Journal of Self-Promotion: Water and Power

A long, long time ago (sometime last fall), one of my fellow editors at KQED radio asked if I’d be interested in doing a story for a series on water and power in California. The series would look at the close relationship between water and energy in the state: on one California needs to move immense quantities of a very heavy substance over very long distances, and that requires a lot of power; and on the other, a lot of water is needed to help generate power.

To go back to last fall: Yes, I was interested. And today, a mere seven or eight months later, we have the first part of the series. If you wonder what I sound like climbing a steep hill with 60-some pounds on my back, it’s a must-listen.

Further Adventures in News and Media

So, although I haven’t been posting much the past little while; or at least I haven’t been posting much here. I’ve been doing some blogging and chatting and other social media stuff, both officially and unofficially, for my employer, a public radio station in San Francisco.

The two weekends before this, I did a live blog for the San Francisco 49ers NFL playoff game against the New Orleans Saints and then a sort of hybrid live blog/chat for the 49ers game against the New York Giants last week (along with a couple other posts before and after each game).

Then this weekend, when our newsroom was unstaffed, things started to happen in Oakland. The Occupy Oakland movement, which had been evicted from the plaza outside City Hall after repeated clashed with police and other authorities, had announced its intention to go out and seize a vacant building in the city. Its target was a shuttered convention center near downtown. Yesterday was “move-in day,” and a crowd I’ve heard estimated at 1,000 to 2,000 showed up for a march across downtown to take over the, building, which they said they wanted for a meeting space and social center. The police were ready for the move and blocked the takeover. All they had to do then was deal with the crowd of demonstrators. When push came to shove, as seems inevitable in Oakland, protesters threw stuff at police, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, etc., and before the dust settled, 400 people had been arrested.

I sat down early in the story and started following what was happening through online sources and writing it up on yet another live blog. Along the way, I decided to try an experiment with Storify, a platform that essentially allows you to build a running narrative of an event or subject using online media–Twitter and Facebook posts, blog entries, video, audio and photos from whatever online source you can find. The result is embedded below. One surprise: It actually kind of took off in a minor way, traffic-wise. It became the featured post on the Storify home page and was also picked up by an Oakland community news blog. Anyway, here’s to experimenting (and yes, many questions of journalistic practice are raised by all these tools and the ability to become a one-person newsroom. I’m thinking about all that):

Journal of Self-Promotion: ‘Roof of California’

I have a sense of when I’ve stayed on one topic too long, and this is one of those times. But bear with my carrying on about Tioga Pass just a few minutes longer. As mentioned (and pictured) earlier (and then mentioned again, elsewhere), I drove up across the pass last week on a blitz-style Yosemite tour with my nephew Max. I also brought a sound recorder along and wound up talking to people we met along the way, and that led to a radio story that aired Thursday morning on KQED’s “The California Report.”. Oddly, because of a problem with the The California Report site, the link to our airing of the story is still acting weird for me. story. But the piece also aired on KPCC in Los Angeles, and here’s the link to the story as it played there:

Clear skies in the Sierra Nevada open up access to Yosemite.

OK–that is it for now. Until I get the picture that Max shot of me walking around wearing shorts on the frozen lake.

Blogger by Moonlight, or The Earthquake-Tsunami Saga

That title makes me think: "Booger by Moonlight." But that's a different story altogether.

So: Last Thursday night, we were following our usual custom of watching the local news (if for no other reason to catch one or another of the occasional on-air snafus that add up to must-see TV). About 15 minutes in, one of the anchors cut in with word of an 8.8 earthquake off the coast of northeastern Japan. One of the odd things I have set up via an email account is U.S. Geological Survey reports of Pacific earthquakes, so I'd been aware of a series of sharp quakes in the region that seemed to kick off with a 7.2 quake. Within a few minutes, the Thursday evening (Friday afternoon Japan time) quake magnitude was updated to 8.9 and eventually 9.0. Having gone through a handful e of 6-point shakes and a 7-pointer that was centered 60 miles away but was strong enough to wreak havoc in the central Bay Area, 9.0 is unimaginably powerful.) Soon, the channel was showing pictures, though not very clear ones, of an unidentified city location where, in the distance, you could just make out a flow of water (my guess it was a view of the tsunami just beginning to flow into Sendai, a city of 1 million on the northeast coast). After seeing that, I called my son Eamon and daughter-in-law Sakura–her hometown is about 50 miles north of Tokyo and 180 miles from the quake epicenter–to ask if they'd heard about the quake. They hadn't, yet, but immediately got on the phone to try to reach Sakura's family (they were all fine, though the shaking had been quite strong where they were and lots of stuff inside their home had come crashing down).

