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Times Editor Chris Lopez's weblog





Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Update on salaries

We were in court today after a union representing some Alameda County employees filed for an injunction to block that county from releasing to us the names and salaries of its highest wage earners. The judge agreed to hold a hearing on the union's argument in two weeks. We'll be back in court arguing that this is public information and the public's right to know how Alameda County spends its tax dollars.

Deep Throat

W. Mark Felt, the number two man at the FBI during the time, acknowledges in an interview with Vanity Fair that he was Deep Throat. President Nixon had said he long suspected that Felt was Deep Throat. This revelation today will be the topic of many water cooler conversations. He lives in Santa Rosa with his daughter.
Friday, May 27, 2005

The names

When you see the names of the 1,636 U.S. military killed in Iraq grouped together in one place, the effect is a sobering reminder of the sacrifice U.S. forces are making in Iraq. Our Presentation Editor, MaryAnne Talbott, has spent this week placing each name on two open pages we have planned for Memorial Day. This is the fourth time she has done this since the fighting began, and each time the list grows longer and the emotions stronger. It's quite impactful to see two pages of names of U.S. military killed in Iraq. When we did it last year, the names took up one full page. This year the list of names takes up two full pages. Let us know what you think when you see the list of names in Monday's newspaper. We do it as a tribute to the men and women killed during the war and as a remembrance for their families.

Back to court

We learned today that unions representing government employees will appeal to the state Supreme Court recent court rulings that government salaries are public records. Our newspaper sued the city of Oakland when it refused to release the names of employees earning $100,000 a year. The Alameda County Superior Court and then a state appeals court ruled in our favor, saying that taxpayer-funded salaries are public records. The city of Oakland ended up paying our attorney fees after the court rulings. Now the unions want to continue to fight by taking the issue to the state Supreme Court. The government unions have another case before the state Supreme Court that involves the Los Angeles Times. The LA Times requested a roster of names of LA police officers, their date of hire and the date of any terminations. The LA Times won their request in superior court, but then that decision was overturned by an appeals court. The matter is headed to the state Supreme Court. The state Supreme Court will now have two issues before it if it agrees to accept the cases: 1) Are salaries of public servants public records? 2) And are the names of police officers and their date of employment public records? The government unions say no, that taxpayers don't need to know how much local governments pay employees and taxpayers don't need to know the names of police officers who patrol the public streets. We'll be in court arguing for the public's right to know should the California Supreme Court hear the cases. In the meantime, other local governments are watching the cases to determine whether they should comply with requests for public salary information.
Thursday, May 26, 2005

Bolton vote

We were anticipating that the U.S. Senate would vote this afternoon on John R. Bolton's nomination to be U.N. ambassador but Democrats have forced a procedural delay and the vote now won't come until after the Memorial Day recess. This remains a fascinating story to follow.

Questioning a headline

Just got off the phone with a reader who questioned our use of the word "raucous' to describe the teacher rally in Sacramento on Wednesday. She said she was in Sacramento, on other business, and saw the rally and heard it but didn't feel like it was a "raucous" crowd as our headline stated. Headline writers take their cues from the reporting inside the story and in reading the story. The headline should accurately sum up the story. No doubt this was a large, vocal crowd. Was it "raucous?"

What we're up to

The three-day holiday weekend provides us with above-normal challenges of getting our unique content prepared for the three-day run. It means busy, busy days for the staff on Thursday and Friday. Normally we're gearing up for the two-day weekend, but this week we have to have the Tuesday paper in shape by the end of day on Friday since we move to skeleton crews with the Monday holiday. We're ramping up nicely, with some dynamite content for A1. Our Monday newspaper will have special meaning with the Memorial Day holiday. Planning is the key.
Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Teacher protest

The focus of our front page for Thursday is the massive teacher protest in Sacramento. This is an ongoing demonstration that teachers have toward the educational policies and school funding by the Schwarzenegger administration. Our goal is bring context and clarity to the issues, as well as report on the teacher protests. Our reporters on the scene, including veteran Sacramento observers, say the teacher turnout was as massive a demonstration as they've seen in Sacramento over the past several years.

New media conference

UC Berkeley is hosting this conference on Friday. It's an event worth attending on the topic of the Internet and newspapers on the cutting edge with interactive and innovative web sites.

