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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

SF Gov InAction: Peace Between Bloggers and Journalists for Our Time!

Posted By on Tue, Jul 21, 2009 at 10:45 AM


Print journalists and bloggers are feuding again. It's a quiet feud so far -- an incendiary article here, a subtle dig in a blog post there -- but it's real, it's between people I know and respect, and it makes me want to hide under the bed the way I did when the monsters attacked mommy and daddy. At least, I think they were mommy and daddy. This all happened after the nice man with candy lured me into the van . Adolescence is a confusing time when you're tied to a chair. The point is: How can I choose between them? I spent more years that I care to count -- or can count (math not being a journalist's strong suit) -- as a print reporter, lovingly crafting words that reeked of ink. But today my word drippings fall mostly into the rich limestone cave of cyberspace, and involve so little shoe leather that cows quietly consider me a hero. I can't choose. I can't do it, do you hear me? You two will just have to get along -- at least in public. It's not that you have to like each other -- heck, I don't like anybody. Not really.Yes, that means you. But to fight over the stale "new media v. old media" shibboleth? Reporters v. Bloggers? Come on ... really? Do you really want to be the writers who kicked that horse again because you thought you saw him twitch?

No, of course not. You both have better things to do. And besides, we're all on the same side, really. Bloggers and print journalists need to accept the fact that, deep down, we're all in the same very poorly paying racket. We should be friends, or at least have casual sex. People in this town would respect us if we fucked more.

You know I'm right.

So this week, in the service of cultural peace, I'm going to write the meetings in the styles of a print media reporter and a blogger, and let them get their licks in, and go through all the arguments for and against new and old media, and finally learn to love each other, so that none of this has to happen in real life. Then there can be harmony on the internet once more.

Yes, my coping skills are somewhat primitive. I've learned to accept that. Gin helps.

Our Print Reporter for the day is John Earhart, a crusty veteran of too many election nights who is trying to gamely accept that his future mostly involves writing blog posts alongside interns who "don't get" him; our Blogger is New Media Maven Emily Bennett, who is increasingly embittered by the fact that despite her love of craft, her devotion to belles lettres will never be as respected as the work of print writers, because the people who read blogs don't actually "respect" things anymore.

That's the concept, got it?

Then, without further ado, here's Emily Bennett, with the ...

Monday, July 20, 1 p.m. Land Use and Economic Development Committee meeting.

Thank you, sir: And may I say how much I admire the way nothing anybody does is ever good enough for you. Your constant carping is an inspiration to us all.

So this meeting (which in classic "print journalism" fashion happened over 24 hours ago and no one cared even then) is a great example of the advantage Newspaper People have over we poor Bloggers. Anybody can attend a meeting (or watch a video in the comfort of their crumb-covered pajamas) and write about what happens. But only print reporters have what it takes to call up public officials afterward and be lied to. You truly are the saviors of public discourse. Take your bows.

There are only three items on this agenda, which means that if everybody works together it could be finished in the time it takes to watch a TV commercial online. In fact, it probably takes a print reporter longer to write the article and provide "analysis" than it does to attend the meeting. But let us not laugh at this glacial pace:These "articles" take so long because they are in theory rigorously fact-checked by a team of experts who in practice have been laid off.

Journalism is now little more than an elaborate tea ceremony: Watch the news get poured slooooowly into a very small container while the temple monks perform elaborate gestures that used to mean things. It would be wonderful, if we weren't all busy checking our iPhones to get breaking news.

Anyway, there is a meeting (was a meeting), and the first item, a resolution approving the proposed helipad at the UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay, is worth mentioning only because it involves helicopters. You'd be surprised how many people conduct searches with the keyword "helicopter." It drives traffic.

Who are you, strange helicopter people? Are you after our natural resources or our women?

The second item is a resolution amending the agreements between Trinity Plaza Development and the city for the properties at 1167 Market Street, 670-693 Stevenson Street, and 1164 Mission Street.

