From time to time I get a call or letter from a Berkeley resident telling me about some important event that “you should send a reporter to cover”.
Folks, those days are gone. You might not be aware of this, but the Berkeley Daily Planet is no longer a commercial publication. We no longer sell ads, nor do we employ reporters. The great bulk of what you read here is contributed by the writers--contributed in all senses of the word—-written by people who are not paid for what they write.
Example: we got an email yesterday from Larry Bensky, fabled KPFA broadcaster of many years standing, subject line “Warren Widener”.
“Just saw in the "Berkeley Times" that he recently died.
“An important person in Berkeley history, whatever one may have
thought of his politics.
“Doesn't seem to have been covered anywhere!”
I was pleased to be able to reply:
“Except in the Berkeley Daily Planet, thanks to Carole Kennerly.”
And he wrote back,
“I see the Berkeley Times piece is based on it.My sentiments exactly. I’m with Larry in preferring print, at least in theory, but in fact I seldom see the various print publications that purport to be covering Berkeley. My consciousness has shifted to online news sources, no matter how much I might deplore it.
“One of the (vast) inconveniences/frustrations of not having print copies to browse through is that one tends to miss much in on-line, link-based media, so I missed this in the Planet. Also the supposedly exhaustive web "spiders" that are supposed to grab everything in their web miss a lot. Just Google (nauseating verb) Warren Widener right now. You will see that there's no link to the August Planet piece, and nothing else to indicate that he died nearly four months ago. His Wikipedia bio indicates he's still alive!
“Perhaps the upcoming 10/3 memorial services will inspire some catch-up work. Warren was an important transitional figure in Berkeley and regional politics...”
And there’s the additional problem that few reporters, in any medium, are now employees being paid salaries to cover Berkeley. If it wasn’t for people like former Vice-Mayor Carole Kennerly, we wouldn’t know what’s going on around here most of the time.
We don’t even pay free-lancers any more. Very occasionally, when a professional journalist has put in a great deal of effort reporting a story for us, we direct them to the Fund for Local Reporting, which will give them a modest stipend or honorarium, too little to be called a fee, as a token reward. This issue features an example of one such story, the one about the drive to save the Post Office, by Peter Byrne.
When readers had organized a fund-raising campaign in an ultimately fruitless effort to save the print Planet, we turned the proceeds over to the Fund for Local Reporting, administered by the non-profit William James Association, so that the donated funds could be used in this way. One stipulation is that the stories produced with FLR contributions must be available to other media, not just to the Planet, and in fact our stories are often linked or copied, either verbatim or paraphrased. That’s just fine with us.
Readers sometimes ask if the Planet will ever be in print again. Sadly, probably not—we can’t afford it any more and we’re getting too old to do all that work. If someone else with deeper pockets wanted to volunteer to take over and run a print paper, we’d be glad to help, but that's it.
By the way, when I use the editorial “we”, there’s no one out here but us chickens. Mike and I do the work, such as it is, of getting contributed work online in this format. We also provide the small sums needed to keep the web site operative and the Planet archive (probably the most valuable part of the package) accessible for historical use.
I’m also making a valiant effort to search other online publications for stories that Planet readers would like to see. The links are to be found under the heading “Now Read This”. Coverage of what’s important to local readers is scattered, but it all adds up to not a bad picture of contemporary reality.
What can readers do to keep this effort afloat? Plenty, it turns out. First and foremost, our readers who are also writers are now the heart of the publication. Tell us, in your own words, what’s happening, and we’ll publish it. Send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org, and your opinions to email@example.com.
And also, send money! The Fund for Local Reporting ia now scraping the bottom of the barrel. The scant funds donated a few years ago, despite having been parsimoniously parceled out, are just about gone. These small amounts are sometimes the make-or-break factor in a reporter's decision to pursue a lead.
We’ve set up a link when you can send contributions online or by mail. Here it is:: http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/fund
Will contributing either your writing or your money make the Planet what it used to be? Unfortunately, probably not, but it will keep some coverage of local events flowing. That's worthwhile, isn't it?
P.S. on Saturday:
After this piece was posted, the Chron finally caught up with the story:
As I said, we never mind being copied.