Saturday, March 30, 2013

Merc falls for joke on Twitter

The risk of using Twitter posts in reporting was illustrated Tuesday when Mercury News sports reporter Elliott Almond incorrectly reported that President Obama had offered U.S. World Cup soccer player and former San Jose Earthquakes star Landon Donovan a ride on Air Force One.

Almond’s report was based on a Tweet by ESPN reporter Dana Wessel, who joked about Obama offering the ride to Donovan.

Wessel Tweeted: “Obama to Landon Donovan: ‘You wanna take Air Force One to Mexico City? We can still make it. Just say the word.’”

Almond repeated the information in the Tweet with no attribution to Wessel or ESPN. He apparently didn’t realize it was a joke. Almond’s story begins:
    The soccer fan in President Barack Obama wants to see Landon Donovan return to the U.S. national team for World Cup qualifying. 
    “You wanna take Air Force One to Mexico City?” Donovan was asked Tuesday during a visit to the White House. “We can still make it. Just say the word.” The injury-depleted Americans could use the former Earthquakes star in Tuesday night’s showdown against favored Mexico at famed Azteca Stadium …
ESPN’s Wessel soon sent a second Tweet clarifying his joke.

Wessel told MediaBistro’s Fishbowl DC: “I told the guy on Twitter it was a joke and he responded to me acknowledging that he had been duped but apparently he never bothered to change his story or file a retraction … Pretty sloppy.”

On Wednesday, the Merc posted a story saying its original reporting was incorrect:

NewsTalk 910 drops lawyer Len Tillem

Media blogger Rich Lieberman reports that Clear Channel’s 910 AM has fired Len Tillem, a Sonoma County lawyer who did a legal advice show from 3 to 4 p.m. weekdays.

Tillem was one of the KGO hosts who was dumped in December 2011, and he was picked up by NewsTalk 910 along with Gil Gross.

Tillem said he doesn’t know why he was let go. “Maybe they thought that Gil Gross would bring in more listeners in the 3-4 PM hour. Maybe they preferred a different direction for the station. It doesn't really matter. I am happy to have been on NewsTalk 910 for the last fifteen months. It was a fun ride. I wish Gil Gross the best of luck.”

Tillem said he plans to continue doing his show as a podcast at and at

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Press Club's Opinion: Public access in jeopardy with proposed court fee

The following op-ed appeared in several newspapers this morning including the San Francisco Examiner, the Daily Journal in San Mateo and the Daily Post in Palo Alto.

By Dave Price and Marshall Wilson

Decades of free access to public court files would end under a proposal in Gov. Jerry Brown’s preliminary budget.

We write this on behalf of the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club Board of Directors, which strongly opposes the proposal. But why should you?

Because free access to public records is a cornerstone of our democracy. Free access to public records makes it more difficult for those doing wrong to hide.

The proposal in the state budget would authorize courts to charge a $10 “search fee” for files requested by journalists, businesses and members of the public. It would exclude parties involved in the cases requested.

The budget would also double the fee for photocopying a court file from 50 cents to $1 a page. The fees were among numerous revenue-generating proposals made by state court administrators who have been forced to cut $1 billion in costs over the past five years. They have had to fire employees, shorten hours and delay courthouse construction projects due to these budget cuts, so it is understandable that they would seek new sources of revenue.

But the courts should not seek to close their budget gap by charging for public record searches. That would be a major step backward in transparency and set barriers to information people need in a free and democratic society.

A search fee would limit access to low-income citizens and nonprofit advocacy groups, and discourage legitimate research by journalists of issues that are of concern to the communities they serve. A newspaper reporter on the legal beat might review 50 files in a day. At $10 a file, that would cost the newspaper $500 a day — or $130,000 a year. Few newspapers, not even the largest ones, could afford such a daily expense.

Reporters would be forced to review fewer cases, reducing the news the public would get from the media.

Small mom-and-pop community newspapers and independent online scribes would be priced out of covering the courts.

What is the cost to society?

Plenty. Think of how many stories you have read that have exposed wrongdoing by individuals, corporations or government agencies that include the line, “court records reveal.”

It’s in court records that journalists find information that informs the public and infuriates everyone from CEOs to officials of all stripes.

This fee would hit businesses, too. When conducting background checks for lenders, employers and landlords, researchers search court records for debt, eviction, criminal and probate records.

The $10-per-file fee would hinder nonprofit advocacy groups who might want to research the legal history of a land developer or industrial polluter, for instance.

