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Times Editor Chris Lopez's weblog





Friday, April 29, 2005

Coming Sunday

Environmental reporter Mike Taugher has spent the past several weeks reporting on how open-water fisheries are collapsing in a gathering crisis that threatens to unravel the entire food web of the West Coast’s largest estuary. Mike reports that scientists, many of whom are alarmed by the sudden drop in so many species of fish during the last three years, say they do not know what is causing the problem and are unlikely to know for many months, at least. Mike's reporting shows that the ongoing crisis threatens not only the Delta’s ecology; it also threatens to disrupt two of the state’s largest water delivery systems. His story will appear on Sunday's front page. Let us know what you think when you read it. You'll be able to see it online at contracostatimes.com

Public records

We're starting to see a compliance with request for public salaries as a result of our lawsuit against the city of Oakland and decisions from the courts that Oakland must release salary information when it receives a request from the public. Reporter Thomas Peele says the city of San Ramon is the first government
agency that had previously refused to release exact salaries has reversed itself and released salaries under Times v. Oakland. San Ramon gave Times reporter Scott Marshall, who cited Oakland in his PRA petition and quoted from the appellate court decision in his request, the information three days after he asked for it.
Thursday, April 28, 2005

J-Schools

Reading a discussion about whether journalism schools should re-examine the courses they teach and how they teach to journalism students made me shout "YES." J-Schools absolutely should re-examine their curriculum, particularly as it relates to online journalism, community journalism and watchdog journalism. We see many interns, j-school students, and entry-level journalists who are not prepared for the pace of a newsroom in the 21st Century. I won't hire a journalist these days who can't write for the web site and can't juggle that aspect into their daily routine.

Creating a paper

We will be announcing in tomorrow's newspaper the launch of the Danville Times, a new weekly publication for the Danville, Alamo and Diablo communities that will debut May 6. The creation of the Danville Times brings to 12 the number of community newspapers published by Contra Costa Newspapers. Community, local news is our bread and butter, and will continue to be so.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Mood of newsrooms

More here on the mood of newsrooms. The backdrop to this is an ever-changing landscape for newsrooms as we engage the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle. My thing is the only way to engage and change newsrooms is to be inside them. That's what we're doing at Contra Costa Times. I tell our staff of 200-plus journalists that our newsroom is changing, will be changing, and it's all for the better. For journalists, it's a matter of getting on board, being visionaries and being excited about the possibilities. At Contra Costa we will continue to succeed in producing a quality daily newspaper and quality community/weekly newspapers, and we will succeed in producing a quality web site. All three are vital (the daily paper, the weekly/community papers and our web site) and all three go hand-in-hand. It's a great time to be a journalist and to be inside a newsroom.

Iraq coverage

Knight Ridder Baghdad correspondent Hannah Allam sheds light on what it's like to report from Iraq and the feedback on the Knight Ridder coverage in this interview. We currently have reporter Dogen Hannah in Iraq, working with Hannah Allam and Knight Ridder. Dogen has reported from Iraq at various times over the past year as part of Knight Ridder's reporting team. Let us know what you think of the interview.

Times Book Club

I'm still cooling off from a steamy Tuesday night at the annual Contra Costa Times Book Club gala at the Lesher Center in downtown Walnut Creek. It was my first book club event, and what a entertaining night it was. The book club is another great way the newspaper interacts with its readers and brings them along for a party. Thanks to Lynn Carey, who organizes the Times Book Club, a second Times Book Club event will be held Oct. 19. Thursday's newspaper will carry a full report on last night's event.

