The Point Reyes Light Newspaper

Against my better judgment I showed up for Friday’s “Community Conversation” concerning the Point Reyes National Seashore’s intention to close Drakes Bay Oyster Company. Since retiring three years ago, I’ve continued to write about public issues in West Marin, but I haven’t taken part in many political events. Having achieved Nirvana, I’d rather not disturb it.


But Friday evening, I was one of 125 or so West Marin residents who filled the Inverness Yacht Club for a heavily structured discussion of the park.

Sounding like marriage counselors, a team of moderators started the meeting by telling us we were there to express our feelings, not to present facts.

To avoid bad feelings, we couldn’t criticize anybody by name (e.g. National Seashore Supt. Don Neubacher) but could only refer to his organization (e.g. “the park”). In fact, the moderators later called me out for naming names when I said President Obama is an improvement over President Bush.

The members of a “community” need to “communicate,” the moderators said more than once. No speaker should hog the microphone, they added, but were themselves slow to relinquish it. After more than half an hour of a two-hour meeting had been spent on these introductory comments with no letup in sight, I began eying the door next to me only to discover it merely went to a fire escape. On the other hand, the moderators’ efforts to ensure parlor-like decorum did pay off. I can recall more acrimony during a public discussion of museum hours.

Phyllis Faber told the group that Supt. Neubacher was away but had said that even if he were in town, he wouldn’t attend.

Faber added that Neubacher also said the park’s associate superintendent was likewise out of town but would have attended were she here. (Faber is co-founder of MALT, a fellow of the California Native Plant Society, and an author of a botanical guide, so her account is probably reliable.)


At the Drakes Bay Oyster Company site (seen here), oysters are sold and canned. A Park Service use permit, which expires in 2012, is strictly for these onshore facilities and not for oyster growing in the estero itself, which has been designated “potential wilderness.” Neubacher supporters have claimed that extending the onshore facilities’ use permit would be a threat to wilderness nationwide because of the precedent it would set. Others claim that makes neither legal nor logical sense.

Gordon Bennett, a member of the Marin Group of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the national Sierra Club, has been carrying Neubacher’s water (not always with the support of his group) ever since the park superintendent three years ago first proposed shutting down the oyster company come 2012. On the eve of Friday’s meeting, Bennett sent an email to those sympathetic to Neubacher, warning them off by claiming the meeting was a “set-up” which had been “organized by proponents” of the oyster company.

It’s hard to tell whether the email had any effect. Some members of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, which supports Neubacher’s position, were on hand, including its president and a former board member. A couple of people, including forester Tom Gaman of Inverness, said the park should get rid of the oyster company to create wilderness.

Most of those who spoke, however, like most West Marin residents one hears on the street, supported the company. Several people, such as innkeeper Frank Borodic of Olema, said the oyster company is well run and good for the environment.

After two hours, however, only a couple of proposals got  virtually unanimous support from the audience: 1) have additional oyster-company critics at future Community Conversations in order to create more of a dialogue; 2) get Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey to introduce legislation resurrecting the Citizens Advisory Commission to the GGNRA and Point Reyes National Seashore.

Because the two parks were established to serve the Bay Area’s mostly urban population, Congress in 1972 decided that Bay Area local governments should nominate candidates for a Citizens Advisory Commission, which would then be appointed by the US Secretary of the Interior.

Since they were appointed by a member of the president’s cabinet, the commissioners’ decisions, while only advisory, carried weight with the park administration. A superintendent could not ignore them without risking his job, former Supt. John Sansing once told me.


Supt. Neubacher and his staff have tried to discredit Drakes Bay Oyster Company by telling county and federal officials that seals are frightened away by the growing and harvesting of oysters. Apparently not having heard about this, the 18 harbor seals seen here are sunning themselves on oyster racks in neighboring Tomales Bay.

The advisory commission had needed Congressional reauthorization every few years, and for almost three decades, Congress approved it. However, in 2002, its term expired, and with Republicans in charge of Congress and the White House, the commission was allowed to die.

“This time [then-Interior Secretary] Gale Norton and the Park Service said, ‘It’s been a very good commission for 29 years, but we don’t need it anymore,’” former Commissioner Amy Meyer told me in 2007. National Seashore spokesman John Dell’Osso in 2004 had already told me the park administration did not want the commission revived because it sometimes interfered with what the Park Service felt should be done.

The Neubacher administration has also argued that local residents don’t speak for all Americans. It’s a specious argument since most park visitors are from the nine-county Bay Area and are far more familiar with the park — and with anything going wrong in it — than are people in other parts of the country, who seldom, if ever, see the National Seashore.

100_1815Closely following Friday’s discussion are oyster company owners Kevin and Nancy Lunny.

Meyer noted the commission had acted as an “interface” between the public and the park, and its absence has been felt. In the past four years, there has been widespread public dissatisfaction with the National Seashore over: 1) a 2004 ranger-pepper-spray scandal; 2) the inhumane slaughter of non-indigenous deer a year ago; 3) the present oyster-company dispute. Without the advisory commission to provide the public with a forum for resolving these issues, they have become so contentious that Supt. Neubacher is seldom seen around town anymore.

Congresswoman Woolsey four years ago introduced legislation to resurrect the commission, and it was attached to a House bill (which was being pushed by now-Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others) to acquire land in San Mateo County for the GGNRA. The bill passed in 2005, but when it did, the rider resurrecting the commission was gone.

Meyer said she and other people went to Congresswomen Pelosi and Woolsey, asking that they temporarily drop the advisory-commission legislation. The fear, Meyer said, was that the Bush Administration would pack the advisory commission with people who shared his ideology.

On Friday night, I suggested that since we now have the Obama administration, the time is ripe to resurrect the commission. A number of other speakers, including Liza Crosse, aide to Marin County Supervior Steve Kinsey, agreed. And when a show of hands was taken later, almost everyone supported the idea, regardless of where they stood on the oyster-company issue.


When the lot beside Tomales Town Hall came up for sale a while back, the Town Hall board took advantage of the opportunity to acquire yard space that came with an ancient shade tree. Having now paid off well over $100,000 of the note and needing only $20,000 more, the Town Hall on Saturday held a fundraising pig roast, barbecue, and silent action.


Two bands played, one in the yard and one in the hall. Performing here is the band Blue Holstein with (from left) Charlie Morgan on guitar, Vic Marcotte on drums,  Don Armstrong on guitar (seen here as lead singer on a Bob Dylan reprise), and Cheshire Mahoney on sax. A former West Marin resident, Cheshire now lives in Ashland.


