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Changes at Streetvibes to 'Broaden the Reach of the Paper'

By Ben L. Kaufman · December 20th, 2010 · On Second Thought

Streetvibes Editor Greg Flannery left over what I will call irreconcilable differences with Josh Spring, executive director of the sponsoring Greater Cincinnati Coalition of the Homeless. Jennifer Martin is the new editor of the every-other-week publication; she started on Friday and will have a hand in the Jan. 1 issue. The mid-January issue will be hers.

Flannery’s two years brought dramatic, positive change. Predecessor Jimmy Heath gave voice to the homeless, who contributed poetry, narratives and art to monthly issues.

Vendors buy Streetvibes for 25 cents and sell for $1. Some were or are homeless; all are low income. A lot of us buy it to support them rather than for the paper’s content.

Flannery turned Streetvibes into a paper that we bought to read, in large part because of his reporting and contributions of talented volunteer writers and photographers he recruited. It became more of a voice for the homeless than an outlet for their work.

Streetvibes had matured from newsletter to alternative street paper without dropping the mission of educating the rest of us about homelessness and gentrification. Flannery and the paper won international acclaim and awards. Demand soared. Streetvibes went biweekly and from about 2,700 copies to 8,000 a month.

Spring and I talked Friday about Coalition plans for the paper. As was Flannery, Martin will be Streetvibes’ only paid employee.

“If we didn’t have volunteers, we’d be up the creek,” Spring said. How true. Working with Spring, they put out two editions after Flannery left.

“I pulled it together and gave it to the layout artist,” Spring said, adding that volunteers again will do a lot of the work on the Jan. 1 edition. “We will not miss any issues.”

The editor’s pay isn’t great. Spring said it’s $12-$14 an hour, saying, “We don’t have a lot of cash lying around. Our people work hard (for that kind of money) because they’re passionate.”

Streetvibes’ editor was half-time for more than 11 years when Flannery took over. He became fulltime as he took it from monthly to biweekly.

My concern is that Streetvibes will suffer with change. With a background in radio, Martin lacks Flannery’s long experience on small newspapers, which included a stint as news editor at CityBeat.

Martin is optimistic. “I feel the biggest part of my transition to the paper will be to really give a thoughtful and emotional voice to those a lot of Cincinnatians try not to see,” she says.

I hope she reads some back issues. That’s what Streetvibes has been doing, albeit differently under each editor. I look forward to her voice.

Martin’s job description, however, includes greater responsibility for marketing and fundraising even though she’ll be only half-time.

“We’re just going back to the way it was,” Spring said. That was before Streetvibes was a biweekly.

If its content becomes less vital to our communities, the first people to suffer will be the vendors. Diminished sales also will mean fewer people reading about the extent and complexity of homelessness. That defines "counterproductive."

Professional differences aside, Spring was generous in his praise of Flannery.

“Greg was an excellent editor,” Spring said. Without prompting, he credited Flannery for much of what I’ve said about the maturing and growth of Streetvibes “to another level.”

Streetvibes will remain a biweekly 16-page paper, but Spring wants to expand coverage and sales beyond the central city. “In the next year, our focus will be on broadening the reach of the paper,” he says.

Spring is counting on Martin maintaining and building on what Flannery left: “We want people to buy the paper because they want to read the paper.” Success will be the “next level.”

As for Streetvibes’ content, “it’s a good question,” Spring continued, but “the paper will play its role” in Coalition battles to house the homeless and oppose gentrification. Spring said he doesn’t want to be an uber-editor, reading everything before it goes in, and he has no desire to be a censor. Staff meetings will include Martin, and then her job “is to do what an editor does.”

Spring isn’t averse to asking her “Can you do a story?” on a specific topic or alerting her to potential conflict with an initiative. He’s the boss. That’s why Streetvibes did not pursue the death of a man burned by a fire he’d lighted to stay warm at a Queensgate encampment; Spring said the Coalition was working with the man’s family and coverage could have been troublesome. Beyond that, he said, “I don’t want to micro-manage the editor.”

A key to Martin’s success will continue to be the volunteers: retired artists, layout editors, writers, photographers or journalism interns. Still others are local pros willing to work for the “free” part of freelance. “We don’t want to lose any of that,” Spring said.

