Thursday, January 05, 2017

Man about Willits

Here is a link to my first column for TWN: Man about Willits

source: The Willits News, January 6, 2017

It must have come as a surprise to some of their members when I walked into the North County Women in Business Network’s latest meeting at the Willits Center for the Arts upstairs gallery Wednesday morning.

As I clutched my trusty battered briefcase and Canon digital camera and signed the attendance sheet, I overheard one of the ladies say in a concurrently bemused and astonished tone, “It’s a man.”

As a reporter and city editor working in the community of Willits, I have gotten to know a few of those in attendance, like former Mayor and City Council Member Holly Madrigal and Chamber of Commerce President Lisa Epstein, but the bulk were still new faces. Truth be told, I wasn’t really sure of what I wanted to accomplish other than networking and listening in to the group’s plans for the new year. It was perhaps just a good opportunity to attach faces to some of the names making their way into my inbox on a periodic basis.

On the agenda was a discussion of best practices and goals for businesses in 2017. The network’s Co-Chairwoman Jenny Senter, owner of Celtic Heritage Destinations travel agency, and Patricia Baumann, former network chairwoman, acted as facilitators. Senter asked the members what they were looking to leave behind from the previous year in 2017 by way of an introductory ice breaker, and each took turns around a circle providing various responses.

One member told me in jest that I should come back to a subsequent meeting wearing a dress. Others half-jokingly pointed out they were wearing pants or business attire. If my camera and notepad had not given away my profession, if not my intentions, a brief introduction took care of any uncertainty or potential awkwardness. There was little I could do about my gender.

Denise Rose, Brooktrails Township general manager, said she hoped to leave behind a playground, a project she has been working on for some time. Baumann, design principal at Design Cafe, said she was looking forward to having more time for herself in the new year and volunteering less.

Introductions were followed by break out sessions consisting of three or more members sharing ideas about best practices and how to improve themselves personally and professionally. These women in business forced me to think about what I wanted to leave behind in 2017, and after a brief period of reflection, I came up with this: I want people to shed their misconceptions, prejudices or preconceived notions about those in our community.

In addition to being more visible by stepping away from my desk and from behind the computer, whenever deadlines allow, it is one of my goals to shed any ignorance of the various groups operating in our coverage area, to better inform and serve the members of the community, while walking the line between informing and ferreting out corruption or waste.

Others in the group said 2016 taught them huge lessons, such as not worrying about disappointing people in business or as a volunteers. Saprina Rodriguez, newly-elected city council member and president of Willits Youth Soccer, said she underwent major surgery for a spinal injury recently, which slowed her down a bit. Rodriguez said she used her recovery time to gain perspective, and she feels excited about the tasks she is taking on in 2017.

Some of the best practices shared by members include taking time to plan, doing things one enjoys, networking, learning to be better listeners, learning more about online marketing, continuing with education, and not being afraid to ask for help.

These are challenging times for the local business community and property owners. In addition to the untimely death of former Chamber of Commerce Director Lynn Kennelly, city officials are in the midst of making the transition to new city council members, while coping with the reality of the post-bypass era. Most of the members embraced the notion that, as a collective, they were up to the task of dealing with their individual concerns.

A number of members have ambitious goals for the new year. Madrigal for example, has expressed desire in taking over the post recently vacated by former Third District Supervisor Tom Woodhouse, in order to advocate for Willits and Mendocino County. Others set more modest personal goals such as swimming and getting fit or meditating regularly.

I was invited to come to another meeting to visit with the group in the near future, with one caveat: I don’t anticipate wearing a dress.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The government's dangerous legacy of stifling a free press

I think this NY Times report got it right. Donald Trump's administration's disregard for the Constitution and the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of the press has dangerous precedents, notably under the Obama and Bush administration.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

First Amendment freedoms et. al

Hello neglected journalism blog.
It was always my intention to update this blog with important issues, links and stories regarding our industry, but somehow I have neglected it, but I hope to rectify this moving forward into 2017.

Things are progressing at a good pace at The Willits News. Today I put the pages together, working with our designer in Chico for the first time, without much supervision from our managing editor who as of tomorrow will be on Christmas break until the end of the year.