Rossmoor coverage

One of the most fun and interesting communities for us to cover is the Rossmoor community. Reporter Theresa Harrington is working on a story that looks at a group of Rossmoor residents fed up with the Golden Rain Board’s attempts to hold meetings that aren’t televised. The residents also are discussing forming a “watchdog” group to keep an eye on the board. She says the group is especially worried about a proposed $38 million Creekside development, which is expected to break ground in June on what is now the front yard of the retired community’s treasured Dollar Clubhouse property. Keep an eye out for Theresa's story and let us know what you think.
Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Bogus letters

The story we published last Sunday on a bogus-letter writing campaign has caught the attention of journalistic trade publications like Editor & Publisher and wire services like Associated Press. The story has created quite the buzz in journalism circles, particularly among editorial page editors. We figured the story would get attention since it gets to the heart of what editorial pages are about. We spent four months, off-and-on, reporting the story until we got it into a position where we felt it had no holes and we could publish.
Friday, April 22, 2005

Tragic story

We're reporting tomorrow and have been reporting on our web site the tragic story of a San Ramon man who got into a road rage incident and subsequent fight following a Sacramento Kings game with Phoenix earlier this week.

Bogus letters

Reporter Sarah Krupp has produced for our Sunday newspaper an interesting story on a local man who sends letters to the editor and gets them published under fictitous names. He successfully got bogus letters published not only in this newspaper, but also the San Francisco Chronicle and Tri-Valley Herald. It's a marvelous bit of reporting that you can find on our Sunday front page.

Strategies

We a lot of strategic planning going on in the news building. Right now we have 103 employees who are building our future. On Monday we will have an all-day session to hear all the ideas our employees have come up with to move us forward into the second-half of this decade. Very exciting times at the Times.

No surprise

Nothing surprising about how the Wendy's finger-in-the-chili story is playing out. You always had to wonder about the legitimacy of that claim.
Thursday, April 21, 2005

Coming Friday

Environmental reporter Mike Taugher takes an interesting look at a half-dozen not-so-modest proposals that never came to be as part of our look at Earth Day that we are planning for Friday's paper. We're also building our newspapers for the weekend editions. One big event will be who the 49ers draft number one. We'll be discussing in the newsroom this afternoon what our coverage will look at contracostatimes.com come Saturday morning.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Long day

Today will end up being a fairly long day. In the morning, a group of us drove to San Jose to hear a presentation on a Brazillan newspaper, Zero Hora, that is turning heads with its business model. Then it's back in the Contra Costa newsroom for a few hours, before attending a meeting tonight with the West Contra Costa school district. The participation with the West Contra Costa school district is important and is a way to get active in another critical part of the market the newspaper serves.

Wednesday, April 20

In tomorrow's newspaper, transportation writer Mike Adamick takes a closer examination of suspected bad welds on the Bay Bridge and explores how this could happen. Let us know what you think when you see it. We're also at tonight's premiere in Berkeley on the People’s Temple play, which deals with the Jonestown massacre. Writer Sara Steffens will give us a review.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Tomorrow's front page

Here's a sneak preview of tomorrow's front page Times cover . It is a work in progress, but gives you an idea of where we're going.

New Pope

It will be interesting to see what our page designers come up with to display the announcement of Pope Benedict XVI. The news cycle works to our disadvantage in that the story of a new Pope will have circulated throughout the day. Still, we will want to be special in our Page 1 design on Wednesday. A blog on our web site by Father Albert is interesting and worth reading.

Tuesday morning, April 19

First order of business this morning is to meet with our CFO and discuss spending patterns in the newsroom. It's never a fun chore, but a necessary one to ensure we operate within our annual budgeted amount. Many times that annual amount changes as the newspaper adjusts for lower revenue forecasts as the months unfold. We also want to put an eyeball on upcoming special sections, special pages or major news events that may result in unanticipated expenses by the newsroom. It's all about trying to read the crystal ball.
Monday, April 18, 2005

Sunday reading

The Sunday newspaper is always filled with interesting stories. One I found most intriguing was the feature story in our business section on Markos Moulitsas. He's the blogger whose web site has been all the rage in Democratic circles. It got me wondering about the GOP side and who their main bloggers are. Do you know? In any event, reporter Ellen Lee did a marvelous job capturing Moulitsas's influence on the blogging world.