The roasted pig, which was carved next to Highway 1 outside the Town Hall, was a hit with townspeople, and the line waiting to get in on the feast ran the length of the hall and out the front door.


Meanwhile a couple of blocks away, cartoonist Kathryn LeMieux was holding a moving sale. The sale will resume from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Sunday, March 8, at 31 Carrie St.

Why is she moving? In his day job, her husband Don Armstrong of Blue Holstein is now superintendent of Fort Bragg Unified School District, having previously been a teacher in Bolinas and later a superintendent in Petaluma. Kathryn told me the couple is tired of maintaining two homes and having to live apart much of the time, so they’re going to live in Westport (north of Fort Bragg) and rent out their home in Tomales until he retires.

For 11 years during the time I owned The Point Reyes Light, Kathryn drew the comic strip Feral West for the newspaper, and she now draws it for The West Marin Citizen. The move will bring an end to the strip, she said.

Kathryn is also one of six women who 10 years ago started the cartoon Six Chix, which is syndicated by King Features and appears locally in The Marin Independent Journal. Each cartoonist draws one strip a week and takes turns drawing the Sunday cartoon. Kathryn told me her last Six Chix strip will be published Friday.

Frustrated by the “hard work” of producing on deadline while her earnings from newspapers shrink because of changes in the industry, Kathryn said she will give up cartooning to concentrate on her oil painting.

I happened to run into Point Reyes Station naturalist Jules Evans at Kathryn’s moving sale, and he was fascinated by some of the non-artwork she was also selling. “Where else can you buy a possum skull?” he asked me.

Along with an original Feral West cartoon from 2004, I myself picked up a 1960 issue of The Baywood Press, as The Light was called until September 1966. A Page 1 story in the issue reported that sheriff’s deputies were looking for an arsonist who used a blanket soaked with kerosine to set fire to the house immediately north of West Marin School. Assistant fire chief Louis Bloom estimated that $250 worth of damage was done to the home, which belonged to Robert Worthington and his family. They were on a two-week trip to the Central Valley when the fire broke out around midnight.

Another Page 1 story reported that dogs from homes along Highway 1 had killed seven sheep belonging to now-deceased Elmer Martinelli, father Point Reyes Station’s Patricia, Stan, and Leroy Martinelli.


Nor were Kathryn’s sale and the Town Hall pig roast the only fun around Tomales. On the Tomales-Petaluma Road, a succession of motorists kept stopping to photograph Veanna Silva’s camel grazing with a couple of cows. Two-humped Bactrian camels are native to the Gobi Desert of Mongolia and China.


Also intriguing motorists along the Tomales-Petaluma Road is this sign outside the former Aurora School (built in 1873), which is now the home of Jerry and Leslie Swallow. What the sign really signifies, townspeople told me, is that the Swallows’ driveway has a blind turnout onto the the road — and that the Swallows have a sense of humor.

Here are a few other intriguing facets of Tomales, as reported by The town as of July 2007 had 210 residents whose median age was 46.1 years old. The estimated median household income was $61,107 compared with $59,948 statewide.

Some 94.3 percent of townspeople are non-Hispanic white, 2.4 percent are Hispanic, 1 percent are Japanese, and 1 percent are American Indian. The average household size is 2.4 people compared with 2.9 statewide. Some 56.2 percent of these are “family households” compared with 68.9 percent statewide.

As of a year and a half ago, 11 percent of the households consisted of unmarried partners compared with 5.9 percent statewide. Another 1.4 percent of Tomales’ households reported being lesbian, and 1.4 percent reported being gay men. calls the cost of living in Tomales “very high.” On the national cost-of-living index, 100 represents the US average, and Tomales comes in at a whopping 168.6.

But here’s what I find to be the most surprising statistics reported by Back in 2007 before the recession hit, the proportion of Tomales residents with incomes below the poverty level (14.3 percent) was virtually the same as the state average (14.2 percent) while the proportion of residents with incomes below 50 percent of the poverty level (9.5 percent) was far worse than the state as a whole (6.3 percent).

That one in seven townspeople have incomes below the poverty level is all the more surprising given that Tomales is one of the better educated towns anywhere. Nine out of 10 residents 25 and older have completed high school, and 43.3 percent have completed college. More than one in five residents (21 percent) hold graduate or professional degrees.

The only thing I can think of that might explain this disparity between high education and low income could be the ascetic lifestyles of the 30 or so people living at the Blue Mountain Meditation Center off the Tomales-Petaluma Road.

But it’s incongruities such as this that make Tomales so interesting: from a pig roast to finance real estate for the Town Hall, to a camel and a “blind driver” along the Tomales-Petaluma Road, to possum, deer, and horse skulls plus artwork, antiques, and artifacts for sale in a cartoonist’s studio. It’s a great town, and — by the way — it’s going to miss you while you’re gone, Don and Kathryn.

Having just spent a three-day weekend in Los Angeles, I returned home to discover I’d missed out on quite a storm in West Marin while I was gone.


On the upside, water districts and ranchers got up to eight inches of badly needed rain over the weekend. Nicasio Reservoir has come up dramatically, as have the flowers around my cabin. Seemingly out of nowhere, daffodils are starting to bloom everywhere.

On the downside, high winds worked mischief early Sunday. At the Point Reyes lighthouse, a gust was clocked at 66 mph at 1:22 a.m. That’s the wind speed of a violent storm on the Beaufort Scale and just 7 mph short of a hurricane-force gust. At 4:01 a.m., a 37 mph gust (gale force on the Beaufort Scale) was clocked in Point Reyes Station. At my cabin, the winds tore grommets out of the tarpaulin over my woodpile, shredded the tarp in places, and allowed some of my kindling to get wet.

100_1473Worse yet, a terra cotta pot more than two feet high and holding a palm tree was blown over and busted on my deck. The last time wind busted a big pot at my cabin was just over two years ago, and it wasn’t this big. Finding a replacement large enough to hold the root ball required a trip over the hill Wednesday and a lot of driving around. After extensive searching, I was able to find exactly one that was big enough.


In contrast to nature’s fury…. Just before I flew off to LA, I happened to look out my kitchen window and see a young buck sleeping unusually soundly for a deer out in the open. I guess it felt secure on this hill where there are neither hunters nor loose dogs. The only large predators around my cabin are bobcats, which I’ve seen three or four times, and coyotes, which I often hear at night but have seen only once.

