such visit and would, therefore reluctantly have to discontinue her ads.

Back in 2009 when his campaign was running at fever pitch, Hamilton Nolan of Gawker wrote this about Sinkinson and his war on the newspaper:

Jim Sinkinson, the publisher of Infocom Group and owner of Bulldog Reporter, which many of you PR people subscribe to in an effort to more effectively influence journalists, is currently leading a campaign to put The Berkeley Daily Planet, a liberal weekly, out of business, because he doesn’t like the fact that they publish “letters and other commentary pieces critical of Israel.”

“We think that [Daily Planet editor Becky] O’Malley is addicted to anti-Israel expression just as an alcoholic is to drinking,” Jim Sinkinson, who has led the campaign to discourage advertisers, wrote in an e-mail message… “If she wants to serve and please the East Bay Jewish community, she would be safer avoiding the subject entirely.”

Please, take a moment to reflect on the unapologetically gangster philosophy behind that quote. Reflect, also, on the fact that Sinkinson objects to the paper publishing submitted items that are not even part of the paper’s own editorial output. In other words, this “media relations” mogul objects to free speech, and is an asshole of the first order.

“Serve and please”? Really?

So we will dedicate the following video to Sinkinson, via graphic artist Shane Koyczan:

Troll — Shane Koyczan

Program note:

From the album and Graphic novel, ‘Silence Is A Song I Know All The Words To’ available for purchase, here.

We do hope those 11 folks who lost their jobs will find new employment.

Another Berkeley shaker: Clocks in at 2.6


The temblor hit at 7;41 p.m., with an epicenter southeast of UC Berkeley’s Clark Kerr campus, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

More information here.

Quote of the day: Media, cars, & loss of place


From an interview of California author and journalist Richard Rodriguez by New America Media Executive Director Sandy Close:

To what extent is the fall, the decline in literacy, related to what’s happening to news sources and the changes in the news landscape?

The greatest catastrophe of the news right now is that we’ve given up the notion of news related to place. That’s related I think to the fact that people are not living in the place where they are living anymore. So they no longer care what’s going on in Omaha, Nebraska because they don’t live in Omaha, Nebraska. They listen to Rush Limbaugh and he’s in Florida. They argue with John Stewart and he’s in New York. And they live in a kind of global news empire that has nothing to do, or very little to do, with place. They’re not interested in Omaha, Nebraska.

So what do you see replacing the city newspaper? Is it global news sources? And are people preoccupied with news?

I think people are preoccupied largely with the official news operations with national news out of Washington and groups like Politico. The movement of magazines, the Atlantic Monthly from Boston to Washington, for example, was a very shrewd move because the elite interest right now is in politics! National politics. And in so far as Omaha, Nebraska is concerned it’s only in relationship to Washington.

The essay I wrote on the death of the American newspaper is written as an obituary, precisely because what I was trying to suggest in the piece is that the obituary itself is out of date. People are dying now in my society and their deaths are not being noted in any official obituary.

In some way the death of the American newspaper is related to the death of the American cemetery. People are not being buried in cemeteries anymore. There’s no place for the dead go to, so in some sense Gramps died and we spill his ashes somewhere in the lake or by the sea and no one knows where it is. Or we put Gramp’s ashes in the call-set next to the Christmas tree ornaments. That lack of place I would argue is very deep and I think it’s related to the rise of digital technology.

In what way?

I’m of the opinion that we invented Henry Ford. Henry Ford didn’t invent us. We wanted something, we wanted mobility, we wanted to get away from our in-laws, and we invented this man who gave us a cheap automobile and then we invented the interstate highway system to get as far away from our in-laws and then we found in the suburbs that we were lonely and we invented Steve Jobs, who himself was a son of the suburbs.

Jobs grew up in Mountain View, CA, which is suburban. He was bullied in junior high school and told his parents that because of the black and Mexican kids, “If I have to stay at this school, I’m going to drop out of school.” So they moved to a suburb more suburban, Los Altos, and in many ways what Jobs intuited was this ability to connect to the world without connecting to the world. You could go shopping without leaving your chair. You could meet the entire world without leaving your chair. You could have sex without leaving your chair. And in many ways the success of the Internet is related to the loneliness that generated it and that it tries to, in some sense, alleviate.