After hearing from Eamon, I started to think about how the event would impact our local public-radio news operation in San Francisco. Well, sure, there'd be reaction in the Japanese-American community here. And yes, there was a possibility of a tsunami on this side of the Pacific, though in 25-plus years of covering news here tsunami threats have generally been non-events on this part of our coast (not this time, though). In time, a couple colleagues showed up on email to share ideas for coverage in the morning. Then I headed to the one immediate outlet for news we have, a blog we call News Fix. I made my first post around midnight, then kept updating until 4 a.m. Friday morning. There was enough traffic to early posts on tsunami warnings for California that it broke the site (we had some incompatible, inefficient widgets installed, apparently). I and others posted later Friday, on Saturday, on Sunday, then again Monday.

Posting on that news blog is different from posting here. It's much more to the point, and I feel much less need to be discursive. The result: Less thought, fewer words, more links, frequent posts. Here's the list from the last few days:

Links to Coverage of Japan's 8.9 Quake, Tsunami

California, West Coast on Tsunami Watch

1964: A Distant Quake, a Disastrous California Tsunami

Tsunami Warning for California, Oregon

U.S. Geological Survey Breaks Down Monster Quake

Japan Quake-Tsunami Aftermath: Fears About Nuclear Plants

When the Tsunami Arrived in San Francisco Bay

California Tsunami Watch: Canceled

Japan's Great Quake: The California Perspective

More Maps and Images of Japan's Great Quake

Japan's New Crisis: Fighting to Avert a Nuclear Disaster

Japan's Nukes: What and Where They Are

Busman’s Holiday

So on a widely celebrated holiday a couple months ago, I got a special gift from my family: a very cool little audio recorder. This was in recognition, I think, that: 1) I’m a swell guy, 2) my journalistic endeavors now involve working with sound, and 3) that I put this item on my Amazon wish list.

This morning, my little recorder had an on-air debut of sorts. I went up to the Cal baseball double-header yesterday to try to talk to people about the university’s decision to eliminate the team next year. (Digression: The university has deepening budget problems as its state resources dwindle. Tuition has gone up 44 percent over the last three years to make up part of the gap, and the administration wants to reduce the deficit in the intercollegiate athletics program as part of a workable long-term budget. All that makes sense to people. What has made less sense, or at least is much less understood among the Old Blue community, is the process by which UC-Berkeley decided last fall to end baseball, rugby, men’s and women’s gymnastics, and women’s lacrosse, then reinstate all but baseball and men’s gymnastics (for a taste of the frustration with these decisions, check out this post from my KQED colleague Jon Brooks). The politics is complex, and involves both the university’s handling of potential sports donor and its obligations under Title IX, the federal law that prescribes gender equity in education programs. But even if one buys the official rationale, one might feel a certain disconnect from reality when watching the baseball team take the field. It’s ranked 17th in the country and provided an opening-day gift for fans by sweeping its two games against Utah yesterday–taking the nightcap with a four-run rally in fading daylight in the bottom of the ninth. End of digression.)

Where were we? I went up and did some interviews and recorded some game sound at Evans Diamond. Then I came home, fired up the never-used-before sound editor I bought earlier in the day, Hindenburg (this one, not this one). I transferred my audio to the computer, eventually figured out how to edit it, wrote a script that incorporated the sound I’d chose (this was a “cut and script,” a piece in which an anchor reads tracks around soundbites), did a quick edit with one of the other news folks, then uploaded everything to an FTP server to be downloaded for use this morning.

The final product is here (second item in the newscast).

Muni Yard, Mariposa Street, Fog


Left work about 10 last night and was surprised to see that fog had descended after a warm, showery afternoon. The light everywhere was beautiful–soft, eerie, with a sheen on the streets from the still-evaporating rain. The scene above is immediately across the street from KQED, on Mariposa Street.

‘Standing Live Carbon’ (Formerly Known as ‘Trees’)

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

And surely there's no harm in
Calling a tree "live standing carbon."

Yea, verily we are far from the world of Joyce Kilmer, the only man I've ever heard of named Joyce, a poet whose career was cut short by a sniper's bullet during the waning months of World War I. Back in his day, one might rhapsodize unironically about trees and not be called a tree-hugger. Back in his day, whole forests could be brought crashing to the ground and few in the wider world would doubt it was the sound of progress.