Reader reaction

Several people attending a local realtors conference in San Ramon commented on the story by reporter Dan Laidman that was in Monday's newspaper. These people were happy that we put a spotlight on this growing issue. We also received feedback from the president of the Contra Costa Hispanic Chamber, Pete Babiak, who challenged us to keep flushing out the story.

Monday morning, April 18

The morning was spent with hundreds of realtors, who were attending a Contra Costa Realtor's Association forum at the San Ramon Marriott. Tom Hart, president of the organization, invited me to attend. The guest speaker was Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip. Realtors got the lowdown on new forms, new laws from the state. The rest of the day is focused on journalism and what stories we're working on for tomorrow and into the week.
Sunday, April 17, 2005

Sundays

Sundays are quiet in the newsroom and so can be a good day to get caught up on the administrative tasks of being an editor. Personnel reviews to write, reports due to the publisher to complete, other administrative tasks to complete and lots of reading. As our photographer, Jose Fajardo, heads to Sunday's Oakland A's game, he took a minute to pop into my office to say hello and to say he liked my Sunday column in Perspective. It was good timing because I gave me the opportunity to thank him for his photograph of the father whose son was killed in a car crash on Highway 4 near Oakley over the weekend. Jose was instrumental in getting us not only a very strong photograph but in helping the reporter on the story talk to the family. Jose, who is fluent in Spanish, was able to talk to the families involved in Spanish and translate for our English-speaking reporter.
Friday, April 15, 2005

Coming stories

Two local stories that you might find of interest: On Saturday we take a look at the city of Walnut Creek and its desire to allow for taller buildings in its downtown corridor. On Monday, we take a look at hot issue in Clayton and other cities that want to have business license fees imposed to generate additional revenue for themselves.

Sunday's paper, April 17

A question that's been asked of the newspaper is why it did not put the story of a teen in Red Lake, Minnesota who killed nine people, including his grandfather and five students at his school, on our front page of March 22. I address that question in our Sunday Perspective column this Sunday. Let me know what you think if you get a chance to read the Sunday column.
Thursday, April 14, 2005

Tomorrow's news today

Some of what we're working on for Friday's newspaper:
FROM REPORTER TOM LOCHNER: In response to a Times story and inquiries the Federal Railroad Administration says its regional offices will investigate the confusion over what is contained in the tank cars that have been sitting on a siding in Hercules perhaps for months.
FROM REPORTER MIKE ADAMICK: In a sign the Bay Bridge contractor plans to vigorously fight allegations of faulty work -- claims that triggered an FBI investigation -- the joint venture’s lead contractor hired famed political strategist Chris Lehane to serve as spokesman.Lehane served in the Clinton war room, before becoming spokesman for former Vice President Al Gore’s 200 presidential bid. He also was a spokesman for Sen. John Kerry last year, before defecting to the camp of Gen. Wesley Clark. Californians may recall he was also hired by former Gov. Gray Davis to handle strategy during the energy crisis
FROM REPORTER MIKE ADAMICK: BART plans to shore up its $53 million deficit largely through wage freezes, benefit cuts and layoffs, according to a fiscal blueprint that also calls for fare or parking charge increases.
FROM REPORTER PETER FELSENFELD: Contra Costa parents who receive child support should gird for rocky times, county officials warned on Thursday. That’s because the county is preparing to shift its collection and distribution efforts over to the state, a move likely to involve numerous glitches, said Linda Dippel, chief of Contra Costa’s child support division.
FROM REPORTER MATT KRUPNICK: UC Berkeley will welcome thousands to campus the next two days as it celebrates the inauguration of Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and the annual Cal Day, a daylong celebration of UC Berkeley’s culture, academia and sports. Birgeneau, who started last summer, already has made his intentions clear as chancellor: More minorities need to attend the university
FROM REPORTER BETSY MASON: In advance of the 99th anniversary of the 1906 earthquake, the USGS has released a first-ever map showing the shaking intensity from the 1906 earthquake. Geologists used old maps, seismograph records and damage accounts to create a first-ever shake map of the 1906 quake, similar to the maps the USGS releases immediately after modern earthquakes

