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Monday, July 21st, 2014 - 9:00am

On Friday, we took a trip down memory lane as I mused on my time with The Signal. Some of you likely suspect my hindsight is rosy-hued 20/20, but it’s not. It’s simply that the further we move from a situation, we gain a fuller grasp and understanding. 
To be sure, The Signal’s existence, particularly over roughly the past 30 years, has been marked with mismanagement, missteps, missed opportunities…the list could go on, but I digress. But guess what? Every paper goes through these things. 
I want you to understand, I’m not trying to defend corporate’s and/or management’s decisions. If anything, what I am trying to do is create some empathy for the staff that day-in, day-out put in an honest day’s work. 
I haven’t darkened the door of that newsroom in nearly four years. I can’t speak exactly to how things run now, but trust me, I’ve got a fairly good idea. 
When you’re on the outside of a situation, it’s easy to be critical. We’re all experts at knowing that we could totally do (fill in the blank) better than the person who’s actually doing it (and sometimes, maybe that’s true). So, having been on both sides of the situation, I empathize and sympathize with a local newspaper staff that can pretty much never do a good job in the eyes of the public. Because I can tell you, with the resources they have they do a decent job, and until you’ve been in that situation you don’t quite understand what it entails.
To a certain degree, The Signal’s current staffing situation is reminiscent of midway through my tenure there, when we had a very slim staff. Here’s the thing: Even when you only have two reporters, there’s still an entire front page and news section to fill every day. So there’s the regular City Council update stories, or the seasonal campaign coverage, or the school board budget meetings, or the new playground dedication, or the weekend nonprofit fundraiser, or the guy who built a scale model of Colossus in his backyard (made that one up), or the fatal collision on the freeway, or the seasonal weather reports….it goes on and on. Every single day you start at zero, with a goal to fill that day’s paper. Which means the big stories, the ones you believe matter more than the retiree with a biodiesel conversion VW Beetle, the ones that take the time and resources of digging in and doing some investigative journalism…generally those have to get back-burnered. When you’re tasked with having to constantly do more with less, that series on unsolved murders in the SCV gets more and more difficult to pursue unless you want to work 24 hours a day.
Side note: Don’t get me started with crime reporting. Now, I believe the SCV Sheriff’s Station relationship with the local media is quite a bit improved from the better part of a decade ago, but when it comes down to it, it takes a lot to earn cops’ trust, and when you don’t have a dedicated crime beat reporter to build that relationship and trust over time, coverage will suffer.
Why am I saying this? I guess because over the past decade, as the immediacy of advanced technology has changed our lives in amazing ways, it has also started to turn us into idiots who are ready to hack someone down to size without hesitation and without filters, from behind the safety of our keyboard. Gone is civil discourse and criticism, replaced by anonymous comments and thoughtless dismissal.
Listen, no one at The Signal’s behind this. I don’t expect to ever be on the Morris Multimedia payroll again. I’m honestly just trying to lend a bit of perspective, and I stand by my belief that this community is better with The Signal without.
But, is it too late? Has the paper gone too close to the waterfall before it plummets over and is dashed on the rocks? Is it just eking out an existence before it finally collapses in the dust and breathes its last? 
I don’t know. I want to believe there is hope. I want to believe it can remain a vital resource for a community whose population continues to grow.
I believe radical steps are in order. And I mean more than adding more video, or doing more glossy special sections. And as Aaron Kushner’s experiment with the OC, Long Beach and Los Angeles Register papers is proving, daily newspapers do not exactly live on optimism alone.
The Signal has not always been a daily paper, and honestly, there is no law that says it should remain one. I’ve long thought the paper, and the community, would be better served by a shift to a strident, vigilant, continuous daily online presence coupled with an in-depth, page-turning Sunday edition. Imagine a Signal website as a go-to for daily reporting, and a Sunday edition that’s nothing but a closer look at the stories that matter. Imagine a weekly print product that people looked forward to, and that got them talking. Is that a pipe dream, or is that a big risk with a potentially big payoff? Who knows, it could be a terrible idea. 
The Signal has lasted for nearly 100 years. Think about that. Through all the massive changes to this valley, and how unrecognizable it is from the open fields of 1914, that newspaper has continued to be the record of this community’s history. Noteworthy indeed, but if the paper intends to continue for another century, its corporate overlords will need to be willing to allow for risks and something new. 

