Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Herald Boo-Boo Watch parts 1&2

As I promised a couple days ago, here are the first two installments of the Herald Boo-Boo Watch wherein we take a look at the careless errors made by Monterey Herald since editing and production was moved out of town.

Parts 1 & 2 are being combined since they both appeared on July 18th.

Part 1 was on Page 1, and had me asking "100 miles south of what?"
Click image to enlarge. press Esc to return.

Part 2 was a USGS earthquake hazard map on page 6. At first glance I assumed the darker areas were higher risk zones and lighter shades were lower risk zones. Then I looked at the key and realized the top two shades were the same. So were the fourth and sixth shades. And the third shade from the top was lighter than the fifth shade. Evidently the original USGS map was in color and the Herald converted it to black and white without accounting for the fact that different colors can show up as the same shade of grey when converted.

Click image to enlarge. press Esc to return.
And notice the Herald's caption. It says this map is undated. so we have no way of knowing if it is the current map or an outdated one!

Part 3 will appear soon. It involves a peculiar form of math.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Careless errors

This is my third entry in a row regarding the disintegration of the Monterey Herald which has been taking place over the past four or five months. In February and March "Dismantle-it First Media" (as I now call the Herald's parent company) consolidated critical functions with other papers in California. So we no longer have a local editor, that's being done by a guy in Santa Cruz now, and production moved to Chico so the paper is being assembled by people who don't know the territory at all, which means they can't catch mistakes that are obvious to Herald readers.

Ever since these changes were made I've noticed a significant number of careless errors in the Herald of a kind that were rare or nonexistent before the changes. In early June I saw the exact same article with the exact same headline on two facing pages. One had a picture and an extra paragraph at the end, but otherwise they were the same. The next day two other articles were reprinted from the previous day with a note that indicated they were not printed in their entirety the first time around. I've also seen articles that had repeating paragraphs.

On two or three occasions I've seen letters published with titles that meant the exact opposite of what the letter actually said. One of these was written - oh the irony - by the deposed former local editor Royal Calkins! It was reprinted with a corrected title the next day.

Elsewhere in the Letters section some lucky writers have had their letters published twice in the same week. And one day quite recently the editorial page made space for a "Sounding Off" segment (where they reprint comments readers posted online) but left it blank.

When the consolidations took effect earlier this year Herald management assured us that we wouldn't notice any difference, and that the newspaper was committed to providing excellent local news coverage. I'll grant that their local news reporting is still pretty solid, but the editorial page is another story.

Prior to Royal Calkins removal, Herald editorials dealt with local issues almost exclusively. Not anymore. The vast majority are now focused on state and national issues. This is probably due to the fact that until recently two-thirds of the Herald's three-man editorial board lived in the next county. A week ago Monterey resident Phyllis Meurer became the fourth member, so now only half of the board members are out-of-towners. Still not a very good ratio for a supposedly local newspaper.

With all this in mind, I've decided to start a Herald Boo-Boo Watch where I will post the Herald's careless errors that I find. I've already found three from the last three days alone, which I'll share in future installments of Mr. Toy's Mental Notes.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Letter to the Butcher

Since 1985 I have written roughly three to six letters per year, plus a handful of guest commentaries, to the Monterey Herald. All but one or two have been published. I've also had letters published in the Carmel Pine Cone, Monterey County Weekly, USA Today, and the Christian Science Monitor, so I have a pretty good idea of what I'm doing. In many cases editors have changed a word or phrase here and there, but for the most part my letters have been published pretty much intact, until now. I have never before had a letter so thoroughly butchered in print as the one published in the Herald last Tuesday, July 8th. 

I've been hesitant to submit a letter to the Herald for a few months now. From the day former editor Royal Calkins disappeared I noticed that our local daily had been printing fewer letters than ever before, and much shorter ones, too. I suspected the new editor Don Miller was doing a hatchet job on reader submissions, and I was right. 

Here's the letter I wrote last week:
In the July 4th article about illegal fireworks a Seaside fire official described the problem as “overwhelming.” Every peace-loving Seaside resident would agree. The annual barrage of house-shaking KABOOMS starts around Memorial Day, peaks around Independence Day, then gradually tapers off the rest of the summer. Seaside sounds so much like a war zone that I've dubbed it “Baghdad-By-The-Bay.”
This year has been particularly bad. Every night for the past two weeks rockets approximating professional fireworks have been launched from three locations within a block of our home anywhere from 8:00 PM to 2:00 AM. They BANG so loud it makes us jump out of our skins. Complaining to the police is useless. They've told me that unless they see it happen, there's nothing they can do. But the chances of an officer facing the right property during the 3 seconds it takes to launch and explode a rocket is close to zero.