That’s a risk. Many contributed because Flannery asked. Not all will transfer that affection to Streetvibes itself, but Spring was confident that many will stay and others will join. “They buy into the mission of the paper,” he said.

Curmudgeon Notes

• Dreadful as Sarah Palin’s cable series on Alaska is, we owe its producers an "atta-boy!" No one else could have shown her to be the bullshit artist she is as effectively as her own TV show. A recent episode purports to show her as a seasoned hunter, spending tens of thousands of dollars to kill one caribou to feed a family for the winter. So what went wrong? Well, as her TV show demonstrates, she’s no shooter, no matter what she claims. It took five clear shots before the last one killed the caribou.

Anyone can miss a long shot, especially when excited. Veteran hunters will tell you that. It’s no honor, but rarely is it a disgrace ... unless it’s Jackson Hole elk walking in a line past hunters and most miss their targets.

Palin's inability to handle a rifle, however, drew scorn from hunters as well as blood-sport critics.

She mishandles one rifle by putting her finger on the trigger when the rifle is handed to her. You don’t do that until you’re ready to shoot. Rifle, pistol or shotgun, you keep your finger on the weapon above the trigger where even the accident prone can’t shoot a companion accidentally.

Palin doesn’t even know how to load and reload the bolt action rifles carried for her. Her father and another man reload for her after each shot. It’s not the difficult: You lift the handle on the bolt of a bolt action rifle, pull it back, eject the spent cartridge, insert a new one and push the bolt forward, dropping the handle to close the deal. Then the bolt rifle is ready again to fire. Skilled British infantrymen were said to fire at the rate of 20-30 aimed shots a minute from their bolt action rifles.

Palin didn’t know how to fire two aimed shots without someone reloading for her. It doesn’t matter whether she was using repeating rifles being loaded one cartridge at a time or single-shot rifles. She didn’t know what she was doing. And we have it forever on YouTube.

• Is it time for NPR to rein in or fire its national political correspondent, Mara Liasson, for toadying to Fox bias when she appears on the cable network? I didn’t see the show, but Media Matters reports that one night on Fox’s Special Report with Bret Baier, Liasson referred to the “public option” several times in a discussion of health reform. “Public option” is an Obama phrase not to be spoken on Fox. Instead, phrases that GOP pollsters say piss off voters are required.

Liasson apparently hadn’t gotten the Fox memo. So host Baier corrected her, saying, “Should we say ‘government option’ by the way?” That is a Fox-approved substitute for Obama’s “public option.” Media Matters says Liasson responded, “Government option, OK.”

If NPR reporters can’t live on their salaries, let them go to Fox, where Washington bureau yearly pay can exceed $400,000. I loathed Juan Williams’ dancing to Fox’s tune while NPR still offered him as a neutral analyst. I applauded his firing for racist anti-Muslim remarks on Fox when he wasn’t even pretending to analyze the news. He went to Fox for millions.

• Channel 19 provided the latest hoot. We were told that a small house was torched to train new suburban fire fighters. The house went up and fell down. Someone appeared to be holding a hose, but the water fell short. That was it.

• Now for the rest of the story. Thane Maynard’s enthusiasm for the Ozone Zip Line at Camp Kern in Warren County was boundless on a recent WVXU broadcast. He was just as supportive of the Dayton YMCA’s plan to extend the zip lines 1,500 feet across the Little Miami River toward Ft. Ancient and allies supporting the plan. Zip lines give guests treetop views of the land and foliage. Camp Kern also includes an educational element in each ride.

But there’s a catch: Some days before Maynard’s broadcast, Little Miami Inc., the preservationist group, sued to kill the zip line extension. Neither Maynard nor his guest mentioned that on WVXU. The suit involves a conservation easement that the Y sold to LMI and the Warren County Soil & Water Conservation District in 2007 for $62,863.20. The easement comprises a strip of land along the west bank. It bars, among other things, “power or transmission lines” across the land. Extended zip lines over the river - one in each direction - would cross the easement. LMI says zip lines are analogous to banned power/transmission lines.

The National Park Service also objects, but Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources granted a license to run its new zip lines through Little Miami State Park on the Ft. Ancient/east side of the river. The suit asks Warren County Common Pleas Court to permanently bar the zip line extensions across the easement. The Enquirer, which first reported the suit, says a February court date has been set.

