Central Valley Media Needs Help More than Ever

It’s almost the end of 2019, and you’ve probably seen a bunch of those “10-year challenge” posts (#10YearChallenge) where people look back at 2009/2010 and compare themselves or things with how they are now.

Sadly, it’s not something you’ll really see from local media. If the Fresno Bee did a #10YearChallenge post, it would probably look something like this. with the old Bee on the left, and the current Bee on the right.

Unfortunately, even as Central California has continued to grow at a very rapid pace, the fourth estate has been heading in the opposite direction. This year, the decline in local journalism appears to have accelerated, with the Bee ending their Saturday edition and the Fresno State Collegian sounding the alarm that they might only make it one more year.

It would be easy to blame Fresno’s demographics for the decline, but that’s not really the case. See Martinez, where the local paper recently announced their closure. The median household income there is $75,679. Versus just $44,853 in Fresno. The fall of local media has been seen in every state, and will accelerate next year thanks to this:

The Gatehouse-Gannett merger is complete, and the new combined company announced the first round of layoffs last week on #LoveMyNewspaperDay, reports Poynter. Though it is not clear where all of the cuts are from, Poynter said that they include both newsroom and non-newsroom jobs.

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The internet was supposed to give everybody a voice, but hot Twitter takes are not journalism. Some great folks out there like Henry Fung and Andy HS do a fantastic public service by live-tweeting local council meetings – something the Bee can no longer afford to pay journalists to do. While those two (and others) do a great public service with their tweets, they don’t see a cent in revenue. And the second the rest of their life gets in the way, the public service ends with no continuity. There’s also the issue that Twitter is a horrible median for archiving anything. If you miss it, it’s gone.

The reality is that no one has been able to crack the funding code for journalism. The Martinez Gazette says they made it this far from the income generated from mandatory legal notices. They can’t charge for that online. Most news outlets have turned to locking news behind paywalls. Including the Fresno Bee. The fact that they keep shrinking indicates that it’s not working. It also keeps the important news from the people (not that this upcoming example is critical news).

Now some articles can’t be read at all, even with ads

You’ll notice this blog doesn’t have ads. I used to, a few years ago. It generated pennies. Let’s be honest, most people use ad-blockers. I removed the ads because I felt like what came in wasn’t worth the inconvenience to the two people that would see them. The lack of revenue is probably why Fresno doesn’t have a blog scene. People try, realize the well is dry, and give up. As far as I know, the only way to make money on a blog is via Amazon or credit card affiliate links, but what’s the fun in that?

So why do I blog? For me, it’s a side hobby/public service. I do it because I think it’s important for Fresno to have. Unfortunately, that isn’t a great model either, because I can sometimes go a month (or more) without a post. Sorry Fresno, but sometimes other stuff comes first.

And that really sucks for the Central Valley.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about how the media completely screwed up the coverage of an obscure funding line in a plan that nobody reads. It’s hard to blame the reporters – there simply is not enough staff time to sit down and read a plan like that. It took me around 6 hours to read it, try to understand it, and write about it. The old-school reporters who might have known the inner working of the agency from their 30 years on the beat are long gone, via a buyout package they were mostly forced to take a few years ago.

The problem is that without journalists to understand and explain what’s going on, the loudest guy in the room gets to set the message. And sometimes the loudest guy in the room is an imbecile. Other times, he’s a liar. Fresno is full of these characters, and they keep getting elected. You know the names – Nunes, Brandau, Patterson. These guys are experts at what they do, and that’s speaking loudly about things they don’t understand or are paid to not understand.

We all know about Fresno’s history with powerful sprawl developers who used to own the council. History repeats, and we keep seeing the same powerful players doing what they can to put their income ahead of what’s best for the city.

Local journalism is needed to call them out and let people know what’s going on.

There’s really only one online venue I know that constantly writes about Central California planning and transportation issues, and that’s Streetsblog California. Melanie Curry puts out a few great posts a week, at a much faster pace than I can manage.

Three years ago, I made a post called “Help Bring National Attention to Central California Transportation Issues,” and recommended making a small donation to Streetsblog.