One officer told me that the city council receives numerous complaints every year, and every year the council does nothing. Their inaction has fostered an environment of tolerance for an illegal activity that disrupts what should be pleasant summer evenings.

-James B. Toy

I've always been mindful of staying within the Herald's 200 word limit* and this one squeaked in at 199. That's never been a problem before. But for the Hatchet Man it was 75 words too much. This is what he printed, with my name on it:

In the July 4 illegal fireworks article, a Seaside fire official described the problem as "overwhelming." Seaside residents would agree. The annual barrage of house-shaking noise starts around Memorial Day, peaks around Independence Day, then tapers off the rest of summer.

This year has been particularly bad. Every night for the past two weeks fireworks have been launched from three locations within a block of our home between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. Complaining to the police is useless. They told me that unless they see it happen, there's nothing they can do. One officer said the city council receives numerous complaints every year and the council does nothing. Their inaction has fostered an environment for an illegal activity that disrupts pleasant summer evenings.

James B. Toy, Seaside

In three decades I haven't had 75 words cut from all of my letters combined! So this came as quite a shock. Not only did Miller cut out entire sentences, he changed the meaning of two of them. 

I did not write the line "Seaside residents would agree." Don Miller did. It's wrong because it implies that EVERY Seaside resident would agree with me. But I couldn't say that because the Seaside residents who set off these rockets would not agree, right? That's why I qualified it by saying "Every peace-loving Seaside resident would agree." I chose those words carefully to be precise. The Herald made it look like I made a blanket statement I can't substantiate, which reflects on my credibility. No previous Herald editor (including some truly awful ones) ever did that to me. 

Miller's version of “my” letter ended with "Their inaction has fostered an environment for an illegal activity that disrupts pleasant summer evenings." But I wrote: "...an environment of tolerance for an illegal activity...." My intent was to emphasize official tolerance of illegal activity - basically the council looks the other way. But the Herald took that meaning away and changed the emphasis. If Miller had changed it to "fostered tolerance for an illegal activity" I would have been OK with that because it would have retained my original intent. 

I was also dismayed that he sucked the humor out of my letter by removing the sentence where I labeled Seaside as “Baghdad-By-The-Bay.” That was not just meant to be a joke, but also to publicly put city leaders on notice that the nightly noisemakers were damaging Seaside's image. 

So what I intended to convey and what actually appeared in print were not exactly the same, yet my name accompanied the mangled message anyway. I have informed the editor, who is actually the editor of the Santa Cruz paper now doing double-duty, that I will not be contributing any further letters to the Herald until he has been replaced by a truly local editor who knows the Herald's readership, the Herald's letter writers, and the Herald's territory. I added that I will have trouble taking seriously any letters he publishes, knowing first hand that what gets written and what gets printed can be entirely different things. As of Friday he had not responded. 

A friend of mine who saw both the original and edited letters aptly described the problem on Facebook saying "I like the original MUCH better than the edited one. Your original piece lets us feel the pain your community suffers, and that is the point. Edited, you just sound whiny. I can see why you wont be contributing until there is a change at the Herald." 

She's right.

This is just the latest frustration I've had with the Herald in the past four or five months since Digital First Media started consolidating its operations, taking much of the “local” out of the local paper. I'll get into the rest of my complaints another day.


*In the 1980s the limit was a more generous 250 words, and during the brief period of Reg Henry's stewardship he allowed letters up to 300 words.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The mysterious disappearance of Royal Calkins

Some people liked him. Right-wing conservatives hated him. I had some dealings with him and thought he was a pretty reasonable guy. Up until a couple of weeks ago, Royal Calkins was the editor of the Monterey Herald, our daily newspaper.

Royal was a good communicator. As a matter of routine, he openly and honestly kept his readers informed about the nature of his job, the criticism he's encountered, and the many changes being made at the newspaper by its corporate owners, Digital First Media.

