Friday, July 31, 2009

Free press and forms of censorship

In a response to a recent post by my editor about censorship in hard economic times, one reader commented that since Idyllwild is "primarily a resort and vacation town" negative headlines, such as the current one about the likely failure of Guaranty Bank do not make a good impression. On whom?

We are a town with an increasing number of full time residents. Our job is to cover and print the news putting the most important stories on our front page. Our job is not to make a "good impression" on tourists and visitors. For that you have a Chamber of Commerce and various local businesses whose job IS to make a good impression on tourists and visitors. We are not a PR organ for Idyllwild tourism. We are a newspaper. The Guaranty Bank story is important to those of us who live here and bank at the branch. It is a story here and in the LA Times, Dallas Herald, CNN, Fortune and many other publications that have written essentially the same story about the imminent failure of a bank. And it's of major concern to that bank's customers.

Last week we featured a story about the local production of "The Wizard of Oz" on the front page - a "feel good story." We do vary our front story page placement. Some readers, including the person who posted the comment on the Wild Idys blog site, continue to insist that we should be printing only "good" news. If negative things did not occur and have importance as news to those of us who live here, we would not have to report them.

As to censorship, the editor was referring to "economic" censorship that comes in the form of withdrawing advertising or subscriptions if we exercise our first amendment rights - printing letters to the editor, cartoons, even ads that some may disagree with. Our job is to be fair in exercising our first amendment rights. As to letters to the editor, we print a broad spectrum, none of which do we as editorial staff necessarily agree with personally.

Without a strong and vibrant print press, what liberties we continue to have as a free people will atrophy and wither.

Read. Champion a free press. And please try to understand the difference between a newspaper and public relations agency. Public relations agencies make a lot more money.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Idyllwild, Brigadoon, art and contracts

In Brigadoon, a town in the Highlands of Scotland that magically reappears in present time for one day every hundred years, a local sculptor was hired by town luminaries to sculpt a statue of the town minister. The minister, knowing that the town was being threatened by witches and demons, went beyond the town to pray for a miracle to preserve his town. The miracle that God granted made the town vanish into the Highland mists. For residents, each new day was just that, another new day. But in reality, each day was 100 years later. The minister had sacrificed himself and had saved the town thereby preserving its idyllic way of life.

The local sculptor signed a contract for a set fee to create the statue of the minister . He agreed to complete it by a certain festival date and to supply all materials that would be needed to create his work of art. Townspeople donated to the cause and looked forward to the unveiling.

The date for the festival and unveiling came and went. The sculptor insisted that town luminaries had agreed, prior to his signing the contract, to quarry and provide the stone for the sculpture. Town luminaries insisted that the contract spoke for itself and that they had made no side agreement prior to the signature of the contract. Some local men volunteered to quarry the stone. They delivered it to the sculptor who complained that it was not quite what he wanted and needed in order to complete this definitive work of his career. The sculptor kept adding to the project, stating that he wanted to fashion a work of art that the whole world would come to see. When town luminaries pointed out that the whole world would have a difficult time getting to Brigadoon given its isolation and the nature of the "miracle," the sculptor scoffed, holding fast to his vision. Consequently, the price for the statue continued to go up, and local donors and town luminaries began to worry if it would ever be finished and whether obtaining a finished product might bankrupt the town's meager coffers.

As of this writing, the standoff continues. The sculptor continues to work at his own pace, observing that the stone he was provided was of poor quality, that his vision for the project suffers as a consequence, that it could take years to complete the statue, and that it might be better to start over with proper stone. Because of the "miracle," each day of delay in completing the statue of the minister, is 100 years in real time. So it would not be hyperbole to say that it might take an eternity to complete a project that donors and town luminaries had hoped to have had in place years before as a tribute to and celebration of the minister, his miracle, and .

