Transcript: “The Language of Strangers”

A town comes together to discuss the role of a community newspaper

Author’s note: The tape recording of the newspaper meeting began shortly after the meeting started so, regrettably, this document does not include remarks by several community members. In transcribing the tape, I made the best attempt I could to understand each speaker, although at times it was impossible to hear each word. Rather than editing for the written page, my decision was to literally transcribe the spoken words and punctuate as best I could. Other than words that I could not understand, nothing was edited out. The style of the meeting was informal; a cordless microphone was passed around as people requested it until everyone felt satisfied that they had said what they came to say. Robert Plotkin, editor of the Point Reyes Light, was in attendance the whole time and gradually participated in the community conversation. Some of the comments were directed to him. On the whole, the tone of each person’s comments was spirited, serious and eloquent. The value of this document continues as others read it and ponder the seriousness of the issues raised here.

—Elizabeth Whitney, meeting organizer

Sim Van der Ryn: I moved back here because I feel this is a positive place and this is a place that has a lot of potential, that still feels like a community, even though it has changed a lot. I’d like a paper that reflected the positive—obviously, you have to have some things that are negative. But I think the ones that have been in the paper have been pretty stupid and disgusting. Saying the cemetery is “spooky” in a small town to me doesn’t honor the dignity of the people that are in that cemetery who lived here, who are our ancestors. Maybe it makes a Halloween story but I think it is stupid. So I don’t know. You can do what you want…

Carla Steinberg: Ah, the voice of the codger.

Sandra Holland: When people used to complain to me about Dave Mitchell, I’d say, “The Point Reyes Light is what holds this community together. It is the center, it is the glue. We find out what is going on with our neighbors.“ I don’t find that to be the case any more. It breaks my heart. There is no center.

Ruth Fleshman: I think one of the things that I have heard over and over is that when Dave Mitchell came here nobody liked him either…[laughter and cross talk]…Besides which the young writers can’t spell.

Melinda Leithold: Neither can Cal Trans.


??: Without taking anything away from anything anybody else said, and this is a minor nitpick in the scope of things, but I would like see a newspaper that at least has the self-respect to proofread its articles. I can’t say it is any worse than it was before, but it’s sad.

Ruth: It’s also irritating.

Peter Worsley: The west coast New Yorker

Elizabeth Barnet: I was interviewed for two articles recently and both of them made me feel really bad afterwards. One of them was…the reporter represented that she was going to be doing…she actually was interviewing all the yoga teachers in town and I am a yoga teacher. The article was not about all the yoga teachers, it was about just the yoga teachers at Yoga Toes. Which was fine, it was just that she had represented herself as doing kind of a survey about yoga. The other one was an article about home schooling, and my kids still, when they see the woman who took the photos in their activity see her as the person who had her camera in their faces. When we see that reporter in town the kids still identify that experience as a negative experience.

Peter: Just a comment on what was just said. I used to be a photographer and was studying photography with my favorite teacher. His emphasis was that you needed to build a relationship with the people you photographed (if you were photographing people), and I was. I was photographing black teenagers. So, as hard as it was for me, I made friends with most of them and took photographs of them.

Steve Bjerklie: I’ll give you a prosaic request. I’d say that the Point Reyes Light is the only game in town in terms of a local newspaper. Maybe just to give the other side of the world view, I regularly read the Chronicle; I read the New York Times; I read The Economist—all national examples of papers of great stature just a few clicks away on my computer. But the Point Reyes Light is the only thing that counts, the only chance I have to read local news. So, to give a specific example, for example the white deer story, I need to read not just an opinion about whether it is good or bad, I need both sides. That means I need an interview, for example, with the park service in detail about what is going on. Which is something we’ve not gotten from either of them at this point…What I want to see is reporting first and foremost.
…A newspaper, I think, is a pubic utility of a kind. It also straddles this fence line because it is also most often a private business or a for-profit business. But as a public utility I think a newspaper—whether it is a community newspaper or whether it is the New York Times—it’s purpose is to report and inform with facts and accuracy. There is room in that equation for point of view, and you see a point of view sometimes in the New York Times. You’ll see it in long, extended journalism in the New Yorker, and you’ll see it in community newspapers. But point of view to the exclusion of facts and accuracy is editorializing and it is not reporting. There I think that whenever a newspaper does it, whether it is the Times or the Light or whatever, they are abrogating their responsibility and purpose as a public utility.