• Media Matters is getting serious about its campaign against Fox News ranter Glenn Beck. HuffingtonPost reports that Media Matters hired Angelo Carusone, a recent law school grad who has devoted himself to persuading advertisers to abandon Beck. Carusone works on Twitter as @StopBeck. He says the campaign - with Color of Change and others - have cost Beck more than 300 advertisers. Carusone said his first victory came in August 2009, when Kraft Foods told him it did not want to be associated with Beck's brand. HuffPost says Beck hasn’t had an advertiser in Britain for months.

Carusone told HuffPost, "I had been doing the Stop Beck campaign since July 2, 2009. And the approach that I brought to the Stop Beck effort was that we simply have to do something. We've asked Fox News, and in this case Glenn Beck, to be more responsible and they've simply refused. They just ignore repeated requests for responsibility. It's not a matter of me disagreeing with their opinions. And when I did Stop Beck, it wasn't about political disagreements; it was about the willful lies. The lies that are so demonstrably false and they're so aboveboard, in terms of how false they are, that it can only be inferred that they're being propagated willfully in order to willfully lie to advance a personal or political agenda."

Coincidentally, philanthropist George Soros - the Hungarian Jew whom Beck accused of aiding Nazi persecution of Jews in World War II Hungary - donated $1 million to Media Matters. "I am supporting Media Matters in an effort to more widely publicize the challenge Fox News poses to civil and informed discourse in our democracy," Soros said.

• Is The New York Times warmongering again? Critics say its reporting on Pentagon emails leaves the impression that Iran has long range missiles without further evidence of this strategic threat. The Page 1 story last month recalled Times’ editors enthusiasm for Judith Miller’s role as echo chamber for Donald Rumsfeld and George Bush’s justifications (weapons of mass destruction) to invade Iraq. There were, of course, no WMD and we’re still in Iraq. Miller is no longer at The Times; she left and now resides more comfortably at Fox News. The question is whether The Times is joining the hue and cry against Iran, as it did for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

• Republicans continue to read the U.S. Constitution with stunning partisanship. Allen West, a Florida Republican congressman elected last month, wants American news outlets censored by the government for stories based on WikiLeaks. HuffingtonPost caught West’s assault on the First Amendment: WikiLeaks got its his hands “on classified American material and put it out there in the public domain. And I think that we also should be censoring the American news agencies which enabled him to do this and also supported him and applauding him for the efforts.” I’m waiting for Tea Party Republicans entering Congress to call for public punishment for West’s deliberate trashing of the Constitution. Isn’t that what’s done for desecrating holy texts?

• London’s Guardian, with whom WikiLeaks shared its State Department cables, reports that Pakistani papers, including one linked to the International Herald Tribune, were suckered into publishing phony cables. Were it not so potentially dangerous in that region, the rush to print without attempts at verification would be laughable. The faked cables said Indian generals are genocidal and New Delhi backs anti-Pakistan militants. The Guardian said the English-language paper The News and other dailies reported that the faked cables said that U.S. diplomats “described senior Indian generals as vain, egotistical and genocidal; they said India's government is secretly allied with Hindu fundamentalists; and they claimed Indian spies are covertly supporting Islamist militants in Pakistan's tribal belt and Balochistan. ... If accurate, the disclosures would confirm the worst fears of Pakistani nationalist hawks and threaten relations between Washington and New Delhi. But they are not accurate. An extensive search of the WikiLeaks database by the Guardian by date, name and keyword failed to locate any of the incendiary allegations.”

The faked-cable story was attributed to Online Agency, which The Guardian said is an “Islamabad-based news service that has frequently run pro-army stories in the past.” Whether the phony “cables” originated with the Pakistani military or intelligence agency is a matter of speculation. Since then, at least one daily, The Express Tribune, has published a retraction/correction. “In the December 9 edition of The Express Tribune, a report was published on page 8 under the caption ‘WikiLeaks: What US officials think about the Indian Army.’ It now transpires that the story, which was run by a news agency, Online, was not authentic. The Express Tribune deeply regrets publishing this story without due verification and apologises profusely for any inconvenience caused to our valued readers.”