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Deciding what to include

When I was 21 I worked as a copy boy, then news clerk and weekend secretary for the managing editors of the New York Times as they put the paper together. I got to sit in on their deliberations about what to include in the edition, how much prominence it should have, and of course what the lead stories were to be. It was a heady and exciting experience to be in the same city room with some of the NYT greats, as well an opportunity to listen to the weekend deliberations of the publisher and editors.

Which brings me to the sometimes difficult personal task of deciding what to include or not to include in articles I write for our award winning little paper.

So today, I'm musing over two recent articles and some choices I (we, with my editor) made for our last edition. Generally, in putting any article together, I have more copy than I can use. We are limited to 3 pages per article, so unless we're doing a series, it means a lot gets left in the notebook that doesn't make it onto the printed page.

When we received, from a reliable source, a copy of an e mail the new president of the Chamber of Commerce was sending to his new board - an e-mail that seemed to restrict informational access not only to the press (at which restrictions seemed largely targeted), but also to the general public, Chamber members, and even other Chamber board members - there was a division within our editorial staff. Some contended that we should print the e mail with no comment at all, let the president likely damn himself with his own words, and let the public make its own evaluation. Others felt that some outside comment would focus attention on what seemed to us to be an in-your-face clampdown on the free flow of information and power grab by the new president. I was particularly troubled by the new president's edict that he be the sole press contact. That in itself is not so unusual. Even public boards sometimes appoint a press contact person. But the press still uses whatever means it can to get the story. What bothered me most, was that Carlson actually forbade other board members from speaking to the press at all. George Orwell in "Animal Farm" would have had fun riffing on that. In the end, we decided to print the e mail and include outside comment from two sources who looked at the legality of what Carlson is proposing (it's legal per se) as well as the appearance of his actions and how they might play out in this small town.

Since I wrote the article, it's obvious I came around to the second position, but after reflection (and of course after the paper had been put to bed), I felt the first position might have been more effective and might better have served the community's interests.

Time will tell. The reason for blogging this is to provide a window into the deliberative process that accompanies many if not all articles - what to include and what to leave out - what best serves the public's interest and keeps them informed.

In the other article, one about the Animal Rescue Friends of Idyllwild, there are very definitely two sides squaring off over the appointment of a new director, an appointment the long time shepherd of ARF, Jane Stonehill, vehemently opposes. The present board, only one of whom served on the board during the new director's previous association with ARF, protested that they are doing good for the community and that there was no need to bring up Stonehill's opposition to the appointment, since, regardless of her long association, significant investment of heart and capital, and passion about the organization she long headed, she was no longer involved and therefore should have no public airing of her views. Was Stonehill's oppposition newsworthy? Should we do an article and include it? We determined it was.

Again, the question in writing the ARF article, as it was with the Chamber article, was what to include and what not to include - what is legitimately newsworthy and what is less so.

So, I think back to being 21 and being on the (I think) 6th floor of the old NYT building on weekends as the publisher and editors weighed what to include and what to exclude - what was important and what was not quite so important. Sometimes you get it right and you're happy. Sometimes you don't and you kick yourself. And sometimes, like today, you're not completely sure.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Public Art in Idyllwild

With installation of "Girl Reading a Dickens Book", a metal sculpture by local artist Dore Capitani from drawings by Jan Jaspers-Fayer, Idyllwild takes a step toward becoming known as a town resplendent with what is a rarity in the western United States - public art.

I grew up in Maryland just across the district line from Washington, D.C. a public art capital. Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, and Saint Louis have squares with statuary, and parks graced with public art.

But as one moves west from Saint Louis, it becomes more difficult to find commemorative statures or public art on display in cities or towns. Like fireflies, public art never seemed to make the trek across the Rockies.

Of course there are exceptions, but in general it's rare to find a stature or public sculpture, and, especially as one raised in the East, I have always found that curious.