Bad headline

We used the wrong term in our lead headline this morning. We characterized the jury award in a priest abuse case as a "Settlement". That's the wrong word. A settlement implies a voluntary agreement. This was not a voluntary agreement. It was an award a jury made after listening to testimony. My process is to discuss this with our headline writers and request a correction on the headline. I received one phone call on this today. I spotted the error when I picked up the newspaper at home this morning. Typically our headlines are written far into the evening by our night desk after reading stories and after our design staff has indicated what the headline specifications are for a story.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Foreign bureaus

We're excited in the newsroom this morning. We got news that our own Jack Chang has been selected to be the new foreign correspondent for Knight Ridder in South America, based in Rio de Janeiro. This is a huge opportunity for Jack. The pride is enormous when you have a journalist from your newsroom get such a plum assignment. It's testament to the quality of journalist we have in our ranks.
Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Tuesdays

Toughest day of the week for me is Tuesday. This will be the last time I sit at my desk for pretty much the rest of the day. Tuesday is major meeting day inside the Times. My first meeting is with the operating directors of the company, of which I'm one. We meet every Tuesday morning on strategy and the overall business climate. After that, it's trying to stay ahead the rest of the day.
Monday, April 11, 2005

Schwarzenegger people

We got short notice today that the governor's finance director, Tom Campbell, wanted to stop by and visit our editorial board. Dan Hatfield, our editorial page editor, arranged a meeting for us to sit down with Campbell, Sean Walsh of the governor's office, and John Goia of the Contra Costa County supervisor's board. The topic was public employee pensions and the governor's decision last week to hold off on taking pension reform to voters until he and his staff try to negotiate a deal that gets legislative approval on a constitutional amendment. "The governor is not backing down from pension reform or budget reform," Walsh told us. "We're on a road to ruin unless we get our fiscal health in order." Campbell walked us through the governor's positions. He is the point person to hammer out a proposed constitutional amendment on how public employee pensions are funded. Reporters Lisa Vorderbrueggen, Peter Felsenfeld and George Avalos sat in on the meeting. Typically, reporters knowledgeable on a subject will join the editorial board when VIPs come in. I sat in on a variety of editorial boards when I was a reporter at the Denver Post, and I encourage reporters at the Times to participate in these meetings.

Monday morning, April 11

I counted 10 voicemails awaiting me this morning, and all were nice. Don't laugh. That's not always the case. But this morning it was. Three of the calls were from readers thanking us for our coverage on Pope John Paul II, and one caller wanting to know if we were producing a commemorative section. We are not, unfortunately. Three other voicemails were from reader Martin Gottlieb. Martin lives in West Contra Costa County and is a frequent caller. His thing is good news. He wants one edition of the newspaper to be all good news. The newsroom doesn't get humming till around 10 a.m. Usually at the 8 o'clock hour it's me, my assistant Sharon Peterson who this morning is busy with processing timecards, a morning cops reporter, our web producer Rob Neill, our TV book editor Deb Carvalho, one of our top page designers Jennifer Schaefer, our news librarian boss Mona Hatfield, Gary Bogue our Page 2 pet columnist, and some staff in our features dept. I usually work from around 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and then my evenings get filled with either social functions to represent the paper or I read stories at home that are going into the paper or are planned for a few days down the road. For me, it seems like I never get caught up.

Tiger greeting

My greeting in the newsroom this morning was "how about Tiger." Newsrooms love to buzz with the latest happenings, and Tiger Wood's win at the Masters and his amazing putt on the 16th green will be the buzz of the day among many of the journalists. I saw it live on TV and then about a dozen other times on ESPN last night. I am an ESPN junky. Did you see the putt? What did you think?
Friday, April 08, 2005

Pope eclipses Tsunami, Sept. 11 attacks

Paul JJ Payack, who runs The Global Language Monitor Global Language Monitor out of Danville, CA, has done some homework on how much media attention has been given to the death of Pope John Paul II. He reports, in an email to Times political reporter Lisa Vorderbrueggen, these statistics: At the Time of Funeral, Media Outpouring Reaches 12 Million Internet Citations and 100,000 Stories in Worldwide Media. The coverage eclipses the South Asian Tsunami, the September 11th Terrorist Attacks, the Bush Re-election, and the Deaths of Ronald Reagan and Princess Diana.