Posted by Josh Premako   |   2 Comments »
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Sunday, July 20th, 2014 - 4:38pm
Call it a spidey sense, but something seemed really off about this article from The Signal on Friday.
"Opponents of the recent influx of migrant children across the nation’s southern border have scheduled a two-day national protest, and the Santa Clarita Valley will be one of the sites where they plan to demonstrate...On Saturday organizers plan a demonstration in Valencia on the Valencia Boulevard overpass over Interstate 5. The demonstration is expected to run from 9 a.m. to noon."
The byline said "Signal Staff" which in the past has meant anything from senior editors, to interns, simply press releases copied verbatim. No word on who was organizing the event. No names, no quotes. This newsroom discussion video from Friday offered little more.
For a town where protests are rare, I was surprised to learn a protest involving a polarized issue (just as it's peaking in the news cycle) on one of our busiest overpasses was just a day away. It was news to me, and it appeared that it was news to everyone else, too.
The only mention I could find was this post on the Save Our State (SoS) message board. SoS, as you might recall, is the radical anti-illegal immigration group with white nationalist roots that organized the two rallies in 2010 made infamous by Bob Kellar's "proud racist" remark. Here's their founder, Joe Turner, in 2005
"I can make the argument that just because one believes in white separatism that that does not make them a racist... I can make the argument that someone who proclaims to be a white nationalist isn't necessarily a white supremacist. I don't think that standing up for your 'kind' or 'your race' makes you a bad person."
SoS isn't a large organization, so their members from different areas will converge on a single city for a show of force (if you watch videos of their rallies, you see the same faces over and over again).
Thanks to the Signal's article, some locals took notice. The SCV Republican Women Federated, whose Facebook page already "likes" another hate group with white nationalist ties (Federation for American Immigration Reform), promoted the event on Facebook. They followed that up by linking to a video that made the case against legal (yes, legal) immigration and opened by calling 1925 to 1965 our "golden era" of immigration – which happens to be the exact period between the Immigration Act of 1924 and its full repeal in 1965. The infamous 1924 law is one of the most racist and anti-Semitic federal laws of the 20th century. Driven by bigotry towards Jews, Italians, and Asians (among others) it drastically cut immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, establishing quotas based on the existing ethnic makeup of the US, and banned Asian immigration outright (no, I'm not making this up). 
And keep in mind, this isn't some group on the outskirts. On Saturday morning, they were hosting no less than Steve Knight, Tony Strickland, and Scott Wilk for breakfast. 
A few people had the good sense to organize a counter-protest, giving us the final ingredient for a mini-spectacle. I drove over to see what all the fuss was about. Here's a look at the counter-protesters:
Each camp took their place on opposite sides of the overpass. I counted 21 protesters (and five mullets) and 16 counter-protesters. I was heartened to see such a strong last-minute turnout for the counter-protest, especially when the gun flag was hoisted.
Soon after I arrived, a the protesters unveiled their pièce de résistance: a large white flag with a picture of an AR-15 that said COME AND TAKE IT. Because naturally, in a protest about the fate of thousands of refugee children, the important thing is your guns. What do guns have to do with it? (Or should I even ask?) It was at once chilling, heartbreaking, puzzling, and laughable. Flying that flag front and center, higher that any other flag, made a self-mockery of their demonstration. It's easy to laugh, but then you realize that they actually mean it.. The gun flag flies proudly, while the American flag drags on the ground, literally (this guy did this twice, once while walking in traffic to taunt the counter-protesters). 
There was also a "Three Percenter," or "Oathkeeper" flag, which represents a militia-type movement  that encourages preparation for a violent confrontation with the government, should they ever come for their guns (and other crazy things).
I'm quick to acknowledge that reasonable people can arrive at some very different conclusions on this issue, especially with the added complication of the current refugee crisis. If the motivation and the message of the protest was narrow and reasoned, it wouldn't bother me so much. Instead, we see the marriage of rabid jingoism and defiant milita-like behavior. What could possibly go wrong?
I only recognized one or two people from across the street, and by the way most of the protesters carried themselves, you get the idea that they came to town for this purpose (aliens, if you will). Thank you to the counter-protesters who demonstrated that this is still a decent community of decent people. Well done. And thanks for the laugh. I love a semi-ironic protest sign like nothing else.

Posted by Mike Devlin   |   102 Comments »
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Friday, July 18th, 2014 - 8:30am

(Note: The Daily Brief is on summer vacation hiatus and will return Aug. 4)

It can get tiring carrying an axe. Sometimes, I feel as though I know a lot of people with tired shoulders.