So, hats off to Capitani and Jaspers-Fayer, and good wishes to David Roy for speedy completion of his work of public art. Hopefully in the not too distant future, Idyllwild will have a marketing niche unique in Riverside County - an art capital where great statuary, sculpture and carvings are publicly placed for the free enjoyment of residents and tourists.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Triplett to leave Chamber

Bill Triplett, president of the Idyllwild Chamber of Commerce, will not serve again as board president and will not sit on the board once the new board is installed in July. That is a shame since Triplett has been a fair and activist board president. He ran meetings in a clean and impartial way, and did not use the Chamber as an ongoing platform to promote his own business interests. Of all recent presidents, Triplet, in my years of covering the Chamber, is the only president to routinely go out to member businesses to canvas for issues of concern to members and to gauge the business pulse of the town.

As of this writing, according to Triplett, Joe McNabb and Mona Taggart will not serve on the new board. Steve Zaccardi and Robert Garcia may have issues with time committment to Chamber business and may not choose to be installed. That leaves Ken Carlson, Mimi Lamp and Richmond Blake as sole directors, if Triplett's predictions prove true.

No matter who is on the board, the Chamber will face an uncertain future, since money from the county, usually in the 20 to 30 thousand annual range, is doubtful given the county's current economic crisis.

Triplett has been publicly lauded by the Chamber board for his service, activism, and committment to bettering the town's business climate. He will be missed.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Let Freedom Ring

Monday morning “deadline” day – This is the morning that I look at my list of stories I’m supposed to write for the July 9 edition and make phone calls to get remaining interview data for the articles, make sure I have all the pictures I need for the articles, and begin writing. Although we (the writing staff) have until noon Tuesday to finish writing all assigned and/or breaking articles, much if not most of it gets done today.

I’m thinking, because of the 233rd anniversary of our republic and having spent the July 4th holiday with my family in the Channel Islands area of Oxnard, how important it is to live in a country where dissent is tolerated and sometimes celebrated and police do not, as a general practice, raid homes and haul family members off to prison for speaking out against certain practices of the government.

When I practiced law as an international attorney, a practice that centered on federal law, I had many Iranian clients. This was immediately after the 1979 Iranian revolution and my clients included many Iranian Bahais, Jews, members of the Shah’s military and their families, and a cross section of Iranian dissidents. I met many of them in Pakistan where they had paid to be “smuggled out” of Iran, through the desert, by professional smugglers. The deprivations they suffered in the trip were often serious. One man, who was smuggled out with his wife and young daughter, lost his mental faculties on the trip and arrived in Karachi a burnt out and wasted man, virtually useless to his family. It was heartbreaking to see.

I think of these many good Iranians with whom I dealt over a ten year period until the continent hopping and often dicey situations I experienced forced me to rethink my then career. Like the crowds in Berlin, Prague, and Bucharest prior to the fall of Communism, cities I in which I often appeared representing clients seeking entry into the U.S. and freedom from oppression, I think of the crowds in Teheran who bravely stood up to the recent post election repression and brutality. And even though the protests have been effectively put down, each night they still chant “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) from their windows and balconies in protest against the growing repression of their regime. I hope for them that they too will gain some measure of political freedom. Since most of the Iranian population was born after the 1979 revolution, there is hope that those not bound by the doctrinaire rigidity of their theocracy, will lead a new generation to enjoy what it is we in the United States so often take for granted – the freedom to believe, speak, gather, associate and dress as they wish, and not be assailed as enemies of the state for so doing.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Idyllbeast sightings at Café Aroma

Friend of Idyllbeast, “researcher” David Jerome holds “positive” proof of a May visit of the reclusive beast. Jerome made plaster casts of the beast’s footprints in front of Café Aroma, where he roped off the scene with yellow caution tape to protect it from intrusive restaurant customers.
Photo by Becky Clark

In writing Idyllbeast, the assignment was to have fun with the piece. I did, and I hope readers found it fun as well. The approach I took in no way was meant to diminish Native American tribal legend about a local Bigfoot-like creature, if, as one reader suggests, there is such a body of information. It was also not meant to discount the experiences or beliefs of those who feel strongly about the existence of Bigfoot-like creatures that may have existed or still exist in the high San Jacintos. The article was intended to be like a jazz riff - designed to pull you in for the pleasure of it.

