Monday, February 23, 2015

No matter what age, they are always kids

They say your kids grow up quickly. They say the time will fly by. They say as a teen she will lose their mind. They say he will do stupid things. You know what? They were right.

I am the father of two adult children. My son Matt is 24 and discovering life as a working stiff in Blacksburg, VA. My daughter Collette, is a junior at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. And I’m proud to say I still refer them as “the kids.” Even though they grow up, they never REALLY grow up to this parent. My wife Betsy and I consider ourselves lucky they both are managing life so well.

Makes me think back to my twenties, when life seemed simpler. But then again, there were no computers or Internet. I was told long ago my greatest legacy in life would be my kids. That not only is true, it’s something I can live with easily.

For those of you with young children, I can promise that as a parent, you will always think of your kids, as kids. No matter what age. The worrying never stops, the need for money is continuous—I own a “Bank of Dad” t-shirt—and the connection to family will change, but remain strong.

Some parents have favorite ages of their children. Although not many highlight those teenage years, adulthood means they eventually leave your house. That time is filled with emotions ranging from great joy, to sadness. It definitely leaves a parent with a new sense of freedom. Now I spend my free time planning my next visit to see the kids.

When they were young, I thought our kids listened more. We were clear authority figures. Then they started school and listening became an option. By their teen years, I tried to resist the urge to send them to the doctor for a hearing check. Of course they were fine, but the doctor did explain what happens to the teenage brain during those growth years. I asked if medication would help. He said I was fine.

Since my son Matt played sports, I enjoyed a long period of meeting other parents, going to events, even coaching games. I was very proud how well my son played baseball. Just like dad. All that time we put in practicing really paid off. Then Matt turned 12 and decided he liked golf instead. His baseball gear is still collecting dust in our garage. The good news is he stays plays golf. Whatever makes him happy.

After Matt graduated with a business degree from Virginia Tech, Betsy was helping him land that first accounting or corporate type job. Matt has the perfect mentality for the business side, whatever profession. Then out of nowhere he gets interested in shooting video/photography, including computers and technology. I’m thinking, “Where did he get that from?” Hint: it wasn’t from mother.

Needless to say, I still get those special looks from my wife when Matt talks about those must have gadgets. Just for the record, small drones for personal use do have a purpose.

Collette was always the creative type…just like dad! Always interested in photography, it was a joy working through those dry sweats after loaning her my expensive camera for school. Ever the socialite, we would worry she wasn’t focused enough on school. So much to talk about, not enough time. Then she went to college and realized good things happen with hard work. Collette started eating healthy and lectured us on our food intake. When she began telling me more and more what to do, I couldn’t help but think…just like mom!

Even as adults we all still enjoy going on family vacations, still get up early on Christmas morning, still talk about friends and school, actually eat more meals together, and always still joke around and act like kids—something my mother passed on to me. The more kids change, the more they stay the same. In our eyes at least. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

It’s time to call Facebook ‘old school’

It was like I could hear the snickers in the back of the classroom. Reading about how print journalism was dead, and how everything has changed because of social media. In some respects, it has. But reaching out to the Claremont community and COURIER readership are things we have been doing quite well for over 100 years.

But now it’s time to give Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg feedback on how to make his product work better. Why all this sarcasm? You see the COURIER just had our Facebook page destroyed because the company said we were a business with a personal account. That’s not allowed I guess.

We had a personal account because it enabled our followers to not only comment on COURIER posts, but post content themselves. That meant our 3300 or so Facebook friends could publish event information, cool photos, or anything related to Claremont on our page. Kind of like a community bulletin board. It was simple to share information with people. We liked the personal touch.

No says Facebook! The COURIER is a business and must have a business page! That means friends are allowed, only the owner of the page can post stuff. You want to do more? That will be $32 to promote your page says Facebook. They are a publicly owned company now, time to bleed the customers.

So out went every post from our friends over the past 4 years. Literally thousands of photos, community updates, comments from followers with varied opinions were deleted. Some posts had over 200 Likes and 150 comments. What stayed? Only the posts by COURIER staff. But even the reader comments to these posts were erased.

You would think a smart company like Facebook would do the right thing and call us, informing us what was going to happen, explain their polices, whether we agreed or not. Uh no. We found out by logging in one day and seeing everything changed. Emails to their help desk were never answered. As editor Kathryn Dunn said when first realizing what happened, “Apparently, Facebook is the boss.” That is so true.

What Facebook doesn’t understand is some businesses actually want participation from their Facebook friends. That means friends get to post stuff too. We share. Something more than just a comment or Like. But they just don’t get it. If you are a business, you can’t have friends says Facebook.

Could they be afraid of change? Have they become…shall I say it…“old school!”

I think Facebook leadership has been looking at their computer screens so long, they have forgotten how their own product works. They are stuck on the fact interaction between people must be controlled to a Like.

Here’s a $50 million idea. Start a new category for business class. It could be called “Facebook business/personal solutions.” Create a page that allows users greater flexibility in how they interact with customers. This could apply to other groups like Rotary, sports teams, non-profits, or other companies who want build a community around their friends and followers.

Charge $50 a year for this “personal touch” option and watch everyone sign up.

Mr. Zuckerberg, if you Like this idea I only ask for one thing in return. Subscribe to the Claremont COURIER.