I spent 5 ½ years on staff at The Signal. It terms of a career, that’s a drop in the bucket. It terms of time on the staff of a community newspaper, well, that’s a long time. It felt like a long time. Now it feels like a lifetime ago and just yesterday all at the same time. It was many things, often all at once.

A lot of my former co-workers have long since evacuated the newsroom. A number of them don’t even work in journalism anymore. Hey, I don’t really even work in journalism anymore. It never gets completely out of your blood, but to be honest there is a bit of a reward of making the trade of giving up the slog of daily newspapering for things like more reasonable work hours and a better paycheck. Do I sound like a dispassionate sellout? Eh, maybe. But I have more than just my mouth to feed.

All that to say, I know a lot of my former trenchmates who still carry around an axe to grind whenever they get the chance. And I can’t completely fault them. The history of The Signal's mismanagement and missteps is well enough documented. As an aside, not all that long ago, my former newspaper amigo John Boston penned a column that summed up the state of things. Take a few moments to head over here and read it. I'll wait for you.

I had my share of frustrations. I had my times of walking out to the pressroom in the evening, amid the whirring roar of that old beast and the heavy aroma of newsprint and ink, and blowing off steam. And then I got back to work.

But the truth of the matter is, there was a lot of good in all of that. Working for a newspaper is an experience like few others, and in an increasingly digital world, a treasured memory. There is something enlivening about every day starting over at zero, not being quite completely sure what the day will bring. There is a rush of covering a wildfire, thick smoke clouding the sky, firefighting choppers throp-throp-thropping overhead, and realizing when a crew of firemen turns their truck around to get out of there you'd best follow suit. There is the joy of accompanying a family to a military homecoming, surrounded by hundreds of soldiers thrilled to embrace their loved ones. There are the dark moments of covering fatal collisions and murders. There are the city meetings that stretch on into the late hours, when you could really use another cup of coffee.

At the end of the day, it sure beats digging a hole in the ground. 

My hindsight is not through glasses of a rosy tint. There's enough to look back on and be glad it's in the past. Yet despite the frustrations, having had the chance to work for a newspaper that's been in business for nearly a century is pretty cool.

To be sure, The Signal today is not The Signal of yesterday. In the high season of my time there, we had a full newsroom, with probably five news reporters on staff, three staff photographers, a features and sports staff, actual copy editors, interns — and that, of course, was a fraction of what had been there in the even higher times a few years before me. And I recall the low times, when we got down to about two reporters, and cuts started to sweep through the building, and as the recession took hold and real estate and auto ads dwindled and the paper got thinner. Like a lot of industries and areas hard hit by the economic crisis, I don't believe a lot of newspapers have yet fully recovered. Maybe they never will.

Which brings us to today. Because all of these preceeding paragraphs can probably come off like a lot of sepia-tinged nostalgia.

The fact of the matter is that The Signal of today's Santa Clarita Valley is a shadow of its former self, but that is not to say all hope is lost.

The presses may have long since gone silent at 24000 Creekside Road, but after nearly 100 years, the paper is still being published, creating an ever-expanding first draft of our community's continuing history.

And there are signs of life still. Make no mistake, the corporate overlords in Georgia are still looking at the paper's bottom line. Revenue is king. But I have been encouraged by Russ Briley's arrival as publisher. He's a local guy, and a longtime newspaper guy. In my book, that's a good thing. He's been steering the paper back toward being an ally to the community — as important as being its watchdog.

I know a lot of you will be quick to point out everything that The Signal doesn't do. All the corporate missteps along the way that have reduced it to a shell of what it once was, and how "Vigilance Forever" is just a tattered flag flapping in the desert wind that seemingly mocks us. And you might not be entirely wrong, but I'd venture to guess perhaps you haven't thought enough about what they are doing with what they have. Maybe I'm too much of a romantic; too much of an optimist, still believing there's hope.

On Monday, I want to give you a bit of a window into community newspapering that I hope creates a bit of empathy for the job with which our local journalists are tasked. I want to talk about some things I think could work better for our community, and some things regionally that have not worked so well.

But for now, as we head into the weekend, I've wanted to just do a bit of looking back, and a bit of priming the pump.

I'll leave you with this. When you think about all the things our local newspaper (and I'll add radio station and TV station) might not cover, imagine for a moment our valley wth none of them at all.