Tall, dark, hairy, shy, likes music

By Marshall Smith
Staff Reporter

David Jerome has beast on the mind. Idyllbeast to be precise. He is hoping that the reported 98th annual Idyllbeast Festival, to be held at Café Aroma on Saturday July 4th from 9 a.m. till 4 p.m. may lure the curious, but famously shy, hairy apelike bipedal hominoid to the bistro environs. More to the point, he is hoping the holiday music and wafting garlic aromas prove irresistible to a creature that hikers have reported smells of garlic and cinnamon and has been heard doing a mean Aretha Franklin imitation – or so he’s heard.

Jerome reports backcountry hikers occasionally report encounters with things they can’t explain. Of course, Jerome acknowledges, that is also true in town, but that’s a different story. Jerome has heard reports that some Native Americans have an oral history recounting a Bigfoot-like creature in the high San Jacintos. To local tribes, the 7 to 9 foot tall ape/man creature was just another spirit brother who liked to join in at any tribal ceremony that featured dancing. Apparently the creature kept to himself and seldom entered the settlement except when ceremonial drums and chanting started. The beast reportedly never sang or chanted, but danced enthusiastically.

When whites started settling the mountain, the beast retreated. Whites feared the beast and tried to drive him away when sighted. Once television become ubiquitous, Hill residents began reporting hairy faces at their windows, transfixed by television images, especially when Aretha Franklin sang.

Jerome thinks Idyllbeast, as locals have named it, wants to participate in modern Idyllwild ceremonies just as he did with Native Americans. “Music is a universal language,” said Jerome. “The beast just wants to be loved, and music may be its way in.” Idyllbeast cousin Bigfoot is known for “strong vocalizations,” according to a report of a Montana sighting by Andrea Lutz, KPAX, Missoula.

Jerome hasn’t seen the beast, but he has seen its footprints. A sighting of beast footprints just in front of the Café bolsters Jerome’s hopes of luring the beast to Café Aroma on the fourth. Jerome, himself a musician, is growing more hair in order to make the beast feel less out of place if he shows up. “I’m letting my beard grow for it,” he said enthusiastically. “We’re also awarding fur crowns to attending women who represent the furry flower of Idyllwild femininity.” Jerome is hoping that the more hair in evidence at the beastacle, the less the beast will feel different, out of place, and unwelcome.

“It’s time for welcoming Idyllbeast,” said Jerome. Sure he or, as Jerome puts it, “Heidibeast” might be different from us, but deep down we and the beast share more than separates us – a love of music and garlic, both staples at Aroma.

For further Idyllbeast festival information, contact Café Aroma at 659-5212 or

Marshall Smith can be reached at

I just read you article and wanted to pass something on in case you might be interested. I assume you have heard of Tahquitz. Certainly you have if you are native to Palm Springs or vicinity. I once had a job in the City of Palm Springs which required excavation. Since it was owned by the native American Tribe, some elders came to the site and made a tribute to Tahquitz before I was allowed to dig. Their description of it and its resemblance to Bigfoot fascinated me so I went to the library and found a book on Shashone religion and confirmed what they said. It also attributed ball lightning to Tahquitz which obviously may be just due to the earthquake pressure zone there pressurizing quartz and providing a regional piezoelectric effect (I am a geologist if that wasn’t obvious). In the Shoshone religion, Tahquitz was said to live in a cave by Lily Rock near the town of Idylwild. Tahquitz was said to be a very large hairy cannibal that stunk really bad, was nocturnal and had very loud screams. Anyway, I thought I would share that tidbit of information since your article discussed local bigfoot reports which I had never heard before. Regards, Jim Zenor.