We're wiser now. Look at California. We've got a law on the books that mandates that we cut our greenhouse gas emissions. We're about to embark on a new carbon "cap and trade" system that recognizes the value of forests. So it is that later this week, when the California Air Resources Board meets to consider adopting the cap and trade protocols, trees will turn into "standing live carbon" and forests will become places where the market stores carbon. I'll hardly think of those big wood things the same way.

According to some who have studied the Air Resources Board's plan (131-page PDF) for using forests as an offset opportunity for we who pollute elsewhere, the plan appears to reward the timber industry for clear-cutting forests and "improving" them with species that store more carbon. A single company that might benefit from this arrangement: Sierra Pacific Industries, which has long been the bete noir of those who believe that chainsaws, bulldozers, tree plantations, and biodiversity don't mix.

But apparently, the head of the air board, Mary Nichols, thinks they can co-exist profitably. A story on KQED's California Report today quoted her as saying the board's plan seizes on "an opportunity to actually improve the management of forested land and to make a contribution to the health of the forests and the atmosphere." (Speaking of the atmosphere, the board's "Improved Forest Management" protocol appears to exclude the effect of running heavy machinery as part of the overall emissions cost of "improvement" projects.)

Mark Schapiro, a reporter with the Center for Investigative Journalism in Berkeley, is publishing a new story on the board's forest plans this week. On The California Report today, he summarized the controversy over the air board's work this way: "What the protocol does not do is take further measures to preserve forests, and that's where you have the central tension right now: having as a goal purely the storage of more carbon in trees versus the idea of preserving the biodiversity and the larger ecological function of forests."

Blogger for a Day

The public radio station where I work–its call letters begin with a K and end with D and also include an E and a Q, though not necessarily in that order–is blogging. Our Sacramento bureau chief has a blog. We have a project called Climate Watch that has a blog. Over the summer, we started a daily general news blog. As part of a nationwide NPR effort called Project Argo, we’ve launched a blog on education technology. I’ve written occasionally for most of them; in fact, on a day I was standing in for our regular news blogger, I got a chance to post something on odd developments in California’s high-speed rail project (“High-Speed Rail’s Central Valley Section: Build It and Who Will Come?“).

Yesterday, I was the designated blogger for another project: producing a “live” (i.e., continuously updated) account of the proceedings in the federal appeals court hearing on California’s Proposition 8 (that’s the 2008 initiative that essentially overrode an earlier state Supreme Court decision and banned same-sex marriage).

I live-blogged a couple of baseball games (here, here, and here) during the Giants playoff run. It’s fun, a way to play sportscaster and mine one’s rich store of deeply internalized sports idioms. Live-blogging a court hearing during a case that rests on some highly technical issues and lots of people care about? It’s not exactly second nature.

But here’s the result: Proposition 8 Appeals Hearing: Live Blog. The hearing was two and a half hours, and it went by in a blur. While it was going on, I felt like I was battling to keep up. Reading it now–not bad. I did better than the lawyer for the deputy clerk of Imperial County, anyway (see the top part of this post).

Journal of Self-Promotion: Water and Fish, on the Rocks

My recent forays into the world of California water and fish, along with a couple recent stories I did, resulted in an invitation to be a panel member on KQED’s Forum program (a daily news discussion show we do). I was on an hour-long segment entitled Salmon vs. Jobs (if I had been editing that, I’d have added a question mark) that centered on Senator Feinstein’s announcement that she wants to amend a federal jobs bill to guarantee minimum water levels to a section of the San Joaquin Valley. That water must be delivered, she says, notwithstanding a drought and the threat to endangered fish and despite the fact a scientific review of actions taken to protect the fish–a review she instigated last fall–is still in progress. After being asked on the show Thursday evening, I stayed up late doing some homework on the issue, then followed that up with a nervous (i.e., lousy) night’s sleep. But the show went OK once I remembered that I had to breathe to talk. The audio is here:

And once I got through with that … I ran back to the newsroom and finished the prep work for a feature story I did on a short-track speedskating club in Oakland (I had done the reporting a couple weeks ago, didn’t managed to get the piece written in time for air before the Olympics, and finally got it done this week, and it was broadcast yesterday). The audio for that one is here:

What is the connection between those two stories. My good pal Coach Bobby Knight says the common thread is water, liquid, then frozen.

Journal of Self-Promotion: Water

As part of my job as a news editor at KQED, I’ve become a sort of part-time water watcher. In that capacity, I’ve done a couple of maps and a couple of posts for KQED’s Climate Watch blog. The latest post just went up yesterday: Everything You Know (About Water) Is Wrong. It’s a short writeup on a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California called “California Water Myths.” The institute is mostly trying to remind us opinionated Californians that we have a lot of misconceptions about how much water we have and how it’s used.