I think that post and request is more relevant than ever. Streetsblog is entirely funded through grants and donations, and that income isn’t stable, so they need help. And Streetsblog NYC is one of the best examples as to how a well funded media outlet can bring positive change. Their constant pressure gets results.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease after all.

Anyway, I plan to keep writing on this blog, but can’t make any promises as to the frequency of those posts. So if you want to see more reporting on planning and transportation issues in the central valley, consider donating to Streetsblog.

And if you can’t afford to, I recommend at least making some noise. Start your own blog. Retweet local journalism. Attend public meetings. Let local politicians know that you care and are paying attention.

6 Replies to “Central Valley Media Needs Help More than Ever”

  1. I’m working on it. I’ve been getting more active on Twitter and attend public meetings when I can and leave eComments when I can’t.

  2. The Bee is. Joke. It’s a dying dinosaur. I reckon it will end r paper edition in the. Ext 2 yrs and go strictly to online. You seen writing on the wall when Bill and others left the Bee. Price keeps going up and the quality and quantity of paper goes down. Smh.

  3. martinez, ca is a population of 38K, compared to fresno which is 550K. and throwing out median income, it should also be known of the cost of living. With martinez being in the bay area, despite it being in what many there WOULD NOT consider a good part of the bay area, and even to the point of it more towards the bad side, it still houses more of the low income of bay area residents despite that higher income. I mean a crappy single family home there thats 1000 sq ft is $500K–that kind of price puts you in north fresno or clovis brand new house. SO with that in mind, i think we need to see what is working in a big city when it comes to their newspaper. How bout compared to SJ Mercury? Or compare it more to the Sac Bee.

    1. Fair point on the size. The Sac bee is owned by the same group as the Fresno Bee (McClatchy), and they’ve seen the same types of cuts. In fact it’s predicted that McClatchy will declare bankruptcy this year.

  4. I don’t know about the number of sections in the Sunday newspaper but here are the other political / transportation / and business. I think the newspaper is doing as well or as poorly as the Fresno Bee. The reduction of local reportage caused other groups and people to provide news.

    o San Jose Inside – This is the political website that is part the alternative paper. They’ve always had a few political articles per issue. http://www.sanjoseinside.com/

    o San Jose Spotlight – This is a non-profit that started last year. It seems to have started with people that were / are reporters and people involved with non-profits. They cover business, politics, and housing and publish 2 or 3 articles per day. https://sanjosespotlight.com/

    o San Jose Business Journal – Obviously covers business but they cover housing when there are new proposals. https://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/

    o There is a message board that started talking about skyscrapers which for San Jose means 20 stories because it is under the flight path of the airport which is 3 miles away. This board is very active and we mostly discuss new developments which includes offices, housing, and transportation and not all buildings are skyscrapers .https//www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=1386038

    o The San Jose Blog – Started off by one of the members from the board above. Some of his stuff are PR releases from business but he writes some of his own articles.

    o There are a couple of blogs which covers Caltrain which is the main transportation between San Jose and San Francisco. There are about 70000 rides per workday (approximate 35000 riders).. http://www.greencaltrain.com/ and https://caltrain-hsr.blogspot.com/

    o Reddit channel that discusses building development https://www.reddit.com/r/SanJoseDevelopment/.

    o There are a lot more blogs and news sites that cover business, transportation, and housing. Most of those though cover mostly San Francisco and a small amount about San Jose.

    o San Jose Downtown Association has a monthly newsletter. This is a business improvement district organization and their newsletter covers downtown news including new building developments. https://sjdowntown.com/wp_2016/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/DTDDEC2019.pdf

    o Spur.org This as San Francisco organization but they opened a San Jose office. They are really an advocacy group. Their web site says IDEAS + ACTION FOR A BETTER CITY. They do have a number of articles about San Jose including future city and transportation development.

    In general high technology is the major business group. driving changes within the city. This means more housing (but not single family homes because San Jose builds very of those) and improved transportation which is how we keep adding sales tax increase to cover transportation which a majority is for transit.

    The reason I read this web site is because I grew up in Fresno until I went off to college.

    1. Great info on San Jose! I’ve actually only been there once, and I don’t really follow news from the city so it’s good to have these links

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