Back up in Sonoma, and after only three days away, I’m anxious to catch up on the news. “The news?” you say. “I thought I remembered you are living in a barn with no TV, barely any radio reception and spotty cell coverage. Where are you getting your news? You know, you can’t get MSNBC or BBC America without cable.” I do have the Internet and could spend my time obsessively reading my news feeds.
But in Sonoma, I’m Old School, my friends. Old School as in at least fifty years ago when everyone gathered at the barbershop or the diner to chew over the doings in the daily hometown newspaper. Yes, in an age when pundits are eagerly reporting that Internet killed Dead Tree Media, there is still a vital place for the hometown newspaper.
I’m lucky to have access to a great one: The Sonoma Index-Tribune, which proudly claims to be Covering Sonoma Valley, like the moon, since 1879. I predict the Index-Tribune has at least another 130 years of vital operation, thanks to a wise policy to cover an aggressively small area. It almost never ventures to Santa Rosa, the seat of Sonoma County, and rarely acknowledges anything over the Mayacamas in Napa, that other valley. Nope, the Index-Tribune’s beat is Sonoma Valley which includes Sonoma and the surrounding hamlets of El Verrano, Fetters Hot Springs and Agua Caliente — all of which could be called rural suburbs of Sonoma. Once a week or so it ventures to Glen Ellen, a town in its own right, albeit one with little more than one street. Some coverage is also given to Vineburg, which could charitably be described as a wide spot in the road. It’s got a diner, a Post Office and an abandoned train station. In that small territory, the Index-Tribune covers everything that moves. And don’t be fooled, there’s a lot going on. Great stuff. The stuff we’re all really interested in, but is apparently beneath the notice of larger media concerns.
Of course there is extensive coverage of City Hall, the School Board and any local scandal that’s brewing (the I-T reporters are still all over the Farmer’s Market controversy that’s been raging for a year now). That kind of coverage is a given. And in the sports section, you’d never know there were any teams in the world that didn’t start their name with Sonoma. Predictably, Sonoma Valley High School’s football team is covered. But equal coverage is given to the golf, tennis, swim and baseball teams — both the boys and the girls. (Go Lady Dragons!) Probably every kid who plays any sport at all gets his or her name in the paper at some point. If there is a chess team at Sonoma Valley High, I’m sure that gets covered, too.
However, the real genius of the Index-Tribune comes in two other areas. First, there is extensive events coverage. Oh, of course, all the prestige events such as the Sonoma Jazz+ Festival, the Sonoma Valley Film Festival and big doings at famous wineries. But then you can find coverage of those well-known events everywhere. No, I’m hailing the fact that there is not a live music performance, a high school or amateur theatrical production, a garage sale, a Fire Department barbecue or a Kiwanis Bingo event that doesn’t get mentioned. And not just mentioned. Given a real write-up. A write-up that makes you want to go. Then follow up coverage to alert you that, for instance, the Sonoma Valley High School raised $8000 for the high school music department in what was reported to be “a monstrously successful pancake feed.”
The other area where my hometown newspaper shines is in the police report. Not crime reporting, per se, but what we used to call “the police blotter”. These are the results of the routine police activities in the last 24 hours — mostly the reports of break-ins, public drunkeness and vandalism.
The crimes may be petty, but the Sonoma Index-Tribute elevates it to something sublime. Is there a Pulitzer Prize for routine crime reporting? There should be. The one in the Sonoma Index-Tribune reads as if Mark Twain wrote it. It’s the section I turn to first and it usually has me on the floor in fits of laughter. It’s the flourishes such as ending most items with the fact that “the perpetrator was given a chauffeured ride to spacious accommodations in the Sonoma County Jail.” Or phrases such as “the officer observed a man, who, in the parlance of police nomenclature, was classified as a frequent flyer“. Crimes and disturbances that, to most media, would be unworthy of mention are given the full literary treatment in the skilled hands of the I-T’s crime reporter. For proof, I submit the top story verbatim from Tuesday’s crime blotter. It appeared under the headline: Naked Came the Stranger.
