Talking Points

Pacific News Service RIP. NY Times profiles a Nazi. Good reads.

A family of raccoons was spotted on Grand Avenue outside the Music Center, just before the opening of "Something Rotten!" Photo from the car by Alex Emmet.

1. Pacific News Service, RIP
sandy-close.jpgThe San Francisco nonprofit Pacific News Service will close down for good on Thursday, "after growing too fast and accumulating too much debt," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. "It will end nearly a half century of tenacious coverage, with a mission that started in Indochina but expanded to include unrest in Central America and immigration in California, and above all an increasing focus on producing youth media and news about underrepresented cultures."

Pacific News Service was co-founded in 1969 by the late Franz Schurmann and China scholar Orville Schell, who was a student of Schurmann at UC Berkeley. The longtime executive director is Sandy Close (above), who was married to Schurmann and in the job was awarded both a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant” and a Polk Award for career achievement. New America Media, the subsidiary of Pacific News Service, also will close.

New America Media created newspapers in juvenile halls, covered violence surrounding drug epidemics from the streets, united media from diverse ethnicities and mentored fledgling journalists who paid it forward.

Malcolm Marshall, editor and publisher of the Richmond Pulse, met Schurmann and Close when he was a teen in the late 1980s. Close approached Marshall after listening to his public affairs radio show on urban/R&B station KSOL.

“Sandy has influenced my life so profoundly. But it’s not just my story. It’s the story of thousands of people,” Marshall said. “They had one of the most interesting newsrooms that you could think of. They were highly intellectual, and they had this crazy idea to let some 17-, 18-, 19-year-olds hang out. They really truly cared what young people had to say.”


New America Media, which had 90 employees in multiple U.S. newsrooms a few years ago, now has just three to supervise the shutdown.

The official word.

2. NYT has to explain why it profiles a neo-Nazi
The New York Times did what journalists are supposed to do and sent a reporter out to dig around and explain something that most people know little about. In this case, what makes a white supremacist tick. America is thick with these kinds of failed angry citizens. But the president dog-whistles to them, and tomorrow one might show up at your school and kill 50 kids, so it's good for the rest of us to learn what we can about some of the least moral people America has to offer.

But the NYT story, by former LA Times reporter Richard Fausset, pissed off a lot of Times readers who don't like using ink to to profile white supremacists. For as long as I've been around, news outlets have faced this conflicting pressure: is coverage of someone unsavory or illegal mostly free publicity, or is it illumination for the rest of us — information for readers they would not otherwise have? I belong to the latter school, and accept — as all news consumers should — that some news will be undesirable and tell you things about people you don't want to know. Or, as critics often put it, it's OK for them but they don't want someone else to know about it.

National editor Marc Lacey — another former LAT staffer now at the NYT — explained in a note published over the weekend that the story did not "normalize" the subject, Tony Hovater.

The genesis of the story was the aftermath of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August, the terrifying Ku Klux Klan-like images of young white men carrying tiki torches and shouting “Jews will not replace us,” and the subsequent violence that included the killing of a woman, Heather D. Heyer.

Who were those people? We assigned Richard Fausset, one of our smartest thinkers and best writers, to profile one of the far-right foot soldiers at the rally. We ended up settling on Mr. Hovater,...

Our reporter and his editors agonized over the tone and content of the article. The point of the story was not to normalize anything but to describe the degree to which hate and extremism have become far more normal in American life than many of us want to think.

We described Mr. Hovater as a bigot, a Nazi sympathizer who posted images on Facebook of a Nazi-like America full of happy white people and swastikas everywhere.

Those who read the story learned — incrementally — something important about America. There will be more stories about racism, racists and their victims that continue to tell the larger story. Blaming the messenger, Trump style, is the wrong response.

Added: Fausset explains how he did the story and his own misgivings.

