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September 21, 2006

 In the News

The harder they come?


Excerpt from The Diary of Stefan B., A Minor Functionary ...

Friday, Sept. 15, 2006. The evening found me sitting at the kitchen table, vexedly staring down into a large aluminum bowl containing our weekly share from the CSA farm. The farm had blessed us with some particularly fine beets, and I was considering the consequences of serving them without Masha's beloved sour cream.

Masha often expresses a desire to go vegan, and also makes frequent unsuccessful efforts in that direction. It is the sour cream, invariably, that tempts her back to lacto-ovoism. Earlier in the day I had quietly emptied the remainder of her tub into the compost. Her vacillations on the issue oppressed me; besides, her ankles have lately acquired an unsightly thickness, which I attribute to her consumption of the cream. Now there would certainly be recrimination when the beets were brought to the table, and it would be well to prepare my case.

The front door slammed, interrupting my reverie, and I heard Masha's heavy steps thundering up the hall. She burst into the kitchen. Her eyes were moist. Her mouth opened and closed soundlessly, like a fish. I stared back, displeased by the sight. "Oh, Stefan!" she finally cried, and suddenly her features blossomed with joy. "Haven't you heard, Stefan? The traitor Dikeman has been purged!"

I started from my chair, upsetting the bowl and scattering the beets to the floor. My pulse quickened. Could it be so? Then I remembered the news from earlier in the week, and the pieces fell into place. I felt dizzy ...

For years we had longed for the day when this heretical serpent, this cancer in the bosom of the District Attorney's Office, would receive his comeuppance. But Paul, in his infinite kindness, had shown mercy on the wretch, and no doubt would have kept him gainfully employed forever had not fate intervened in the form of a ruling from a higher court. No, I told myself, Paul would not discuss personnel matters. (I heard his voice at that moment: "You never discuss personnel matters." Sage advice!) Even so, one could scry the event to divine the truth that Paul intended for us to hear.

Yes, Paul was merciful, it said, but his mercy extended only so far. And when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Dikeman had illegally excluded Native Americans from a jury pool 12 years ago, Paul had to act, however much it pained him personally. The message was plain: Applicants, take note! Vile racists like Worth Dikeman will not find shelter on the fourth floor of the Humboldt County Courthouse!

As Masha and I embraced, the phone rang for the first of many times that night. Our friends were just as excited as we were, of course, and we exchanged our ideas about the significance of the action. The consensus was that Paul would finally be able to institute the glorious reforms that our enemies had conspired to thwart over the past five years. With no ally in the office, the timber companies and police agencies alike would now quiver at the mere mention of Paul's name, and so their misdeeds would forever be checked. A new day had dawned.

That night, I treated Masha to dinner at Luzmila's Restaurant, where the sour cream is served gratis in little tin cups. As we cycled home in the moonlight, I realized again how beautiful she is. I wanted this feeling never to end ...


Thank you for that, Stefan. You are the Samuel Pepys of Humboldt County in the 21st century, and we do hope you will continue share your thoughts with us. But now we must turn our attention to a brave soldier in the Great Eureka Newspaper War of 2004 Onward: Charles Winkler, late editor of the Times-Standard.

Who first broke the story that Winkler was to be relieved of his duties at the T-S? None other than Captain Buhne of the Buhne Tribune blog, exploiting the admirable network of newsroom confidantes he has patiently built over the last few years. (Aspiring power bloggers, take note: Reporters respond well to browbeating and ridicule, so long as they are served with a smidgen of bonhomie). Buhne sent out his blast by RSS on Saturday. He wrote that Winkler had reportedly cleared out his desk the previous day, and cheekily speculated that perhaps Shawn Warford, proprietor of the dead-as-dog Humboldt Advocate, was being groomed to take Winkler's place.

Well, it had people talking throughout the weekend, the Dandy can certainly confirm that. By Monday, those in the know were taking it as plain fact, even though neither the Times-Standard nor the Eureka Reporter had printed a word about the scoop. On Tuesday morning, the Reporter rushed a "sources-say" story into print. The Times-Standard remained mum throughout, both in its pages and on the phone. Suddenly, not a single word emanated from what must be the leakiest shop on the North Coast, bar none. That had to tell you something.

And — lo! — on Tuesday morning, it turned out that it was all true. Winkler would be stepping down. Or, rather, if you cared to believe the T-S spin, he was stepping up! Yes, though the details were apparently not yet finalized, Winkler was to be offered a promotion within MediaNews Corp., the megalithic media corporation of which the T-S family of papers forms a tiny corner. He would be offered a power job at one of MediaNews' Bay Area properties, it was said. (Note: If Winkler ends up at the Oakland Tribune or the Marin Independent-Journal, maybe it's a promotion. If he ends up at the Fremont Argus or the Hayward Daily Review, it ain't no promotion.)

Winkler was given a send-off Tuesday morning, with MediaNews Corp. CEO Dean Singleton (the most dangerous media man in America, except for maybe Rob Arkley) making a personal appearance at T-S headquarters on Sixth Street. Singleton reportedly thanked Winkler for his service, and he introduced staffers to the new guy: Rich Somerville, a Grass Valley resident and apparently something of a "guru" in the newspaper world.

Speaking solely for ourselves, we were kind of expecting that Singleton would tap a firebrand to lead the T-S in its ongoing struggle-to-the-death against Arkley's Eureka Reporter — someone with a rumbling urge for conquest in his guts, someone who wouldn't shy from throwing a chair at a sub-editor when he gets beat on a story. Someone who might even fire a reporter who wasn't holding his own. Such a person would have made sense — when billionaires go to war with one another, wouldn't they want someone with a touch of that billionaire spirit leading the troops?

Well, we haven't met the guy, but it would certainly appear that Somerville ain't that person. He holds an M.A. in "Alternative Futures" (!) from the University of Hawaii (!!). He is a "Ph.D. candidate" at the University of Missouri School of Journalism — a good school, if you graduate. Lately, he's been running his own business — "Media Foresight Associates," a consulting firm. His online resume includes a picture of him hugging a puppy.

On the plus side, his consulting services seem to be highly regarded. Hey, here's a quote from Greg Moore, editor of the MediaNews flagship The Denver Post: "We had a terrific MediaNews retreat and your presence helped make it so," Moore writes. "Your presentation really struck a chord with the editors in attendance. They tell me this was the best retreat ever. A lot of good thinking got done."

Well, Rich Somerville, welcome to Humboldt County. Here's a briefing from The Town Dandy, and don't say I never did you any favors. It's true that this is a touchy-feely place on the surface. Alternative Futures? University of Hawaii? They're going to eat that right up, some of them. But there's a shark beneath every surface, my friend. They'll use you, they'll lie to you ... they'll try to make your paper so safe for them that they'll never have to read it again. And by "them," I mean both sides. I mean all sides.

I sincerely hope you stay for a while, at least. But if you do end up moving on, please tell your reporters one thing: Don't sit on the story!



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