Oh shoot, have I just used facts? That means I need to pay royalties to the Newspaper Publishers of America, which owns the exclusive rights to factual reportage! (To be fair though, John Earhart owes thousands of $$ in royalty fees to Major League Baseball, which owns the exclusive rights to extremely thin sports metaphors draped over unrelated content. John, we get it: You could have been a contender back then, and you could have been a writer now). I could bite my tongue!

Someday, print journalists, someday we bloggers will break through your awesome blockade and find a way to present facts to the public! If only we knew how to read the same press releases you do!

Curse you and your "journalism schools"! That must be where they teach the code.

The third item is a hearing about the development at 1250 Missouri Street. This is supposed to be office space, but neighbors report seeing residential furniture getting moved in, leading to the suspicion that the developer is making work lofts. We don't like work lofts in this city: In San Francisco we like our curries vegan, our gays empowered, and our office space clearly not for residential use. It's a progressive thing, or something. It makes us superior.

For a list of other things San Franciscans like, visit my Web site.

Tuesday, July 21, 2 p.m. - Full Board Meeting (as told by John Earhart)

My grandmother used to tell a story about trying to feed a family of eight in the depression with only enough kosher food for four. Since everybody shared, everybody starved. That's what they did, at least, until two of the brothers said to hell with this God-tested, mother-approved food, and went to the public bread lines.

The moral of this story, according to my grandmother is: People who don't care what they eat tend to stuff themselves.

The modern-day equivalent of that story, which I think about every time I read "news" blogs that have obviously gone down to the bread line and filled up on what everybody else is having, is that it's easy to get by on a diet of gossip, screwball human interest, and recycled newspaper reports. But who wants to just get by?

Sure, we're all tapping the same sources: This is news, after all, and only so much of it happens in a day. If a bank gets robbed, you bet we're all going to go to the same bank, and some of us will probably end up talking to the same security guard. I talk to the same police department that the Chronicle does because, in San Francisco, there's only one police department -- and if you find another one, that's a pretty big story.

Finding two mayors would be a pretty big story too, but let's not get ahead of ourselves:In San Francisco, finding just one mayor is hard enough.

But the point is that some of us are actually down there at the bank, while others are watching YouTube clips of TV news reporters interviewing the print reporters who interviewed a witness. It's not the same thing. Some of us actually make calls to the police department, instead of commenting on a story commenting on a comment made in the comments section of a Chronicle story written by a print reporter who did actually bother to check his facts.

I know you know the difference, Emily: Of course you do. So do I, and let's not pretend for a moment that we both don't know when we're out there doing really good work, and when we're phoning it in with a video of "something that happened last night." Newspapers aren't perfect, and I never said they were, but an awful lot of bloggers can't even be bothered to pick up a phone, which is the most rudimentary part of phoning it in.

There's not a clear line between what "reporters" and "bloggers" do, but there's a difference.

A blogger, for instance, might go on at length at this point about how he first got into blogging, or who his favorite blogger is, or a recipe for pie. A reporter would try to remember that there's a meeting to cover, and that it's not about him.

This meeting is the culmination of six months of budget negotiations, scheming, and in the case of Chris Daly and John Avalos, a painful public moment between two friends who never liked each other. It all comes down to three votes, today: Do the Supervisors vote for the budget, do they vote for the salary ordinance , and do they make any last-minute adjustments that the mayor might veto? The answers are Yes, yes, and maybe. So, like the ceremonial first pitch at a Giants game, there may be a little drama, but not a lot.

Also up for discussion is a game-changer: Daly's charter amendment allowing the supervisors to designate some spending as mandatory. If you can judge a proposed law by how much the mayor lies about it, then this one is organic, hypoallergenic, and helps little old ladies across the street. It's probably going to pass -- though not necessarily at this meeting -- and then the fight over it really begins.

Less controversially, the charter amendment instituting a two-year budgetary cycle and a five-year financial plan is also up today: It's sponsored by the mayor, David Chiu, Ross Mirkarimi, John Avalos, and David Campos. It's got a MENSA member's chance in an SAT prep course of not passing.