Carla: One of the reasons that I asked for a container for the disparate voices is just for that. For instance, let’s use the example of the white deer. I would like to see all perspectives. I think there were a few letters a while back when people were expressing views. There was a heated debate. It’s a very serious issue. It’s not nothing. I think it is something that concerned everybody and I would like to have seen more solid interviews and more information so that we had a way of coming to terms with that—making consensus—because a lot of us feel very bad about what’s happened.

Peter: I still haven’t heard anyone say that they think the Light is a public agency or a public facility and I still think that it tends toward the opposite end of that spectrum. And so without some kind of indication that they were desirous of being a community newspaper I am not sure that it makes sense for us to be talking about this particular newspaper as our community newspaper.

Elizabeth Whitney: Robert, are you…? Do you want to…?

Robert Plotkin: Oh, I don’t think so.

Elizabeth: It is up to you…

Robert: I just wanted to listen. I have a voice. People hear me a lot. I just kind of came here to kick back and listen.

Elizabeth: OK.

Robert: I really appreciate everyone’s input. It may not be specific to me necessarily—and thank you all for coming together. I am really interested to hear what everyone has to say. I don’t know how long this is going to go. I may have to cut out early because we were up till seven in the morning this morning. I haven’t slept yet. But I am here and I really appreciate everything you have to say. I’m going to stay as long as I possibly can to hear every one of you.

Elizabeth: Thank you. KWMR is here in two forms. [to recording team John Neff and Terri Beausejour] You are part of that. Andrew is here somewhere. Oh, there you are. There is going to be a chance for this dialogue or discussion to expand. How about a couple more people that are here but haven’t spoken?

Ruth: Just a minute…absolute specific. When the Sheriff’s Calls would give information about what was going on, on what street in what town, and all of a sudden we are getting no information about the street. Now we had a burglary in our neighborhood and I only heard about it because it was in the gossip channels. But it would be very helpful if we knew more specifics, not necessarily who or all the gory details but where, when the vandalism was occurring up on Mesa Road. It was useful to know that that was where it was, it wasn’t just “Point Reyes Station.” So that’s a specific kind of lack of information that has come into the paper. Done.

Dona Larkin: I need the community newspaper to be a vehicle for hearing things before they happen rather than just after they happen. Like to report on the thing after it’s already done, it’s nice to hear that, but a community newspaper should actually be a tool for hearing about upcoming things. To explain what it is and why it is important…

Lyons Filmer: And I think that reflects also on for-profit things and non-profit events and activities.

Robert: I do have one thing to say about that. Our newspaper will soon be redesigned for pagination very shortly and part of that is a calendar section so that everything won’t be scattershot all over the place. There will be a calendar section with everything that is going to go on for each day. So you can just look and see, oh, it’s Thursday, what’s going on Thursday? My idea for it would be that it would have a blend of everything, even political events, bands playing, just everything going on that day. Because the format would be a lot more condensed and the layout would be a lot more concise, it should offer room for a lot more events, so it wouldn’t be an issue of everyone trying to jostle for positioning. It will be a lot more expansive and organized for use. The current design is inherited but the redesign isn’t and will reflect how I’d like to read the paper. So in terms of the upcoming events, it should be a lot better for that. That’s what I want for the paper as well, so the redesign will reflect that.

Elizabeth: I would like put in another personal note. I think it is really alarming that there are no local people writing for this paper. I recognize things come and go, and there’s reasons why some of that happens, but the fact that there aren’t people sort of embedded within the community with roots in the community that are writing for the paper, even if they are writing now and then, or that this plan of bringing young interns in and then they come and then they go and then they come again…in a way the paper will always feel like it is written from an outside view if the people that write for the paper are not from here. And I know that’s just something that—a business decision I suppose—but in the thirty years that I have been involved here people have willingly contributed to the local paper with no sense that it mattered whether they got paid or not and they contributed amazingly wonderful things. The quality is here. I just feel that—I don’t know what makes it happen that we don’t have anybody local now writing for the paper. It is just going to be a hard thing to overcome.

Peter: How many people remember Bill Thompson’s fishing column?

