CVIndependent

Tue06182019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

A confession: I’ve been in a bit of a funk as of late.

I was dismayed by, among other things, the seemingly continually depressing news from the newspaper world. To the west, the once-mighty LA Weekly is in dire straits—with print editions down to 24 pages thanks to the ineptitude of new ownership. To the north, Oakland’s East Bay Express recently laid off the majority of its staff due to an employment-related legal decision that did not go its way. And here in the valley, the owner of The Desert Sun, Gannett, just laid off a bunch of reporters, and is in the midst of a takeover attempt by a hedge-fund-owned company known for gobbling up newspapers and making deep cuts to improve profitability.

Sigh.

Then I started to assemble our February print issue … and I started to feel a lot better about things.

Yeah, the state of the journalism world still stinks (although we’re doing OK here), but it was impossible not to be inspired by all of the great things happening in our community. The aforementioned February print edition is our Art Issue, thanks to the behemoth cultural events February brings—Modernism Week and Art Palm Springs. Beyond stories on those events, which will be posted next week, we have coverage of upcoming happenings ranging from a wine event benefiting the amazing Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine, to the Rancho Mirage Wine and Food Festival (more wine!), and from the classic 1960s group The Lettermen playing at the McCallum Theatre, to the traveling HUMP! porn short-film festival (yes, you read that correctly) coming to the Palm Springs Cultural Center.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our very own Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week, which is an event I love (yes, I am biased, but I’d love it if I didn’t have anything to do with it), because it places a spotlight on amazing drinks created by the valley’s most talented bartenders—and does so while benefiting two great charities: Desert AIDS Project, and the LGBT Community Center of the Desert.

Thanks, as always, for reading the Independent—and be sure to pick up our February 2019 print edition, hitting streets this week. I hope our stories uplift you like they did me.

Published in Editor's Note

This is the final Democracy in Crisis column that I will be writing.

I remember the urgency with which it started. I was super-stoned in a Denver hotel room just days after Trump was elected. Editors at various alternative newspapers had been wringing their hands about how to deal with Trump. Many of these papers had been militantly local during the Obama era—when I was managing editor of Baltimore City Paper, my unofficial motto was “militantly Baltimorean.” But now it seemed that whenever someone picked up their local paper, they would want to see some news from the “alternative” angle—the independent, insouciant and fiercely opinionated alternative press.

Now, more than 70 weekly columns later (the Independent ran the column once or twice per month), either that has changed, or I was wrong-headed from the start. The Trump regime has taken up so much air from every other story that, while it is wildly important and has implications everywhere, each of these papers is better served covering the ways in which Trump’s policies affect their local communities.

If it were like the old days, when papers were fat and had money, a national column would be great. But this is a time of crisis for the press as much as it is for democracy. David Simon, creator of The Wire, has said the death of newspapers will usher in—or has already started ushering in—a golden age of corruption, because there is no one left to watch City Hall. Except for the wretches who work for the paper you’re reading right now.

Support them now, or you will miss them when they are gone. Since the beginning of this column in January 2017, my own home paper, the Baltimore City Paper, was shut down. We immediately responded with an attempt to start a new paper. We partnered with the nonprofit Real News Network and the Washington Blade and founded the Baltimore Beat. It lasted for four months before the people with the money pulled out.

Now, in Baltimore—where we will have more than 300 murders again this year, where we had a major police corruption scandal that will overturn nearly 2,000 cases, where the police commissioner was federally charged and resigned after only months in office—we have no outlet like the paper you are holding. There is no single place where you can mourn for those murdered, mock the bullshit politicians, and celebrate some artistic or culinary innovation or creature comfort. There is nowhere for this voice. And our city sorely misses it.

The art and music scenes are less cohesive, hardly scenes at all anymore. New writers aren’t following their passions and learning their chops. People aren’t doing insane experiments—like when I once listened to only local music for an entire year. (Music writers, take note.)

The Washington City Paper, one of the other early sponsors of this column, came dangerously close to death during the last year; an execution was stayed only by the intervention of a billionaire, a local rich dude. The Bezos model seems to work in Washington, but we can’t all count on that.

I’ve gotten countless emails from other editors saying something like, “Hey, man, we love the column but can’t afford it anymore.” I was once in the same boat myself as a managing editor. It is brutal.

Between the first draft of this column and this final version, five of my fellow reporters were murdered in their newsroom, an hour away from my own. Every reporter I have ever known has been threatened or maligned at some point, and this has gotten so much worse under Trump. We don’t need the CNNs and MSNBCs. We need the Annapolis Capital Gazettes and all the small, struggling papers that carried this column. Fuck you, Milo, and fuck you, Trump.

I learned from Spy Magazine that every good column has heroes and villains. Donald Trump was one of Spy’s main villains back in the 1980s, and he was the overarching villain of this column. But there were also all of those who enabled him, and whom he enabled, especially Michael Flynn, the alt-right goons of Charlottesville and the dark corners of the web—Project Veritas, and the ever-so-silly and sad “Western chauvinist”™ frat of the Proud Boys, whose litigious western chauvinist™ lawyer threatened legal action against the papers carrying this column.