New software is allowing me to track the countries where this blog’s readers are located, and as was noted in a Jan. 13 posting, people in 23 countries found their way here in the first two weeks after the tracking began.

In the two weeks since then, readers in an additional 24 countries visited this site. They came from: Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Croatia, Guatemala, Ireland, Israel, Kenya, Latvia, Morocco, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Syria, and Thailand.

Of course, some visitors didn’t stick around long, but some did. The average visit lasts more than two minutes and 20 seconds. Among the foreign readers who first visited this site in the past two weeks, those who spent significant time reading it came from Belgium, China (Shanghai), Guatemala, Morocco, and Thailand.


Finding the door open, three young raccoons consider exploring my kitchen but think better of it when they hear, “Scat.” A Sept. 16 posting on raccoon scat continues to bring visitors to this blog.

What interests visitors? There are lots of ways to find this blog, and Google is obviously an important one. Nor is it surprising that the same Google Analytics software that can track readers’ cities and countries can also track what words people Googled to reach this blog. The top 10 “keywords,” it turns out, were: raccoon scat, dave mitchell the light point reyes, dave mitchell editor, west marin sheriff’s citizen,, tony ragona reyes, bolinas clinic, dave mitchell blog, tomales bay association ken fox president, “didi thompson.”

Didi Thompson is my neighbor and has been mentioned in postings. Tony Ragona, a Point Reyes Station innkeeper, is a friend and has also been mentioned. The rest are fairly self explanatory although “west marin sheriff’s citizen” is a bit confused.

But it is downright bizarre that “raccoon scat” tops the list of terms that people around the world Googled last month to end up at this blog with its Sept. 16 posting, Telling the Raccoon ‘Scat.’ The posting discusses the unsightliness of some raccoons’ elevated latrines and the danger of raccoon excrement’s containing eggs of the parasite Baylisascaris procyonis.

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors has reprinted the posting, and I suppose that might explain some interest in the original. In any case, this blog’s Sept. 16 entry has now risen to fifth place in Google’s compendium of 113,000 “raccoon scat” postings. Try Googling the term. You’ll see for yourself.

Bemused by all this, I sent Tony an email congratulating him on ranking almost as high as “raccoon scat” and higher than “dave mitchell blog” in drawing people to this site. “Thanks,” he wrote back, “I guess.”


The “wildland/urban interface.” One afternoon last week I took care of Sebastian, a 15-year-old Havanese that belongs to Linda Petersen of Inverness. At his age, Sebastian is deaf and legally blind, so when the dog wandered over to this deer, he didn’t see her, and the doe immediately realized he was no threat.

In directing my neighbors and me to make our properties safe from wildfires,  Marin County Fire Chief Ken Massucco last September wrote us that we live in a designated “wildland/urban-interface area.” Despite that being firefighter jargon, the “interface” could as easily describe our interactions with wildlife as our risk of wildfires.

I’ve found it striking how much more wildlife I’m seeing around my property now that I’m retired and at home more. Just by staying alert, I’ve been able to shoot photos for this blog of a coyote and a bobcat, deer and raccoons, foxes and possums, snakes and salamanders, frogs and roof rats. All this wildlife has no doubt been around my home for 30 years, but until three years ago when I stopped editing The Point Reyes Light, I was too busy to see it.

And there’s another noteworthy difference between running a newspaper office and maintaining a blog from home. Once a newspaper article is in print, you can’t change it. I can remember times when I lamented this as a curse; now, however, I think it might have actually been a blessing.

Upgraded WordPress software now counts how many changes I make to a posting after I first put it online. The changes are usually very small, rearranging a sentence or substituting one word for another, but they can add up. A few days after last week’s posting went online, I became curious how many times I’d taken it down and changed it, so I checked: 107 times!

Add this attention to detail to humanity’s natural concern with raccoon scat, and you can see why has caught the attention of some serious readers around the globe: from Bangalore, India, and Palmerton North, New Zealand, to Sandefjord, Norway, and Riga, Latvia.

First a recap of 2008’s headline news: It’s been a good year for double-entendres in headlines, as evidenced by samples published in each issue of The Columbia Journalism Review. “Cash reward to be offered whenever a cop is shot,” announced a headline in the March 3 edition of the Newark, New Jersey, Star Ledger. Or “15 pit bulls rescued; 2 arrested” — the White Plains, New York, Journal News, March 6.

I myself happened upon a couple of headlines with unintended double meanings and sent one of them to CJR, which published it: “Ex-cop gets 50 days in stolen golf clubs case” — The San Francisco Chronicle, June, 6. Although the meaning is obvious today, a few decades from now the most mysterious  of the bunch will probably a Dec. 14 headline I read in Dubai’s “Reporter throws shoes at Bush in Iraq.”

And while I’ve been thinking globally, I’ve also been trying to act locally. Here are photographs I shot this week to record the natural Zeitgeist of Point Reyes Station during the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

Four blacktail deer graze uphill from my cabin in the early light of the day after Christmas.

Four blacktail deer graze in the early light on Dec. 26 (or Boxing Day, as my relatives in Canada call the day after Christmas).

Before long, four wild turkeys showed up in my pasture and proceeded to chase each other in circles.

Before long, four wild turkeys showed up in my pasture and proceeded to chase each other in circles. I never could figure out who was chasing whom.

As the sun rose higher in the sky, a buzzard circled several times just off my deck. Here the bird's proximity to the sun results in unexpected lens flare.

As the sun rose higher in the sky on Boxing Day, a buzzard circled several times just off my deck. Here the bird's proximity to the sun results in an unexpected lens flare. Boxing Day by tradition is an occasion for giving gifts to service workers.

The sun setting on 2008, as seen from my cabin Monday. Happy New Year, one and all.

The sun setting on 2008. Inverness Ridge as seen Monday. Happy New Year, one and all.

This story like other posts has been hacked with meaningless symbols (such as “café” being turned into Café). We’re trying to erase these intrusions, but there are hundreds of them throughout this blog. — Dave Mitchell, 3/5/22


Anyone who takes a job on a small-town newspaper, especially in West Marin, has to love the profession. Weekly newspaper people work long hours for low pay, but reader demand for their publications is reassuringly high — so high, in fact, that while daily newspapers in the United States are losing circulation, weeklies are gaining. Here’s a look at people from West Marin’s press, as well as an internationally acclaimed editor’s observations about this country’s weekly newspapers.