Elizabeth: Or Jack Mason’s “Funny Old World”?

Sim: I’d like to speak to that for a minute, because I think it does reflect an attitude of really not understanding the community that you are in and respecting it. I saw your ad in craigslist… I just had a good laugh at that. You are looking for someone who could edit the class of doing the World in Review for the New York Times. Well, actually there are people in this town who are that good, who are excellent journalists. But why don’t you deal with the demographics that are here? You’ve got a graying population. You’ve got a lot of people with a lot of talent who have been here for a long time. Why not use them to really tell the stories of the community? The one positive thing that I do find is the fact that it is the Point Reyes Light and I think it is good that you are talking about the rest of West Marin, except that the threads of connection don’t come through. It is just, well, that town and that town. I really do think that you are missing the boat in not using the people here—some are professional journalists, others are not—but they can write well and they understand the community and that’s the key. I have seen a whole lot of stories where there’s interesting words and some flair, but they totally miss the point of the place or the community.

Elizabeth Barnet: I wanted to clarify—because when I was speaking earlier—I realized when Peter picked up on it—the photos that I mentioned were never in the paper. I called because my kids were really offended. I just wanted to say what that represented to me was a feeling of betrayal. There was a trust and there was a relationship and when you talk about—I do think there has to be some kind of relationship. I invited them into my home and shared all my books. I lent books to this reporter. It feels like…maybe it was just a lesson on journalism, but that’s not the experience I had of the Independent Journal when they came into my house and the photographer came, too, and let the kids use the camera. The contrast was there, you know? So…
Vicki Leeds: To me the paper should be supporting the community and the community isn’t like what the paper is saying—and I don’t mean that just being like pretty or positive—but the community won’t support the paper. I think the problem now is people writing off the paper…there’s a lot of people that have cancelled subscriptions, that don’t want to read the paper, that wouldn’t want to write for the paper. The thing’s going to need to start fresh. I’m not sure quite how that could happen, but I think enough people have been aggravated. People have addressed different things—the interns coming in, what Elizabeth said—it is hard because they are coming in with enthusiasm and they think they know how to write and they may know how to write, but they don’t know how to write for the community. It’s a whole new venue for them. It’s difficult, so we need to have compassion for them, but they need to go and immerse themselves more in the community and ask more questions not just from a sensationalism point of view but from a heart point of view.
Back a few months ago when there was an article about how everybody in town was gouging people—obviously I took that very personally, because we don’t—and I was with Kate when we took the newspapers back to the Point Reyes Light. It was ridiculous. Why would we sell or put out the newspapers that are saying that we were out screwing the community when we are not? There was no research done on that and the research was done after the fact, rather than before the story was written, which is not proper reporting. As far as I am concerned, you do your research and when you have a good solid story you write the story. You don’t write the story to get a reaction and then go, oh, whoops.

Peter: Imagine how wonderful it would have been, Robert, if you had called a meeting like this just before you took over the newspaper.

Ruth: One of the suggestions I would like to have considered—I don’t how the paper actually works, but many papers have an editorial board. It would seem to me that had there been an editorial board of some grown-ups, the rather distressing articles that came through would not have been published, especially not on the front page. If some of these ideas could be run past people who are…yeah…grown-ups, it might not get into offending so many folks. There are teenagers who are still huddling in the bathroom because they didn’t want to be photographed while they were at the dance and their mothers won’t let them come back to the dances any more because of that article.

Sim: Well, he’s the grown-up, isn’t he? He’s the owner.

Ruth: I don’t know him.
Elizabeth: [to Robert] Do you want…?

Robert: I think I’ll say a couple of things. In the terms of me rejecting all this deluge of quality journalism from all these well-regarded journalists, I have approached many of those and they don’t have the time or the bother. I have yet to receive freelance pitches from any of the hotshot journalists out here, although I would welcome them.

Carla: That’s not true.

Ruth: No, the other way around. You ask them.

Robert: That’s not how it works.

Carla: Some of us have given you things…

Steve: Robert, I think the paper is not a context that some of the so-called hotshot journalists want their work to appear in right now.

