Sunday, April 19, 2009

R.I.P. Russian River Monthly

On April 17, 2009, Writers and staff for the "Russian River Monthly" received emails from General Manager Zelda Michaels announcing that the well-respected and much-loved 13-year-old local newspaper has folded. "This is a letter I hoped never to write," Ms. Michaels sadly acknowledges, and goes on to explain that the publisher (who has backed the paper as a silent partner and prefers to remain anonymous) pulled the plug because advertising goals have not been met and "anticipated sales would most likely continue to fall short". (NOTE: I strongly & vehemently disagree with this pessimistic assessment of the paper's future prospects!)

People close to the "Russian River Monthly" provide various theories regarding the cause of the publication's demise, including: The current recession, which has hit "Russian River Monthly" readers and advertisers particularly hard; Lack of "counter copies" which would would have delivered more ad views to well-heeled visitors; Stiff competition from the "West County Gazette" (which circulates in more affluent parts of the county, and can afford to charge less for ads because its publisher, Vesta Copestakes, is an amazing one-woman-show who employs no writers or staff), and; Lack of strong leadership and vision.

Observers also hint at acrimonious struggles amongst mutually hostile factions within the newspaper. The two most frequently-mentioned groups consist of: (1) People who feel that founding member and Managing Editor, John DeSalvio (aka "The Mayor of Guerneville"), is egotistical, irresponsible, and utterly impossible to work with; and (2) um ... John DeSalvio.

Although the departure of the "Russian River Monthly" for the local toxic landfill coincides with the departure of John DeSalvio for Burbank, CA (in the grand scheme of things, are these twain destinations truly so far apart?), these events are unrelated. Although Mr. DeSalvio has long served as the public face of our local newspaper and has made many important contributions, he is not actually the publisher (contrary to common belief) ... um ... unless he actually IS. The publisher IS anonymous, after all.

Personally, I'm sad to see the "Russian River Monthly" go. And not just because I'm losing my glamorous job as a human interest columnist and am now once again relegated to the drab role of "hausfrau".

Although I truly enjoy reading Ms. Copestakes' "The West County Gazette" & Johanna Lynch's "Russian River Times" & appreciate everything they do for our community, the "Russian River Monthly" was the only local paper that consistently provided high-quality reporting and objective journalism. The sort of quality you can only get by actually paying reporters, columnists, and editors to stay on top of things and go to all those bored (oops, I mean "board") meetings -- even if it is only a measly five cents per word.

I sure hope other local publishers can pick up the slack.

West County Buzz, April 2009 (my column in the "Russian River Monthly"

West County Buzz, April 2009
by Elisabeth Parker


Too Good to Be True …
On Apr. 1, 2009, Sonoma County Controller Rod Dole and the Board of Supervisors held a 9:00 a.m. press conference in front of the Employment Development Department (EDD) building in Santa Rosa to announce a moratorium on property taxes.

"Tough times call for tough choices." Dole proclaimed tearfully before a cheering throng of recently laid-off citizens filing unemployment claims. "Budget deficits have forced Sonoma County to cut back on tax collection services. For this, I deeply apologize from the bottom of my tiny, cold heart."

5th district supervisor Efren Carrillo elaborated, "My West County constituents demand innovative and cost-effective solutions to the complex economic and environmental challenges we face.”

April Fool! Alas, the County expects local residents to file and pay their taxes as usual.

There are three kinds of people: Those who can count, and those who can’t. Speaking of our tax dollars at work, nine local residents (who apparently believe themselves able to count) showed up at the Guerneville Library at 11:00 a.m. on March 3rd to apply for $20 per hour jobs with the U.S. 2010 Census. These temporary positions require employees to go door to door and conduct interviews with anyone who happens to be home and isn’t brandishing a weapon.

First, Recruiter Robert Mitchell gave an overview of the job requirements and hiring process, then he passed out the rather lengthy application forms, which asked questions like whether applicants have served time in jail or held elective office (the former should apply for banking jobs). Catherine Young, a public relations consultant and member of the Russian River Redevelopment Oversight Committee (RRROC) asked, “Should I check ‘Yes’ here?” (for holding elective office, not serving time in jail). Alas, even Mitchell felt uncertain about whether serving on RRROC officially counts as holding an “elective office”.

Qualifications for census takers include a working vehicle, valid driver’s license, high scores on the 30-minute test, and the ability to correctly fill out copious quantities of forms. According to the Web site, the Federal Government uses information gathered from households to allocate spending on public projects like roads, schools, public safety, parks, and housing. According to Mitchell, job-seekers with the highest test scores will be notified by the end of April. Since Young scored 98 out of a possible100 on the 30-minute, 28-question test, she’ll probably land one of these coveted jobs.

Exit, stage left … At least one person won’t be home when Young knocks on his door. Long-time resident John DeSalvio, who many folks regard as the suave and cheerful “Mayor of Guerneville”, will soon leave us after 28 years on the River. DeSalvio has served our community in various functions, including a recent stint on RRROC. He was also among the original founders of this publication when it launched 12 years ago, and continues contributing as managing editor, designer, and advertising sales representative.

I Left My Heart in … Downtown Burbank? DeSalvio cheerfully explains that he’s moving to Burbank, CA to join his boyfriend, Ross, and to pursue a new career in screenwriting, playwriting, and doing voice-overs. “I’m working with a few people on various projects,” notes DeSalvio, but can’t reveal anything more due to those pesky non-disclosure agreements. Friends can bid DeSalvio farewell at his 68th birthday bash on May 8th at Main Street Station in downtown Guerneville. For a modest cover charge of $5.00, the evening’s entertainment features DeSalvio singing pop standards and Broadway show tunes, and performances from other local talent including Kit Mariah and Lois Pearlman.

Outdoor Barbecue, rain or shine … Apparently, Vesta Copestakes of Forestville isn’t the only Russian River resident who revels in rain. On Saturday March 21, about 20 neighbors in Rio Nido gathered at Bruno Farnocchia Memorial Park at 4:00 p.m. for a potluck, barbecue and marshmallow roast in the pouring rain! Thanks to the tarps, which Domenic Farnocchia (the deceased Bruno’s grandson) and Matt Bedford cleverly hung from trees prior to the event, the majority of celebrants stayed reasonably dry. Notable exceptions consisted of local children, who – fueled with immense quantities of sugar after consuming burnt marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers – frolicked around the adjacent playground and shallow creek. “This is fun. We definitely needed to do this,” concluded Farnocchia.

Blast from the past: Here on the Russian River, even our water agency’s utilitarian booster station (which pumps our water supply uphill) in Guernewood Park has a colorful past. When asked why locals call the booster station “Handy Andy’s”, Sweetwater Springs Board Member Gaylord Schapp explained, “A handy man named Andy used to live there for years, above George’s Hideaway. He was a colorful character with lots of kids.” Since then, a fire destroyed the house. Handy Andy was also a popular toy tool kit from the 1950’s, which now fetches $69.99 and up on eBay. Later, “Handy Andy” evolved into a slang expression for poor or generic workmanship, similar to today’s “Home Depot Nouveau”.