At the end of December he wrote a column warning readers that the daily comics page was about to change drastically. He explained that it was a corporate budgetary decision to have the exact same comics page in all of the company's newspapers to save labor and cut costs. Combining humor with a refreshing sense of honesty he opened himself up to an inevitable barrage of complaints saying:
"Yes, we know readers don't like this. In fact, we understand many of you just flat out hate it whenever it happens. And we expect to hear about it Monday, when the new daily comics page debuts.
The number to call about the elimination of "Frank & Ernest" or "Squid Row" is 646-4381. That's my number. If you call, I will sympathize with you. I'll try to understand what you liked about Hagar. But what I won't be able to do is put your favorite back in. That's because I can't."
No feel-good positive spin there. He laid it out as it really was. If every company communicated that way, with respect for the customer's intelligence, this would be a much better world. 

A month later Calkins wrote another column informing us that come March the overall look and layout of the newspaper would be changing. The production of the Herald, along with eleven other newspapers in the chain, will be consolidated into one production facility in Chico, costing "four or five" Herald copy editors and paginators their jobs (unless they were willing to leave the cool shores of Monterey for the sizzling summers of Chico).

Two weeks later Royal Calkins vanished. 

With no explanation, the paper's February 7th front page announced that Don Miller, editor of the Santa Cruz Sentinel, would now be doing double-duty as editor of both the Sentinel and the Herald. The article made a clumsy attempt to reassure readers that Miller was familiar with his newly annexed territory because he likes "hiking at Point Lobos, golf, riding bikes and eating at local restaurants." So he's qualified to publish a travel guide, but it would have been far more reassuring if he named a few local political issues he'd been following instead.

Naturally a lot of people became concerned. Including me. How can the local newspaper effectively cover local politics if the guy in charge lives and works in a very different community? 

Have no fear, Herald publisher Gary Omernick told us in a February 13th column loaded with enough spin and fluff to make a boatload of cotton candy. The sincerity we came to expect from Royal Calkins was nowhere to be found. Instead, Omernick blamed the community's skepticism on competitors "trying to scare advertisers away from The Herald to help their bottom lines." Never mind that the Monterey County Weekly and the Carmel Pine Cone, despite being editorial rivals, have both openly acknowledged the importance of the Herald as the Peninsula's primary news source. As for the rest of us, Omernick said "I don't put much stock in what disgruntled people say because...well, they're disgruntled." Way to blow off people's concerns, Gary!

If the publisher can glibly blow off readers' concerns, then readers are fully justified in blowing off the Herald's spineless explanations. Fortunately, the Herald has some good competition to ask the hard questions. In a February 13th article the Monterey County Weekly asked What does the hedge fund that really owns the Herald have in mind?  Along with uncovering at least some of the truth, the Weekly's editor lamented the loss of Calkins because of his tenacity in uncovering county political corruption.

So what happened to Calkins? As of now, the best we can do is make an educated guess. The possibilities are:
  • He left voluntarily and amicably. This is the least plausible explanation. His departure was abrupt and unexplained. Had he resigned voluntarily he would almost certainly have written a goodbye column in accord with his normal habits of keeping readers informed about the goings-on at the newspaper. He understood that readers don't like surprises, as evidenced by his columns informing readers of upcoming changes earlier this year.
  • He walked off the job in disgust. Possibly. Watching your newspaper being slowly dismantled by corporate bean counters has got to be stressful and perhaps one day he decided he'd had enough. According to the Monterey County Weekly he did send an internal e-mail praising his staff, suggesting there might have been friction from above and comfort from below.
  • He was downsized. We know that Digital First Media is consolidating everything. Ad production is being done in India. Printing is now done in San Jose. Production is moving to Chico next month. And three other positions (publisher, advertising director, and circulation manager) had already been consolidated with the Sentinel, making this explanation plausible. But it doesn't explain why Calkins didn't write a goodbye column, which he probably would have done had he seen it coming.
  • He was fired. Maybe for violating company policy, maybe because conservatives had been calling for his head on a platter, maybe because (according to one theory - not mine)  local politicians didn't like the way he brought corruption to light and they put pressure on the newspaper's owners to get rid of him. Maybe.
  • He was murdered. Well, there's no body, and his family hasn't reported him missing, so we can probably rule out foul play. 