Robert: Well, you never offered to submit. You never came in and said, “Hey, that’s a great story, I would love to contribute to the local paper. It’s my community. I’m going to do it.” I think the perception is off. I would love to have run great stories if people off in some of these towns that you speak of offered it. As it was, in terms of reported stories, at our peak when we had the most interns, we had seven reporters who were writing three or four stories each a week. The level of reporting was intense and, by way of comparison, if you were to look for example at the Marin Scope papers—you know they have the Mill Valley paper and the Sausalito paper. I met the Sausalito editor and said, “Well, tell me about your staff. What’s your editorial team like? And what’s the reporting resources? And what sort of investigatory reporting…?” He looked at me…“What do you mean, it’s me. I am the paper.”

You are talking about the quality of reporting. You are talking about having seven graduates from the best journalism schools in the country come to deeply report on issues here. I don’t think that any community of this size has ever received that depth and intensity of coverage in reporting. I think it was really remarkable. Especially during the span when they were all here. And also in order to open up to try to get some of this great local, talent of whom you spoke, we had our columnist contest which just closed. There were a lot of people that wrote in and I hope that some of them do function in that capacity and can be their town columnist from their town and write about what is going on in Inverness and write about what is going on in Tomales and write about what is going on from that perspective. That’s the spirit in which we launched the columnist contest.

Vicki: I think when those interns were here there were some nice stories, but I don’t think there were enough stories that people who lived here care about and I think that was the problem. Some of them could write very well but they weren’t writing about what people wanted to know about. When you were talking about the burglaries…yeah, there was a whole rash of burglaries and there was never anything mentioned in the paper and that was really weird for the people that live here. It was very bizarre. This was big news. I have lived here for over 30 years. There’s never been a burglary. And that was news and there was nothing written about it. And it was a rash of them. It was a bunch of them. If you are interested in people writing that can write that live around here, maybe an editorial inviting them to do that would be appreciated and appropriate.

Ruth: There is a whole radio station that functions on practically no staff and major blocks of volunteers.

Peter: And it is a non-profit and people give them money.

Elizabeth: I mean it is about being receptive. I just have to put my two cents in. When we did the Tomales Bay Times here, we just said, “The door is open. And you are welcome.” Nothing was ever rejected from that paper. And everything in it was wonderful. It was not any lowering of bar because we said we would accept what people contributed. My position is that there is a lot that changes when you move into the receptive mode. I offered to write for you…

Carla: I offered to write.

Elizabeth: I believe that there were other offers made. I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, but I was basically told that there wasn’t any room, that there were going to be all interns writing. So that is what you have now, that paper. And we’re all talking about another kind of paper, I think.

Carla: Missing pages.

Elizabeth: So, where are we now…? I didn’t want to turn this into some kind of tug-of-war with what is happening with the Light. I really think it is important to keep listening to ideas…to what is the goal of the paper. I found that even for me to think about this question again—what is the goal? What is the goal? Are we trying to just have something to read once a week to keep up with things? There is a real feeling—I was here a week ago and it was packed, and the whole conversation was about the great surge that came out—the people that had gone to Italy to the Terra Madre event—and every single person talked about community. They were talking about being in a global environment where they were meeting people from villages and it was community, community, community. And that’s what I came back from thinking, well, of course, there is something going on across the whole planet that says we have to build from the community outward to save this planet, basically. It is important whether our community newspaper is playing any part in that. If not, it is going to be taken up by something else, by a new newspaper or the radio station or something else, but it is not a frivolous subject. The art of getting along with your neighbor includes understanding your neighbor and the art of being the kind of journalist that writes in a weekly paper is not just objective. It includes bringing in the perspective of What do we really want to achieve here? Do we want people to understand what it is like to be a rancher or a fisherman or a single mother? We want to understand each other because we are going to live together. A lot of us know we are going to live together until we die. That’s not anything people think about who work for the IJ. That’s what it is about for me. The dream we started with the tribe. I am from that dream. I don’t want to let that dream die.

Carla: Point Reyes Nation.

Elizabeth: Point Reyes Nation. The Rainbow Nation. The Tribe.