In 2013, you'd think that all court records would be online, and that access to files would be a mouse click away. But the state Judicial Council, the entity that proposed this $10 fee to Gov. Brown, last year abandoned a computer system to store case files online after costs had ballooned out of control.

The Judicial Council blew a half-billion dollars on that project — more than offsetting the “search fee” it now wants to collect.

America’s courts have a long tradition of open access rooted in the Sixth Amendment, which says all citizens are entitled to a “public trial.” The framers of the constitution wanted public access to the courts to provide a check on excesses in the legal system.

This approach to solving the courts’ financial problems ignores the public’s role in monitoring the administration of justice.

The documents held by the courts are considered to be public documents, meaning they don’t belong to the court. They belong to the public.

The public shouldn’t be asked to pay twice for access to their documents.

The San Francisco Peninsula Press Club strongly supports more funding for the courts, but asks the governor and the Legislature to reject this wrongheaded fee that would limit the public’s right to know. We encourage you to do the same.

Dave Price is a member of the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club Board of Directors and Marshall Wilson is club President. They wrote this on behalf of the board. The San Francisco Peninsula Press Club is a professional journalism organization representing the greater Bay Area. Members are reporters, editors, photographers and public relations professionals.

6 editorial pages oppose court file fee

The editorial pages of six newspapers have come out swinging against the $10 fee court administrators want everytime somebody requests to look at a court file.
    The San Francisco Chronicle said: “The fee undercuts the notion of open records, a transparent legal system and public accountability. … These charges diminish public trust and confidence.”
    The Redding Record Searchlight said: “The new fee will pinch more is among the average citizens with an interest in public records — to keep an eye on lawsuits involving City Hall or the school board or a development or crime in their own neighborhood. Every new fee is a new barrier that makes it harder for them to do their civic duty.” 
    The Monterey Herald said: “A $10 search fee would be devastating to newspapers and other news operations, especially relatively small ones such as The Herald. Newspapers this size routinely seek access to five to 10 specific files each week and review dozens of new court filings each month in search of potential stories — many of them about important public business. Most newspapers and TV stations in California would be forced to cut back significantly on their reportage of legal matters, meaning the public would receive much less information about ongoing court cases and newsworthy civil matters.” 
    The Sacramento Bee said: “Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye was correct when she warned a joint session of the Legislature last week that ‘equal access to justice’ can't be shortchanged. This wrongheaded proposal does not help her cause.”
    And The San Jose Mercury News said: “There is no excuse for limiting access to public information based on income. Scratch this bad idea and look elsewhere to fund the courts.”

Monday, March 25, 2013

Unionized Chron workers turn to social media to protest new health care plan

Unionized employees at the Chronicle have turned to social media to protest Hearst's desire to switch to a new health insurance plan that they say will cost them up to $3,000 a year more. An open letter on Facebook from the workers says:
    We, the employees of the San Francisco Chronicle, have had enough. 
    We love this newspaper, and we've worked hard since the layoffs of 2009 to help keep it afloat. We've done everything Hearst demanded: sacrificing pay raises, giving up seniority, losing vacation time and holidays, even working through what used to be our paid lunch hour. 
    For years, we've been working twice as hard with a smaller staff — doing everything needed to keep this paper afloat, relevant and great. And this is how the highly profitable Hearst Corporation pays us back. 
    Now, Hearst is insisting that we shoulder huge increases for an inferior health plan. Even offset by a meager proposed raise, this accounts to a pay cut of hundreds or thousands of dollars a years for most of us.
As part of the protest, some employees are changing their Twitter avatar to a red box, MediaBistro's Fishbowl LA reports. The union points out that after months of negotiations, they still don't have a contract with the paper. Here's a link to the union's side of the story.

Daily News cuts back and Chronicle launches new Peninsula product

The Silicon Valley Business Journal reports that as the Daily News reduces its print schedule from five days a week to three, the Chronicle has launched a free tabloid that is being delivered to 65,000 homes on the Peninsula on Saturdays.

The new product includes stories of interest to Peninsula residents that appeared in the Chronicle during the previous week, according to Marketing Director Michael Keith. The Chron has launched similar weeklies in the North Bay and East Bay.

As for the Daily News, Publisher Steve Paterson told the Business Journal that he won't be reducing the paper's staff with the switch to a three-day-a-week printing schedule. The Daily News will still be available five days a week online. He declined to say how much the Daily News will save on printing, but added, "It's not about savings, it's about transition."