After covering my first meeting of the Little Lake Fire Department, I trekked my way to the Brooktrails Township board meeting, which was no small feat considering Mendocino County is under a flash flood warning until Friday. We are expected to get anywhere from 3-12 inches of rain in the next few days, so I was extra careful driving down those windy roads leading back into town this evening.

Dec. 15 (coming up later this week) marks an important anniversary for democracy and for our industry. It is the anniversary of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which among other freedoms grants us the freedom of the press. I plan to write my first editorial for Friday's newspaper on this topic, but as a bit of preview and research, I found this article by the Newseum Institute to be very enlightening and important to all journalists and journalism students alike:

The State of the First Amendment survey, conducted by the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center, tests Americans’ knowledge of their core freedoms and samples their opinions on First Amendment issues of the day.
The results of this year’s survey show most Americans favor free speech, even over speech that offends, and support religious liberty, even in the face of terrorism. However, 39 percent of Americans could not name a single First Amendment freedom: religion, speech, press, assembly or petition.
The annual survey, which began in 1997 and this year was conducted in late May, showed that 86 percent of those responding in the national survey favored “protecting speech,” while just 10 percent favored limits aimed at “protecting people from hearing things that offend them.”
There also was strong support for free expression on college campuses: 57 percent said college students should be able to speak freely. The results dropped to 35 percent for students in high school.
Also, a follow-up survey done after the June 12 mass shooting in Orlando showed support for First Amendment protection for all religious faiths, regardless of how extreme or fringe the survey respondents might consider the beliefs of those faiths, actually increased, despite anti-Muslim rhetoric and reports of an ISIS connection that followed the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

Here is a link to the full report if any of you would like to read it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Willits News has new City Editor


 source: The Willits News 10/25/2016

  Ariel Carmona Jr. has joined The Willits News as City Editor/reporter. Carmona grew up in the Southern California region in Los Angeles where he cultivated an appreciation for good food, family and community oriented journalism.

    Prior to joining The Willits News this fall, Carmona was a columnist at the Valley Daily Post, a hybrid newspaper website in Espanola, in Rio Arriba County and covered education in the Northern New Mexico region. He also worked as a reporter for the hyperlocal Community Impact chain of newspapers based out of Pflugerville, Texas.

    He received his bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and an M.A. in Communications from California State University Fullerton.
Carmona has written for various print and online publications including the San Gabriel Valley Tribune in West Covina ,California, AOL Patch media, the Orange County Register and the Walnut Weekly News in Walnut, CA where he served as sports editor and as a general assignment reporter.

   “We are glad to have found Ariel for this important position,” said Willits News Publisher Kevin McConnell. “Ariel will be able to coordinate coverage of the Willits community and be ready to interact with our readers as well as do the great reporting we know he can do.”

   Carmona can be reached at the Willits News office at 707-841-2123, on his cell phone at 707-671-3575 or by email to He is on Twitter @AOCarmona.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A year later in New Mexico

A year has passed since I packed my bags and left the state of Texas. It is ridiculous how time flies and you get busy and don't realize it.

I also left the Rio Grande Sun newspaper about three weeks ago after almost a year of employment there and now am writing columns and doing educational coverage for a hybrid news website in Northern New Mexico The Valley Daily Post.

My time as an education reporter in New Mexico has been amazing, I have covered controversies regarding teacher vacancies, school districts, charter schools and funding and program cuts at Northern New Mexico College.

Personally, I have been enriched by a good group of friends in Los Alamos and by a friendly game group I belong to in nearby Santa Fe. If I have to move on and leave the area anytime soon like I was forced to do a year ago because of employment, at least I can say I have made some amazing friends here.

The experience has been a good one overall for me. 

My education column has been featured in the Espanola and the Los Alamos newspapers and I am excited to have the opportunity to write a column for a professional newspaper like the Post.

You can read the first part of my series on Charter Schools here. I will be posting the next couple of articles and featuring some of my other work here on the blog.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Then and Now

A month ago....

I packed my bags again and filled up my car and drove more than 800 miles from Spring to Espanola New Mexico. Things didn't work out at The Facts long term, so I searched for another newspaper or news outlet to work for. This time I looked for a weekly because the daily pace was wearing me out.