Wade Holland: I like newspapers. Every time I go into a community, I always grab the paper and read it. We were in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, recently…I’m a west coast person. If you’d ask me on a geography quiz, does New Hampshire have a coastline? I would have said, “Are you crazy?” Sure enough, New Hampshire does have a coastline, 16 miles worth…I picked up the current issue of the local newspaper and read through it. I wanted a feel for the community. I knew what was going on in effect: sports, the village historic center, the design review area, things that were going on with the city hall redesign and redevelopment, a rebuilding of the community theatre that was a very big event involving lots of volunteer effort. I really felt that I had some insight into this community. I also thought about times that we’ve taken trips up the coast, we’d go up to Eureka or something and stop along the way and pick up the local paper. Believe me, most of them are really bad. They’re embarrassing. They’re sort of real estate bent…to sell real estate or something like that. You really don’t get any news out of them, and then you come down here to Point Reyes Station and you pick up the Point Reyes Light. We may have had our problems with Dave Mitchell—he’s a son of a gun, but he is our son of a gun. We knew who he was and we knew how to read the Light and we knew how to get the information out of the Light and you would have the feel for the community when you read the Light, I think. I think what kept all of West Marin plugged in and all on the same page is we were all reading the same page and starting out with the same level of information on the events that were important.

Remember a few years ago in Half Moon Bay—there’s that great big hotel that they built—a Sheraton or something like that—it’s a real awful place. Remember that place got torched while it was being built? Because the community didn’t even know its construction had been approved. It had happened over at the county seat and they didn’t even know it because they didn’t have a community paper that was informing them, and all of a sudden this thing was under construction. And they torched it—somebody torched it. It’s an object lesson in how important a paper can be.

My concern right now is I don’t think there is a flavor of this community in the Point Reyes Light today. I can’t pick it up and say, this is what reflects my community. My panicky fear about this is: a year from now the paper isn’t going to be here at all. I hope I am wrong, Robert, but I don’t see how economically it is going to sustain itself with what has to be a plummeting of renewals of subscriptions as they come due in the next year, and it looks to me that the ad revenues—the ads are still there—assuming all of them are being paid for. But I really worry about the future of the paper and our having the paper in the long term. This is what I am concerned about. You know, if I go into a shoe store and they’re selling beads and rub-on tattoos and all sorts of things, that’s fine with me as long as they are also selling shoes. If I’ve got a newspaper that’s full of all sorts of I-we kind of stuff but there’s no news in it, then it’s violated those first four letters of the word newspaper. That’s what I want first, is news in my newspaper and I want it to reflect my community. Thank you.

Sim: I think that Elizabeth and Wade just spelled it out very clearly. The New York Times, the newspaper of record, they do have editorial pages but they are supposed to be quote-unquote reporting the news. I think a small town is very different. Or even the county is different. What we need is a vision. I think that people do live in this community because they have a vision of what it can be and I think particularly nowadays our democracy is broken because of us, because we think that fulfilling citizenship means voting every two years and you’re done with it and you don’t have to do anything else. There’s enough people in this community who don’t feel that way who understand that citizenship is a practice—a daily practice—and that’s what makes this place special. That’s really what has to happen. That’s how this country, if it is going to be reborn, it’s going to be reborn in places like this. To me that’s a vision that the newspaper can reflect or it can do stupid things and not really provide the news that you want or it can be an inspiration that you want or…I think about the Pacific Sun. I was friends with Steve MacNamara for many years. What a loss. Man, he sold that paper to these people from Palo Alto…Steve reported the news in Marin County. He had a point of view. He had a vision for what this county, you know, what it could be doing. It’s a giant loss. Ok, now they’ve got a real estate ad section to make a lot more money, but there ain’t any paper there any more. It’s junk. I’d hate to see that happen here but that’s what I see happening.

Vicki: A couple of things…One, about the advertising. I know that for part of their advertising the Light has gone further afield, which is a little odd when you are reading a community newspaper and then looking at ads from as far out of the community as some of them are—I don’t know… Community—when I think of community it made me start thinking about how many communities within the community that I am part of. I am in the community of horse people, I am in the community of home owners, I am in the community of dog walkers, I am in the community of people over 50, I am in the community of people with grown children wishing I had a grandchild…I can go on and on about the communities I am in within a community…whether it is a community of people who have kids in high school, or a community of high school kids or a community of cat lovers or people that spent too much at the vet—I have no idea. There’s a lot of communities within the community. I think that is something to look at when you are writing for a community—the communities within the community.