Tuesday evening, six of us past and present Point Reyes Light staff, along with a couple of other newsmen, got together at Mike and Sally Gale’s beef ranch in Chileno Valley to welcome back their son Ivan Gale. Ivan, a former Light reporter, now writes for The National, an English-language daily in Abu Dhabi.

For an account of his adventures in the Arab world, please see posting Number 121. Ivan is in town for a few days because sister Kate is getting married Saturday.


Point Reyes Light staff and alumni (clockwise from bottom): Ivan Gale, a former Light reporter and now a business writer for The National in the United Arab Emirates; Jacoba Charles, a current Light reporter; Molly Birnbaum, a current Light reporter; Dave Mitchell, the previous editor and publisher of The Light; Andrea Blum, a former Light reporter and now a reporter for The West Marin Citizen; and Janine Warner, a former Light reporter and now a new-media consultant and author. (Photo by Josh Haner, a New York Times photographer)

Ivan, Andrea, Jacoba, and Molly all hold masters’ degrees from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

A combined half century of newspaper experience: Missy Patterson, who has run the front office of The Point Reyes Light for 27 years, flanked by former Light reporter Janine Warner of Los Angeles and her husband Dave LaFontaine at Café Reyes Wednesday. Dave and Janine have been visiting in Point Reyes Station for the past week.

Janine, who worked at The Light from 1990 to 92, left to publish (with Light columnist Víctor Reyes) Visión Latina, a 20,000-circulation bilingual monthly for Marin and Sonoma counties. When it ceased publication after three years, Janine started her own web-design business and went on to become the online editor of The Miami Herald and teach at the University of Miami and at USC. She has written more than a dozen Internet books, such as Websites — Do It Yourself — for Dummies, which together have sold half a million copies. She is a regular contributor to Layers Magazine, a conference speaker, and an online-media consultant with Dave.

Dave likewise has wide experience as a reporter and editor — from The Eau Claire (Wisconsin) Leader-Telegram and The Arizona Republic to The Caracas (Venezuela) Daily Journal and Star magazine. In addition, he edited Single Parent magazine, as well as, and is a contributor to the Newspaper Association of America’s Growing Audiences publication. His blog is called Hard News, Inc., although he says a new and improved blog called “Sips from the Firehose” is being designed and prepared to launch.

Dave and Janine, who call their business Artesian Media, have spent months overseas (usually together) during the past year, consulting and giving talks in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Russia, Spain, and Ukraine, in addition to working in various US cities.


Linda Petersen of Inverness, ad manager of The West Marin Citizen, and her dog Sebastian shared Café Reyes’ garden two weeks ago with an unidentified couple. (Photo by Jasper Sanidad, photographic contributor to The Light)

100_0458.jpgHaving changed its fare in the past year, Café Reyes in Point Reyes Station on some days now resembles a newspaper hangout.

Offering beer and wine — plus pizza from a wood-fired oven — the café with its sunny garden and jovial staff provides a respite from the harried world of newspapering.

Seen here in the garden of Café Reyes two weeks ago, Light photo contributor Jasper Sanidad protests that he’d rather be on the other side of the camera.

During the 27 years I published The Light, I belonged to a number of journalism associations, each valuable in its own way. Although I’m now retired, I still belong to one of the organizations: the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors (ISWNE).

As you might expect, the majority of the editors are in the United States, but there’s also a number in Canada and England. Five years ago, our president was an editor in Ireland.

Like other newspaper organizations, ISWNE conducts annual contests to recognize excellence in journalism, and this year’s winner of the society’s Golden Quill award for editorial writing was Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor of The Altamont Enterprise in New York. In her acceptance speech, Hale-Spencer made some points worth repeating concerning weekly newspapers:

“We are all painfully aware that circulation for daily newspapers is falling. We wince each time we learn of another round of layoffs, another foreign bureau shut down, another paper closed…. While dailies are struggling, not everyone is aware that circulation for weekly newspapers in the United States is growing. A survey last year by the National Newspaper Association found that 83 percent of adults read a community newspaper each week, up from 81 percent in 2005.

100_0474.jpg“According to a 2007 survey, local community papers are the primary source of information by a two-to-one margin over the next most popular medium — television….

“I believe weekly newspapers are growing in readership because they offer news that can’t be found elsewhere.”

Another member of the West Marin press takes in sun (and pizza) a week ago in the café garden.

Linda Sturdivant of Inverness Park is a driver for The Citizen, delivering bundles of newspapers to merchants and newsracks.


A California prionus beetle. Sounds sort of like a fuel-efficient car made jointly by Toyota and Volkswagen, doesn’t it?

I found this huge beetle (more than two inches long) near my woodstove a couple of weeks ago, and Inverness Park biologist Russell Ridge identified it for me. The prionus beetle is usually described as a “boring insect,” not because it’s mundane but because its larvae feed on the roots of trees, often killing them. The larvae can reach four inches long and be as big around as your finger.

Among the trees they attack are oaks, populars, black walnut, some fruit trees, and some conifers. Their range extends from Central California to Alaska.


Western gray squirrels are common sights on this hill, but they disappear so fast when they see a human that it took me months of trying before I managed to photograph one.

Except in stands of redwoods, gray squirrels can be found in trees throughout Marin County. This one is on my deck.


Gray squirrels breed in early spring and have a gestation period of approximately two months. Although females typically give birth in hollow trees or other hidden spots, they move their young into nests of leaves and twigs (called dreys) within a few days.

Dreys such as this one on the property of neighbors George Stamoulis and Carol Waxman are often lined with grass or moss.

In late fall and early winter, squirrels hide acorns in a variety of places to feed on during lean months. However, not all the hidden acorns are recovered, and gray squirrels are often credited with inadvertently planting oaks around the West.


Young raccoons up a tree.

These kits are about four months old, and every night their mother leads them on hunts around my cabin. Because I see them only after dark, I have to use a flash to photograph them. The raccoons don’t seem to notice the flashes, but my results nonetheless have been uneven.

For most of my 35 years as a newspaper man, I shot photos with film, and I’m still learning the fine points of digital photography.

100_0455.jpgIn recent months, two problems in particular been been bugging me: white specks caused by shooting through windows and digital “noise” — tiny dots of color where there should be none.

