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Columns
11.07.07

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Nūz: The Santa Cruz Sentinel has left the building.

See You Around
On the weekend of Nov. 3-4, after 150 years in downtown Santa Cruz, the Santa Cruz Sentinel moved to its new offices in Scotts Valley. In spite of the computer glitches that invariably accompany a move of this sort, the Sentinel put out the first paper from the new location on Sunday. Newspapers are ultimately stoic institutions; no matter what happens, the show must go on.

On Monday, however, the strain was showing, at least online. "Sentinel Online Edition Making Changes," one web headline promised. The idea seemed to be that even though the newsroom had moved to the boonies, it would be making up for it with a better website. Alas, on that day the site was a skeleton of its usual self, and the linked story contained this disclaimer:

"As of Monday morning, we're working through some technical problems. Thanks for visiting the Sentinel online and thanks for your patience."

There was one mention of the fact that the newsroom had left Santa Cruz—a blog tantalizingly titled: "The spirit has left the building." As of Monday, it was a dead link. Nūz called Sentinel Editor Tom Honig to see how things were going for the staff. "It doesn't really feel real, if you want to know the truth," he said. "It's a pretty big change. I've been in the Sentinel building since 1972. It never crossed my mind that we wouldn't be there. I can hardly find the bathroom."

Taken all together, the whole thing seemed like a big fat bummer to Nūz. Journalists are brethren, even when they're competitors. Put two or more in a room together and soon they're kvetching about editors, workload, sources, the lousy pay, you name it. These days, the conversations have a positively funereal cast. Print journalists everywhere feel like they're on a sinking ship—a ship sunk by corporate greed, public indifference and, yes, the simple fact of evolving technology. So when a paper like the Sentinel goes down, we all shudder.

And so should readers. About a year ago there was a cynical piece on Slate by editor-at-large Jack Shafer about how ridiculous it is that daily newspapers warn about the costs to democracy every time their staff numbers are cut (the LA Times had just announced it would axe a third of the newsroom). Shafer said the usual argument for preserving staff numbers—maintaining the paper's ability to do investigative reports—is absurd because so few papers do quality investigations. He's got a point. But he's wrong to sneer at the link between democracy and the press, even in its much-maligned current form. Investigations aren't the only reasons to have newspapers around. Democratic societies need information—lots of it, filtered intelligently and presented well. They also need different points of view. The more papers in a market, the better it is for readers.

The Sentinel has taken a lot of hits in the last year. First sold to Alabama-based Community Newspaper Holdings in October 2006, it was snatched up by MediaNews this past February. Two months and a few broken promises later, the Sentinel's printing press was shut down and printing moved to the Mercury News facility in San Jose. In July the newsroom lost eight people, almost a quarter of its reporting staff. And now, printerless and pared down, the paper is evicted from its prime center-of-downtown location and packed off to a God-forsaken frontage road off the highway in Scotts Valley where you have to get in your car just to get a lousy cup of 7-11 coffee. Where do the indignities end?

"There've been just a number of sad events," Honig said. "For some people, when the printing press went away, it just seemed like there was almost a pall cast over the building."

Asked if he watched the press being disassembled, Honig said he mostly ignored it until the deed was done. For anyone who hasn't walked down Cedar and taken a gander through the window at the gaping, ink-stained hole where the press used to be, it's a bit of a shock. "I finally went into the back and the thing was just gone," Honig says. "There was just this big pit. It looked at first like a Roman ruin."

It isn't all bad, Honig said. He used to have an interior office; now his window looks out at a redwood tree and tennis courts. The new building has a small gym for employees. The location might also help the whole staff become a little less Santa Cruz-centric in its coverage, he said.

But then he came to the subject of the staff cuts, and Nūz learned that the move—though it's commanding everybody's attention right now—pales in comparison to getting by with fewer reporters.

"Really, that's been the bigger challenge: how to figure out how to cover things as well as when we had more people," Honig said.

So that's the new reality. Somehow, Nūz is reminded of an incident that made the Sentinel's own headlines on Oct. 17. The day before, a flatbed semi making its way over Highway 17 toward San Jose carrying off two chunks of the Sentinel's printing press overturned when the nylon straps securing the load broke. The pieces, weighing 12,000 pounds and 21,000 pounds respectively, slipped, shifting the load, and the truck lost it on Big Moody Curve. Traffic was backed up to Bear Creek Road southbound and Scotts Valley northbound while crews picked everything up, repaired a gouge in the asphalt from a sliding printing press on the loose and cleaned up the mess.

It seemed to herald a sad, ignominious end to the print era in Santa Cruz. Nūz doesn't like to say it, but it looks like "Stop the presses" is taking on a whole new meaning.

Spray Schedule

Santa Cruzans hoping to get out of Dodge during aerial spraying for the light brown apple moth had better just pack a bag and set it by the door. Planning beyond the five-day window set by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is just about impossible.

Nūz phoned CDFA spokesman Steve Lyle to see if he would part with any information about a precise schedule. Lyle stuck to the talking points, which are 1) that the treatment window for the 40-odd square miles of Santa Cruz County considered moth territory is Nov. 4-9; 2) that spraying depends on the weather; and 3) that people are more than welcome to sign up with CDFA to receive email notices as soon as the agency knows it's going to spray that night.

Lyle said fog had stymied the first night of spraying. The problem with fog is visibility, he said, but wind can create a problem, too; greater than 8 miles per hour creates drift. Rain would wash the pheromone away. Lyle also said he couldn't say whether a plane would be able to spray all of Santa Cruz in one night or whether it would break it up over several. It's all up to weather, he says.

The area of Santa Cruz County to be sprayed extends from Freedom Boulevard along the coast to the western edge of town. The boundary then veers up to Scotts Valley and back down through the foothills, passing near Glen Haven Road, Porter Gulch Road and on down to Freedom and Valencia.

The site where people can sign up to receive email notifications is: http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/phpps/PDEP/lbam/lbam_main.html.


Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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