Two front pages

We ended up with two front pages this morning. Our latest edition had a front page that featured a photograph of the pallbearers carrying in the casket of Pope John Paul II. We secured that image at 1:30 a.m. and chased it onto our front page. A chase on our presses requires teamwork from the newsroom to the pressroom to circulation division. As the presses are rolling, we put a new plate on that has the new photograph we want on the front page and the press picks up that plate for the remaining newspapers still to be printed. It worked beautifully for us. Our earlier edition had a photograph of a young Pope John Paul II with his famous smile. The chase requires the newsroom staying open for business beyond 1 a.m. when the funeral mass began. Our TV critic Chuck Barney also stuck with the funeral mass and witnessed it on TV. He then filed his commentary to our web site at 4:30 a.m., once the funeral mass was over. Chuck's efforts and the efforts of our page 1 designer Chris Gotsill go way above and beyond the call of duty.
Thursday, April 07, 2005

Thursday, April 7

Fun day. Had a morning meeting with Ray Ridder and Jo-Marie Garber of the Golden State Warriors. We're discussing the idea of the newspaper and the Warriors teaming up on some community outreach in the market. Had lunch with Pete Babiak, President of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Contra Costa County. Pete is an avid reader of the paper, and he and I engage in many email exchanges on the journalism he sees in the newspaper. I had a conversation with a very nice reader who was taking issue with a segment we did in one of our features sections a week ago on a book authored by a Martha Beck. He was correct in the points he was making. Our front page for Friday will be special on the burial of Pope John Paul II. The front page also will contain the news that the state is halting work on the Bay Bridge project as the FBI investigates allegations of shoddy work. I'm going to head home a bit early to get some rest because I want to watch the funeral mass on TV at 1 a.m. Pacific.

Pope news

A question from a reader is why so much media interest in the death of Pope John Paul II? Why is his death being covered so prominently?
For me, it's because of who he was, what he stood for and the impact he had on world events. He became, through his papacy, a symbol of peace in the world. He was instrumental in helping bring an end to communism. He reached out to parts of the world that others did not reach out to. He embraced and engaged young people in their faith and created World Youth Day events that brought young Christians to him. He was the most influential person in the world over the past two decades. In the closing line of our editorial on the day of his death, we wrote that he will be missed by BILLIONS. I know of no other person that that can be said of. He will be missed by billions.
Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Busy morning

First time I've been online all day. Finished a column for Sunday's newspaper on the subject of blogs and what we're doing at ContraCostaTimes.com. Met also with the new general manager for the Times' web site, and now am awaiting a meeting with various staff to plan out our Pope coverage for the next two days. My lunch is on my desk. I will eat it as we meet and discuss the Pope.
Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Bob Dole

I'll have the pleasure tonight of introducing Bob Dole to a crowd at the Dean Lesher Performing Arts Center in downtown Walnut Creek. Mr. Dole is the latest in a series of speakers appearing in Walnut Creek. The public function and social events are part of my duties as the editor of the paper. I enjoy the community events like this very much and look forward to the evening out. Getting out into the communities and representing the newspaper is one of the more fun parts of my job.

Tomorrow's paper, April 6

Our front page tomorrow reports on the congressional hearings in Washington on Indian gaming and the proposed urban casino in San Pablo; the news on ABC anchor Peter Jennings and his cancer; a local feature on the Athenian school in Danville, CA; a proposal to open lakes that supply our drinking water to recreationalists. We did not slot a story on the death of Pope John Paul II, giving that a break before we push on the funeral slated for 1 a.m. Pacific time on Friday.