Fortunately, I’ve become friends with a San Francisco photography student, Jasper Sanidad (right), who contributes to The Point Reyes Light, and he is now my coach.

For example, when I had been photographing nocturnal creatures, I’d usually tried to remain unseen behind closed windows, but Jasper noted that dirt on the windows was a large part of my problem.

In addition, he told me, I’d been depending too much on my camera’s zoom to show the critters up close.

Because my flash was too far from the animals, Jasper explained, my camera wasn’t picking up enough color detail, and the noise in my photos resulted from the digital system trying to provide what wasn’t there.

What I needed to do, he added, was to get closer to the creatures myself and keep my zoom at a wide angle. That would eliminate the noise.

100_0234.jpgAs it’s turned out, Jasper was right, but what a surprise! I was able to shoot my nightly raccoons at close range, I discovered, mainly because they walked right in the kitchen door when I left it open to avoid shooting through the glass.

Notwithstanding the crisp images I could get by having the raccoons so close at hand, I didn’t really want them in the house. So I threw some bread out the door, and they went back outside to get it.

Investigators from the Inspector General’s Office of the Interior Department, as was detailed here last week, found far more deception by the Point Reyes National Seashore superintendent and the park’s senior science advisor than has been reported in West Marin’s newspapers. Likewise getting almost no attention in the press is the chagrin investigators found among government scientists elsewhere in the West over the park’s misrepresenting research involving Drakes Bay Oyster Company.

home_topbar.jpgThe federal investigation was launched in April 2007, the Inspector General wrote, shortly after oyster company owners “Kevin and Nancy Lunny wrote to us requesting an investigation into the actions of Point Reyes National Seashore Supt. Donald Neubacher. Specifically, the Lunny family… alleged that Neubacher had undermined and interfered with the family’s business and had slandered the family’s name….

“During his initial interview,” investigators noted, “Kevin Lunny… added that opponents of his shellfish operation were using faulty science to vilify him in the media as someone without regard for the environment.”

Here’s what Inspector General’s Report says about: (1) some of the park’s equivocations and misrepresentations; and (2), a variety of government scientists’ unhappiness with them:

• “Our investigation determined that the Point Reyes National Seashore published a report on Drakes Estero — where the Lunny family farms oysters — containing several inaccuracies regarding the source of sedimentation in the estero.

“After receiving complaints from Corey Goodman [of Marshall], a neurobiologist, the National Park Service removed the report from its website on July 23, 2007, and two days later, it posted an ‘acknowledgment of errors’ in its place.

100_0417_1.jpg• “Our investigation determined that in this report and in a newspaper article, Point Reyes National Seashore senior science advisor Sarah Allen had misrepresented research regarding sedimentation in Drakes Estero completed in the 1980s by US Geological Survey scientist Roberto Anima.

• “In addition, we determined that she failed to provide a germane email message between Anima and herself in response to a Freedom of Information Act request [by Dr. Goodman] that specifically sought such correspondence.

• “And [she] stated in a public forum [a May 2007 Marin County Board of Supervisors meeting] that the National Park Service had over 25 years of seal data from Drakes Estero when, in fact, that was inaccurate.”

As Jon Jarvis, director of the Pacific West Region, later said, the National Park Service has no data before 1996. Confronted with her untruth, Allen told investigators that while she was still a student 25 years ago, she had written a thesis on the estero — but admitted she possesses no data from her research.

• “While Allen denied any intentional misrepresentation of Anima’s work, our investigation reveals that Allen was privy to information contrary to her characterization of Anima’s findings in the Sheltered Wilderness Report [which she wrote] and other public releases — and she did nothing to correct the information before its release to the public.”

100_0387.jpgAnd where did this “information contrary to her characterization of Anima’s findings” come from? Both a fisheries biologist with the National Park Service and an environmental scientist with the California Department of Health Care Services.

An oyster-company worker rinses off freshly harvested oysters on Wednesday.

In September 2006, investigators noted, the park wrote to the state Health Department, complaining that a “sanitary survey” of Drakes Estero by one of the department’s environmental scientists was “incomplete” because it failed to say oyster feces caused major sedimentation.

“The letter,” investigators noted, “referenced Anima’s work and contained the following sentence, which Allen wrote: ‘Anima (1991) stated that the presence of the oysters and their feces were the primary source of sedimentation.’

dhcs.jpg“The Department of Health Services environmental scientist said he told Allen in a telephone conversation in approximately October 2006 that Anima had not tested any correlation between sediment and oyster feces in Drakes Estero.”

Nonetheless, the Sheltered Wilderness Report (which contained Allen’s discredited reference to Anima’s research) “was uploaded to the Point Reyes National Seashore website” three months later, investigators noted.

Why was the state Health Department’s information ignored? “Allen said she ‘vaguely’ remembered the Department of Health Services environmental scientist’s comment and that she was surprised by it,” investigators reported. She said she had “flagged a couple of pages (of Anima’s report )…. ‘But I just don’t remember more than that.'”

• Allen used a UC Davis assessment of the estero, written by Professor Deborah Elliott-Fisk and herself, as the basis for a number of her allegations against the oyster company, but the professor was unhappy with how the assessment was cited.

100_03981.jpgAllen, for example, had cited the assessment in blaming oyster growing for invasive species showing up in Drakes Estero. Dr. Elliott-Fisk, however, told investigators that although any introduction of an invasive species to the estero was “‘bad’…researchers could not definitely attribute the invasive species to the mariculture operation.”

Park visitors enjoy an oyster picnic near the company shop.

• “In another example of omission,” investigators wrote, “Allen did not include the following statement regarding the impact of oysters on sedimentation, drawn from the Drakes Estero Assessment, in either version of the Sheltered Wilderness Report:

“Although pseudofeces from the suspended oysters may contribute to the amount of organic matter below the racks, adding to the system, the amount of organic matter resulting from eelgrass decomposition is likely far greater considering how expansive and dense the beds are within the estuary, making any significant organic inputs from the oysters undetectable in this study.”

• “Likewise… not addressed in the Sheltered Wilderness report,” investigators wrote, was a statement in the assessment that “a significant difference in the percent of organic matter in areas below and adjacent to the oyster racks was not detected.”

