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RANDOM LINKS FOR 1/12/12
Jan 11th, 2012 by Clark Humphrey

auroramills.com

  • Sad news in junk-food land. The makers of Hostess cakes and Wonder Bread, once known as Continental Baking but now the privately held Hostess Brands, is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. A needed step for survival, or a ploy to get out of pension obligations? No matter what happens, I will always remember my early fondness for Hostess Sno Balls. Even at a tender age, two white hemispheres meant something to me somehow….
  • Let’s welcome the newest member to the Northwest online news family, Olympia Newsriver. Its mission: to track the legislative progress (or lack thereof) on “key bills supported and opposed by Washington’s progressive movement.”
  • Microsoft received a patent for a smartphone-based GPS system, aimed at pedestrians instead of drivers. Part of the patent application stated the software would help walkers avoid “unsafe neighborhoods.” Disguised racism, say some detractors.
  • Occupy Seattle is not only without a campsite, it may also be breaking apart. One contributing factor: ideological radicals within the movement won’t commit to strictly nonviolent actions.
  • Ex-Seattle mayor Greg Nickels says he might run for Wash. secretary of state.
  • Seattle’s second anarchist squat house in the past year has been forcibly evicted.
  • Not only is Wash. state failing its commitment to fund public schools, it’s not even trying to fund previously passed reform plans for the schools (class size reduction, etc.).
  • Amazon news item #1: “Celebrity librarian” Nancy Pearl is teaming up with the e-tail giant to reissue worthy out-of-print books.
  • Amazon news item #2: One or more individuals in South Lake Union have put up street posters calling out a noisy minority of the company’s workforce there, calling them inconsiderate “Am Holes.” Trust me: a certain percentage of socially deaf dorks can be found at any tech company. During the early dot-com days of the mid 1990s, such dorks seemed to be everywhere.
  • Get set for more rich/poor class conflict in the coming year, just as the Republicans and many Democrats place themselves firmly on the “rich” side.
  • The Gannett Co.’s local newspapers may start charging for web access soon, according to buzz within the biz. The subscription fee would kick in beyond a certain small number of pages accessed per month, the way the NY Times does it. Of course, the NYT is a big, substantial product with global reach. Could the Salem, OR Statesman-Journal (the Northwest’s last Gannett-owned daily) similarly command a price for its online presence? (No word yet on whether Gannett’s flagship USA Today will also go behind a paywall.)
  • The self styled “Father of the Internet” claims online access is not per se a human right, but rather “an enabler of rights.”
  • Workers at a Foxconn electronics assembly plant in China threatened mass suicide, standing on the factory roof for two days until they were coaxed down. It follows 14 suicides (plus four unsuccessful attempts) at the company’s plants in 2010. They died, and countless other workers have cracked or burned out, so western companies can get the absolute cheapest price for product.
RANDOM LINKS FOR 9/20/11
Sep 19th, 2011 by Clark Humphrey

no, not *that* ziggy.

  • RIP: Ziggy comic creator Tom Wilson Sr. (Wilson Jr.’s been drawing the panel for several years now.)
  • The Nirvana Nevermind 20th anniversary concert occurs tonight at EMP. It sold out the hour it was announced. But you can still experience the show (a benefit for longtime Seattle music figure Susie Tennant’s cancer treatments). The whole thing will be streamed live online, at 10 p.m.
  • The Seattle Storm won’t repeat as WNBA champs, having been knocked out in the first playoff round.
  • The owners of the old Twin Peaks sawmill are accused of causing flooding in the town of Snoqualmie, by putting fill dirt on part of the site, thus interfering with drainage.
  • The anarchist storefront meeting hall and music club has closed. As would be expected, its operators blamed the cops and “rich, whiny” neighbors.
  • Sen. Maria Cantwell’s re-election theme: She’s stood up to Wall Street more than Obama’s done so far.
  • Greg Nickels threatens to run for mayor again.
  • Now being test-marketed at Costco stores (though not at any around here): wedding dresses.
  • PETA now wants to get rid of fishing, at least fishing with hooks.
  • Criminals have a new way to learn how to break into businesses—by breaking into their WiFi networks first.
  • There’s a “Moving Planet Seattle” rally at Lake Union Park this Saturday. People are converging there from all over town, using any means of locomotion other than fossil-fuel motors. And when you’re done celebrating foot power there, you can head over to Capitol Hill for another celebration of foot power….
I'M LIVEBLOGGING TODAY…
Jan 28th, 2009 by Clark Humphrey