PhotoPlay: Encountering a bellicose scofflaw


Back toward the end of our reporting days with the Berkeley Daily Planet, we set out one afternoon to cover a story, then made an impromptu decision to photograph of some of the properties of Reza Valiyee, a landlord who routinely flouted city zoning laws, transforming yards into concrete parking spaces needed to accommodate students who rented former single-family residence and small apartments transformed by more non-permitted construction into densely packed rooming houses. [For one former tenant's account of life of one of Valiyee's abodes see this post at Miheespeaking's Blog, which also uses one of our photos without attribution.]

Even with the concrete paving expanses, the resulting dwellings grabbed more scarce street parking, irritating neighbors, who flooded the city with complaints.

Oh, and he also claims to have invented a perpetual motion machine.

A photographic close encounter

Here’s what happened when slowed our car and grabbed our camera to shoot one instance of concrete metastasis.

As I grabbed my first shot, an overall-clad worker alerted the gentlemen in center frame, who then stomped over his non-permitted curb cut, the non-permitted concrete expanses visible in the background.

13 August 2009, Nikon D300, ISO 320, 48 mm, 1/1000 sec, f5.6

13 August 2009, Nikon D300, ISO 320, 48 mm, 1/1000 sec, f5.6

It was, of course, Reza Valiyee, who thrust his hand through the open car window and made a grab for my not-inexpensive camera and lens, banging the Nikon body into our eyeglasses.

13 August 2009, Nikon D300, ISO 320, 18 mm, 1/4000 sec, f5.6

13 August 2009, Nikon D300, ISO 320, 18 mm, 1/4000 sec, f5.6

Needless to say, we kept shooting, getting this:.

13 August 2009, Nikon D300, ISO 320, 38 mm, 1/640 sec, f5.6

13 August 2009, Nikon D300, ISO 320, 38 mm, 1/640 sec, f5.6

Here’s how we described the 13 August 2009 encounter in a 20 August Berkeley Daily Planet story, which only used the last of the photos.

A reporter who drove past one of his properties Friday afternoon found himself in a momentarily tense confrontation with the scofflaw landlord.

Within seconds after the reporter began shooting photographs from inside his car of a Valiyee rental at the southwest corner of Ellsworth and Derby streets, a worker doing plumbing repairs spotted the camera and went to fetch Valiyee.

The pair approached the car, and both men repeatedly reached inside the car to cover the camera lens, the worker demanding, “Where’s your permit to take pictures?”

“It’s called the First Amendment,” the reporter replied.

Finally Valiyee told his employee to ease off, and he asked the reporter why he was taking pictures.

After he was told that neighbors had complained about illegal construction, Valiyee said, “All I am doing is providing housing for students who really need it.”

Chart of the day: Minority journo hiring plunges


Yet another proof of the decline and fall of American journalism, via the Pew Research Center:

BLOG Journos

PINAC and the ongoing war on photography


While the First Amendment guarantees free speech to everyone inside the United States, that right has been increasingly compromised in recent years, as we have witnessed firsthand in our journalistic endeavors.

Nowhere has this trend become more apparent than in the case of people attempting to document the actions of officialdom, particularly in those case of those empowered to use deadly force on behalf of the state.

We experienced firsthand that use of force when working here in Berkeley as a reporter for the local print newspaper, as we reported 18 June 2008:

This Berkeley Daily Planet reporter was threatened with arrest after he questioned an officer’s order to leave the rim of the stadium, the only place where activities of the officers could be monitored.

As the reporter was leaving, he was shoved in the back by a university officer and would have fallen down the concrete stairs had not he been grabbed by Doug Buckwald, one of the long-time supporters of the tree-sit.

Officer C. Chichester, badge 36, told this reporter, who was carrying valuable camera gear, that if he were arrested, “Who knows what would happen to your camera equipment when you’re in jail?”

The stadium rim was the only place from which a journalist could have a view of the events unfolding in the grove below. It was from the rim that the reporter saw one of the cranes brush a support line, from which a tree-sitter was suspended between two evergreens at least 50 feet apart.

Millipede, the treesitters suspended from the line, screamed in terror. She was the same tree-sitter arrested hours later. University spokesperson Dan Mogulof said she had bitten one of the workers.