Peter: I remember when the Dance Palace was started. It was started by two or three people. I remember when the radio station was started. It was started by two or three people. I remember when the Farmer’s Market was started, it was started by four or five or six people. That’s the kind of energy that I would like to see in the newspaper.

Carla: I just wanted to add something to what Sim said about having a vision. I am a visionary columnist and I sent letters to the editor for 30 years. Every one of them was printed. I was even thinking of collecting them and calling them “Letters to the Light”—I have about 75 letters. They are still worth reading—I know I am saying that and I’m not supposed to, but who cares. Anyway, the first day you arrived, I handed you three columns—Steve has read them—and I was going to put them in his bookstore, just to put out a weekly column or vision of this and that and the other thing. And then, oh, no, no, we’ve got a new editor here. I gave them to you the very first day. Never heard back from you. So, people who are people of substance, people of conscience, people who are awake and aware who really care about the world have something to say and say it articulately, lucidly…are here and available and we do want to write. And we don’t want to apply for a contest. It’s cheesy. And besides which you can’t really know what someone can do in one column, a column is a weekly event, week after week, maybe three or four or five or ten columns you want to take a look at before you choose your person.
I don’t want to write you off, kid. I don’t. I really don’t. I don’t want to write anybody off. But I would really like you to be—and I’m really glad you are here—I’d like you to be really wide open and accept some of the gracious gifts that the community has to offer you.

Robert: What’s your name?

Carla: Carla Steinberg. PO Box 1064…


Melinda: I just wanted to ask you more about the revolutionary part of the event tonight.

Elizabeth: Well, you know, it’s been my perspective for a long time that we are right in a time turnaround, and you can look at it from the scientific point of view or the global warming point of view or the political point of view or nuclear proliferation point of view. We are in a kind of do-or-die energy time, I think. And there’s giant prophesies that address some of these issues and there’s lots of people that have intuitions about them and feelings about that, so, I totally believe that this is the time that we can actually make a huge quantum leap of human consciousness…and why not, you know? What else is there to do? A place like this—I am willing to make fun of myself, but I am also not unaware that we are living in a place that has fostered an amazing amount of high consciousness energy, that has a karma. I was told by this guy one time that the Inverness triangle—the Point Reyes triangle—was the third eye of the dragon, it was there, it was in the geology. [laughter] So, OK, maybe we are, maybe we’re not, but there is something about what we do here that affects the whole planet. It may be that we are allowed to have somehow peace and incredible health and clean water and clean air so we can think better on behalf of man and womankind and childrenkind. I think these are important things.

Steve: It’s absolutely true that the Prince came here for a reason. His visit was really well reported in the IJ I thought. And the New York Times.

Bart: How are we going to have that all play out in the newspaper, all those ideals?

Elizabeth: My simple answer is just to be receptive to those thoughts. It doesn’t have to be the paper’s constant thing. Optimism…what’s the source of optimism? I think about that a lot. Why would anybody be optimistic in these days? Well, people here can answer that question. That would be in the paper.

Stephen: It used to be that there was many more letters to the editor, so I always felt that as an individual I could just write something off and it would get published. I’ve been writing for 26 years, I think I know what I am doing…The letters keep shrinking, so I don’t make the effort if I think there is no more venue. There used to be a guest editor column—same thing—you could have a shot at it. It’s all gone.

Elizabeth: In Mike Gahagan’s Light we never refused any letters to the editor. And we loved them, because that was the paper. It was great—that was two pages of the paper that was done. They were the heart of the paper, the letters and the commentaries and the arguments, all that. Everybody grabbed the paper to read that. I was told when I first had a letter that they were on the boards, they’re weeks old, they don’t get in, they get squeezed out. I was surprised because letters to the editor are really the most valuable parts of the newspaper.

VL: …Not all of the public service announcements have been put in, too…

Carla: I have had artist friends and performance friends ask me why I didn’t come and I said, “I didn’t know it was happening.”

Peter: Like this meeting.

Tom Kent: I didn’t even realize why I was coming here this evening until just now and I remembered that I wrote a letter to the editor, which I thought was a good letter, it certainly breathed, and I never saw it. And I was listening to a radio program where you were being interviewed and it wasn’t like you had too many letters from what I was hearing you say. I have written letters over the years, not very often, but they have all been printed.