Outside of nuclear-armed and conspiracy-rich South Asia, readers could respond to Pakistani credulity/propaganda with humor. At France 24 online, correspondent Leela Jacinto wrote that “nothing - I repeat, nothing - could have prepared me for the sheer treat that lay in store” in the story relying on faked cables in another Pakistani daily, The News. “Two grafs into the story and I was chuckling. Four graphs in and I was chortling with that ‘rather a geek’ comment. Seven grafs and I was exclaiming, ‘But this is funnier than The Onion!’ By the end of the 2,000-odd word piece I was wiping my eyes – tears of mirth or tears of sheer exasperation, I really can’t say.”

(The Onion recently fooled Fox News into posting a story about a nonexistent 75,000-word email sent by Obama to millions of voters. Fox hasn’t responded to my email asking if it has published a retraction.)

Noting the high quality of writing in genuine cables, Jacinto continued, “if a US diplomat sends a cable calling a former Indian Army chief an ‘incompetent combat leader and rather a geek’ with a ‘much far from reality’ war doctrine of eliminating China and Pakistan, someone should have smelt a rat.” She added that The Express Tribune is affiliated with the International Herald Tribune, which is owned by The New York Times.

• I have no idea whether Julian Assange dipped into a honeypot in Sweden, but women’s allegations of sexual misconduct increasingly are overtaking coverage of Pentagon and State Department emails and cables released and posted by WikiLeaks. If Assange simply is priapic, then his sexual adventures threaten his stated anti-secrecy mission. If the women (or their allegations) were part of U.S. efforts to destroy WikiLeaks, Assange seems to be a willing coconspirator.

Meanwhile, The New York Times and London Guardian continue to tell us what was in the emails and cables. As The Nation put it last week, WikiLeaks illuminated alliances that put America’s standing at risk. “But it’s not WikiLeaks that did it. It’s the policy of covert action and the lies to cover it up.”

• Not only can’t the Pentagon protect its secrets from an Army private with a pocket flash drive, but the Department of Defense is gulping stupid pills. First, it blocked Air Force computer access to news sites carrying WikiLeak emails. Why? Letting Air Force personnel read classified materials in the public domain on insecure computers could compromise security. CityBeat to USAF: Horse is out of the barn. Forget doors. Ditto Army, Navy.

Not content with being obtuse, the Obama administration attacked the military daily Stars & Stripes, whose ombudsman wrote: “(T)he Pentagon entity under whose aegis Stars and Stripes and its journalists operate, Defense Media Activity, recently advised: ‘Access to any classified information hosted on non-DoD systems from any government-owned system is expressly prohibited. Additionally, all DMA personnel are reminded that access to classified or sensitive information from any personally owned or publicly available computers also constitutes unauthorized access and is reportable to security personnel’.” Aren’t those the same security mavens whose best efforts were foiled by Pvt. Bradley Manning, his flash drive and “Lady Gaga” CD?

The administration says Stars & Stripes journalists may read the same WikiLeaks online at newspaper sites like The New York Times or London Guardian. That doesn’t undo the attack on Stars & Stripes’ independence, Ombudsman Mark Prendergast said, citing the Pentagon directive which governs Stars and Stripes operations.

It says, in part, “Editorial policies and practices of the Stars and Stripes shall be in accordance with journalistic standards governing U.S. daily commercial newspapers of the highest quality. ... Except as provided in paragraph 4.5, below, the DoD policy for the Stars and Stripes is that there shall be a free flow of news and information to its readership without news management or censorship. The calculated withholding of unfavorable news is prohibited.” Paragraph 4.5 provides that only certain classified or sensitive information “that is not in the public domain” already can be ordered withheld from publication in Stars and Stripes. May Air Force personnel read the WikiLeaks online if the emails on the Stars & Stripes web site?

• The news media have been quick to pick up on the Pentagon study that reported a lot of combat troops don’t like the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. They say that openly gay comrades will degrade unit cohesion and combat readiness. What I’ve missed is news coverage of the the impact on unit cohesion and combat readiness of heterosexual harassment and violence, to say nothing of open affection between service men and women. From all I’ve read and heard, it’s boys will be boys as long as girls are around ... unless you read and heard what the women say.


CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: editor@citybeat.com

 
 
 
 

 

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