Archive for September, 2009

Bay Area News Project: Please, God, let it not be boring.

25 September 2009

So the big news today out here is that after months of speculation, Warren Hellman, the patron saint of the Best. Festival. In. San Francisco. Ever. is plunking down $5 million to seed the creation of what’s being called the Bay Area News Project, a journalism outfit that’ll be linked with KQED public radio and television, UC Berkeley’s J-School, and it looks like The New York Times.  Alan Mutter has the best summary of the deal, and Dave Cohn just put up a smart post about what he hopes Hellman’s project does. Lots of details still to be worked out, so I think it’s way too early to say much more than that I’m really hoping this works out.

Okay, that having been said, I’ve got a couple more things to say.

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Katz’s 3 axioms of foundation funding for journalism

21 September 2009

Last week, I shared a drink at Union Square with Michael Stoll, the project director for San Francisco’s nonprofit Public Press; he’d reached out to me after the Free Press online chat on “What’s the Future of Foundations and Journalism?” – and I’m glad he did.

One of the things we talked about was the significance of Geoff Dougherty’s recent announcement that the Chi-Town Daily News, Chicago’s Knight Foundation-funded experiment in nonprofit journalism, would be shutting down. The Chi-Town Daily was one of the first to receive Knight funding, and also one of the larger operations, so there’s been a lot of chatter about the shop’s closure over the past couple of weeks (here are 2 good ones from Jim Barnett’s NonProfit Road, and a video from Dave Cohn). I don’t know Geoff, and I’m not familiar with Chi-Town’s inner workings, but at the risk of misreading the tea leaves, herewith my Three Axioms of Foundation Funding for Journalism.

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Thinking about archery/Rosh Hashanah 5770

18 September 2009

The Hebrew word for “sin” is “Cheyt” – roughly “to miss the mark,” as in an archer missing the target.

When I was younger, archery was my sport. I was a terrible athlete, but here was something in which I could compete against myself, by myself. It took skill, practice, and focus. The equipment itself was a joy to handle. There was a meditative quality to it – a deep breath, release, and the arrow seems drawn to the target.

A few years ago, I was reminded of this by the Torah portion (Genesis 21) for Rosh Hashanah. In it, after Abraham’s wife Sarah gives birth to their son Isaac, Abraham casts his “other” wife, Hagar, and their son Ishmael into the desert (the biblical language blames Sarah for this, but there is always, always, another story here, the story left unrecorded).

Hagar and Ishmael soon exhaust their supply of bread and water; Hagar fears for her son’s death. At that moment, according to Genesis, angels tell Hagar that Ishmael will found a great nation. And the Torah says that Ishmael “dwelt in the wilderness, and became a an archer.”

The Koran tells us more.

First, it tells the story of Abraham sacrificing not Isaac, but Ishmael, and that God, as Allah, tells him to stop. Isaac/Ishmael: here are both families with the same story, in which the Old Man face of God is willing to sacrifice the life of a young man to prove a point. And in both cases, this God, now as the Shechinah, the feminine aspect, speaks out, and says, no. Not in my name. This cannot happen.

In this story, what we call God is about to proceed down a course of action that by any human definition would be seen as a sin. Like an archer, God misses the mark, but then turns towards the right path. This “turning” towards the proper path, or “teshuvah,” is the essence of this time of year; it’s often (poorly) translated into English as “repentance” meaning remorse or contrition, but it’s actually a call to right action.

The Koran also tells us that Ishmael and Hagar settled in what later is known as Mecca. And it records that Abraham visited “Ishmael’s tents,” not once, not twice, but at least three times. He came, we must imagine, to see how his son was doing. To talk with him, now, as a man with his own tribe, sheep and goats, family.

Is Abraham doing his own “turning” here, seeking to hit the mark this time? When a father seeks to overcome the distance to a child, isn’t that at least part of what is going on?

We’re all archers in our life, and we all miss our marks. In our own ways, when we turn towards the right path, we make t’shuvah. Let’s hope that in the coming year, we create many opportunities for accuracy, focus, truth, and compassion.

Friday dog blogging, 4 September 2009: a good day, a good day.

4 September 2009

The long weekend has officially begun, it’s after 5, the MoJolers still in the office are no doubt deep into Friday Happy Hour, and I’m sitting on the front deck listening to Rosanne Cash while Mingus the Super Dog catnaps in the sun. A good day, a good day…

With both of my older brothers having had prostate cancer I’ve been dealing with this for the past year or so; when Jeff Jarvis blogged about his prostate cancer situation, I posted this. Fortunately, I started early enough that it looks like an intense round of work with Michael Broffman of the Pine Street Clinic is helping, a lot.

As probably every middle aged guy in the US should know by now, docs start looking at you funny when your PSA score heads north of 2.5, and then they start looking really serious after it tops 4.0. That’s where my PSA numbers were back in December, and after a couple of inconclusive biopies, that’s when I started downing a smorgasbord of vitamins and herbal doodahs 4 times a day. I admit to being skeptical.

The first data point came back in May, when my PSA dropped to 1.74. That was pretty amazing. But I thought, hell, one number, who’s to say what it really means? So I metaphorically held my breath for another 4 months or so, and got some more blood drawn before I headed out on a backpacking trip up on Glacier National Park with my pals Steve Lyons and Buck Parker. The number of the day: 1.56.

Sometimes something as simple as a number helps make a good day really good.

I’m guest blogging over at Free Press this week

2 September 2009

The folks over at Free Press invited Dave Westphal from USC’s Annenberg Center (until a few months ago he ran McClatchy’s Washington DC bureau – one of the best commercial news sources around) and me to join their readers in a conversation about foundation-funded journalism this week.

This is a hot issue right now in the media punditry trade. MoJo editors Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein’s ed note in the latest issue of the magazine takes it on directly (interesting comments there, too), and Clara’s dissection of Sheri Fink’s (foundation-funded) Katrina piece for the New York Times is an illuminating look at what it takes to do investigative reporting these days.

I think Free Press asked me to weigh in because (a) this is something nonprofit Mother Jones has been living with from day 1 back in 1975; (b) I run MoJo’s fundraising program; and (c) I’ve written earlier about the topic here, here, and here.

Dave and I will be doing a live chat on Thursday, September 3rd at 8PM Eastern Time, if you want to drop by.

Here’s my FP post:

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