Why I’m Doing What I’m Doing

by Mike Geniella, December 18, 2009


A few friends and family members paused upon hearing of my decision to regularly post a blog on theAVA.com website. It’s a fair and not unexpected reaction. After all, they’ve heard me pontificate for years about the importance of accurate, balanced reporting on events that shape our lives and the communities where we live. The new web site, an adjunct of the free-wheeling Anderson Valley Advertiser, may seem an unlikely venue for a veteran journalist with long ties to the mainstream media.

So let me explain how I got there.

The world of newspapers as I’ve known it was showing shocking signs of imploding before August, 2008 when I accepted an early retirement offer from The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa. It was not an easy decision. I loved my job writing about the North Coast. The issues, the places and the fascinating people were the source of endless stories, a number of which garnered national attention.

Still the end was in sight to the heady days of newspapering as I experienced them. An advertising revenue free-fall put the squeeze on the newsroom, curtailing expansive coverage and limiting the amount of time and money to work in-depth stories. Shorter stories and more of them became the mantra of editors grappling with staff cutbacks and reductions in available news space.

Since then things have only become worse, in Santa Rosa and in every newsroom across America. Legions of journalists and their colleagues in production, circulation and advertising have lost their jobs. The very future of newspapers is in doubt.

Give everything, what does a true believer in the importance of accurate, timely information do?

There are more theories than answers, of course. Maybe the big scramble to return profits to the news business will come up with a formula that will keep Wall Street happy. But what we the information consumer end up with is questionable.

So let’s get back to the old dog and theAVA.com, and his decision to enlist in the only non-profit news information venture that I know of on the North Coast. That’s right. TheAVA.com depends on dollars contributed by readers, and not advertisers to cover the costs. It’s part of fledgling movement nationwide for community-based, subscription-supported journalism.

TheAVA.com web editors are Tim Stelloh and Freda Moon. I don’t know Stelloh and Moon personally, but their writing talents are obvious. Click on Timstelloh.com and Fredamoon.com to see examples of their published works in The New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor and other main stream media icons.

Yes, AVA Editor and Publisher Bruce Anderson is still around, overseeing the print version of the Boonville-based weekly and carrying his fiery brand of newspapering from the cottages to the palaces. “Fanning the flames of discontent” is a cry Bruce still shouts on his newspaper’s masthead.

But, no, I don’t find my new relationship with the new AVA website incompatible with my lifetime beliefs as a journalist.

There are other veteran journalists who too ponder where we’ve been, and where we might go.

Alan D. Mutter is a Silicon Valley media consultant. During his newspaper career, Mutter was a former editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, and San Francisco Chronicle. He currently writes an intriguing blog on the state of journalism at http://newsosaur.blogspot.com/.

Among Mutter’s most recent observations:

“In the interests of tossing a potentially unwelcome ingredient into the roiling stew over the future of journalism, I’d like us to consider for a moment whether a more outspoken, less diffident, more opinionated and less dreary press might be welcomed by journalists and readers alike.”

I’m willing to give it a try. Subscribe to theAVA.com – remember it’s a non-profit venture - for $25 a year, and together let’s see what happens.

You can contact Mike Geniella at mgeniella@gmail.com.

3 Responses to Why I’m Doing What I’m Doing

  1. Tim Stelloh Reply

    December 18, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    We do indeed depend on subscriptions and donations. But just so readers know: We’re in the middle of the long, tedious process to become an official non-profit. Which means you can still donate and subscribe–and help support this website–but those donations aren’t tax-deductible yet.

  2. Frank Hartzell Reply

    December 23, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    Hey MIke, glad to see you are still at it. I sent your piece here to Harold, the man we Appeal-Democrat alumni remember best! Ok, inside jokes are one of those things that got newspapers into trouble, so I’ll quit. Good luck with your new venture.

  3. Jennifer Poole Reply

    January 7, 2010 at 10:06 am

    I just ponied up for an electronic subscription — so glad to see the AVA online for real, and how interesting to see Mike Geniella a part of it all. Best of luck to all.

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