Category Archives: Community journalism

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

Charts of the day: The slow death of print


Two of a series of charts from a new report from the Pew Research Center illustrate the ongoing, agonizing death of the American newspaper.

Asked where they had turned for news during the last 24 hours Boomers, those most closely linked to the traditional print media, revealed this pattern:

BLOG Boomers

And the responses from Gen Xers:

BLOG Boomers xers

Before the Internet, there really were tubes


From the Santa Monica Evening Outlook‘s pneumatic tube system, a leather-capped cylinder used to convey story text, headlines, page layouts, and so much move. The tubes vanished when the paper moved from downtown Santa Monica to an industrial neighborhood. The building demolished in 1979 after it was taken by a friendly eminent domain action to make way for Santa Monica Place, a new indoor mall designed by a trendy young architect, Frank Gehry.

When we moved out, we grabbed one of the tubes, sensing that we were capturing an icon from a vanishing era, the world of linotypes and letterpresses.

This is the only photo we’ve posted that’s been substantially altered by Photoshop, an exception evoked by the subject itself:

26 February 2012, Nikon D300, ISO 320, 60 mm, 1/1600 sec, f3.5

26 February 2012, Nikon D300, ISO 320, 60 mm, 1/1600 sec, f3.5

Arizona Tea Party hates the First Amendment


Tucson citizen journalist Dennis Gilman has become the bane of the the radical right in the Grand Canyon State, relentlessly documenting the activities of neo-Nazi hate groups, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and the state’s Tea Party movement.

His videos and writings have been widely featured in the states alternative media, earning him a major profile in the Phoenix New Times.

A video he’s just posted to his YouTube vlog offers a chilling view of the state’s Tea Party set, captured the hostile ambience at a rally held Saturday on the grounds of the state capitol in Phoenix.

Note that one of the Tea Party crowd who orders Gilman to leave declares that the videographer has no right there because he’s on “private property.” He’s not, but if the event had been held on the grounds of the nearby legislative office buildings, he’d have been right. The state sold the buildings [PDF] three years ago, then leased them back from the new corporate owners.

As the video makes clear, the Tea Party crowd holds no truck with the First Amendment’s right to peaceably assemble, nor with the rights of the free press.

Here’s the video, with Gilman’s comments:

Violent Tea Party Mob Attacks Media. (Raw)

His notes:

This was filmed on the public lawn of the Arizona State Capitol on September 7, 2013 where the “We Are America Tour” added Arizona racist, former State Senate President . . .Russell Pearce. Pearce is famous for SB1070 and his association and endorsement of neo-Nazi JT Ready, who killed an entire family before killing himself in 2012. The local racists have worked closely with FAIR for years. I was there to film the speakers. It’s a safe guess that if Minute Man Founder Chris Simcox wasn’t sitting in jail for multiple counts of child molestation that he would’ve been a speaker at this event also. Is it any wonder why they didn’t want the “liberal Media” filming them? For my own safety, I refused to leave without a police escort. It took over 7 minutes for any law enforcement to arrive. The video is edited only for length.

Image of the day: Newspocalypse Now


The home page of the online edition of the Baltimore Sun, where news is apparently in a state of total eclipse. Via Jim Romenesko:

BLOG Newspocalypse Now

A future for community journalism, or not


In the last decade, a third of newspaper reporting positions have vanished, along with half of newspaper advertising dollars, raising this question: Is there a future to the journalism trade?

Here’s a talking head discussion from C-Span’s The Communicators with Peter Slen sparked by the acquisition of the Washington Post by Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos.

One of the discussants is an industry consultant who also teaches at the UC Berkeley journalism school, while the other is an industry scribe for Bloomberg News.

The real question remains: Will Americans find a way to fund community news? We hope so, but the outlook isn’t good.

The Communicators: The Future of the Newspaper Industry

The program notes:

Alan Mutter, newspaper consultant, and Edmund Lee, Bloomberg News Media Reporter, talk about the newspaper ownership and the future of newspapers and the newspaper industry.

Mutter’s blog, Reflections of a Newsosaur, is a regular esnl read.

That was then: Online newspapers, pre-WWW


San Francisco television station KRON broadcast an optimistic take on how home computers would change the way news is delivered. This clip from 1981 reveals both the technological advances and hints of the potential impacts on the daily press:

Greg Sandoval of C|net writes:

The service was crude by today’s standards. The process of transferring a full digital newspaper to a computer took two hours. The service charged $5 an hour so it meant spending $10 to obtain a paper that could be had for 20 cents at the corner newsstand. Still, KRON reported that of the 2,000 to 3,000 home computer users in the Bay Area, 500 had indicated interest.

It was early to be sure. Mainstream adoption of the PC was still a few years away and the Internet as we know it was still more than a decade in the future.

But the process should have given newspapers a rudimentary understanding of the power of digital distribution. History shows the sector was slow to react to the rise of the Internet. Now, surveys show much of the public prefers receiving news from Web-based sources over newspapers, and many of the country’s most prestigious papers are in financial trouble. Some papers, including The Christian Science Monitor have stopped publishing some print editions.

Read the rest.

We recall the computer systems shown in the clip, and the old acoustic modems that used telephone microphones and speakers to send the data at an incredibly slow pace.

By way of reference, we acquired our first personal computer the same year KRON ran the story, and had we been in the Bay Area at the time, we’d have been part of a very small group. Now the average phone is vastly more powerful and faster than the desktop machines in the clip.