…from the handsome Seattle City Council chambers. The room, and the new City Hall it’s in, may go down in history as among the last huge publicly-funded examples of New Seattle world-class-osity before economic conditions made such statements fiscally obsolete.

Today’s meeting is of the council’s Culture, Civil Rights, Health and Personnel Committee. (I wouldn’t have put all those functions in one heap, but what do I know?)

Nick Licata heads this committee. Jean Godden and Tom Rasmussen are also here. Right now, they’re going through regular committee business, to wit interviewing potential members of a LGBT health task force. The item I’m here for, a panel discussion on saving daily newspapers, will follow later in the meeting.

So let me give you a verbal image of the chambers, since many of you haven’t been here. It’s a big, bright, uber-clean room finished in light wood tones, glass, polished steel, and black vinyl seat covers.

Now the newspaper panel’s being seated.

Your panelists are:

  • Roger Simpson and Doug Underwood, UW communications profs.
  • Liz Brown, Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild.
  • Tracey Record, West Seattle Blog.
  • Anne Bremner, co-chair of Committee for a Two-Newspaper Town.
  • David Brewster, founder of Crosscut and Seattle Weekly.
  • Jennifer Towney, Peoria (IL) Newspaper Guild (by phone).
  • Beth Hester, station manager, Seattle Channel.

Licata’s now reading from Jim McDermott’s P-I guest op-ed. I’ll post a link to it later. (Update: Here it is.)

Now, Licata’s reciting statistics about the Huffington Post. It’s more popular than all but eight newspaper sites. He didn’t mention that HuffPo still doesn’t pay its bloggers.

Licata sez he loves reading print, but acknowledges “we may all have to adopt to our changing ways.”

Prof. Roger Simpson tells of his long career working for newspapers and being a scholar about them. We’ve had daily newspapers for 220 years. Presently 1,400 dailies in the US, down 200 from 20 years ago. Total readership’s steadily declined also. In 1900, most households got 2-3 papers a day. Now, less than half even get one. “The newspaper though has always been the center for the consciousness of a community.”

The government, Simpson notes, has been wary of regulating this industry from an antitrust standpoint, until joint operating agreements were OK’d in 1972. Twenty-nine JOAs eventually formed. Today there are only nine JOAs left, including Seattle’s.

Prof. Underwood continues the talk about the industry’s changes. The newspaper we know is a product of an industrial era, and is subject to changes in technologies. JOAs, he says, were undermined when the Feds allowed the second papers in St. Louis and Miami to shut down but continue to share profits with the surviving papers of their towns.

Underwood says local-monopoly papers have become stodgy, and are having a hard time transforming themselves. Sites like HuffPo draw readers more effectively than papers’ sites with personalities and panache. But sites like HuffPo “depend on existing news companies to provide the product they riff off of.” In Norway the govt. subsidizes second newspapers in major cities. Should we?

Bremner: We started the Committee for a Two-Newspaper Town [CTNT] in ’03. Every citizen has a public responsibility. There’s so many important issues for us in having two newspapers in this town. We were pleased to be involved all the way in preserving the P-I for a while.

Bremner introduces Kathy George, one of her committee colleagues (and a onetime P-I reporter). She says they’re considering all options. A few ideas people are kicking around: Finding a civic-minded buyer or group to buy the P-I. The city council could provide leadership in guiding a purchase. Creating an endowment or non-profit to support in-depth reporting on local government and other community interests. Creating an employee-owned newspaper, such as the one in Omaha. You’ve read in local blogs about the possibility of creating a local public development authority. An online-only P-I is better than no P-I. But CTNT calls on Hearst to reveal its intentions as soon as possible, and to publicly reveal whether Hearst is making its annual, required $1 million payment to reserve its first right to buy the Seattle Times, should the latter be offered for sale. The public’s help in seeking these answers is invited.