Robert: I really love it when there are good letters and people argue back and forth and I think it is really one of my favorite parts of the newspaper as well. We generally print just about every letter that comes in. We really don’t get that many letters in every week. We’d love to get more letters. Sometimes if there is an issue that raises a lot of contention, then not all those letters go in. I pick the best ones; I pick a selection because there is just a finite amount of room for that. …Some don’t get in that are pejorative attacks. Generally, especially the letters that relate to an issue or something that the paper has covered or some issue that the readership is concerned about—I really enjoy those letters myself. I try to print as many of them as possible. It’s just…there’s a finite amount of space for the letters and we generally print most of the letters that come in. Only when either they are totally uncivil, they are pejorative, they are personal, or there’s a lot of letters on a particular issue, then we’ll cull them down and try to pick some of the best ones to give room for some of the other letters about other things. It may appear that your letters aren’t published and I don’t want to discourage people from sending letters. I really do appreciate them, especially when they are about something of political and social interest or about an article that we’ve covered.

Bart: But the real estate is shrinking. The letters real estate is shrinking.

Melinda: If you don’t have room, make more room.

Robert: If there is a big response to something and it’s really lively, then we’ll push open and make space. When we had the article about the chicken slaughtering and like that, and we had a large editorial response, when it was something that really seemed to excite people in a certain way, we opened it up because I like that. It’s interesting to read those letters and see the back and forth…. If there were more letters in, we try to make more space. We generally print most letters that come in. Like this issue we printed every letter that came in as far as I can remember. So, I welcome letters.

Sim: One thing that occurs to me—I’ve seen the paper for 35 years—when they no longer set it in type anymore, I think there was a changing quality. Then when Mitchell started getting it printed it over at Pacific Sun Publishing Company—more photographs. The thing looks to me like… I mean it’s ugly. The pictures—for people who live here they don’t need most of these pictures. We know what a turned over car out of Bolinas looks like…

Melinda: But did you know about meth crystals? Have you ever seen crystal meth before?

Sim: No, I hadn’t…

Melinda: It was eye-catching.

Sim: Yeah, but, talk about letters to the editor, I’d like to see smaller pictures instead of these - it looks like the New York Daily News. Why do we…? We know what these things look like mostly.

Vicki: You know, Robert, what you said about letters to the editor, what you think is interesting. I go back to the communities within the community. There might be a letter written from somebody about something you don’t think is interesting but might be really interesting to a number of people in the community. I would personally rather read a letter from my neighbor down the street about something that I have a little bit of interest in instead of reading a letter from somebody that lives in Wisconsin about chicken killing. To me it is more interesting to read what my neighbor seems to say. If you are picking and choosing letters, I’d rather read what the people from here have to say than what someone from somewhere else has to say.

Elizabeth: Put ‘em all in. Put ‘em all in.

Carla: I agree. When we have the zucchini contest, all the zucchinis are there.


Melinda: I’m glad it’s not every week!

Carla: Let’s have all the letters.

Wade: My sense is that, for some time, Robert is exactly correct. The letters are not coming in. He isn’t getting letters like he used it—and that’s what is disquieting to me. The paper has lost the grass roots and people aren’t thinking, “I’m going to write a letter to the Light.” They are just letting it fade away. You know, in the past, about every six or seven issues of the Light, they would put whole pages of letters in. They do catch-up, because so many people were on Dave’s case about why you didn’t put my letter in. And they would have to just devote a whole section of the paper to it. It has come to me that people aren’t even bothering to write any more. That’s what’s revealing.

Carla: And here’s Tom Kent who just wrote a letter that didn’t get in and people are discouraged. I just want to say about the pejorative letters that—I forget who said this—“Riot is the voice of the unheard.” If you can’t hear the people talking softly, then they start getting a little more upset and distraught and finally say things that they might not have said if we could all have understood each other by listening carefully to one another.

Vicki: I will say that Dave didn’t always put the letters in a timely manner but he did always put them in.

Ruth: Well, he edited them sometimes.

Carla: That’s why I always put a comma out of place.

Wade: Oh, yes…and he responded to them. [laughter] You could write a letter to him praising him and he would write a response to you.