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Chronicle erects pay wall, restricts in-depth stories and columns to subscribers

The Chronicle announced today (March 24) that it is putting much of its content behind a pay wall including Matier & Ross, Willie Brown, Leah Garchik, Kathleen Pender and Chuck Nevius.

SFGate will remain a free website focusing on breaking news and Internet-only features such as the Daily Dish and event listings. Archival search capabilities will continue on the Gate for free. But access to the “premium site” with the domain will be for subscribers only.

“ is one more step in this Chronicle's journey through the digital age. It gives subscribers another option for getting the news and information they value from the Chronicle in a digital format organized like a newspaper and easy to use,” Chronicle president Mark Adkins said in an announcement posted today.

Current Chron print subscribers can access the premium site by providing their email address. A number of options are offered for new subscribers at varying price points.
One option allows for “ultimate access” to for $12 a month ($144 a year) and another for the same price offers “ultimate access” plus delivery of the Sunday print edition.

An offer that lasts only eight weeks offers seven-days of home delivery plus access to for $5 per week. Subscribers to “ultimate access” get the online via a traditional website, tablet, mobile and e-edition.

The LA Times, NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Dallas Morning News and Gannett’s 80 papers are putting their content behind pay walls.

LA Times readers can read 15 stories in a 30-day period for free. To read more than 15 stories from the same IP address, the LA Times charges $1.99 a week if the subscriber also takes the Sunday paper. Digital only costs $3.99 a week ($207 a year).

The Washington Post announced March 18 that it will start charging frequent users of its website, those who view 20 articles or more a month, a fee starting this summer. However, the Post hasn’t decided how much it will charge.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Former Silicon Valley Patch editor says hyper-local sites are just 'glorified blogs' -- ad sales difficult

A former Patch editor in Silicon Valley, who has returned to print journalism, says the higher-ups at the AOL-owned chain of local news websites didn’t realize how much it costs to gather local news, and their ad people had a hard time selling local ads. The unidentified former Patch editor was interviewed by the Los Cerritos Newspaper Group in Southern California. Regarding advertising, he said:
    “I wish I knew why the local merchants weren’t interested. We’re not just talking SF Bay Area, we’re talking SILICON VALLEY here. This is the place where dry cleaners know all about the CEO of Apple or whatever. And they just didn’t want to partake — I think they tried it here and there, and found no traction (although honestly I don’t remember seeing a single local ad on my own site). 
    “It would appear that digital advertising lacks the oomph of print, for some reason.”
He said the Patch sites are nothing more than “glorified blogs.”
    You’ll see some 'local news,' sort of — you’re just as likely to see a dumb ‘Top 5’ list designed to woo local advertisers, as in ‘Top 5 flavors of Baskin-Robbins ice cream.’ There’s also a half-completed business directory, and in fact the first thing people do when they’re hired (and launching a site, I guess they’ve all been launched by now) is run around town taking pictures and typing in addresses and phone numbers of the local hair salons, etc.”
But he said Patch never had the money to provide local news.
    "The MBAs [who he said ran Patch] realized that that actually takes more manpower than they were able to afford. I guess they thought all that copy and content just sort of wrote itself!

Paper reopens Washington bureau

While Bay Area newspapers have been cutting staff and shrinking coverage, the Orange County Register has been hiring reporters. And now the Register is reopening its Washington bureau. The Register announced Wednesday that one of its longtime staffers, Cathy Taylor, will head the bureau starting April 2. The bureau will also have three graduate-level assistants and a team of freelance reporters. The Register closed the bureau in 2010. The Register's new owner, Aaron Kushner, is hiring reporters and expanding coverage, betting that improved news coverage will result in increased circulation.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Daily News to print 3 days a week

The Bay Area News Group’s free mid-peninsula newspaper, The Daily News, will reduce its printing schedule to three days a week starting next week, according to an announcement printed this morning on the paper's editorial page.

The Daily News had been printing Tuesday through Saturday. It eliminated its Monday edition in 2008.

However, Publisher Steve Paterson said in the announcement that the Daily News will produce an e-edition five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, that will be emailed to readers or available through an app for iPhone, iPad, Android phone, Android tablet and Kindle Fire users.

"Between digital and print, we’ll still be 'local, five days a week,’" Patterson wrote.

Press Club offers scholarships

April 15, 2013, is the deadline for submitting entries to the 2013 scholarship competition sponsored by the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club.

Competition is open to high school, community college, college and university students from the 11 Bay Area counties who are planning a career in print, broadcast or photo journalism.