As luck would have it, I got about 4 or 5 callbacks from newspapers hiring in Sherman TX, Grand Rapid City Michigan, Iowa, Argus Media and the Woodlands, but I had already accepted an offer to spend a weekend in New Mexico about 30 miles distance from Santa Fe to interview with the Rio Grande Sun.

 I recall spending my last night in Spring having dinner with my roommate at T.G.I.F. and being excited over the possibility of working for the Sun.

The newspaper paid for my stay at a hotel during the hiring process and 3 days later I was offered a position as education reporter and all that was left to do was to look for an apartment. After spending a relaxing week in Arizona with my sister, I was still apprehensive. I recall having breakfast with my brother-in-law and feeling sort of homeless, it isn't easy to take a leap of faith and all I knew is I had to spend a few days in a hotel because I had nothing lined up, as luck would have it I found a place I liked 10 minutes from the newsroom.

I have settled in quite nice in my new newsroom. I think I am having success in adapting to the style and editorial demands of the education beat at the Sun. At least once a week I cover a board of education or school related meeting and my reports on two school lockdowns and recent school rankings in the state have graced our front page.

There are some really cool things about this place, the Indian Casinos, the community feel of a small town, some cool mom and pop stores and indie shops. Santa Fe is only a 25 mile drive away which offers more in the way of the big city life style I am accustomed to. It makes for a cool weekend getaway.

A year ago....

On all days, my mom's birthday, I packed my bags in my car and made the the long trek from Covina CA to Spring Texas. It was over 1,500 miles of driving through three states, but I was eager to work with Community Impact in Houston.

I made some good friends in Houston but I also struggled, and every day, even now, I long to go back to Covina to visit my family and friends I left behind, to visit my old haunts. I am beyond stoked over the possibility of seeing them during the holidays this fall. 

I will continue to fight the good fight, and now that I have internet hooked back up in my home I promise to make more entries in this here, the old blog 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Eight Months Later: The calm before the storm (literally)

It had been my intention to update this blog on a regular basis detailing my professional life and my writing endeavors in Texas. Somehow, things got so hectic that I was never able to jump on this virtual journal until now!

So much happened in such a brief amount of time, it is difficult to encapsulate or even internalize or process it all. Suffice it to say that I became quite comfortable with Spring and my surroundings and region, but as often happens in life "Just when you think it's all downhill, life throws you a curve" (Thank you poster from my 5th grade classroom for that bit of philosophy and insight)

On the professional side, I covered the Spring/Klein region for Community Impact newspaper for the better part of 7 months. While working under editor Matt Stephens, I learned a great deal about the C.I. style, although I never truly fit into the scheme of things.

I think in retrospect part of my inability to quickly adapt to the newspaper's style was not due to my inexperience with hyperlocal journalism, as I was previously doing a lot of local coverage while at AOL patch and other outlets, but I think it was mostly due to my being more accustomed to writing for weeklies as opposed to a monthly edition and very different deadlines and time elements.

My employment with C.I. came to an end on May 18 of this year, just before the memorial day holiday and right before the first round of storms which pelted the region for several days and left parts of Houston flooded and distraught. Fortunately for me, Spring wasn't as battered by the flooding and rain which crippled some of the area and took some people's lives.

The same could not be said of my ego and confidence. Here I was, one day sitting in my bedroom and trying to figure out what my next move should be. Should I move to Arizona with relatives and loved ones? Or should I give Houston one more chance even though things had not gone as planned? Was it time to throw in the towel?

Before I answer, I have to say that I was very fortunate to make really good friends with co-workers. The members of my editorial team for example, were invaluable in making me feel at home, as much as an out of towner can feel. I like to think that I made some really good friends in a short period of time.

Also, I give props to my therapist. I don't think I am ashamed to say I sought professional help with some of the transplant issues I was having, being alone in a new region with my family and friends scattered throughout the country.

I am happy to report that the answer to my previous query was a resounding no. I was not yet ready to throw in the towel, I resolved to remain working in print media, to fulfill my mission of ingraining myself in a community. Within 10 days of leaving C.I. I had job offers from publications as far north as Amarillo Texas and Wyoming.

It wasn't easy, let me share that, I worked and networked my butt off.

Ultimately,  I opted to stay local and have begun a professional relationship with The Facts, a daily newspaper covering Brazoria County, south of Houston.

I am eager to get back to steady writing (and blogging) again. But I have to get through this mess first