3. Good read: When you need to remember your PIN to save $30,000
bitcoin-grafic-wired.jpg Fun suspense yarn in Wired from Mark Frauenfelder, the co-founder of Los Angeles-based tech culture site BoingBoing (and an OG at Wired itself) and my former colleague at the Industry Standard. Mark lost the personal identification number needed to unlock a device that held some bitcoins he had acquired. Each failed attempt to remember the PIN dragged him farther and farther from the bitcoins, which were rapidly appreciating in value, and might be lost to him forever. It's almost a harrowing tale, and since Mark was the founding editor in chief of Make magazine, there is a DIY quality to his attempted workarounds.

4. A love letter to LA diners and coffee shops
norms-la-cienega.jpgFood critic and writer Patric Kuh may be working in a restaurant these days, but in a piece at Los Angeles magazine, he writes that "although weighing in on new restaurants has been my occupation for 17 years, I’ve always found comfort in L.A.’s diners and coffee shops, those reassuringly frayed places whose twin engines are the griddle and the coffee urn, where Naugahyde thrives and they still call you 'hon.'”

He name-checks Ocean Diner in Hermosa Beach, Nick's Cafe near Chinatown, Bob's Big Boy in Burbank, Nickel Diner and Original Pantry downtown, and more.

Rae’s doesn’t seem that much bigger than a railcar, but its clean lines and bright, humming lights point to a confident modernity. I’ve barely pulled off Pico into the parking lot when [author Richard J.S. Gutman] Gutman, unassuming in a Hawaiian-print shirt, points out the inlaid neon in the sign’s lettering and the wraparound metal trim on the eaves. “This is all original,” he says approvingly, snapping an image on his iPhone.

A few days later I find myself at the North Hollywood Diner on Magnolia, where the celebrity head shots lining the walls put the collection of the average L.A. dry cleaner to shame. After having the meatloaf special and a slice of carrot cake thick with cream cheese icing, I walk around the corner to Lankershim and peer in at Phil’s, the city’s sole example of a barrel-roofed, railcar-style East Coast diner. Shuttered and disheveled, it is not a hopeful sight. Through the dark cellophane screens I can see the wooden ice chest, the ceramic inlaid floor, the griddle (a four-footer by the look of it), and three burners. One last order is impaled on the paper spike on the counter. Moving it from around the corner on Chandler wasn’t enough to save Phil’s, which had served Valley denizens since the 1920s.

5. First full biography of photographer Vivian Maier
Vivian Maier was the mysterious nanny turned street photographer with the magic eye whose archive of 100,000 photos was found in storage locker after her death, and reported into the 2013 documentary "Finding Vivian Maier" by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel.

Now author Pamela Bannos has written the first full biography of Maier. "Vivian Maier: A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife" intends to be “a counterpoint, a counternarrative, and a corrective” to Maloof's version of the story, says Emilie Bickerton in a piece at the LA Review of Books.


To many, Vivian Maier is known as the mysterious Chicago nanny who took photographs secretly — thousands and thousands of photographs, often left as undeveloped rolls of negatives, which she then boxed up and stored in lockers. She was perceived by the locals in her Rogers Park neighborhood as a cantankerous old bag lady who ate food out of cans. Nobody knew about her art. But in the months before she died on April 21, 2009, aged 83, her storage lockers went into arrears. The padlocks came off, and all her photos and old cameras, her stacks of newspapers, magazines, and other items, went up for blind auction. One buyer bought the whole lot, and put it up for sale again in four or five subsequent auctions, thus setting in motion the scattering of Maier’s work. Some buyers, curious about the photos they found, began posting them on the internet.

The discovery of Vivian Maier caused a sensation in the art world, and her story has captivated many. It is, after all, a tale of mystery and intrigue: a woman who works as a nanny, never marries, says almost nothing about her life and childhood, dies in obscurity, dwarfed by the belongings she hoarded, only to be unveiled as one of the boldest and most poetic street photographers of the 20th century. It is difficult not to be fascinated by the woman, who can be glimpsed in the various self-portraits she took throughout her life, casting her distinctive shadow on a pavement or a wall — the tall, austere figure with an angular face and a beguiling stare, always smartly dressed in 1950s-style skirt suits or overcoats regardless of what decade it actually was.

This is exactly the story Pamela Bannos, in the first full biography of Maier, sets out to discredit.

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Pacific News Service RIP. NY Times profiles a Nazi. Good reads.
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