100_0418.jpg• Going even further in his criticism was John Wullschleger, a fishery biologist with the National Park Service in Fort Collins, Colorado. The fisheries biologist had provided “technical oversight” for the UC Davis’ assessment of Drakes Estero, and he didn’t consider the assessment thorough enough on some matters to be cited as authoritative on key claims in Allen’s Sheltered Wilderness Report.

Investigators reported, “Wullschleger told the Office of Inspector General he was concerned about the Drakes Estero Assessment report because it was ‘basically trying to make statements from things…that weren’t statistically significant and say, “Well, they’re different. So therefore there must be an impact on the estuary.’

“…. He opined that the Point Reyes National Seashore was ‘aiming to find out a little too much in a relatively short period of time with a small amount of money’ [by working mostly from] the Drakes Assessment report by Elliott-Fisk.”

Biologist Wullschleger wrote Allen, “Given that [the assessment’s] sample sizes were small and that most results were not statistically significant, I was surprised that the conclusions section began with the relatively strong statement, ‘Oysters mariculture has had an impact on the marine fish and invertebrates of Drakes Estero.’”

100_943_1_42.jpg• National Seashore Supt. Neubacher (right) repeatedly comes off in the Inspector General’s report as deceitful — even in petty matters. For example, The Point Reyes Light on May 18, 2006, published an article that cited a UC Davis assessment of Drakes Bay in concluding that oyster farming was not harming Drakes Estero, prompting Allen to write the Sheltered Wilderness Report as a rebuttal.

Once again careless with the truth, Supt. Neubacher told investigators that in writing the report, “the Point Reyes National Seashore was not attempting to counter The Point Reyes Light article but to get ‘objective information’ to the public.” Investigators, however, turned up correspondence between the Point Reyes National Seashore ecologist and Allen, as well as between Allen and UC Davis, showing that the Sheltered Wilderness Report was indeed written “to counter the conclusions drawn in the article.”

• Despite the loud complaints from the National Seashore administration, The Light drew a reasonable conclusion in its article on the Drakes Estero Assessment, the Park Service biologist told Allen.

100_7740_1_1.jpgThe article, which also quoted Kevin Lunny (left), said the assessment showed that oyster growing “has no statistically significant effects on the estuary’s water quality, fish, and eelgrass.”

On Feb. 6. 2007, biologist Wullschleger wrote Allen: “I can see how the oyster grower could point to this Drakes Estero Assessment report as evidence that their operation is not having an impact on the aquatic communities of the estero. After all, only one of the differences associated with the oyster racks was statistically significant.”

• Despite this warning, investigators added, “three days later, on February 9, 2007, the Sheltered Wilderness report, which drew on the Drakes Estero Assessment report, was uploaded to the Point Reyes National Seashore’s website for the first time.” (You’ll recall that three months earlier the state Health Department had also informed Allen of allegations in the report that misrepresented research.)

doi_banner_02.jpg• Even within the regional office of the Park Service, the National Seashore administration’s politicizing research bothered staff. Investigators reported, “A scientist for the Pacific West Region of the National Park Service opined that in the Sheltered Wilderness report, Allen and ‘probably her colleagues’ had ‘drawn conclusions… that simply cannot be sustained, particularly since there was something a little bit sketchy about the [underlying Drakes Estero Assessment],’ which ‘itself is overreaching.’”

• Anima of the USGS was even more upset. Contrary to how Allen had described his research, the scientist told investigators, “his report never said that oyster feces was affecting the sedimentation in Drakes Estero but rather reflected that studies done elsewhere indicated that oyster waste was a factor in sedimentation in those bodies of water….

“When interviewed, Anima agreed that as written in the Sheltered Wilderness Report, Allen’s use of the estimate of how much waste oysters could produce in a year seemed attributable to Drakes Estero even though he attributed that estimate to a study done in Japan [in 1955]….

“Agent’s note: Both the article titled Coastal Wilderness: The Naturalist, which Allen co-authored in The Point Reyes Light in April 2007, and an editorial piece titled Save Drakes Estero published in The Coastal Post as a ‘collaborative effort’ by various conservation groups in May 2007 refer to oyster feces as the primary cause of sediments in the estero….

header_graphic_usgsidentifier_white-1.jpg• “After reading those articles, Anima told Allen that his report did not state that he had ‘collected sediment cores from the estero,” as she had claimed, investigators said. Nor had he “‘identified pseudo feces of oysters as the primary source for sediment fill.’

“He said he was ‘ticked off’ that she had misrepresented his findings that way.”

• Investigators noted, “Anima also contended that a partial quote Allen used in her report about oyster racks acting as a ‘baffle to tidal currents’ was problematic because his report stated that the arrangement of oyster racks appeared to be serving as a baffle.”

The investigators went on to comment, “Allen presented Anima’s quote about the racks acting as a baffle to tidal currents in a decisive manner, but Anima’s full quote on the subject is speculative….

100_0409.jpg• “Further, Anima’s statements that the effects of oyster mariculture on sediment in Drakes Estero required further study were omitted from both versions of the Sheltered Wilderness reports that were released to the public.”

Oyster workers use a boat to tow a barge of harvested oysters to the company dock.

• Investigators wrote that “Anima said he let Allen know that he was ‘not happy’ with her portrayal of his research.

“According to him, she did not offer a ‘good justification’ for inaccurately referencing his work,” an investigator added. The USGS scientist “recalled that she tried to justify her actions by telling him about an agreement the National Park Service had with the oyster company….

“She explained that the current owner of the oyster farm wanted to extend his lease with the National Park Service when it expired and that the Point Reyes National Seashore was trying not to allow the extension of that lease.”

To be continued…

Chileno Valley ranchers Mike and Sally Gale several weeks ago returned home after spending a fortnight in the Middle East visiting their son Ivan, a newspaperman in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).


Sally, Mike, and Ivan Gale at their Chileno Valley ranch last Christmas.

In 2003 and 2004, Ivan was an excellent reporter for The Point Reyes Light, winning three national and three statewide journalism awards during those two years. Ivan left The Light to attend Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and earned two master’s degrees in Communications, one with a specialty in Science Reporting.

From there, he managed to land a job in the UAE, where for two years he was a business reporter for The Gulf News in Dubai. The transportation industry was his main beat. Ivan, now 33, this month will begin a new job with a startup daily in Abu Dhabi.

ae-map.jpgMaps from the World Fact Book, which is posted by the CIA.

The UAE is a federation of seven states on the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain. The federation’s neighbors are Saudi Arabia and Oman while across the narrow Strait of Hormuz lies Iran.