Ethical decision

The question came up in editing this story on the murder of Terrance Kelly whether we should publish the names of the minors who testified before a grand jury investigating the homicide. It was purely an ethical decision about whether or not to publish the names of the juveniles who testified before the grand jury. The grand jury transcripts themselves revealed the names and, as a result, the names are part of the public record. I made the decision not to publish the names of the juveniles testifying in this homicide investigation because I didn't think these kids needed the exposure in the newspaper. Anyone who wants to know which juveniles testified before the grand jury in this case can read the transcripts for themselves. Their names are part of the public documents in this case. We didn't get a copy of the grand jury transcripts because it would have cost us around $400 to get a copy from Contra Costa County, and we're just as well off having had our courts reporter, Bruce Gerstman, read them, make detailed notes and write his story off his notes. There also isn't an electronic link to the grand jury transcripts that we could provide, unfortunately. There are no easy answers on when to publish and when not to publish the names of juveniles when it relates to a crime story. Circumstances change from case to case.

The day so far

The morning involved a 7:30 a.m. breakfast talk with the Pleasant Hill Chamber and small businesses in Pleasant Hill. That event lasted till 9:45 a.m., and during it we had a full discussion about the community focus of the newspaper and a re-emphasis around small businesses. Then at 10 a.m., it was an introduction to representatives with Macy's Department Stores. I hosted three Macy's reps in my office in the newsroom and we chatted about Barry Bonds, the 49ers and general chit-chat. Whether it's before a group like the Pleasant Hill Chamber or a major client like Macy's, I love to talk journalism and talk shop. The more I can discuss journalism and the newspaper, the more I see misconceptions about journalism being addressed. Journalists can do themselves and the profession a lot of good just by talking about what it is we do, how we conduct business, who we are and what we're about.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Housing market stays red hot

In the Business Section we're reporting tomorrow that the U.S. housing market continues to perform at a blistering pace. A report out today by the National Association of Realtors shows that existing homes around the country were sold in April at the fastest pace in history as the nation's red-hot housing market just keeps getting hotter. The realtors report says that existing single-family homes and condominiums were sold at a seasonally adjusted rate of 7.18 million units last month, a gain of 4.5 percent from a revised March sales pace of 6.87 million units. The Bay Area is only one of the many hot regional housing markets in the country.

All Things Digital

Interesting comments in this Wall Street Journal story out of today's All Things Digital conference in Carlsbad, Calif. Do you thoughts on what's being said here?

Filibuster national story

We were the only newspaper in the Bay Area, and I suspect one of the few in the country, who did not lead their newspaper with the deal in the Senate Monday night to address the filibuster issue on judicial nominees. The senior editors all wanted to lead the paper with the filibuster story, but I did not. The story is deadly reading to begin with, and the hot air coming out of the Senate on the issue -- "Sen. Robert Byrd, We have kept the Republic" was over the top. It was easy to predict how newspapers would carry the news, banner headlines with one or two stories starting out front and a utility box to make it easier to navigate the issue. That type of play requires devoting a good chunk of the front page to the issue, and I wasn't willing to give up that much room to the issue on A1.
Monday, May 23, 2005

Warren Beatty

Warren Beatty's speech Saturday to the graduating class of the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley has some local Dems buzzing. The speech, covered by Times Writer John Simerman, was seen by some Dems as Beatty's call to arms to unseat Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006. Local Dem blogger Tim Farley writes: "Warren Beatty’s blistering attack on Gov. Schwarzenegger’s administration over the weekend as the commencement speaker at the University of California, Berkeley, coupled with his refusal to rule out his candidacy, has ignited a gasoline tanker full of speculation of Beatty running for Governor of California against Arnold Swarzeneeger. For more than 35 years, Beatty has been active in Democratic Party politics. Whether supporting Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1968, George McGovern in 1972, and Gary Hart in 1984 or countless other candidates and issues, Beatty has genuine progressive bona fides. His remarks at the graduation ceremony had all the appearance of throwing down the gauntlet to the Governor. If the recall election in 2003 created a circus like environment of 24 hour cable news talking heads, imagine the intensity of these two Hollywood heavyweights having a shoot out on the issues with the sun setting on a warm pacific beach as a backdrop."

Anonymous sources

The use of anonymous sources and the problems associated with it, particularly in light of the Newsweek story, continues to get a full airing. David Gergen of U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, argues in this roundtable discussion that Newsweek should unmask its anonymous source that led to the news magazine's problems. What are your thoughts?
Friday, May 20, 2005

Reader objection

A few readers this week have called to complain about a Newspaper In Education piece that the Contra Costa Times has been running. The NIE segment features Hispanics who have been successful as part of NIE's education of Hispanic Heritage Week. NIE provides these segments as educational tools for school children. They are used in classrooms as learning guides. The newspaper participates by publishing the educational pieces and then delivering the newspapers to classrooms so they can be used by teachers. The three or four readers who have called are concerned about the newspaper highlighting the achievements of Hispanics and see it as an indication of too much attention being paid to Hispanics at the expense of Caucasians. These have been interesting conversations to have with readers this week.

Investigative journalism

A primary mission of our newspaper is to produce investigative journalism and be a watchdog on government agencies and elected officials. The story we published this morning on the Schwarzenegger administration and its closeness to powerbroker Bob White is an example of the watchdog investigative journalism the newspaper pushes. The story by reporter Dion Nissenbaum has been in the works for months. These stories require extensive research, interviews, documentation of public records and long hours of writing and editing. It's the type of journalism that Internet powers, such as Yahoo, Craig's List, Google, cannot produce at this stage because they don't employ journalists. There has been commentary from the founder of Craig's List that that site would like at some point to get into socially responsible journalism and investigative journalism. For now though, the Internet powers simply aggregate content but aren't producing unique content. The unique content produced by newspapers remains to be our most valuable characteristic. Journalists are part of the backbone of a free society and their work remains the most valuable part of the newspaper.
Thursday, May 19, 2005

Hotter than Star Wars

The Lesher Speaker series sponsored by the Contra Costa Times sold out Thursday, only hours after the tickets went on sale. The speaker series, only in its second year coming up, has become a must-attend event in the East Bay. Next year's lineup includes the likes of Steve Young, Dan Rather, Dave Barry, among others.
Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Here we go again

Journalists are in the news again around the topic of ethics, use of anonymous sources and credibility. It's a stain we bring on ourselves with sloppy work and breaches of trust. No doubt the fallout over Newsweek Magazine's use of anonymous sources has caught your attention, but closer to home in the Bay Area the resignation of Sacramento Bee columnist Diana Griego Erwin may not be on your radar. Here's an interesting item on her situation. You want to know what our policy is that guides the Contra Costa Times newsroom? Our ethics policy is here.
The simplest guidepost is to let your conscience be your guide. As for anonymous sources, our Sunday Perspective section will carry a commentary from Clark Hoyt, the Knight Ridder Washington boss, who writes about how anonymous sources are a way of doing business in Washington, not necessarily for journalists but by the powerbrokers in the White House and the halls of Congress.

Tomorrow's newspaper

Really neat story for tomorrow's newspaper by our Science Writer Betsy Mason. She writes about an effort to create an artificial retina that could restore sight to people with macular degeneration or retinitis pigmentosa, two of the most common causes of blindness. Let Betsy know what you think. Her email is bmason@cctimes.com. You can find the story on our front page tomorrow, or on the homepage of contracostatimes.com

Newsmakers

We'll be announcing in tomorrow's newspaper the lineup for year two of the Lesher Speaker Series of Newsmakers. The lineup includes: Steve Young, Sept. 6; Dan Rather, Oct. 10; Erin Brockovich, Nov. 1; Dave Barry, March 7, 2006; Madame Jehan Sadat, April 11, 2006; Andrew Cuomo and J.C. Watts, May 3, 2006. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket window of the Dean Lesher Regional Center in downtown Walnut Creek, or by calling 925-943-SHOW. Here is a flier for the event.
Monday, May 16, 2005

Film crew in-house

An independent film crew doing a segment on the Bay Bridge construction project is in the newsroom today shooting footage of our chief political reporter Lisa Vorderbrueggen. Lisa is getting included in the documentary because of the work she has done in covering the project, including a series we published more than 4 years ago that took an in-depth look at why all the delays in the project. When we published that series, little did we know then that still today the project would be mired in political squabbling. The focus of the film apparently is the design of the project and engineering work associated with the project. Lisa has written extensively on these matters and is largely considered THE EXPERT on this project among Bay Area journalists.

Controversial photograph


We published this photograph from a Friday accident scene in the city of Concord. We spent a fair amount of time debating whether to publish the photograph given its visual impact of seeing an accident victim on the roadside with the fireball in the background. The person on the ground is not dead, but was transported to a local hospital and is in stable condition, we're told. The accident did cause one death. I had two readers upset by the photography. Prior to publishing we discussed the need to be sensitive to the families of those involved in the accident and to our readers. We ultimately decided to publish based on the news value. What do you think? Would you have published the photograph if you were the editor?

Worth reading

On Sunday business reporter George Avalos delivered a question and answer segment with San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank President Janet Yellen. The Q&A, found here yields to the reader a better comprehension of the forces at work in today's economy.
Friday, May 13, 2005

Warriors

Lunch today with the Golden State Warriors public relations staff. Always a nice perk to get to see those people and spend time talking about the team and how we cover the Warriors.

Military bases

Given that we're currently reporting on our web site the fact that the Concord Naval Weapons Base is being recomended for closure by the U.S. government, our focus for the Saturday paper will be to bring more clarity and explanation to what it means. The web site offers great opportunity to report on breaking news, and the daily paper gives us the avenue to bring greater depth and clarity to the issue. That's why we feel the web site and daily newspaper complement each other and we can use both in unique ways for content.
Thursday, May 12, 2005

Two cool stories for Friday

We're at tonight's premiere of the Star Wars movie in San Francisco and will build our front page around that for Friday. That's one cool story in tomorrow's paper.
The other is a setup to the AMA Superbikes races at Infineon this weekend. The story looks at Michael Jordan's involvement with motorcross and how he has tapped into some local talent to ride on his AMA team.

Journalist meeting

The lunch hour was spent with journalists working at the San Jose Mercury News. I was invited to talk to them about career paths, juggling personal life and a career, and how I got to be the editor of a newspaper. I love talking to journalists and I love talking about my profession as a journalist. It was a good chat and a good opportunity to meet some hard-working journalists at another newspaper.
Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Coming Sunday

We've asked the Rev. Andre L. Shumake to write some commentary about the upcoming June 4 summit in Richmond that gets to the heart of black-on-black crime in that city. Shumake is organizing a June community forum as he engages in a dialogue that talks about living in peace in Richmond's black communities. You can read his essay in the Sunday Perspective section.

Outrageous story

The outrageous story of the day comes out of Hercules and a high school student who apparently was severely beaten in a school bathroom and the beating videotaped and posted on a web site. We'll bring a full report in tomorrow's newspaper. Update: Story is here.
Tuesday, May 10, 2005

What was that?

Buzz of the day is the stuff falling out of the skies over the town of Danville. The Federal Aviation Administration is looking into the Monday night flight over Danville that saw cargo from a FedEx plan falling from the sky. Once we have a story online, we distribute it to other Knight Ridder sites like this one in Fort Worth.
Monday, May 09, 2005

Flashback

In the check out line at a local Safeway store today when I look at the newstands and see a photograph of JonBenet Ramsey staring at me. Of course, her face was on a National Enquirer. The memories of covering that story for the Denver Post flood back. What an intense, national story her murder turned out to be. Never quite sure why a story like hers takes off and gains such national exposure. For us in Denver at the time, it was a murder on Christmas Eve in Boulder that got our interest. It turned out to be one of the most intense, competitive stories we ever engaged in. For three years that story dominated our lives. I could tell some fascinating stories about the sources we cultivated, and the inside knowledge we gained from both the defense and prosecutor teams. The police reporter who led the way for us was Marilyn Robinson, now retired. She is one of the most magnificent police reporters ever to work in a newsroom. I can't believe JonBenet is still on the cover of magazines, some eight years later.