It was 2:21 a.m., Tuesday, in the middle of an otherwise peaceful Sonoma night, when a police officer on patrol spotted a pedestrian cross West MacArthur Street in front of him and disappear down the bike path beside Fryer Creek.
Not quite convinced his eyes weren’t deceiving him, the officer pulled up and shined his spotlight down the path.
Sure enough, there was the man he’d seen, out for an incongruous early morning stroll, completely naked.
He was, as the British say, starkers.
…the man ducked behind a bush, the officer demanded he come out, and he did, his condition obviating the need for any kind of body search.
Asked what he was doing, the man apologized profusely several times and explained that he was simply “very hot”…”I was very hot,” he explained again. “So I decided to go for a walk.”
The story continues colorfully as the officer examines the perp’s eyes and coordination for signs of intoxication, then administers a breath test. Everything comes up negative, so the officer delivers the man home to his wife, who had no idea of his nocturnal wanderings.
She said he was not taking any medications and an inspection of the house revealed no drugs of any kind. He was just, it seems, very hot.
The naked wayfaring stranger was cited and released.
I rest my case. For those of you reading outside the area, you can get the Index-Tribune online. Be sure to click on The Sheriff’s Report. For anyone contemplating a trip to Sonoma, it’s so much more fun to get this printer’s ink on your hands.
Don’t even get me started on the local community radio station. That’s a story for another day.
Oh, we have you beat, we actually have a neighborhood newspaper called the Southwest Journal, that only covers our part of Minneapolis. We get the police blotter (tip: if you leave your car running on the street to warm up in the winter someone may steal it.), news on neighborhood advisory meetings, the housing market, poems & all the local events.
Minneapolis can’t have anything to approach our Mark Twain crime report for sheer flair and literary stylings!
that’s some mighty fine crime reporting – very entertaining
Oh good golly that was wonderful. I love newspapers like that. Will you consider contributing?
Lisa, up here in extremly rural/coastal Oregon we have the Curry Pilot http://currypilot.com/ This marvellous newspaper comes out twice a week (Sat/Weds). Of course, due to the age of Aquarius, we can ‘follow’ local news on the Internet to find out whats happening, if we have not already been told in the local coffe shop, tackle store, gun shop or bar…
Last week, we had a 4 year old lost on one of the mountains, after wondering off from the family home. The amount of coverage thisrecived was what local home town America is all about. After 24 hrs, the Sherriff asked for volunters. Twice as many volunters as rescue staff turned out. To cut a long story short, yung Zoey was foundin a ravine, ½ mile from her home in the wilderness we call our back yards here.
Maybelline, I’ll only contribute if I can have a crack at the Police Blotter. My sights are actually set on the community radio station. But, as I said, that’s a whole other post.
Love your paper. The State Journal does not approach it for artistry of crime blotter, but it is an old Frankfort tradition to read the report with fingers crossed that no family members are perps. First order of business is always checking the obits since people just don’t wait around for long in this town.
We have some wire feeds, but mostly community focus. Six days a week publication with pride of place and spirit. Not a subscriber, yet. Tried to do that via email and apparently the request got sucked into a vortex. Pick one up at the grocery store several days a week.
I’ve always believed that you get to know a place through its newspaper.
This paper will almost certainly survive, because it’s concentrating on the one thing that local readers want most: local news. There’s no earthly reason why every broadsheet in America has to include the same tired wire-service stuff in the name of “completeness” or whatever; almost all of us now have access to multiple sources for national and international stories. When I put down my quarters, I want to know what happened two miles away, not two time zones.
Exactly, Chaz. The Sonoma Index-Tribune is digging even deeper into the aforementioned Farmer’s Market Scandal and has discovered that popular local entertainer Popo the Clown has been denied a permit when others from [gasp] Santa Rosa have been approved.
Appreciate the thoughts about the small town paper. I spent 5 years on KSVY before moving to the internet for my radio show, which features strictly Sonoma Valley musicians. Lets have a talk about the ‘community’ radio station some time.. and in the spirit of full disclosure, even tho my column appears in the IT, I am not employed by them. I am a freelance writer and my by-line appears there, in the Press Democrat, and the North Bay Bohemian. Hit me on the e mail addy.