Typically the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club selects one high school student and one college student to receive the $1,500 scholarships named for Herb Caen, the late San Francisco Chronicle columnist.

Scholarship funds will be paid to the schools the winners plan to attend, or are attending, to defray any college-related expenses.

Print and photo entrants should send:
    • A one-page resume.

    • Three to five clippings mounted on letter-sized white paper; photos CD; and video on DVD-R.

    • A letter of recommendation from an instructor in journalism, communications or English.
Entries should be sent to:
    San Francisco Peninsula Press Club Scholarships
    Attention: Darryl Compton, Executive Director
    4317 Camden Ave.
    San Mateo CA 94403-5007
Finalists will be interviewed in person by the Press Club's Scholarship Committee. Winners will be honored at the Press Club's 36th Annual Greater Bay Area Journalism Awards Dinner in June.

For further information, call the Press Club office at (650) 341-7420.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fee proposed for viewing court files

(From the Palo Alto Daily Post) The administrators of California’s courts have proposed a bill that would impose a $10 fee on every court file requested by any journalist or member of the public — a fee that critics say would limit access to public documents and deprive the public of news.

“It’s fundamentally unfair to help finance the courts on the backs of the public, which has already paid for this information to be categorized and collected,” said Jim Ewert, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

Ewert said reporters assigned to the legal beat look at many files daily, perhaps up to 50 files a day in larger counties. Adding a fee would be cost prohibitive for many news organizations and reduce the amount of news the public gets, he said.

“Most people ... rely on newspaper reporting to see what’s happening in the court system. The public is going to be deprived,” Ewert said.

Ewert said he’s been at the state capitol this week, trying to persuade the lobbyist for court administrators to drop the fee.

Ewert said the language in the bill is unclear about whether the fee would be applied to files obtained online.

Ted Glasser, a professor at Stanford University’s Graduate Program in Journalism, called the proposal “nothing less than outrageous.”

“That’s just plain stupid and undemocratic,” he said.

Glasser said freelancers and small newspapers especially would feel the burden of the fee, having to pick and chose whether a case is worth viewing. He said not only would journalists be affected, but the public in general.

“I think the state should be going in the opposite direction, with more online so that people have easier access to information. You don’t want people calculating costs in trying to figure out the government,” Glasser said.

The $10 per file fee was one of 17 proposals the state Judicial Council made to deal with $1 billion in budget cuts, said the council’s spokesman, Peter Allen.

He said Gov. Jerry Brown has decided to pursue 11 of the 17 proposals, including the $10 fee. The $10 fee would generate about $6 million a year, Allen said. A Senate budget subcommittee reviewed some of the proposals Thursday, and Steven Jahr, a retired Redding judge who is now administrative director of the state courts, told the committee he didn’t like the fee, but felt it was necessary.

“It’s not a healthy fee,” Jahr admitted in an interview with the Post. He said it’s a “darned if you do, darned if you don’t” situation since funding for the courts continues to be reduced.

“We have to seek something that would keep the courthouses open. It’s for that reason alone that we’re supporting these fees,” he said.

The fee and the other proposals will be part of what’s called a “trailer bill,” which will be heard concurrently when the Legislature takes up the state budget.

Aram James of Palo Alto, a retired Santa Clara County public defender, told the Post that the profound budget crisis in the judicial branch is making public access to the courts much more difficult.

“Any additional cost we put on a citizen to look at court files is one more obstacle in obtaining justice,” James said.

He said the quality of justice will be stretched thin as the courts close down earlier or begin charging to view files. He said he imagines small “mom and pop” newspapers that already struggle with their own budgets will be greatly affected by the potential fees.

Attorney Terry Francke, the founder of CalAware, an open government advocacy organization, said the fee was intolerable and he believes it won’t stand. He said the fee is a life-or-death issue for news gathering, and makes “covering news in any kind of depth impossible.”

“You can’t make gathering news for public record prohibitively expensive,” Francke said.

The bill says the courts would not charge people see a case in which they are a party.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

KGO-AM cuts contributors

KGO 810 has cut many of its contributors including Chronicle columnist Chuck Nevius, according to a report by the Chron's SFGate. Earlier reports of staff firings were incorrect, an unnamed KGO exec told SFGate, but some of the contributors are gone. Since KGO's switch from "news talk" to mostly news began two years ago, ratings have plunged. In January, news and program director Paul Hosley was shown the door. In recent months, there have been rumors that KGO would return to its old format of news talk. The station has denied those rumors.