Foremost among the heroes are the 230 people arrested during the inauguration protests. The very first column detailed those protests, after I was gassed and pepper-sprayed and almost arrested by the mobs of cops with covered faces who ultimately kettled a large group of protesters. The protesters were all charged with the few windows that were broken on the theory that because they wore black and were part of a “black bloc” protest, they all conspired to damage the property. They were facing more than 60 years each.

After a year and a half of the government paying two U.S. attorneys to prosecute the case, and a full-time detective and part-time Trump lover Gregg Pemberton to work it, several defendants have been acquitted on all counts, and the charges against many others have dropped. This includes the charges against Elizabeth Lagesse, one of the real heroes of this column, who taught herself everything possible about the case and went to nearly every proceeding, and filed suit with the ACLU against Washington, D.C.’s police department.

Aaron Cantú, a journalist at the Santa Fe Reporter, is still facing charges. Over the last year and a half, the #Resistance has half-heartedly fallen in love with the “free press,” railing against Trump’s tweets while still lying to us if they are politicians—and ignoring Cantú’s plight if they are Beltway journalists. He has been living under serious criminal charges for a year and a half because he covered a protest. And he’s a hell of a good reporter.

But the real heroes of the column are the alternative papers that ran it and the readers who followed along. I am so grateful to have been able to have a home in each of your cities and towns. And I learned so much from having editors in Colorado Springs or Jackson Hole, and so many others.

Mary Finn spent countless hours filing FOIA requests—some of which we are still waiting on (fingers crossed)—and editing the column. Brandon Soderberg was a tireless editor and a great friend and collaborator through this.

Brandon and I will be writing a book over the next year, so if you enjoyed the column at all, keep an eye out for it.

Published in National/International

Last week, the Independent published the final ¡Ask a Mexican! column, as penned by my friend and colleague Gustavo Arellano.

I was shocked on Oct. 13 when I got the news that Arellano—a longtime OC Weekly scribe who had served as the paper’s editor and spokesperson for many years—had stepped down. He quit, he said, because he refused to lay off half of his staff, and the owner would not accept any of Arellano’s counter-proposals (one of which included cutting Gustavo’s own salary in half).

At first, I fully expected Gustavo’s column to continue on in some form, albeit with a different name than ¡Ask a Mexican!, because the OC Weekly owns the rights to the name. In fact, in the version of this column that ran in the November print edition, I said the column would probably continue, as that was what I’d been told. However, after we went to press, Gustavo let me know the column would indeed end; he explained the decision in the final column, which ran last week. While I understand the decision, it breaks my heart. It was a fantastic column—and the first “regular” feature to ever start running at CVIndependent.com, way back when we were in beta five-plus years ago.

As for Gustavo’s plight … this is how it often goes at newspapers these days. While I have no inside knowledge of the OC Weekly’s financials, I do know that many layoffs at newspapers over the last 15-plus years have happened not because the publications were losing money—but because profits weren’t high enough.

This fact is one of the reasons I decided to leave my job as the editor of the Tucson Weekly in 2012, and then start the Independent here. The then-owners of the Tucson Weekly, Wick Communications, treated both me and the newspaper very well during my decade-long tenure there—but I knew that wouldn’t last forever. Sure enough, a little more than a year after I departed, Wick sold the Tucson Weekly—and the paper has been subjected to serious budget cuts ever since.

As bleak as all of this sounds … there is reason for hope. Last weekend, a number of my colleagues gathered in Chicago for the annual Local Independent Online News Publishers (LION) Summit. (Unfortunately, I was unable to attend.)

LION is a vibrant and growing organization of mostly newer, mostly online local-news organizations across the country. Almost all of us “LIONs” are small, scrappy and hardworking. Oh, and one more thing: We’re innovating. We’re finding new ways to tell our communities’ stories. And we’re investing in our publications rather than making cuts to keep shareholders or wealthy owners happy.

Gustavo Arellano is a gifted, hustling hard-worker who will land on his feet, so I am not worried about him. I’m also upbeat about the future of journalism. However, I am saddened by the huge loss that Orange County will suffer as a result of the decline of its independent alternative newspaper, the OC Weekly.

As for that aforementioned November print edition: It’s our annual Pride Issue. It’s on newsstands throughout the Coachella Valley right now—and we will be at the Greater Palm Springs Pride Festival this coming weekend. Come say hi! Thanks for reading, as always, and don’t hesitate to contact me with comments or questions.

Published in Editor's Note

Dear Readers: Many of ustedes must be scratching your heads right now: “What happened to ¡Ask a Mexican!” You’re preguntando yourselves, “Who the hell is this cholo nerd where the Mexican logo used to be?”

It is I, gentle cabrones, your eternal Mexican: Gustavo Arellano, child of immigrants from Zacatecas, one of whom came to el Norte in 1969 in the trunk of a Chevy driven by a hippie chick from Huntington Beach. And I’m triste to say that this columna is coming to an end.