That time of year

The months of May and June typically mean a lot of stories on government spending like the one we published Sunday from our Sacramento bureau. State and local governments predictably will be scurrying about, trying to figure out how much tax money they have to spend and what they will spend it on. And typically we'll write about programs being eliminated, and the acrimony between elected officials and the public they serve and the acrimony between elected officials and other elected officials. It can get maddening, if not confusing, reading the various stories on government budget plans, and our job as editors is to challenge how the stories are being written and presented so that they are comprehensible and relevant to people's every day lives. Having covered government at all levels and having written hundreds of stories on how government spend its money, my instincts are that these stories are important. The key is not to make them dull, but real enough that people can comprehend what's going on.
Friday, May 06, 2005

Friday's schedule

8 a.m.--Retrieve voicemails, read email, organize next week's schedule, field telephone calls, discuss Knight Ridder project on telephone with pertinent players.
9 a.m.--Attend weekly meeting on production issues of newspaper. Hear about challenges of putting out the morning newspapers.
10a.m.-noon--Attend newspaper strategic planning meeting.
1 p.m.--Attend newsprint task force meeting.
2:30 p.m.--Attend Page 1 news meeting.
4 p.m.--Drive to Danville for celebration on launch of Danville Times.
Thursday, May 05, 2005

Disappointed reader

Voicemail left for me this morning from a reader who said she was disappointed we reported the arrest of Abu Farraj Libbi , a suspected terrorist fugitive captured in Pakistan, on our Nation/World cover this morning and not on our front page. She surmised that the reason we "buried" the story on our inside Nation/World page was because it was "good news" in the nation's fight against terrorism. Interesting logic on the part of this reader.
Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Exclusive reporting

We will have exclusive reporting tomorrow on the pipeline explosion in downtown Walnut Creek. The explosion of Nov. 9 killed 5 people. Our reporting will tell you who the government is saying is to blame.

Breaking news

We've gotten pretty swift at posting local breaking news on the web site. The latest is the verdict in Jimena Barreto case, who was found guilty today of second-degree murder in the hit-and-run deaths of Danville children Alana and Troy Pack. Our swiftness in posting breaking news online has come as a result of impressing upon our journalists that breaking news online and not waiting till the next day to inform is essential. We want ContraCostaTimes.com to be the web site people turn to for the latest in local news in the East Bay.
Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Food

You'll see on our front page tomorrow a look at food on the Monument Boulevard corridor in the city of Concord. Tomorrow's food page is devoted to food that can be found in this wonderful hidden gem in Contra Costa County. We use the front page to take readers into the Food Section of the newspaper.

Latinos

We put on our Page 1 of Tuesday's edition a story off a report from the Pew Hispanic Center that looked at wages for Latinos and the types of occupations they are now dominating in this country. The story landed on our front page because of the trend it shows on wages and types of jobs for this ever-growing segment of the U.S. population. We think it's important to consistently write about this growing population and run the stories in prominent positions in the newspaper. I have issues with how we neatly label people in categories, like Latino, but that's another topic. Our goal is to consistently put a face on this growing population and write about the issues that impact them in significant ways.

Newspaper circulation

Newspapers are reporting their circulation numbers for the first quarter of 2005 (months of January, February and March) and the picture isn't pretty for most newspaper companies. The Contra Costa Times is an exception. We're showing circulation growth in the first quarter for both daily subscribers and Sunday subscribers. Not a lot of growth, but still some growth. We moved to 187,042 daily subscribers in the first quarter of 2005 versus 186,335 in the first quarter of 2004; and on Sunday we moved to 197,423 subscribers versus 195,815 this time last year. More later on what it all means.
Monday, May 02, 2005

Reporters

Reporter Dogen Hannah walked back into the Times newsroom this morning. It was a good to see his face. Dogen has been in Iraq, as part of the Knight Ridder reporting team. This was his third trip to Iraq over the past 12 months. He said the suicide bomb this morning in Iraq was in the area of Baghdad where Knight Ridder has its reporters headquartered. There is always worry when you have reporting staff abroad, particularly these days in Iraq. Another Times reporter, Jack Chang, is headed to Brazil. Jack has been re-assigned to be the Knight Ridder foreign correspondent in Rio de Janeiro. So we get Dogen back, and we bid Jack farewell and wished him well in his new reporting adventure.
Sunday, May 01, 2005

Iraq hostage

We're reporting in Monday's edition that a local man, Douglas Wood, age 63, of Alamo, was abducted by insurgents. His capture was broadcast today. His wife, Pearl, saw the videotape and confirmed it was her husband. Wood is an Australian-born engineer who has been in Iraq for about 18 months. Reporter Guy Ashley and Sunday editor Scott Marshall are working the story. We're getting comment from his friends and family, who live in and around Alamo. Alamo is a short distance from our Walnut Creek headquarters in the East Bay. We will play the story on our Monday front page.