Saturday, October 25, 2014

Back On the Home Front

I live in Richmond, just a few miles north of Berkeley. Its progressive City Council has received a fair amount of national coverage recently, including this piece in The Nation.

Chevron's large refinery here was the site of an explosion and fire two years ago that sent 15,000 residents to the hospital with respiratory problems. That was pretty bad, but now Chevron has set aside $3 million to tilt the local election toward Chevron-friendly candidates. The energy giant has targeted candidates in the Richmond Progressive Alliance and showered my neighbors and me with television ads, flyers, billboards, even its own news site, the Richmond Standard. That's a lot of not-so-free corporate speech, but the weird thing is the assortment of candidates that Chevron supports. It's not an impressive bunch, which makes Chevron's very expensive gambit look even worse than it otherwise would.

None of this has been lost on local and national outlets, including Rachel Maddow, the Los Angeles Times, AlterNet, Salon, and the East Bay Express. But much of the initial reporting was done by Richmond Confidential, which is run by students at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

We'll see whether Chevron's gamble will pay off soon enough. But I'm struck by the way the media coverage has worked out here. It's a good example of two points I've made here and there. One is that small outlets often break big stories. The other is that these small outlets need bigger ones to pick up those stories so that a much larger audience can see them. Both kinds of news outlets are required for a healthy media ecology.

Update: It now appears that Radio Free Richmond ("Independent Richmond News Without Fear or Favor") is part of the campaign. Its creator is BMWL, a San Francisco PR firm that has worked with Chevron. This from the East Bay Express, January 2013: "Along with running the anti-soda-tax campaign on behalf of the beverage industry, BMWL & Partners worked with Chevron in 2012 as part of the oil giant's $1 million effort to elect Chevron-friendly candidates running for the city council, including [Nat] Bates." Bates is Chevron's candidate for mayor in this election cycle.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

David Gans Unloads at the Freight & Salvage

David Gans came by the Freight & Salvage yesterday and dropped some serious Grateful Dead knowledge on us. Between the books, articles, photographs, and radio programs, David has produced an enormous body of high-quality work about the Dead, and he ladled out a necessarily small but tasty fraction of that. He also treated us to a guided listening of two live tracks from 1976. Nobody does it better.

One student buttonholed me and raved about the quality of our guests, and I've heard others voice similar sentiments. So I know I'm not the only one feeling especially Grateful.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Blair Jackson Visits "No Simple Highway"

Blair Jackson visited our Grateful Dead course yesterday and shared his vast knowledge of the band and its history. Aficionados will recall that he and wife Regan McMahon published The Golden Road from 1983 to 1994. The band members enjoyed the magazine and gave him extraordinary access; as a result, The Golden Road was widely regarded as the best fanzine of its era. Blair also wrote the first serious history of the band in 1983, and his Garcia biography was an enormous contribution to our understanding of a fascinating artist and figure.

As I told the students before we launched this class: if this isn't fun, we're not doing it right. And yesterday was really fun.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Rosie McGee at Freight & Salvage

Rosie McGee shared her photographs and memories at the Freight & Salvage this week. Truly illuminating, and a great counterpoint to Nick Meriwether's historical overview last week. The sheer amount of visual information in Rosie's photographs, and the way her stories complement and contextualize that information, made her visit especially rewarding for us. A lot of that information can be found in her memoir, Dancing with the Dead, but it's always a pleasure to hear it conversationally as well.


Tuesday, October 07, 2014

No Simple Highway at the Freight & Salvage

The Grateful Dead class got off to a great start at the Freight & Salvage last week. Nick Meriwether, Grateful Dead Archivist at UC Santa Cruz, deftly framed the Dead's influences, milieu, and project. It's a new course and a new venue, so I wasn't sure what to expect, but I'm now looking forward to the next five meetings. The OLLI staff did a fantastic job, we got to use the green room, and the technology worked! Next up: Rosie McGee, author of Dancing with the Dead.