Elizabeth: OK, well, Robert, you’ve endured some heated energy and I am grateful that you that you put yourself in the position of having this happen and I admire you for doing that. The ball’s in your court, really, as far as what you think you can do to begin to incorporate any of this. That is really the stage we are now…

Robert: I really appreciate hearing from all of you… One, the redesign will incorporate the calendar section, which will be great for all of us, because I miss events, too. And, it’ll necessarily because of its form be a lot more inclusive so there will be a lot more room for putting in every little type of event. The more events that are offered every day, it seems like it would stimulate that sense of community that you are all looking for because you can gather at all these different little places and experience things together. In terms of the letters, I haven’t really seen a tremendous drop-off from when I came in to now—five to six letters a week is about average. It really hasn’t shifted very much in my experience. Some of the letters have dropped off. I guess the ones that are less political and more of the thank you letters and that kind of stuff. But generally it is about five or six and remained the same. I do like the letters, too. I hear you and I’ve heard the same suggestions that we print more letters, that people love the letters. It seems like it would be for a great idea for me, too, because it is not very much work to produce a story…Producing a story, you understand, takes tremendous amount of energy that’s contained within each story that you read—if you could capture all the efforts that that reporter went into during that week just to produce that 600 words. Letters are great; they are fun and enjoyable and they are low effort for the paper. It seems like if you want them and I can provide the space for them, I ‘d love to do that. So, I heard you in terms of the letters. I will try to print more letters.

In terms of the community and getting more of the community voice in the paper, we have done the columnist contest and it may be an imperfect way of finding all the very best voices, but it is a way and it is a start, and so I hope that you will enjoy some of the voices. I was really actually pleasantly surprised with the quality of some of the submissions. Some of them that have come in have been really great, so hopefully there will be some new community voices for you to read and enjoy. I certainly did. We had an overwhelming response from the Inverness crowd and so maybe I could break that into smaller pockets to get more of them, like maybe we could have an Inverness Park columnist and an Inverness columnist because they were so disproportionately represented it would be a shame to crowd people out so there could be one winner. I’ll see if enabling the most number of voices I can into paper through the contest. If there is anyone else who would like to submit a guest column, please do so. Also as we open up the paper to story news…We have set up an email address specifically for story ideas, storyideas@ptreyeslight@com. We don’t get any story ideas through that. So if people want to see stories, we may not be aware of them. There’s over 11,000 readers and a handful of an editorial staff, so all those sensate beings out there in the community—11 thousand of them—I would love for them to…if they picked up on, sniffed out, or saw or heard some kind of story, that they would send us an email and say, “Hey, this would be something that would be really interesting to check out.” So I would love any sort of submissions about things that you are saying that you would like to see in the paper. Send them in. Send them into our story ideas…You can be anonymous if it is something that you are concerned about because you are in a small town…It’s the wellspring of future stories and it is what we live for. If that addresses any of these issues, I hope it does so, and I really appreciate everybody speaking up so I can hear what they have to say. It’s nice to hear things that are expressed like that rather than picking them up through West Marin vibrations. Thank you for gathering in this room and allowing me to come listen.

Vicki: Robert, is there any reason why—of the people that answered the columnist contest—why there has to be a winner, why there can’t be a bunch of winners so that you can get…All those one that were local, they probably all have something to write about.

Robert: They are all local because they are supposed to represent their towns…Because it was structured as a contest, that person should get the award; it’s a contract; it’s a bargain…you can win your hundred bucks. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t take someone in second or third place and say, hey you were great, too, please submit some more columns. It is not exclusive of each other.

Elizabeth: Steve, did you want to say something…?

Steve Costa: I guess I want to say something to Robert. Robert, I’m not sure you heard or listened to what we were saying this evening. The practicalities of more letters, or an area of the newspaper that’s sort of committed to events is not what I heard people attempting to share with you this evening. You know we had a number of conversations about the paper and its future, and I think we are at this critical moment in which the community is going to need to decide whether Robert is going to continue to serve as the editor and Robert is going to need to decide whether he is going to continue to serve as this editor of the community paper. I think the time is upon us, and I really beg you to listen beyond the practicalities of adjusting columns and new designs to what was really said this evening.

Elizabeth Whitney lives in Point Reyes Station, California.