Less certain is Avalos' proposal to increase the sales tax by 0.5 percent, and not one but two measures on the agenda -- proposed by Chiu, Dufty, and Mirkarimi -- assessing a fee on the "privilege" of owning a car in S.F. This is more like the legislative equivalent of fantasy baseball than the major leagues. The city isn't actually authorized to levy such a fee, and there's no reason to expect that the state will allow it to levy such a fee; and even if it did there's no guarantee that what the city is asking the voters to pass would match what the state ends up allowing.

So not only are Chiu, Dufty, and Mirkarimi playing fantasy legislature, they're playing it badly.

Everyone, including the blogs, has been awestruck by the courageous efforts of Bevan Dufty to get the charity bingo limit in San Francisco raised from $250 to $500. This truly is a profile in courage.

Equally courageous is Michela Alioto-Pier's resolution supporting State Assembly Bill 155 "to prevent unnecessary municipal bankruptcies in California." Phew! Thank God THAT crisis is over. Only "necessary" municipal bankruptcies from now on.

Have we gone from the sublime to the ridiculous yet? Yes? Okay, that's a meeting.

Wednesday, July 22, 2 p.m. - Budget and Finance Committee (as told by Emily Bennett)

Has anyone else noticed that John breaks news online to beat the competition, uses Google Alerts to make sure he's not missing a story, and then writes blog posts defending the world of print standards? I'm just asking. The world is a wild and wonderful place, filled with beautifully self-destructive people. Go, little butterfly: Be a caterpillar.

Some meetings you win, some meetings you lose. This meeting is in a class by itself (kindergarten, for kids with special needs), and begins with eight items that all read like this:

"Nineteenth Amendment to the Treasure Island Event Venues Master Lease"; ... "Twentieth Amendment to the Treasure Island Event Venues Master Lease"; ... "Thirtieth Amendment to the Treasure Island Land and Structures Master Lease"; ... "Thirty-First Amendment to the Treasure Island Land and Structures Master Lease"; ... "Thirty-Second Amendment to the Treasure Island Land and Structures Master Lease"; ...

Weirdly, the Twelfth Amendment to the Treasure Island Marina Master Lease comes after the Thirty-Second Amendment to the Treasure Island Lease. Further proof that Sesame Street is not one of San Francisco's many neighborhoods.

The dynamic duo of John Avalos and Ross Mirkarimi have a parcel tax at this meeting that they'd like to submit to voters, and never have I wanted to do an online poll more than I want to do one now asking readers which one of them is Robin.

I say Avalos, but the freedom to make this choice for yourself is what makes America great.

Is there nothing comic books can't teach us? Especially about the dangers of cosmic rays?

Bevan Dufty and Sean Elsbernd also have an amendment they'd like to submit to voters allowing the city to sell the naming rights to Candlestick Park. Because, when you think about it, anything is better than Candlestick Park. If the city does get that right, 50 percent of the money from the naming rights would be used to fund recreation directors at city recreation centers. So that's two good causes. This is a shoo-in: San Francisco can't resist a good cause when it's in ballot form.

Then there's an emergency contract to repair pier 22 ½ (quick, it's an emergency!), which is named "Fireboat Pier." Now, you see, if "Candlestick Park" were named "Fireboat Park," we wouldn't even consider changing it.

Then there's an airport concession lease; a lease operating the concession stand in the Japanese Tea Garden; and more than $2.5 billion in water revenue bonds.

Oh my.

Size really does count in government.

Thursday, July 23, 1 p.m. - Government Audit & Oversight Committee (as told by John Earhart)

This meeting begins with a very special hearing on a report prepared by the city's "Peak Oil Task Force," which, I'm told by confidential sources, is going to save us all. Much in the way online news is going to save civilization, end racism, and reform government.

Or so I've been informed by people in the comments section.

Before that, there's an agreement to vote on between the city and the Owner's Association for the San Francisco Tourism Improvement District (which is also going to save us all), and a report to review by the city's outside auditors. Since San Francisco has ignored much more important reports than this before, I'm not hopeful that anything productive will come of it.

And that's our meetings for this week. I'm sure that somewhere hearts are light, but there is no joy in Mudville.

Ain't that the truth?

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Benjamin Wachs


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