Regardless of the reason, one thing is certain. Despite all the happy "we're committed to serving the community" talk from the new editor and old publisher, we can no longer believe that the Herald has the readers' or the community's best interests at heart.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Goodnight, Ms. Fontaine

One of our local celebrities, Joan Fontaine, passed away over the weekend. The famous Hollywood actress spent her retirement years living in the Carmel Highlands. Coincidentally, the two Alfred Hitchcock films Rebecca and Suspicion, which made her a big-name star, both contained brief scenes filmed right here on the Monterey Peninsula. The first film in 1940 got her an Academy Award nomination, while her second performance the following year earned the Oscar itself.

I had the opportunity to meet Ms. Fontaine a few times in the 1980s when I worked at Brinton's in Carmel. She was a regular customer there. Among the store's staff she had a reputation as being kinda fussy, but in my dealings with her I always found her to be very pleasant, easygoing, and friendly. I remember one occasion when she was seeking advice on the best way to remove mildew from a patio umbrella. It was a rather mundane conversation, but an enjoyable memory nevertheless.

One of the last times I saw her was in the mid 1990s when I was assistant manager at the now-demolished Crossroads Cinemas at the mouth of Carmel Valley. She came to the show with a couple of friends, a man and another woman. On the east wall of our lobby was a mural, a montage containing hundreds of movie star photos from the 1920s up to about 1970 when the theater was built. The group began studying it, and the man started naming people he recognized. At one point he said to Fontaine "There's you..." as he continued putting names to faces.

AHA! I thought. I had sometimes looked for Joan Fontaine on that mural, but never could find her. Now I knew she was there, but I  still didn't know exactly where. I couldn't just go up and ask them. Company policy was very clear, if a celebrity was in the building we were absolutely not permitted to acknowledge that we recognized them. Celebrities were to be treated exactly the same as any other customer.

So I devised a little trick. I went up to them and said "I'll give you free popcorn if you can name all of the people up there." An impossible task, of course, at least in the limited time before the next show started. But it worked. The gentleman said "What will you give me if I show you someone on this wall who is in this building right now?" He then tapped his finger on Fontaine's picture, then made a sweeping gesture towards his companion and introduced "Miss Joan Fontaine." She then gave me a timid little wave and a pleasant little smile. I think I said something like "I'm happy to meet you," and then they turned and went into the auditorium.

It was nice having that lady around. She will be missed.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Measure K supporters play the victim card.

Yesterday Mrs. Toy found a cheap, home-printed flyer opposing Measure M and supporting Measure K in our mailbox. It was signed by five people, including three former city council members, Helen Rucker, Steve Bloomer, and Darryl Choates. The other two were "Seaside Resident" James Bogan, and "Local Seaside Merchant" Dennis Volk. Now, I've come to expect almost anything from Bloomer and Choates, but the normally sensible Helen Rucker ought to know better than to put her name on such hokum.

The flyer said:

"Dear Seaside Neighbor,

"On Tuesday November 5, there will be an election that will have a very big impact on our city and our families.

"Measure M takes control away from our elected Seaside City Council and gives that power to wealthy outsiders in Monterey, Carmel, and Pacific Grove."
Whoa! Right off the bat they're turning this into a class warfare issue. Poor Seaside is being picked on by our "wealthy" neighbors, er, "outsiders," people not of our kind! How dare they dictate what happens in Seaside!

Well, for starters, much of the land affected by Measure M is under the county's jurisdiction, not Seaside's. Seaside hopes to annex it, but unless that actually happens, voters throughout Monterey County, not just Seaside, have every right to decide how that land will be used.

As for Seaside's portion,
my reason for taking the decision out of the city council's hands is clearly stated in my previous Mental Note K vs. M, so I won't repeat myself here.

The flyer continues...

"Measure M eliminates over 20,000 good-paying jobs....."
Wrong again. You can't eliminate jobs that don't yet exist. Those 20,000 jobs are merely potential jobs that would only be created if every planned feature of Monterey Downs, including a racetrack, two hotels, a shopping center, and a bunch of new houses, are all actually built. Considering that Seaside has been unable to get hotels and/or shopping centers built near the Main Gate area, or at the Bayonet/Black Horse golf courses, or Lower Broadway, where support infrastructure like streets, electrical service, water mains, and sewers already exist, how likely is it that they will ever get built where no infrastructure exists?