Godden asks if an online-only P-I would still be part of a JOA. Kathy says the terms of the JOA are ambiguous about this.

Jane (sorry, no last name recorded here), another CTNT associate, asks Underwood about Norway’s subsidized papers. Underwood says there are official barriers keeping governments from influencing editorial content in these papers.

Licata asks Brown about Hearst announcing it may fire all the P-I staff. Brown mentions the Rocky Mountain News, Detroit News, and Chicago Sun-Times facing potential demise. The Baltimore Sun and Minneapolis Star-Tribune are in bankruptcy.

Newspaper Guild membership has gone from 820 to 420 members locally since ’00. Unionized press workers have gone from 140 to 43. Some 120 P-I jobs may be lost.

Brown says the Guild’s negotiating severance conditions with the P-I. She says Hearst said they didn’t know whether they’ll keep the option to buy the Times. “You don’t hear a lot of journalists out there talking about what’s happening… I don’t think they feel empowered to talk about the conditions of their industry.”

Towney, on the phone from Illinois, expresses her alarm about Starbucks’ layoffs. “Coffee and newspapers go together.” She lauds the value of reporters who have the time/money for long term research. Models she’s explored: Employee ownership, co-op ownership (“serving members over profits, in this case readers”), and non-profit ownership, a la NPR. She notes four papers in the US are owned by charitable trusts, but the papers themselves are still organized as for-profit entities. Her Peoria group opted to explore a hybrid of the three models. It would have both employee and community stockholders, and would be tied somehow to a subsidized non-profit. The Peoria paper had been employee-owned in the 1980s, then sold to a chain for $175 million. But that chain put it up for sale in 2006. The staff looked to the community for help. The paper was bought by another chain instead. The Peoria Guild held a public meeting to gather support. “The only thing stopping us from putting it out to the community is we don’t have a credible [business] model if we run a paper the way papers are run the way they’ve been run.”

Towney continues: They next explored an “L3C” organization. “Low profit limited liability corporation.” A foundation can invest in it. Its charter says community service comes before profit. Companies under it must create jobs and provide vital social benefits. “It opens up new funding channels.” The IRS, though, has consistently denied non-profit status to newspapers. Congress is now about to introduce a bill to allow L3Cs nationally.

Record: When you talk about saving newspapers, you really talk about saving journalism. Newspapers as a product and an organizational model may be becoming obsolete.

There are new ways of news gathering and dissemination coming up. In some ways they may be better than newsprint. Her site and similar ones around town have 100,000 regular readers; specifically in neighborhood-specific info. “We are serving our neighborhoods on a granular level to a greater extent than may have ever been done before.” Don’t be afraid of the future necessarily. Find ways to support journalism, the people who do the incredible work. This may be in blogs and smaller online operations. Her site is finally paying its way. Also: More discussion should be put into increasing information access to seniors and low-income people who don’t have computers.

Brewster: The news industry needs to find other bases of revenue other than advertising. The promise of flow of advertising revenue to the web is still a promise but it has slowed down. There are six other local web-only news sites around the country. In San Diego, Dallas, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Vancouver. The ones that are doing well are non-profit. Crosscut has converted into a non-profit corporation, Crosscut Public Media. It goes from one revenue stream, advertising, to three. The others are membership, as in public radio, and grants.

“Allow these web developments to flourish instead of planting new big oak trees to overshadow them.” Good stuff will grow underneath that if you let them and don’t impose solutions.

Young readers are very adept at navigating this [online] landscape. It doesn’t take the kind of mediation and paternalism these older models have provided.