Zachary Running Wolf, the first of the tree-sitters, said she and other protesters had been terrified when the arborists placed a saw next to the lines from which the tree-sitters were suspended between the trees.

Read the rest.

We’ve posted repeatedly about the ongoing law enforcement efforts to supress the power of the lens, indelibly demonstrated by the Rodney King beating video, so powerful that after officers involved were acquitted, Los Angeles erupted in flames.

We’ve followed Photography is Not a Crime for several years, a website devoted to covering confrontations between law enforcement and photographers, both amateur and professional. And so it was with considerable interest we discovered this video report from WeAreChange:

The Amazing Accidental Start of Photography Is Not A Crime!

Program notes:

In this video Luke Rudkowski of WeAreChange sits down with the one and only epic story teller Carlos Miller from Photography Is Not A Crime (PINAC). Carlos recounts a story in which he was assaulted simply for taking pictures. WeAreChange learns more about what inspired Carlos to create PINAC and the subsequent evolution of the blog. Film power tripping Police officers & know your rights Learn more about PINAC @ http://photographyisnotacrime.com

A blast for the past: Newsrooms and toe gum


Just for the fun of it, our very first esnl post, from 22 October 2009. As of now, 9,605 other posts have followed:

I’ve joined the legion of downsized journalists. The Berkeley Daily Planet laid me off Monday, leaving me with time to work on this blog, a gift from a dear friend, inspiration, and future contributor.

American journalism is dead.

I wrote my first newspaper story in 1964, in the closing days of the era when the ink-stained wretch was king [and a few queens as well] and newsrooms were peopled with folks with sharp elbows, sharper tongues and a camaraderie that doesn’t thrive in today’s newsrooms, where many a reporter nurtures dark hopes that her neighbor, not her, will be the next victim of the accountant’s ax.

When I started in the business, anyone with a decent set of clips could walk into any medium-sized burg in the country and count on landing a job within days, at most weeks.

This is my first post, one of what will be an occasional series about te changes I’ve seen in newsrooms over the past forty-plus years. And I promise I’ll throw in some toe gum along the way.

Toe gum? Read on. . .

My first job at a daily paper was at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, where I covered civil rights, radical politics, the war on poverty, conventions and night cops–the last one being the traditional assignment of rookie reporters.

I had a great city editor, Tom Wilson, who taught me the basic skills of the craft, the foremost being “Ya gotta put some toe gum in your stories.”

Toe gum?

Yep. Toe gum.

“Brenneman,” he said after I’d turned in my first few stories, “y0u’ve got what it takes to be a good reporter. You know how to ask questions, and you can write a good sentence. But the problem is that you don’t put any toe gum in your stories.”

My eyebrows shot up. I knew a reporter was supposed to write a lead that, in 25 words or so, included the who, what, when, where and how, with the why coming in the second graf at the latest. But toe gum?

Tom smiled.

“You gotta think about who you’re writing for,” he drawled. “Now you work the swing shift, and that means your stories go out in the edition that hits the casinos and hotels when the midnight shift is getting off. Folks who want to buy a paper, take it home and give it a read.

“Now imagine you’re writing for a cabbie. He’s been haulin’ around a bunch of drunken tourists all evening long. He’s been yelled at, maybe cleaned some puke out of the back seat, and his ass is numb from sittin’ on dead springs for eight hours straight.

“Now when he gets home and opens the door, he’s gonna head straight for his easy chair. He’s gonna slip off his shoes and socks, then rub his feet and rub out all that gum that’s built up between his toes. Then he’s gonna lean back and open up his paper.

“He doesn’t want to read an academic dissertation. He wants to read something that tells him about his world in a way that means something to him. He’s who you’re writing for. So put some damn toe gum in your stories, Brenneman!”

After that, whenever the academic in me threatened to come out, Tom would throw the story back at me with the simple instruction, “Needs toe gum.”

I’ll be forever grateful.

We were later able to discover a picture of Tom Wilson as he appeared 35 years later with a new [to us] crop of chin whiskers. When we tried to return to it for a more accurate date and an update on Wilson’s career, but the site had vanished. . .

Tom Wilson, a writer's editor

Tom Wilson, a writer’s editor