On Bay Area Media: Good News in Santa Cruz, Amazingly Enough

As in the book world, we've had decades of depressing developments in the world of newspapers, so it's worth celebrating -- and spreading the word -- about respites from the gloom. That's why I want to urge people to check out the Santa Cruz Sentinel, a smallish paper doing one hell of a job of working to be a vital part of its community.

I was a San Francisco Chronicle staff reporter in the '90s and then lived in Berlin, where I wrote a weekly column for the East Berlin daily, the Berliner Zeitung, for a while. But when my wife Sarah and I moved to the Santa Cruz area a couple years ago to start a center to promote writing in various ways, it never occurred to me to subscribe to the local paper. I'd grown used to being demoralized every time I picked up a paper in other cities, finding so little to read and sensing between the lines that staffs were also demoralized.

A couple weeks ago, we started getting home delivery of the Sentinel and I've been amazed. Every single day I pick up the paper, I find multiple locally reported stories that grab my interest. I've traveled regularly for work for years and always pick up the local paper and am used to seeing boring wire sludge on the front page -- the latest national or international news, but usually handled in a perfunctory way. Actual local reporting that involves getting out there and talking to people and soaking up some scene, that's been in short supply -- despite the example of the greats of 20th century journalism, like Herb Caen and Murray Kempton, both of whom I was lucky enough to have as colleagues.

But the Sentinel is clearly trying. To look at the paper in front of me, for Thursday, January 15, the top story, over the fold is: "CITY, COUNTY CELEBRATE TRAIL SYSTEM" with a slug reading "Arana Gulch." Reporter J.M. Brown does a pretty nice job of giving some exciting news: a way is now clear to walk, run or bicycle across town without having to use "traffic-laden Soquel Avenue." OK, if you're reading these words in Oakland, that might not interest you. But for me, and many other locals, it's something I'm going to want to check out. And as for the Arana Gulch, I'm going for a walk through there today or tomorrow with my 4-month-old baby girl Coco; it's part of my life.

Below is a story, also locally reported, on "HUNDREDS OF KIDS FLOCK TO WARRIORS DRIBBLE PARADE", over to the right, it's a story from Elliott Almond of the Bay Area News Group on "YOSEMITE CLIMBERS STRETCH BOUNDS", a great topic many of us have been following with relish, and down below, a lively Sacramento-datelined report from Jason Hoppin of the Monterey Herald on fracking: "CALIFORNIA TO EVALUATE MONTEREY SHALE POTENTIAL." A great mix of stories, locally produced, and all with strong execution. I especially enjoyed the Hoppin story, which did have one clunky transition -- "But some environmentalists blasted the study..." -- but also had the courage to add some very useful factual information down below to point out some subtleties.

"The horizontal wells that consume so much water elsewhere are not typically found in California, and acid-based fracturing is not used because deposits of carbonate rocks, such as limestone, are not common here," Hoppin reports. "Fractures in North Dakota's Bakken formation, for example, use eight times as much water as the average California well fracture."

All very interesting. I could go on, citing other sections, but the point is: Good journalism is still happening. If you're in the Santa Cruz area, try picking up the physical Sentinel and giving it a read. It feels very old school at this point -- which, at least to this newspaper lover, feels really great.

Do you still read physical papers? What's your local paper? How's it doing? Check in below with comments.