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Monday, February 25, 2008

Davis Enterprise's Story on the Vanguard

While our top story remains the Vanguard investigation into Davis Joint Unified's former CBO, Tahir Ahad, I did want to talk a bit about the Davis Enterprise story on the Vanguard. As Claire St. John mentioned to me, the Vanguard has been up for a year and a half, it's about time we acknowledged it. I thank the Davis Enterprise and Claire for covering local blogs, it must have been a bit tough to admit that there are other news sources out there.

For those who have not read the story, here is what Claire St. John wrote about the blog and myself:
David Greenwald, the administrator and founder of The People's Vanguard of Davis, has covered a panoply of local subjects since launching his blog in 2006, but his focus is on 'the dark underbelly of the People's Republic of Davis,' as his blog proclaims.

Greenwald launched the blog at a time when local politics were horning into his personal life.

At the time, his wife, Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald, was chairwoman of the city's Human Relations Commission, which was disbanded by the City Council after the city erupted in charges of racism and police misconduct.

'I felt frustrated by the whole experience to get a counter voice out,' Greenwald said. 'It was a way for me to put down what my thoughts were.'

Now, the Vanguard is Greenwald's primary occupation, and he spends eight to 10 hours every day attending meetings, researching, talking to people and posting his entries daily, between 5 and 6 a.m. Today, he said, he's breaking his biggest story yet, about corruption in the school district.

'I don't have an external deadline, but I have an internal deadline,' he said. 'I've had my share of mistakes, but I've tried to correct them.'

Escamilla Greenwald recently filed papers to run for City Council and Greenwald said he's a little apprehensive about how he will cover his wife's campaign.

'That's really the tricky one,' Greenwald said. 'When I set this up, I had no idea that Cecilia would run for City Council.'

Hiding behind 'Anonymous'

Whatever Greenwald decides, his readers are likely to make their opinions known in the site's lively comment section.

Most readers post anonymously, sometimes leaving vitriolic comments and confusion among which 'anonymous' said what.

'That's kind of the downside of the blog,' said Greenwald, who himself goes by the pseudonym Doug Paul Davis. 'I wanted it to be a place where people could come on there and state their view without fear of exposure. So that's why I've stuck with the anonymous thing even though it drives me as crazy as anyone.'

Greenwald, who takes as much criticism as praise in the comments, says he's developed a thick skin and has never considered quitting the blog.

'I know all the major people are reading this thing even if they deny it,' he said. 'Somehow, they always find the criticism.'


Most of Yolo County's bloggers say they aren't journalists and don't aspire to be.

'I was never interested in being a journalist,' Greenwald said. 'I'm a shy person in a lot of ways. I have trouble picking up the phone and calling a stranger or walking up and introducing myself to someone.'
There are a few points I want to address. First, is that I did in fact say "I was never interested in being a journalist." And that's true. I have no formal training, I've had to learn everything on my own so to speak. But the point I was actually making there was that, I have come to appreciate aspects of it and enjoy it. To the point where this is something I might want to do with the rest of my life if I found a way to make a living of it.

The other point, is people are always asking how can you continue to write stories like you do everyday. Claire asked me if I ever just wanted to up and quit. I've never even considered it. It's just a labor of love.

Davis and Yolo County are developing a thriving blogosphere. It was kind of fun yesterday to not only look at the article but the reaction of the bloggers to the article in the Davis Enterprise.

One of the newest additions is Kemble Pope's blog--Davis Voice.

Mr. Pope wrote on his blog yesterday:
" Thanks to Claire St. John of The Enterprise for luring you into our little corner of the Web.

A great, well rounded article was marred only by the picture of my bearded mug seated at the Delta of Venus while either expounding on some vital issue OR demonstrating the width of an unknown item."
Actually, I thought it was a pretty good picture. The Davis Voice aims at a lighter and more civil discourse. Frankly I do not agree necessarily with Mr. Pope's view that you need to be light to attract younger people, but it is good to have some variety. The more variety in my view, the better the discourse.

