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Local Journalism In The Age Of Pandemic

 April 22, 2020 at 2:00 AM PDT

People were back in some San Diego city parks today… after Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced a partial re-opening on Monday. KPBS reporters - standing six feet away, by the way -- talked to San Diego resident Roberta Grace as she ate her lunch in Kensington Park. She said she was practicing social distancing, she had her mask, and she was full of gratitude. ((PARKSOPEN 1A)) "Everything's gonna be ok and be glad that we have this great pause and this time to re-connect with our true inner nature." The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted down a measure put forward by Supervisor Kristin Gaspar that would've allowed businesses in the County to reopen on May first. County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten said she would not consider recommending easing any restrictions at all until later this month. TUESCOVID 2A "As of today we are asking everyone to stay the course until the 30th of April and we will re-evaluate and see where we are at that time." However Wooten says the county is working with cities on a plan to open access to beaches. County supervisors Tuesday also unanimously approved a $5 million loan program to help small businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The initiative will allow businesses in the unincorporated areas of the county with 50 employees or less to apply for loans of up to $50,000 each. BEAT Meanwhile, Governor Gavin Newsom has laid out a roadmap for reopening California's economy. He's encouraging a 'collaborative' approach with cities and counties across the state. CLIP GOVERNOR PRESSER 4-21 We have to continue to be vigilant. 58 counties after all 480 cities, local jurisdictions, local governance, local leadership, local electeds, uh, all wanting to do the right thing. Thing. Uh, and everybody has a different timeline. So that's a challenge. Many parts, one body. Newsom says local governments have some authority to begin lifting restrictions on events and businesses – but that there are limits to what they can do. BEAT And for the latest local COVID count: Fifteen more people have died from COVID-19 in San Diego County. That’s the largest one-day jump in fatalities, and it brings the total to 87. County health officials also announced one of the biggest one-day increases in cases with 109. That pushes the countywide tally to 2,434. The jumps, by the way, were partially due to reporting delays BEAT I’m Kinsee Morlan and you’re listening to KPBS’ daily podcast San Diego News Matters. It’s Wednesday, April 22. Stay with me for more of the local news you need. MIDROLL 1 AD Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day. Yet, thanks to the pandemic, there won’t be big rallies or festivals to mark the milestone in San Diego or anywhere else. But the day will not go unremembered. KPBS reporter Claire Trageser talks to people who were at the first Earth Day about its impact and their hopes for the future. _________________ EARTHDAY (ct) 3:48 soq SOT Earth Day cartoon "That's it, this is the last straw, this stuff in the air has crumbled my front steps." This cartoon was drawn in April 1970 to commemorate the first ever Earth Day. SOT con't "Stained my house...corroded my chrome...even given my dog smokers' cough." That year, 20 million people joined rallies and celebrations across the country. Denis Hayes was one of the organizers. ID Denis Hayes Organizer of First Earth Day [00:00:00] There was a ripeness in the country for people to rise up on environmental issues and we thought that the way to launch it was as they had done with the early stages of the anti-war movement with campus teach ins. It turned out that when we got out to campuses they were still entirely wrapped up in the war and civil rights and a few other issues and the teach ins thing was just a little bit passé in any event. And so we did an abrupt switch, changed it from an environmental Teach-In into Earth Day. [00:00:30][30.3] Hayes says the plan was to have a national day of awareness but allow local environmental groups to focus on the issues that mattered most to their communities. [00:00:30] From inner city groups that were trying to stop freeways from plowing through their vibrant neighborhoods to people in Santa Barbara protesting the oil spill previous year. People in Cleveland concerned about the Cuyahoga repeatedly catching on fire, folks who were stirred up by Rachel Carson silent Spring and the disappearance of birds, an American Bald Eagle being on the endangered species list. Just everything from peeling lead paint off of walls and people in poor neighborhoods, children in poor neighborhoods getting brain-damaged to air pollution were walking down the streets of Los Angeles was like smoking two packs of cigarettes a day