The emirates are shown to the upper left of Oman on the right side of Saudi Arabia.

A federal constitutional monarchy, the UAE’s presidency is always held by a member of the Al Nahyan clan of Abu Dhabi and its premiership by the Al Maktoum clan of Dubai. The Supreme Council, which consists of the rulers of the seven emirates, elects a Council of Ministers.

Thanks to oil and natural-gas revenues, which in turn have fueled other industrial development, the UAE has the fifth highest Gross Domestic Product per capita in the world.

A whopping 85 percent of the UAE’s population of 4.5 million are non-citizens. Along with residents from other Arab countries, there are 2.15 million South Asians (mostly Indians, Filipinos, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis plus several thousand Sri Lankans).

In its report on Human Rights, the US State Department annually complains about abuse of South Asian workers in the UAE. And while acknowledging improvements in recent years, the State Department also reports the UAE’s Islamic fundamentalism can be harsh.

These criticisms notwithstanding, Islam in the emirates is far less fundamentalist than in such neighbors as Saudi Arabia and Iran. And the UAE is definitely friendly to the West. From 1892 until 1971, its states were by treaty under British military protection. In 1990-91, the emirates joined the fight against Saddam Hussein in the First Gulf War, which followed Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

dsc_0261_1.jpgDuring his parents’ visit, Ivan (at left) accompanied them on a trip to Jordan, which is across the Arabian Peninsula from the UAE. Included here are two photos from that trip. While Sally like other women was expected to wear a headscarf, Ivan and Mike are wearing them to ward off a cold wind.

Because the emirates are Arab states ruled by sheiks, with each state having both secular and Islamic law, I found myself wondering what is it like for Ivan to live and work in this world — especially when he doesn’t speak Arabic. And for that matter, why are there several English-language newspapers in the UAE?

On the occasion of Ivan’s moving from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and going to work for a new newspaper, I questioned him by email about his life there. Here are his answers:

DVM: What can you tell me about the newspaper where you’ll be working?

Ivan: The National is set to launch on April 17 and will be a nationwide, general-interest, English-language newspaper.


We will be the only English daily based in Abu Dhabi [above], the UAE capital, but there are a handful of other English dailies based in Dubai and Sharjah.

A lot of newspapers have done well here because the real estate market (and the economy as a whole) is so hot it is keeping the advertising market extremely buoyant.

Our newspaper is funded by the Abu Dhabi government which is reshaping its media subsidiary (and our parent company), Emirates Media Inc., into Abu Dhabi Media Company. ADMC’s CEO is Ed Borgerding (formerly executive vice president of Walt Disney International in Hong Kong and senior vice president of Walt Disney International Television in Hong Kong and London).

Our newspaper is the first and most significant new initiative from the Abu Dhabi government’s media arm, which has some pretty ambitious plans for the future.

DVM: Why is it possible for an English-language paper to survive in the Arab world?

Ivan: Some UAE-based English dailies have not only survived, they have flourished. This is in large part due to the high expat and South Asian population fluent in English. There could be as many or more English speakers than Arabic speakers in this country because of the
high numbers of foreign workers living here.

dsc_0118.jpgThere are some other [English-language newspapers in the Arab world]: The Daily Star in Lebanon and some newspapers and business magazines in Cairo, where English-language publications have established themselves. But outside the UAE, I don’t think you will find the same conditions of a booming economy and a critical mass of English readers that have spelled success for the local dailies here.

Outside of the commercial aspects, I think local publications provide an important service for English readers living outside the region. There is a growing hunger among readers in the East and West [for news] about what is happening in the Middle East, and this will mean online readers will increasingly consult the websites of UAE newspapers for news and analysis.

DVM How many English-language newspapers are there in the UAE?

IVAN: 7 Days (daily freesheet), Gulf News (daily broadsheet), Khaleej Times (daily broadsheet), Emiates 24-7 (daily tabloid business newspaper), Xpress (free weekly newspaper), Gulf Today (daily broadsheet), and soon The National (daily broadsheet).

I should also note that The Times of London began printing an edition in the UAE last year, and The Financial Times does as well, I believe.

DVM: How much of the English-language press’ readership in the UAE is from India?

Ivan: It has been said that some newspapers cater almost exclusively to the South Asian segment of the population. As a block they could very well constitute the single largest group in this country. It’s probably true that some of the English newspapers rely on this group for at least half or more of their readership. But there are also large numbers of expats living here from the UK, Europe, and North America. A lot of Arab businessmen also consult the English press for news and analysis too. So it’s definitely a mix.

DVM: What fuels the UAE economy?

Ivan: A brief answer would be high oil prices which spill over into a booming real estate market, high consumer spending, and the relentless pace of infrastructure mega-projects [built with] private and government… investment. Travel and tourism are also very important.


DVM: I gather you’ll be covering transportation. Why is that a major beat in the UAE?

IVAN: The thing is, there are many major beats here because the UAE government — and Dubai [above] in particular over the past five years — have undertaken an ambitious and wide-ranging diversification campaign. So there are exciting developments going on in real estate, finance, telecoms and technology, travel and tourism, media and marketing, and of course oil and gas.

But it is important to note that transport was the first major industry that put this country on the map after its pearling industry collapsed. Dubai borrowed heavily to dredge its creek and then build a deepwater port around the 1950s — before the country’s oil and gas reserves were discovered.

They’ve gone from strength to strength, and Jebel Ali Port in Dubai is now the largest between Rotterdam and Singapore. Emirates Airline is now on track to become the largest international airline in the next four to seven years. The airline has roughly 250 aircraft on order right now, worth $60 billion, while Dubai and Abu Dhabi together are spending close to $50 billion on new airport infrastructure. The name of Dubai’s new airport hub is telling: “Dubai World Central.”

DVM: Under Islamic law, Muslims are not allowed to drink alcohol. What are the UAE’s laws on drinking as they apply to you?

Ivan: It is legal to buy from a licensed liquor shop if you have an alcohol license. You can also buy from the duty free shops at the airport when you arrive. In some emirates, there are hole-in-the-wall shops where you don’t have to have a license.

DVM: How much Arabic do you speak? How do you get along — both at work and around town — without being fluent?

Ivan: I’ve picked up greetings and how to exchange pleasantries but never studied the language. And I’ve never felt that I was any worse for it. The Emiratis and the Arabs from other countries who live here all speak English with varying levels of fluency. People in the service industry are invariably from the Philippines or South Asia. Frankly, this would be a tough place to study Arabic because there is no immersion experience. English is read and spoken all around you.