The flyer then repeats the widely discredited Measure K mantra about the veteran's cemetery, then concludes by saying 

"The wealthy outsiders who wrote Measure M hope you and your neighbors won't show up at the polls Tuesday to protect your interests."
Evidently, the cosigners of this flyer want us to believe there is a Peninsula-wide conspiracy against Seaside, that Measure M is part of some nefarious plot by neighboring cities to keep Seaside poor and stupid. What I see, however, is that these five individuals are hoping Seaside residents are just stupid enough to believe that, so we'll vote against imagined "wealthy outsiders" who are actually our friends and neighbors, fellow residents of the Monterey Peninsula.

Oh, speaking of wealthy outsiders,
the flyer was paid for "with generous support from Monterey Downs" the only real outsider in this whole matter, and a very wealthy one.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

K vs. M

Monterey County voters have every reason to be confused by two competing measures on the November 5th ballot. Measures K and M would, each in their own way, have a profound effect on the future development of Fort Ord.

The primary development issues at play are:

  1. A massive commercial development called Monterey Downs centered around a proposed horse racetrack.
  2. A long awaited veterans cemetery. 
Theoretically, and frankly, in actuality, these are and should be two separate matters. Unfortunately, in the last couple of years questionable political alliances have hopelessly intertwined these issues so that they have become indistinguishable in the minds of some people.

Briefly, Measure M would permanently preserve the centuries-old oak forest - 50,000 trees in all - where Monterey Downs wants to go. Local recreation and open space advocacy groups are behind Measure M. Measure K would not directly approve Monterey Downs, but it would make it a lot easier to get through the bureaucratic hoops. The developers of Monterey Downs paid most of the expenses of getting K on the ballot as a direct challenge to Measure M.

The veterans cemetery would go next door to the proposed site of Monterey Downs no matter what, but not everyone sees it that way. Veterans say only Measure K would let the cemetery go forward, partly because they believe M would make the cemetery more difficult, if not impossible to build, but mostly because Monterey Downs would help finance the underfunded cemetery.

In the ensuing scuffle between the two ballot measures, conflicting claims and counter-claims have been flying across the land with each side accusing the other of misleading voters. Worse, Measure K promoters are emphasizing the veterans cemetery in a "tug at the heartstrings" campaign designed to distract voters from Monterey Downs.


I'm going to vote for M and against K, and here's why.

I'm voting No on K because it is not about the veterans cemetery. It's all about making it easier for Monterey Downs to get built. Why else would out of town developers have paid tens of thousands of dollars to get it on the ballot? The cemetery angle is a red herring, misdirection, a bait and switch tactic. Frankly, I find it shameful that local veterans would allow themselves to be used as the political pawns of southern California development interests.

My feelings towards Measure M
are a little less straightforward. Some have legitimately argued that it circumvents the standard land use approval process of public hearings with the ultimate decision resting on the shoulders of our elected officials. I almost decided to vote against M for that reason. Unfortunately, our elected officials - the Seaside city council specifically - have already made it pretty clear they want the tax revenue from Monterey Downs and they want it bad. They've turned this into a simplistic "trees vs. jobs" issue and they seem to have their minds made up even though the process has barely begun.

Seaside recently trotted out
an "unbiased" report saying - surprise - that a massive commercial development like Monterey Downs would create more jobs than the trails through the existing old oak forest. Of course, any third grader could tell you that without spending thousands of dollars on a fancy report. But land use decisions are far more complex than that. Our quality of life here depends heavily on our natural resources. A little over a century ago there was a plan to subdivide Point Lobos for a small town like Carmel. A few lots were sold, and the only thing that halted the plan was an economic downturn. Would a town at Point Lobos have created more jobs than the park it became? Sure! Would we be better off if Point Lobos became a town instead of a park? No way!

Then there's the elephant in the room, the blighted areas of Fort Ord that are not being redeveloped a good 20 years after we were promised they would be. This makes the "trees vs jobs" argument for Measure K even more ludicrous. By their implicit support for Monterey Downs Seaside council members are showing that they'd rather develop unspoiled areas than redevelop the spoiled ones. In reality, this isn't "trees vs. jobs" so much as which do we prefer to eliminate, healthy trees or dilapidated buildings?

Thus I have concluded that voting YES in Measure M will send a clear message to decision-makers: Redevelop the blighted areas first!

So I encourage you to vote Yes on M and No on K.