just from breathing and on and on and on. Except they didn't think that they had much to do with one another. And what the purpose of Earth Day was was to take all of these myriad strands and weave them together into the fabric of modern environmentalism. [00:01:24][54.3] In San Diego, there were events at SDSU and UCSD. But they weren’t welcomed by everyone. At UCSD, someone called the scheduled speaker and told him his speech was cancelled, according to a newspaper story from that day. Then there was a bomb threat that paused festivities. "Reaction among students was of general distaste and impatience," the story reads. One student said it was "a pathetic infantile gesture." At SDSU, the speaker was Democratic Congressman John Tunney, who went on to become a U.S. senator. He said that very soon engineers would build a smog-free car engine, and warned about the dangers of storing nuclear waste--one that seems alarmingly prophetic. "The wells will contain only a 50-year accumulation," he said. "What happens after 50 years?" Carolyn Chase EarthFair Organizer [00:04:35] I was twelve and so we had a poster contest. I don't think I won, but I definitely remember, I have a visual recollection of carrying a poster through the school. [00:04:48][13.0] Carolyn Chase was at that first Earth Day celebration. It clearly had an impact on her --now she's the organizer of San Diego's EarthFair, which, except for this year, is held annually at Balboa Park. [00:04:49] What I was looking for in 1970, I was a kid at school. In 1990, I was looking for how to volunteer for a local conservation group. That's the purpose of Earth Day, honestly, is to get people started because it's like one-stop shopping. [00:05:07][18.0] That first Earth Day also launched the recycling movement, says Rick Anthony, who was at the first one in San Diego. [00:05:08] It was an awakening for sure. Earth Day was the beginning of a trend. [00:05:14][5.9] Using Earth Day's momentum, he organized recycling programs at many local colleges and universities. [00:05:15] We picked up on it. We did. That's why recycling was a great issue at our campus. [00:05:15][0.0] Hayes, the original organizer, says when he looks at where the country was before 1970 and the goals of that first Earth Day... ID Denis Hayes Organizer of First Earth Day [00:01:26] They were achieved in the first 10 years. For a period we were almost unstoppable. I mean, the Clean Air Act back in 1970, which was the first big triumph, was opposed vigorously by the automobile industry, the coal industry, the oil industry, the electric utility industry, the steel industry. And it passed the U.S. Senate unanimously on a voice vote. It passed the House of Representatives with one dissenting vote. I mean, it was just a remarkable sea change. A piece of legislation that was inconceivable in 1969 was absolutely unstoppable by the end of 1970. [00:02:46][80.7] The 1970s also produced the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and Toxic Substances Control Act. But then, he says, the country spent the next 40 years spinning its wheels. The plan for this year’s Earth Day was an emphatic statement about climate change heard round the world. But then came the coronavirus. [00:02:48] The goal was to put together a billion people on the streets of the planet demanding that this year be the inflection point, that next year we start reducing the amount of greenhouse gas we produced until it gets down to zero. We've had 80 paid staff and thousands of volunteers working around the world for the last two years trying to build these huge crowd demonstrations. I mean, when it's 750,000 people on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., it's now illegal to have more than 10. So all of the stuff that we were aspiring to do is now illegal. [00:03:35][46.4] Instead they'll have streaming events and focus on the November presidential election. Hayes says the coronavirus is an imperfect analogy to climate change, but there are lessons to be learned. [00:03:37] I'm hoping that it turns out to be true that humans, like literally all other animals, have not just an individual desire to survive, which has led itself to Darwinian evolution, but a willingness to sacrifice for the species that we really do not want to see fast overshoots and collapses of of humanity. And out of that instinctive desire to preserve ourselves, we will come up with enough intelligence to address the major threats of our era. There's absolutely nothing that is happening in climate change that is not the result of concrete policy decisions and economic decisions and technical choices that humans have made. We can make very different choices. We have the option to build a benign, sustainable, equitable, resilient society world and hopefully we will be doing that. [00:04:35][57.9] That was KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser. BEAT With thousands of San Diegans out of work because of the pandemic, a local grocer is stepping up to help feed those impacted. KPBS Reporter Matt Hoffman has more. _________________________________ VALLEYFARM 1 (:51) Valley Farm Market owner Derek Marso's campaign to feed those in need started last month. Now over 3,000 meals have been given out countywide. 