While Newsday reporters celebrated their winning a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1970 for an expose´ of corruption involving public officials and Republican Party figures on Long Island, one of the crooks who had been exposed showed up.

Republican leader Freddie Fellman, who would subsequently go to prison, “lived up to his reputation as a big talker, taking the floor and catching the attention of the assembled journalists. “Wait a second,” he said to the surprised revelers. “You couldn’t have done this without me!”


The story is from a new book, Pulitzer’s Gold by Roy Harris Jr., senior editor at CFO magazine. I mentioned it here five weeks ago because the book, which has been selling well, devotes a chapter to The Point Reyes Light’s 1979 gold medal.

Now that I’ve had time to read the book at a leisurely pace, I find myself frequently recounting stories from it, such as the Freddie Fellman tale. Anytime a book does that for me, I figure it’s pretty well written.

Another story I love from Pulitzer’s Gold recounts how Raleigh, North Carolina’s News & Observer won the Public Service medal in 1996 for revealing environmental problems from the state’s burgeoning hog industry. It illustrates the circuitous routes that newspaper investigations often take.

While looking into malfeasance at the North Carolina State Fair back in 1995, two News and Observer reporters discovered the state veterinarian was taking gifts from pork producers. They then looked into the hog industry and discovered that although it had become huge in North Carolina, this “had happened mostly out of the public eye,” the book relates. “And so had the pollution that came with it.”

250px-sow_with_piglet.jpgNews and Observer staff eventually wrote that a “megalopolis” of 7 million swine had sprung up in North Carolina, with each pig producing two to four times as much waste as the average human. What’s more, the newspaper reported, this megalopolis of pig pens has no sewage-treatment plants. All the wastes are simply flushed into open pits and sprayed onto fields.Not surprisingly, groundwater was becoming contaminated.

Still another good story from the book, this one containing a public-relations lesson, concerns The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s winning a Public Service medal in 1990. The prize was for revealing “how the American blood industry operates with little government regulation or supervision,” in the words of the Pulitzer Board.

In 1989, a business reporter at The Inquirer gave blood during a drive at his office. Afterward, he became curious about what happened to the blood next. Planning to write a routine business story, the reporter contacted the local Red Cross director and started asking routine questions: How much blood is in the blood bank? What is the dollar value of the blood?

But the director cut him off, saying, “We don’t have to tell you that.” The reporter told author Harris, “I was taken aback, and my journalistic antennae went up.” Suddenly suspicious because of the director’s stonewalling, reporter Gilbert Gaul eventually determined that 61 percent of the Red Cross’ business was blood, not disaster relief, and that “red cells are really a commodity, and they’re sold that way.”

Gaul revealed a secretive, nationwide market in blood, which was being repeatedly sold and resold. His series brought about more federal inspections of blood brokering nationwide, as well as more attention to keeping AIDS out of the blood supply. And it all began with the Red Cross director in Philadelphia refusing to answer some routine questions prompted by a blood drive.

pulitzerfamily.jpgPulitzer’s Gold is also wonderfully rich in quotations from a variety of writers. Some examples that I’ve found myself repeating:

• “What I try to do in my paper is to give the public part of what it wants to have and part of what it ought to have, whether it wants it or not,” Herbert Bayard Swope, executive editor, New York World.

• The Jazz Age had had a wild youth and a heady middle age¦ the most expensive orgy in history. It was borrowed time anyhow “the whole upper tenth of a nation living with the insouciance of grand dukes and the casualness of chorus girls.” F. Scott Fitzerald on the 1920s

• Every reporter is a hope, every editor a disappointment.” Joseph Pulitzer (Pulitzer’s son and grandson are seen above with a bust of the legendary publisher)

In looking at 88 years of competition for the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, which Joseph Pulitzer considered the top award, author Harris recounts some fascinating events in American history. And what makes the telling itself fascinating is that it’s history as seen through the eyes of reporters who covered the events, whether Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, or the desegregation of Little Rock, Arkansas, schools.

The book is also packed with interesting tidbits about the awarding of the prizes:

•  Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, for example, once wrote dismissively about the prizes although he himself had lobbied Pulitzer jurors on behalf of The Post. (In recent years, Bradlee has spoken more highly of the prizes.)

• In 1918, the Public Service prize went to The Milwaukee Journal for a campaign against “Germanism in America.” The campaign included opposition to German-language classes.

royharris-portrait.jpg• Columbia University in New York City houses the awards program, and in 1972, university trustees tried to block the gold medal’s being awarded to The New York Times for publishing the Pentagon Papers. The trustees objected that the papers were stolen, but Columbia president William McGill convinced them not to intervene.

• Much of the New Orleans Times-Picayune coverage of Hurricane Katrina, which won a Public Service award in 2006, was published only online because the newspaper building was flooded.

The Point Reyes Light won its gold medal in 1979 for an expose’ of violence and other wrongdoing by the Synanon cult, but even though my former wife Cathy and I then owned the paper, I hadn’t known what went on during the judging until I read Pulitzer’s Gold. According to Los Times media reporter David Shaw, who is quoted by author Harris (above), members of the Pulitzer board and jury told him “they honored The Light” more because it was a small paper whose editors had shown great courage, at considerable financial risk, than because the paper’s stories were necessarily better than the three other finalists in the Public Service category.

All thought The Light stories excellent. But Shaw quoted Michael O’Neill, then editor of The New York Daily News and a member of the jury, as saying that “if you took the names of the newspapers off the entries, I would definitely have voted for The Chicago Tribune series on the problems of the aged.” Shaw also quoted an unnamed board member as saying of The Light’s Dave and Cathy Mitchell: “The job that couple did was damn good, but the guts they showed, with Synanon just a few miles down the road, that’s what the Pulitzers are all about, that’s what won the award.”

Shaw of The LA Times accuses board members of sentimentality for reasoning this way. In contrast, Bob Woodward, The Washington Post writer of Watergate fame, “proposes that “degree of difficulty” should be factored into standards used for the Public Service Prize,” author Harris notes. “To some degree,” he adds, “the Pulitzer board already does that when it considers the long odds faced by a small newspaper.”

Pulitzer’s Gold, University of Missouri Press, 382 pages plus 90-page appendix, $39.95.

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