Journalism jargon

Gotta avoid jargon. I used the term "senior editors" in one journal entry and I realize that means nothing to nobody except newsroom people. The editors who report directly to me are the local news editor, sports editor, features editor, business editor, news research editor, editor in charge of our copy editors, editor in charge of our design staff, our photo editor and our sunday editor. I have a couple of others, including a personal assistant, and this group largely makes up the "senior editor" or "department editor" team for the newspaper. All told, we have 200-plus newsroom staff who contribute to the publication of our daily editions and our weekly publications. We operate out of five newsrooms across the East Bay from San Francisco. The mothership is located in Walnut Creek. This is where three-quarters or more of our staff is based.

Time zones

We begin planning today on the type of coverage we want to provide on the Pope's funeral and how much space we will need to handle the photographs and stories we're looking to publish. The time difference between the Vatican and California is a challenge. The funeral is scheduled to begin at 1 a.m. Pacific time on Friday. That means by the time our newspaper hits homes on Saturday morning, the funeral is more than 24 hours old. Our goal then is to make our coverage special and commemorative.

Corporate office

My first priority this morning is to plug into a conference call with the Knight Ridder corporate office. I'm waiting for the conference to begin as I write this entry into my journal. Working with the corporate office, based in San Jose, is among the duties I need to juggle in to my daily schedule. After this, I'll begin to write a Sunday column. Deadline for that is Wednesday morning.
Monday, April 04, 2005

End of day

The day began with a 8 a.m. scan at 2,000 plus emails awaiting me upon my return from a few days off. That was followed by a 3 hour meeting with the group of editors who make up our senior editor staff. We meet the first Monday of every month to work through issues, address our strategy and look at where we're going. That was followed by more conversations with a variety of staff on a variety of issues. That was followed by our Page 1 daily meeting (you're always welcome to join that meeting. we meet every day at 2:30 p.m. to discuss the front page. just call ahead to let us know you're coming.) And then my afternoon proceeded with addressing the issues that surfaced to the top in the few days I was gone, including our efforts to build on our successess online and our efforts to produce quality weekly publications in the East Bay markets we serve. I forgot to take time today for lunch. I promise myself that I'll make sure to do that on Tuesday. I only began to get to the emails I left behind. I killed most of them without reading them because they looked like spam. I identified some I need to read ASAP and others I'll get to as the week progresses.

Pope material

A conversation in our daily Page 1 planning meeting this afternoon was how to play the ongoing story of the death of John Paul II. A lot of sentiment among the editors that they have Pope burnout and they fear the same of our readers. Only problem is we have no true way of gauging how readers are accepting the coverage until the following morning when they'll call. We have our instincts and our own gut reactions. Our decision was to play a lead photo image of the pilgrams turning out for the public viewing of His Holiness. The crowds are amazing and the photographs are the strongest we see for Tuesday's newspaper. The Pope's burial aside, our front page looks at the growing fight between California nurses and the governator, a new housing trend in the city of Walnut Creek, and a story on the awarding of the Medal of Honor to the family of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq. We selected the Medal of Honor story because it's the first Medal of Honor awarded by the president for bravery in the Iraq war.

New week

Back from a few days off. The email that caught my attention was one from our circulation director questioning our front page makeup of last Friday, April 1. He was disappointed that we did not more prominently play the death of Terry Schiavo. We positioned the story downpage, as opposed to an above-the-fold blowout treatment on her death. The front page that day led with the presidential commission's report on the failure of the U.S. intelligence community, post Sept. 11. It also gave above-the-fold treatment to the failing health of Pope John Paul II. Schiavo, I'm guessing, ended up downpage because the news of her death was more than 24 hours old by the time the newspaper was published and arrived on the porches and driveways of our subscribers. Our circulation director said he was disappointed because he thought the Schiavo death would create an opportunity for him to sell more single copies of the paper that Friday. He thought we blew it.