Posted by Josh Premako   |   2 Comments »
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Thursday, July 17th, 2014 - 8:30am
First things first, the Daily Brief is not going away, but it is going on a brief hiatus for the next week, as my wife and I head to the Canadian Rockies for some much-needed time of decompression, relaxation and adventuring. In the DB's absence, there will be a few things to hopefully get you thinking, talking, commenting, or just complaining about how there's no Daily Brief. Come back on Monday, August 4, for a big, fresh slice o' Brief.
And now, some news I've culled before we head to the airport...
  • The Water Cops Are Coming: Jim Holt takes a look at who can enforce the coming crackdowns on Southland water wasters. The Signal
  • A Parade of Candidates: 16 people have thrown their proverbial hats in the ring to fill the Saugus Union School District seat left vacant by ousted Stephen Winkler. The Signal
  • The Train Keeps Rolling: The historic Fillmore & Western Railway has at least a few more months to keep rolling, after a judge ruled to evict the tourist attraction. The Signal
  • Drought? What Drought?: There might be a drought of epic proportion blanketing California, but that hasn't stopped Southern California from using 8 percent more water than last year. Might as well enjoy it while it lasts! Daily News
  • Former Deputy Pleads Not Guilty to Ding Dong Ditch Pew-Pew-Pew: A Stevenson Ranch man, who is a former sheriff's deputy, pleaded not guilty to firing his gun into the air to scare off a pack of ding-dong-ditchers last year. The Signal
  • Use the Bathroom or Earn a Gift Card: A Chicago-based company has cracked down on "excessive" bathroom breaks to the point of offering gift cards to employees who go the whole day without a bathroom break. I'm guessing wearing a catheter is an immediate disqualification? Slate

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Wednesday, July 16th, 2014 - 4:58pm
Huell Howser with friend of SCVTalk, Larry McClements
"That's Amazing!" really is...amazing. It's why we have the Internet. Imagine a map of hundreds of Huell Howser's 14 different shows that chronicled California, all in one map, video links included. A project between GIS company ISSI and Chapman University, which houses the Huell Howser archives (neither the map nor the archives are comprehensive, yet).
It might seem like an obvious idea that's well overdue, but that was part of the charm of Huell Howser. Always ahead of the game but behind the times. Even his latter-day episodes had a decidedly analog feel. You couldn't find his episodes online at all until a few months before his death last year.
Also amazing: the Santa Clarita Valley has starred in (at least) nine Huell Howser episodes. I had no idea. I would have guessed two, maybe three times. The SCV connection doesn't end there. In 1996, the LA Times remarked that his home's decor included a "grouping of dead trees from Newhall," and in 2009, he attended a benefit for Hart Park.
Six of those nine episodes appear on the map and videos for five are currently online. 

Here's our guide to Huell Howser in the SCV
Some dates might be off, so I apologize. Episodes with online video come first.
Show: California's Gold
Site: Placerita Canyon
Local star: Jerry Reynolds
Charmingly hyperbolic intro: "One of the most historic places in our entire state."
The fun starts at: 2:00
Episode: DWP (1996?) and Part 2 
Show: Visiting
Site: San Francisquito Canyon Power Station (not on the ISSI map)
The fun starts at: 0:14 (two-part)
Show: Road Trip
Site: The Ridge Route (Castaic)
The fun starts at: 0:28
Show: California's Gold
Site: Beale's Cut
Local star: Phil Scorza
Charmingly hyperbolic intro: "One of the most historic, interesting and obscure places I've ever been."
The fun starts at: 15:44
Show: California's Gold
Site: Castaic Lake
Charmingly hyperbolic intro: "[Unlike] any other you have seen in your entire life."
The fun starts at: 0:30 (cuts out at 20:19)

Episode: William S Hart Park (2007?)
Show: California's Golden Parks
Site: William S Hart Park (not on the ISSI map)