Wu Ming whose site has been around about as long as this one was also interviewed.

Wu Ming writes in response:
"Surf Putah makes the big (well, medium in a small pond, anyway) time! Greetings to any intrepid Enterprise readers who saw my little soapbox mentioned in the article (thanks Claire!) and bothered to type the URL in manually. Unfortunately, I am unable to actually link to said story, because the Enterprise decided to put the entire website behind a paid subscription wall."
Wu Ming goes on to criticize the Davis Enterprise's website.
"What in the world is the Enterprise thinking putting its website behind a paid subscription wall? Other than being personally irritated that I have to read the Daily Democrat for my Yolo news now, I'm rather bewildered at the decision just from a business standpoint. Why would someone who already got the Enterprise bother with reading it online, first of all? You've already got the paper right on your driveway, it's people who don't get the paper that might casually read it online for free. Secondly, online ad revenue is usually based upon the total number of page views, which would seem to me to recommend against making it harder for people to read one's website. Third, in the online world, links are everything; making it impossible for people to link to your reporting needlessly walls in the paper's influence in a fundamentally borderless medium. Makes no sense.

Were I in their shoes, I'd have done the complete opposite: drop the subscription wall, put as much content online as possible, and then make the comment sections absurdly easy to use. As a community, Davis has enough self-obsessed churn to generate hits that could keep the paper in clover permanently. Imagine the potential traffic just from city council-related letter to the editor flamewars! Ah well..."
I completely agree with Wu Ming--the Davis Enterprise's webpage has everyone shaking their head. It is just not the right way to do it. I think they could take good advise from the local bloggers on how to develop a better webpage that will better serve their own interests and that of their clientèle. I forget who told me, but they remarked that they could read the New York Times, the best paper in the country, online for free, but not the Davis Enterprise.

Matt Rexroad has had a blog well before this one.
" I can see that from my e-mails Claire's story was in the newspaper today on blogs. Usually I have better news than this on mine.


For those of you that are new to -- welcome.

I was thinking that if David can be the "dark underbelly" we could be the "bright backside" -- but that did not sound right."
Matt Rexroad had a tough day the last few, his young son of 18 months has been seriously ill in a San Jose hospital with a serious viral respiratory infection. Fortunately, Matt reported to my wife last night that his son was doing better and hoping to be able to go home today. Still everyone keep this little guy in your thoughts and prayers. Oh, and send Adam Rexroad your best as well.

While we are at it, we need a good catch phrase for Matt Rexroad's blog.

The Woodland Journal was a bit less magnanimous at the free plug.
Today at, you'll find an article written by journalist Claire St. John called "Bloggers comment on local news, but don't call 'em journalists." You can click the title of the this story to access it. You'll possibly have to register with their site to read it, but when you get to the subscription part, just click that you are a subscriber. That will get you through for free.

The article is a pretty good overview of the local blog scene, and it even mentions The Woodland Journal. The young journalist sent me some interview questions that I answered. It took me about an hour, which I was happy to donate. She ended up using only one sentence from my responses... which is perfectly fine (since I completely understand the need for editing), but a simple THANK YOU would have been nice.
Hey Dino, might you have noticed that you are from Woodland and this was a Davis paper? Consider yourself lucky that they covered you at all. Anyway, go to their blog if you want to read their full lengthy response.

Overall it was a decent article to introduce those Davisites unfamiliar with the blogosphere. The one bad thing is that their webpage puts all stories now behind a subscription. That makes it more difficult for new readers to see these great blogs.

The Vanguard chose to break its biggest story to date yesterday. There was tremendous response from throughout the community. I do not think I have ever gotten so much email on a Sunday before. And remember this is just the first of at least three parts. More to come. The second segment will run next Monday, March 3, 2008.

One final lighter note, the Vanguard has now been up and running for 19 months (in a few days) and it continues to grow and expand. I have enjoyed every moment of it.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting