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September 7, 2006

 In the News


THAT NEW MEDIA SMELL. If you go to Arcata resident Paul Benson's website -- -- to learn about how the recent transplant from SoCal plans to "take the existing citizen media movement ... and turn it into a New Media Revolution," you simply must watch the video. Save a long stretch of yawns, for it's lengthy and very salespitchish, but watch it. If not for the inspiration to revolt into new media, then for the vision of Benson loping -- first hesitantly, then exhuberantly -- into a grove of redwoods with a "Hi. I'm Paul Benson. These are some big-ass trees." S'funny.

Anyway, Benson -- who retreated to Humboldt about a year ago, a weary, city-sick man whose days of traffic, smog and frenetic activity are done -- thinks he can overhaul the country's media and wrest it from the clutches of the powerful, corporate few who play our senses like marionettes. He hopes to do this by using new technology -- "high-end equipment, lots of computers, hi-speed connection, cameras" -- plus battalions of volunteers whose collective name is "Real Person" (to hear Benson tell it), supported by a hoped-for nationwide system of brick 'n' mortar "nodes" filled with aforesaid latest technology, where the diverse, ordinary ranks can learn how to collect and disseminate news. Hmm, kinda sounds like J-School. Or, aside from the brick-n-mortar training-and-support shop, it sounds like what's already happening organically on the Internet -- we've got citizen media coming out our ears.

But it's different from all that, says Benson, who hosted a gathering in Blue Lake last week to entice volunteers and converts to his cause. We didn't make it to his gathering, but over the phone the day after he said he had 12-15 "potential allies" who showed up to learn more about his non-profit venture. He says the key to his revolution is collaboration. Gathering news takes time, and individuals can only do so much. In his scheme, people could connect through these nodes and work on projects together. And, he emphasizes, the idea isn't to start one big new media organization, but one big support system. "We're looking to allow people to package their own projects ... to create new and powerful ways people can hook up with each other and collaborate."

Benson does, however, plan to start his own media outlets through the system: two TV stations and two radio stations, one each for news and entertainment, respectively. These will be "largely tailored to a national audience, offering national news and maybe some notable regional news." In other words, these won't be local newscasts produced by local folks beating the pavement, hitting the scene. But Benson says initially he'll probably tap into local citizens to be his media makers. Anyone can do it, he says, "and you can do a lot of research on the Internet."

Anyone? Can Rob Arkley -- just fer instance -- be one of the citizen reporters? Benson, after a pause, said, "Yes. As an individual. And if his business was small. ... Anyone is a potential media maker. However, if there is a demonstrable situation where a [citizen reporter] is using their money, to augment their personal enterprise, they might be limited."

Ah -- how will Benson pay for his revolution? He's a little cagey about that. "Funding -- it's something I don't want to give away too much about yet," he said. "This is a new venture, this is a competition. But, in this society, there are the usual routes: grants, membership dues, donations, volunteer time, and there is the possibility of advertising revenue on those media channels."

He most likely would not accept advertising from big corporations, he said.

"If you look at the guidelines on my website, to achieve the objective, [we have to] make it a forum for real people -- human beings, as opposed to corporations or governments."

-- Heidi Walters


HIGH NOON LIONESS? It's only three miles from the Korbel Post Office to the fork in the road where you can swoop right toward Maple Creek or veer left and climb the intermittently gravel road toward Bald Mountain. But, typical of any inland venture, it's a very steep three miles. And about a third of the way up, when I'm riding this pretty green corridor on my bicycle, I start looking for things to flat out my tire so I can stop with dignity and have a breather. Sometimes, that happens.

But on Sunday I found another reason to stop and let the ache in my lungs subside. I'd passed it before, that huge gray-tan snag of a dead tree standing on the side of the road. I'd noted the sign on it before, too: "Indian Arrow Tree." But usually there are people on bikes waiting for me up ahead, always ahead, and I don't stop. On Sunday I stopped. The tree has two signs. One, a plaque, says "Indian Arrow Tree." The other is carved into the trunk, which has weathered and split with age. It says, "Indian Arrow Tree. Site of treaty between coast and mountain Indian tribes. Hist. Lndmk. No. 164. High Noon Lioness Club 1938."

At least, I think it says "1938." But I'm certain of the "high noon lioness" part. Does anyone know what that means? On an unofficial website devoted to historical landmarks, a man named Donald Laird has compiled what he could find out about it, along with photos of the tree. He writes: "Tribes of Native Americans that once lived along this region peppered the bark of this redwood tree with arrows. The tree is believed to have been a symbol of peace or a boundary between the neighboring camps."

Well, and it's true that a symbol of peace often arrives in the future tattered, weathered and even dead -- but still standing, still meaningful. And, apparently, at some point the high noon lionesses come along to scratch a legend to its survival.

-- Heidi Walters

Above: Indian Arrow Tree, site of treaty between coast and mountain Native American tribes. For more photos of California landmarks by Donald Laird, go to



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