My day job during the life of ¡Ask a Mexican! was at OC Weekly, an alternative newspaper in Orange County, where I was born and raised. (Don’t believe The Real Housewives of Orange County: there’s a chingo of raza here.) I started as a staff writer, then became managing editor, then was editor for nearly six years until Oct. 13, when I resigned instead of laying off half my staff like the Weekly’s owner wanted me to. No me rajé, and I’ll never regret quitting my dream job, because I know I did the right thing.

With me leaving the Weekly, I also must leave behind ¡Ask a Mexican! See, I don’t own the trademark to the title, and I can’t pay muchos pesos for something that the Weekly’s owner (or the ones before him) should’ve given to me as a gift for 13 years of being the hardest-working Mexican this side of Beto Durán.

I thought about continuing under a different name (¡Ask a Pocho! ¡Query a Mexican! ¡Pregunta, Pendejo!) But then I realized I don’t have to continue the column anymore. See, I’ve been to el cerro. And I’ve seen the Promised Land of Aztlán.

It sure doesn’t seem like that at a time when millions of our friends and familia are at risk of deportation, when Donald Trump wants to build a border wall (Man, where’s Alex Lora when you need him?) and when gabachos keep mistaking Día de los Muertos for Halloween. But we’re now at a place where whip-smart humor is at the touch of a meme, and where our political and economic power continues to soar like voladores totonacos. We live in an era when everyone can be a defender of la raza against gabachos, whether said gabas assault us or try to claim Rick Bayless is great.

In other words, ¡Ask a Mexican! is no longer necessary, because Mexicans have won a war that began when Sir Francis Drake sunk the Spanish Armada. We’re here, y no nos vamos. We’re victims no longer; we’re actually chingonxs. And the sooner Mexicans realize this, the better we’ll be.

I’ll let others debate whether my attempt to fight racism with satire and stats was visionary or just vendido. I’ll still answer questions about Mexicans on The Tom Leykis Show on the last Wednesday of every month at 4 p.m. (tune in to blowmeuptom.com), because doing so keeps my mind Julio Cesar Chavez sharp and not Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. soft.

But in text, no más. I will let ¡Ask a Mexican! die, and let its passing join the pantheon of gabacho atrocities against Mexicans, like the U.S. stealing half of Mexico, or Rick Bayless.

I wish modern-day journalism allowed me more space, but it doesn’t, so my thanks must be brief. Gracias to friends, Marge, family, my chica; all the papers that carried my columna over the years; Santo Niño de Atocha; Will Swaim; Daniel Hernandez; David Kuhn; and so many more.

Nos vemos, gentle cabrones. Follow me on social media to see what I do next, and hook a compa up with bacanora! No se rajen against evil. Diga no a la piratería ¡Viva la Reconquista! Oh, and #fucktrump.

Email Gustavo at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano

Published in Ask a Mexican

Gannett—the nation’s largest newspaper company, and the owner of The Desert Sun—today laid off dozens, if not hundreds, of employees across the country.

The Independent has heard from a source that up to a half-dozen Desert Sun staffers, including one person from the news side—an editor—were let go today.

Emails sent earlier today to publisher Mark Winkler and executive editor Greg Burton have not received a response as of this writing.

A Facebook message sent to the veteran editor who was reportedly laid off has also gone unreturned.

As of 5 p.m. Pacific time, Gannett Blog’s Jim Hopkins had received reports about a total of 202 layoffs and position-eliminations at 36 Gannett operations across the country.

(Update 6:20 p.m.: Commenters at Gannett Blog are pointing out that a fair number of the people who were laid off are longtime Gannett employees—and therefore on the higher end of the pay scale. The same goes for the Desert Sun case, presuming our source is correct: The editor who we're told was laid off has been with the company for not quite two decades.)

Gannett corporate spokesman Jeremy Gaines confirmed that layoffs were going on to media watchdog Jim Romenesko via this bit of corporate-speak “Some USCP (U.S. Community Publishing) sites are making cuts to align their business plans with local market conditions.”

While local market conditions may vary, Gannett has been slashing newspaper staffers at its operations across the country for about a decade now. And the results, as daily-newspaper readers can see, have not been pretty.

Witness The Desert Sun: While the newspaper still has a lot of hard-working and talented employees, some coverage areas are undeniably weak. Just one example: In some recent weeks, the paper’s “Weekend” entertainment section, published on Fridays, has been completely devoid of locally written copy: Other than locally produced listings, the content has come entirely from wire services. The same lack of locally produced stories has afflicted the Desert Sun-owned Desert Post Weekly at times.

Of course, Gannett is not the only newspaper company making cuts these days. Just yesterday, Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer, owned by Advance Publications Inc., cut around 50 newsroom employees, and later this month, the venerable daily will trim home delivery to just four days per week.

In a somewhat cruel twist, employees were warned layoffs were coming, and told to wait at home for a call during a two-hour window. If a call came, they’d receive severance information; if a call didn’t come, they presumably were still employed, and should report to work like normal.

At least the poor folks at The Desert Sun who lost their jobs today presumably didn’t have to suffer through such a stressful indignity.

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Published in Media