07;51;50;27 Derek Marso, Valley Farm Market Owner Behind it was just the thought: what happens if both parents lose their jobs and have the kids at home? There's no reason for anyone to go without food, and we're blessed to be in a position where we have an amazing staff and amazing community that's bought in and we're able to give people some groceries and some meals so they don't have to be scared during this pandemic People can sign up to get a meal or donate at Marso and his team prepare the meals for pickups on Wednesdays and Saturdays at his Spring Valley store. He's made it a point not to publicize the pickups. I don't want anyone to feel weird coming to get help. You shouldn't be ashamed of it. This isn't anything anyone saw coming BEAT The COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly one of the most important and most covered news stories of our time, but it also may be killing local journalism. Although interest in the latest news, press conferences and reporting on the virus is way up. Advertising revenue that fuels newspapers, magazines and broadcasting is way down. Businesses, entertainment, sports and events that have been shut down are not spending their money on ads right now. And the consequences are hurting big and small news organizations across the nation and here in San Diego. Matt Hall, editorial and opinion director for the San Diego union Tribune and Randy Dotinga, a freelance contributor to the voice of San Diego, talked with KPBS Midday Edition’s Maureen Cavinaugh. MIDDAY JOURNALISM PACKAGE Matt, it's not as if print journalism was having no problems before the pandemic, but where the major newspapers such as the UT coming up with strategies to change with changing times? Speaker 12: 32:17 Yeah, I mean I think we, we look, the tumbled in the industry is nothing new. It's been going on for a decade. There are far fewer journalists in there where I think the newsrooms in America had been cut in half since the great recession in 2008. But this clearly has changed, uh, everything. Basically we're, we're, we're flying a crashing airplane, uh, and, and, and trying to, the landed into a field here. Speaker 4: 32:39 How has the paper been affected by the covert 19 pandemic? Speaker 12: 32:42 The airplane hasn't crashed, so that's good. We're actually doing really well. I mean, there's no question that, uh, like many newspapers and like many news outlets are advertising, our print advertising is, is really falling, but our readership is higher than it's ever been. We've already hit our digital subscription goals for the calendar year. And that's when you talk about strategies that we've been adopting to, uh, kind of survive in this dangerous time of the last few years. Uh, that's the focus is digital subscriptions. We've realized that like many places, kind of like the KPBS model, like the voice of San Diego model, that members, supporters getting people to read newspapers because they want to feel like they're part of the community. That's really been the strategy going forward. And so those numbers are, are up. And I think that's reassuring. Speaker 4: 33:44 Now we heard about buyouts and layoffs at the UT and add the LA times where they already planned. Speaker 12: 33:51 Yeah, though. So to be clear, we haven't had any layoffs. The buyouts were, uh, in the works before this. So the buyouts have nothing to do with, uh, the coronavirus crisis. What has happened at both the LA times and the San Diego union Tribune as a result of, uh, the downturn in the economy because of the state home orders is that there have been executives, senior executives who have taken pay cuts. There have been people on the business side who have taking furloughs and then all employees at the UT have lost their 401k match through the year. So those are the three steps, uh, affecting staff at this point that our institution has implemented. And, you know, we'll see what happens going forward. Speaker 4: 34:57 Now, Randy, in your article in voice of San Diego about the hit that news outlets are taking you right about the smaller alternative weeklies in San Diego, like the reader and the San Diego city beat. How are they doing? Speaker 13: 35:10 There really have been hit the worst, uh, of all the local media outlets and that's because they rely so much on entertainment. Uh, advertising. The reader and city beat are full of, of ads for concerts and for arts events and we just aren't having any concerts or arts events at all. And uh, San Diego city beat, uh, has actually disappeared. And the only reason that the reader is still around right now is because they have quite a lot of, uh, advertising from marijuana dispensaries. And if you read the weekly print edition of the breeder, you'll see that those ants are basically whether it's keeping it afloat. Speaker 4: 38:09 Now, Matt, there are some cities that now have no newspapers at all. What's the impact of that kind of loss on a region? Speaker 12: 38:17 I mean, it's huge. It's devastating. Uh, news deserts are nothing new. There are big pockets of the country, uh, that don't have kind of a, a good, uh, newspaper serving them or a new site serving them.. I mean, local news is that's how you find out what's happening in your community, whether it's during a pandemic or whether it's at a planning meeting. Uh, and so I think that there's a, uh, a need for that. But I think the New York times said just last week that 33,000 journalists have been either laid off furloughed or had their pay cut since the start of the pandemic. So that's just in what, five or six weeks. I mean, that's just devastating. Speaker 4: 39:16 Now, Randy, when it comes to broadcasting, you spoke with KPBS general manager, Tom Carlo, about the contradiction that many news outlets are seeing this increase in audience, but a decrease in revenue. Can tell us about that. Speaker 13: 39:31 Yeah. He said that a web traffic is up more than 300%. And at the same time they're seeing a reduction in underwriting and membership support. And so is NPR news came out from NPR this week. That being are also experiencing our shortfall and are reducing the pay of their executives. So Tom Carlo, the general manager can, can be as told me that they may be able to get some money from the federal pandemic bailout package, which has funds for public broadcasting. But there are challenges, you know, he's, he said, uh, uh, they have postponed I think at least two or three pledge drives because of the pandemic coverage and earlier because of the impeachment and the impeachment trial coverage. Speaker 4: 41:11 Randy, how has voice of San Diego doing? Speaker 13: 41:14 Yeah, they seem to be doing pretty well. We, uh, we just had a pledge drive that was successful and we're like KPBS that we rely on on donors and it seems that that we are doing okay, but also we're a, you know, a fairly small operation compared to a lot of the media in town, so that, uh, that may may make it a little easier for us to survive this. Speaker 4: 41:38 So Matt, do you see that as the future donors and subscriptions for, uh, journalism instead of just selling newspapers? Speaker 12: 41:47 I think it's one future. I think that print isn't going to be around for very much longer, whether that's years or a decade. Who knows? Uh, our, our print readers love the paper. They love getting it in the morning. We've gotten a bunch of letters from people saying that in these topsy turvy upside down times that just going out to their driveway to pick up the paper every morning gives them a sense of normalcy. Speaker 12: 42:33 So that's not going to go away for us anytime soon. But I think as an industry, those are some real discussions they're going to take place and within a decade if not much sooner, it's, it's going to look totally different. The ease with which you can deliver news digitally, um, is something that is just a way forward for the industry. But one future you can clearly envision that digital subscriptions, uh, is a way forward. And that was KPBS Midday Edition host Maureen Cavanaugh talking with Matt Hall from the U-T and Randy Dotinga from Voice of San Diego. BEAT Right now, human connection feels as necessary to me as food and water. That’s my hot extrovert take. Anyway, that’s why I like to end with these moments of locals reaching out and making connections with each other and the wider community. I hope it feeds your soul the way it does mine. Today, I bring you a series of online conversations with San Diego artists, hosted and curated by Thomas DeMello, the curator of Bread & Salt, an art gallery and community center in Logan Heights. BREAD & SALT CLIP That was DeMello talking with performance artist Claudia Cano. You can catch the series on instagram live at slash breadandsalt underscore sandiego/ Claudia by the way is a performance artist who sometimes dresses up like a cleaning lady and spruces up public spaces as a way to bring attention to the often invisible and under-appreciated work domestic workers do. BREAD & SALT CLIP 2 That’s all for today. Thanks for listening.

Although interest in the latest news, press conferences and reporting on the virus is way up, advertising revenue that fuels local newspapers, magazines and broadcasting is way down. Also on the San Diego News Matters Podcast: People were back in public parks after some have reopened, Earth Day will not go unremembered and more local news you need.