Relax a bit. Allow the creativity, the ingenuity to figure what are good ways this will come about. It probably won’t be the Twin Peaks model of two equally large newspapers. It will probably be something with one large peak and 14 smaller peaks.
Licata asks Brewster, are these web projects hobbies for their contributors or real careers? Brewster: about three quarters of Crosscut’s writers are reimbursed, some at wages that can get you through life, some below that. The model is definitely to pay writers. Record: Our writers are paid, and we expect pro journalism standards from them.

Hester: Our footprint is local. While we don’t have great numbers of viewers on cable, online our numbers have grown tremendously; 5 million hits last year, twice the year before. We’re definitely trying to accommodate the transition to online. I don’t mean just taking our television product and putting it online, but providing additional information and interaction.

I don’t have the answer for print, other than this: We’ve actually been the beneficiary of corporate media downsizing. We’ve been able to use the resources of very talented people who’ve worked here in print and TV.

Yet we certainly don’t have the capacity to make up for the loss of talent in investigative reporting that comes from print journalism.

Underwood talks about the need for “the public sphere.” The Super Bowl’s the only place anymore where you can run ads that everyone will see. For many years, our democracy has thrived despite horrible coverage by the newspapers. Our UW interns provide half the Olympia press corps of the entire state. There are ways to do better journalism than has been done by the dailies. But where do we re-create the “public sphere,” some viable place which carries a sense of importance.
Someone in the audience asks via a notecard if the P-I could become a regional insert in the NY Times. Underwood remarks that we’d have to see it the NYT remains viable.

Brewster lauds the cooperation and “coop-etition” among online news sites/blogs.
Bremner: It’s not blogs or papers. It’s both. But there’s civic pride at stake here. We’re losing a part of Seattle.
Godden asks Simpson about the role of universities in supporting an independent voice in local journalism. Simpson notes the UW’s intern programs and other ways the U connects to the community. Underwood notes the Univ. of Missouri runs the “second paper” in Columbia MO. Serious journalists in all these areas will need to get together and figure out what the new model is.

Record notes corporate ownership of media isn’t necessarily something to save at all costs.

Licata asks how these new models will allow people the time for investigative reporting, and jokingly states, “the city of Seattle is not going to buy the P-I.” Yet he’d like to play a role in finding a solution. “I think at least we helped in this event to raise awareness.”

I’m back home now. What did we learn from this?

We learned about L3C corporations. A quick online search seems to imply these currently exist only in Vermont. And we heard a lot of people give general ideas on how the journalism profession as a whole may be going in the next few years, or how they wished it would be going.

We didn’t hear any concrete schemes to save the printed P-I and/or seattlepi.com.

But then again, it’s still Hearst’s thang, to sell or scrap as it wishes.

I wish there was some real civic leadership around here, to herd and announce a big group of civic-minded investors to first take the P-I local, then to mold the product and the organization into something with staying power.

SIMS CITY DEPT.
Oct 12th, 2007 by Clark Humphrey

King County Executive Ron Sims has no official jurisdiction over the city-owned Seattle Center. That hasn’t stopped him from expressing his citizen’s right to suggest how he’d change the place.

Like most of the big plans about the Center floated lately by Mayor Greg Nickels, David Brewster, and others, Rice’s plan would raze the Fun Forest amusement park and High School Memorial Stadium.

Like some of these plans, Rice’s would raze KeyArena and the Northwest Court buildings, including the current Vera Project space. (Perhaps Rice hopes to bring the Sonics and Storm to a new suburban home.)

Like all of these plans, it would add lots more green park space and fancy landscaping, creating yet another New Seattle monument to world-class-osity. (Or, as Sims’s staff puts it, “a destination known worldwide.”)

Unlike the previous plans, Sims’s would add artist live-work spaces and a transit center. His office issued a “slide show” .pdf depicting old-fashioned trolley cars along Mercer Street.

I like the trolley idea. I’d like it better if Sims had said where these trolleys would go from and to.

My take on this, and all the other Center schemes: We don’t need another sculpture park. We don’t need another impeccably manicured cover scene for architectural magazines.

We need a homey, informal “back yard” serving, and welcome to, all ages and classes, for the widest possible variety of public uses.

So I want to keep high school football there.

I want to keep carny rides there.

I want to keep miniature-freakin’-golf there.

THE REAL SODO MOJO
Aug 30th, 2007 by Clark Humphrey

Mayor Nickels now wants to ensure that Seattle “industrial” areas remain preserved for industry, after previously appearing to support condo/offices/retail development on every tract of land not reserved for single-family homes.

Let’s hope the scheme succeeds. We could use living-wage jobs. And as a community we need the connection to physical-level reality we get when more of us are involved in making physical, tangible things. This is especially vital as more and more of America’s stuff-making capacity is transferred to low-wage countries.

Let’s just stay vigilant about the definition of zoning-official “industrial” activity.

Software offices are not industrial.

Biotech offices are not industrial.

(And for that matter, architectural offices are not “artist spaces.”)

PRINT MEDIA DEATH WATCH DEPT.
Nov 6th, 2006 by Clark Humphrey

The new out-of-state management of Seattle Weekly is already failing miserably, just months after persuading all its top editors to quit.

The latest feces-storm: An unfunny “fake news” parody story alleging that Mayor Greg Nickels was spending $750,000 of city money on private soirees, starring big-name easy listening musicians.

The story, by chain-installed editor Mike Seely and filled with fabricated quotes from real political figures, doesn’t officially announce its ficticious status. The nightclubs it mentions (La Rustica and 5 West) are real businesses. Easy listening (or, under its more pretentious rubric, “smooth jazz”) is the known musical genre-of-choice for large swaths of the civic establishment (including several former Weekly editors). At least three people have asked me if the article was true; and, if so, why nobody else in the local news media has followed up on it.

In response to this childish, purposeless self-demolition of the paper’s 31-year journalistic reputation, two more longtime Weekly contributors have allegedly quit. (I haven’t confirmed the names yet.)

So why would Seely print something so simultaneously sophomoric and credibility-damaging? Either:

1) The New Times Publishing higher-ups thought it would be a great change-O-pace; or

2) Seely and/or his bosses felt desperate to get themselves some of that Stranger wacky-hip street cred.

The Weekly tried that before, albeit less severely, when it was first bought up by the chain that sold out to the chain that owns it now. Back then, it was sad, like a dowager dolled up like a young tart. Now, it’s closer to dangerous, like an elderly skier who can’t be persuaded away from the widowmaker slope.

THE SURREAL WORLD
Jul 17th, 2006 by Clark Humphrey

CBS has signed up for promotional announcements on perishable food products.

Meanwhile, CBS’s former parent co. Viacom is allegedly in talks to buy The Onion, the satirical newspaper and Web site originally co-founded by some of the original Stranger crew.

And Seattle mayor Greg Nickels, sounding more like his onetime election opponent Mark Sidran every week, told a Seattle Channel talk-show caller that he believed strip club owners were linked to “organized crime.” He specifically cited Rick’s/Sugar’s owners Frank Colacurcio Sr. and Jr., they of the conveniently-stereotypable Italian-American surname. The Colacurcios may be sly businessmen who exploit every advantage and try to create others; but so’s Paul Allen.

LEFT OF CENTER DEPT.
Apr 25th, 2006 by Clark Humphrey

Every few years or so, somebody comes up with a huge master plan for Seattle Center. The latest of these somebodies is a Mayor Nickels-appointed task force. They’d like to modernize Center House and the Fun Forest, and demolish the awkward, rickety High School Memorial Stadium.

Meanwhile, ex-Seattle Weekly mogul David Brewster has submitted a more extreme plan. In keeping with his lifelong ideology of baby-boomer bias, Brewster’s plan would eradicate all Center facilities that serve clienteles significantly younger or less affluent than himself.

Brewster would raze Memorial Stadium, Mercer Arena (formerly the Arena, formerly the Ice Arena), the Fun Forest, Center House (formerly the Food Circus, formerly a National Guard armory), the North Court meeting rooms (including the Snoqualmie Room, where the Vera Project’s all-ages rock shows will move later this year), and maybe even the new and popular Fisher Pavilion. And he apparently wouldn’t mind seeing the Sonics leave town so he could erase KeyArena (formerly the Coliseum) as well.