Episode: Spring Burn (2010?)
Show: Visiting
Site: LA County Fire Station on Golden Valley Rd.
Description: Huell visits with the Los Angeles Fire Dept. as they train for fire season. Setting back-fires, clearing brush, working as a team, are all part of what it takes to be a LAFD volunteer.
Episode: Brickyard (2011?)
Show: Visiting
Site: Castaic Brick
Description: Ever wonder where all those bricks come from? Huell travels to Castaic Brick to get a first hand look at how bricks are made. Castaic Brick manufactures approximately 1 million bricks per week and mines their own raw materials on site. It's a fascinating look at the largest brick manufacturers in the west.
Episode: Hot Peppers (2011?)
Show: Visiting
Site: Moe Newaz, SCV grower of hot peppers
Description: Huell's hot adventure begins at downtown Los Angeles's Grand Central Market where we discover some of the spiciest peppers and chili sauces around. But you won't find anything hotter than Moe Newaz's backyard variety of "Ghost Peppers" and "Devil's Tongue" peppers in Santa Clarita. We also learn about the Scoville Heat Scale (developed in 1912 by Chemist Wilbur Scoville) which has become the standard for measuring spicy foods.
Honorable Mention: In 2009, Huell visited Animal Acres in Acton, and in he visited FIllmore and Piru in 1994 and again in 2000. No videos, sorry.

Posted by Mike Devlin   |   1 Comment »
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Wednesday, July 16th, 2014 - 8:30am
  • Powerhouse Update: A tripped power line and gusty winds were to blame for the monstrous 10-day Powerhouse Fire that charred 30,000 acres last year, according to a federal report. The Signal LA Times
  • Castaic Detective On the Watch: An LAPD detective from Castaic has been appointed to the state's sex offender oversight board. KHTS
  • Repeat Performance: Already out on bail after being arrested and charged with burglary and assault with a deadly weapon, a Canyon Country man was arrested yesterday after several alleged break-in attempts in a Fair Oaks Ranch neighborhood. The Signal
  • The Truth of the Matter: "Imagine a disaster movie in which 22 million people are told that they have only 12 to 18 months of water left. Unless Southern Californians pull together, we will be making that movie." NASA-JPL's senior water scientist on just how dire our situation is. LA Times
  • This One's for the Billboard Fans, or Not Fans: The city has launched its visually bland billboard ballot measure website. While it notes to "visit the sections above to learn more about this issue" it doesn't exactly give the best background on, you know, the issue. Official Site
  • Sex Charges for Newhall Man: In what sounds like a case of "alcohol and cellphones don't mix" a 22-year-old was arrested and booked on a sex charge after allegedly sending "harmful matter" to a minor. The Signal
  • Now Just Hold on a Minute: Congressman Howard "Buck" McKeon can't get behind a request for $5 billion in counterterrorism funds until there's some details about how it's being spent. Politico
  • The Investigation Continues: The SCV Sheriff's Station is still investigating a Memorial Day crash that inured five teen girls, but they do not plan to file any criminal charges. The Signal
  • The City Wants You: Can you act like an injured disaster survivor? Can you brave the dusty Santa Clara River? There are a number of volunteer positions the city needs help filling. SCVNews

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Tuesday, July 15th, 2014 - 8:30am
  • No Gouda News, Cheese Melter Stolen: In what looks like an inside job, someone made off with Macaroni Grill's $5,000 cheese melter. The Signal
  • Bowling Without Pins: Nice feature on local father-son duo who have taken to crafting wooden bowls. The Signal
  • A "Green" Business in the SCV: An SCV company is responding to the changing economy in Washington state, producing and distributing edible cannabis products. SCVNews
  • CLWA Symposium to Discuss the Delta Blues: "Out of sight, out of mind. All too often, that’s how Californians view the sources of their water supply." The Castaic Lake Water Agency is hosting a talk this week covering the drought and the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. The Signal
  • Sifting Through the Rubble: "We either need a more detailed strategy for preservation that prevents buildings such as the old Newhall school from falling through the cracks — or we need to decide historic structures aren’t important and quit complaining when they fall to the wrecking ball." The Signal editorial board chimes in on the recent razing of a historic, century-old former schoolhouse in Newhall. The Signal
  • Landscaping Crew Cuts Down Fire: A landscaping crew made quick work of what appears to be arson behind a Canyon Country apartment building. The Signal
  • Addressing the Issues: About 19 percent of the inmates in L.A. County's jails have mental illness. Today, the county Board of Supervisors will hear how mentally ill inmates can be screened, managed and cared for in the future. LA Register
  • Donut Knock It 'Til You Try It: Whatever your feeling on Dunkin' Donuts, this piece touches on one aspect of business expansion most of us likely don't think about: How do businesses decide where to open up shop? LA Register
  • Some Light Summer Reading: The hefty final supplemental environmental impact report for Castaic's high school has been released, in case you need something to dissect this weekend. KHTS

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