In the place of all these funky, un-slicked-up, well-used facilities, Brewster would like to see—nothing.

Albeit, it would be a lushly landscaped nothing, with lotsa grass and trees. Maybe there’d be some gourmet sidewalk cafes and used-book pushcarts. Maybe there’d be some outdoor ampitheater spaces, which would replace a few of the many indoor performance venues Bumbershoot and Folklife would lose.

Brewster’s Seattle Times essay notes that when Seattle Center was originally being planned to take over the 1962 World’s Fair grounds, it was made to accommodate many interest groups and population segments. He’d now like to replace that “cacophany” with a unified vision of a “glorious urban park.”

I happen to love the cacophany. And I want to keep it.

Too much of Seattle (hell, too much of America) has already been subsumed by the ultra-bland upscale monoculture. Publicly-owned treasures such as Seattle Center should resist this trend. They should always belong to everyone. They should always have a place for senior square-dancers, for working families, for teens, for minorities, for fast-food eaters, and for us Century 21 nostalgists who still want to believe in a festive future.

We can have contemplative green spaces, too. And we can have upscale dineries and theatrical venues. Just not only those.

So, I propose: Anything cut out from today’s Center gets put back into tomorrow’s Center. The only exception would be the high-school football games. They can move to some current school-district-owned property (such as one of those grade schools threatened with closure), or even to Husky Stadium or Qwest Field. Down in the Beaver State, Corvallis High has long played its football games at Oregon State’s stadium (and often had better winning records than OSU). The fact that neither Brewster nor the Nickels task force bothers to talk about where the high-school games would go just shows how ivory-tower (or condo-tower) their POVs are.

As for the rest: The Sonics, in their plea for another taxpayer-subsidized arena remodel, say they want a food court and an amusement arcade. Fine. Let ’em buy out the Fun Forest operators. An altered arena complex could incorporate replacements for the Fun Forest and the Center House food court. (These restaurants and arcades should be open to the general public, not only to arena event-goers.)

The arena should also be refitted to be more favorable to hockey. The NHL is dying in Sunbelt cities where it doesn’t belong; I’m convinced one of those southern-tier teams would fare far better in a northern town with major Canadian connections.

I’d keep Fisher Pavilion and its popular rooftop deck.

The empty lawn surrounding KCTS east of Mercer Arena could become a landscaped play area, replacing the wading pool north of KeyArena (and relocating the “atomic” neon lights from there).

The other Center House and Northwest Court functions (Vera, the Center School, the Seattle Children’s Museum, the square dances, the conferences, Bumbershoot’s visual arts) could go into new structures on the Center’s periphery, perhaps at the Mercer Arena site and retaining its facade. These new buildings could be included in the same funding package and construction schedule as the arena redo.

That would leave Center House available for implosion. In its hole might go some of the green spaces and outdoor amenities Brewster wants.

But, in my heart-O-hearts, I like Center House. I like the swords-into-plowshares idea of a bulky military warehouse now devoted to fun and games. It’s a grand old building, with a lot of life left in it. And besides, I like the Mongolian BBQ and the Pizza Haven.

Maybe Brewster would slag folk like me for not possessing a will to civic greatness. Too bad.

I don’t want a civic center with good taste. I want a civic center that tastes good.

NICKELS LOVE
Sep 19th, 2001 by Clark Humphrey

“YEAH,” YOU MIGHT BE SAYING, “Mark Sidran could potentially be a disaster as Seattle’s next mayor. But why should we expect any better from his opponent Greg Nickels?”

Because, unlike the smug, endlessly self-hyping Sidran, Nickels is a solid, glamour-free, ego-free grunt worker and consensus builder behind the scenes of civic governance. He’ll work for the city, not for his own self-promotion.

And he’ll work (within the prevailing political realities) for a city that works for all of us, not just for the upscale.

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