In the meantime, the COURIER staff will continue to post news items and website links on our Facebook page. We encourage you to comment and Like us. And we will always be your friend.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Growing up in the ‘town’ of Claremont

I consider myself quite lucky to be born and raised in Claremont. Now, as a parent, I still think it’s a great place to raise a family. But over the past 50-plus years much has changed and, somewhere along the way, the town of Claremont turned into a city.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Claremont went through a decades-long growth spurt that continued beyond my graduation from Claremont High School in 1974. Because we moved from south to north Claremont while I was in elementary school, I ended up attending Mountain View, Condit, Oakmont and Chaparral during my formative years. This included being part of the opening of Chaparral and La Puerta Intermediate School.

I can easily remember the first day at these brand-new schools, where large numbers of students had no clue where anything was located. Chaparral was considered far north in 1965, where a quick jaunt up to Base Line Road put you square in the middle of citrus groves in all directions.
Since we lived off of Padua Avenue north of Base Line, the citrus groves were a huge part of the landscape.

Fred Bentley, the owner of Bentley’s Market (now Rhino Records), was our neighbor to the south. The 10-acre parcel included citrus trees and a huge windmill, right next to our property. We always knew it was really cold at night when the loud motorized windmill fanned those trees.

Padua Avenue looked similar to how it looks today, except without the steady stream of cars speeding around from the large homes built north of Alamosa. Growing up, there were only a couple of streets with homes between us and Padua Hills, which is located two miles to our north. And the Wilderness Park was just wilderness—no parking problems there.

All the open space made it seem like we lived in the boonies, even though we really didn’t. But the acres and acres of citrus groves and untouched land in the foothills made Claremont a small town. It was rural. Watching the citrus groves literally disappear in front of my eyes over the next two decades changed all that, and is a major reason why I now consider Claremont a city.

In those days, the COURIER was on Harvard Avenue, right in the middle of town. Back then, the newspaper was considered one of the only sources of city information. There was no city website and no Facebook. People would often walk into the office with all sorts of questions. I can still hear my father Martin bellowing out advice or giving directions to customers (and staff) from his second-floor desk perched above the office in the back. We would also get a steady number of people who walked to our office to pay their bills. This was definitely “town” type stuff, and clearly doesn’t happen as often now.

The businesses in the Village were mostly family-owned establishments that included only a few restaurants. So when I went to the Village Grille, Walter’s or Yiannis, there were always people you knew. The good news is, that dynamic still exists today. There are just a few more restaurants to choose from.

The current version of the city just has more of everything. And that’s not a bad thing. There’s never been more to do and to see in Claremont. There are more events and definitely more to eat! Claremont has more to offer than ever.

Luckily, Claremont has no shortage of people who care about the city. Many of these residents I knew growing up are still here. It’s common to meet people on a regular basis who say, “I remember when you were little,” or “I knew your mom and dad when…”

It’s clear the city of Claremont continues to adapt with the times. So whether its a town or city, village or downtown, one thing is certain…change will always be a part of our lives.

Friday, May 16, 2014

COURIER reaches another milestone: 3,000 Facebook friends

Even as the publishing industry continues to evolve and in some cases downsize, your Claremont community newspaper and website continues to be quite popular on a variety of fronts.

The latest example is the COURIER’s unique approach to managing our Facebook page. The key difference between our account and that from just about any other business is we have a “personal” account instead of a classic “business” page.

What’s the difference? In a personal account, your friends can create posts that include text and photos. A business account is totally controlled by the business, and although people can add comments (and “like” a post), all the messages are created by that business. They control all the content.

Although the COURIER staff is the biggest contributor to our Facebook page with short news briefs or website links, we support our readers to add opinions, including information about Claremont events. Together, we have created a real digital bulletin board of happenings around town.

The Facebook business account came to life so business owners could eliminate negative posts on their pages. So with our personal account, that was initially a concern of ours too. But what we have learned is there are very few reader postings that have been inappropriate. The majority of these postings are announcements for nonprofit events, an engaging photo, and in some cases…news. We feel this adds value to our readers and the Claremont community.

All this being said, there are a few guidelines we ask readers to follow because our page is a powerful marketing tool that reaches 3,000 people within a 30-mile radius of Claremont.

1)    Create only one post for your event. Please do not post multiple notifications of the same happening in the hope of reaching more people.
2)    We encourage your own personal opinions. But please don’t make it an attack on an individual.
3)    There are some cases where a local business will post an item about an upcoming promotion or sale. In this case, we encourage you to give us a call to review the many advertising options we deliver. Your support is critical in helping the COURIER remain a thriving voice for our community.
4)    We are interested in all sorts of information and we especially like the feedback generated when posting stories and polls. Do not hesitate to send me an email at with questions and comments (I’m always looking for good poll questions.)

Our Facebook page is so popular because of our friends’ contributions. With so many people involved, our readership continues to grow. It’s important to keep in mind the COURIER Facebook page is home for only a small fraction of the news our staff covers.

As any publisher would mention, if you are not a subscriber, give us a try. I guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised at all the Claremont news and information at your fingertips.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Pressure for company profits can be own worst enemy

For those who follow the world of newspaper and digital publishing, last week had some big news.

First, the grand “hyper-local” experiment by AOL in creating over 800 Patch local news websites (including Claremont-La Verne) finally failed after 4 years. AOL had been shopping around the business and finally sold it to the private equity firm Hale Global. Although Hale Global says it will continue to “nurture” the websites, the betting line is they will split up the assets and try and sell them in pieces for a profit.

Kind of warms your heart doesn’t it?

There were many in the newspaper industry, especially community newspaper publishers, who watched Patch quite closely. AOL dumped a ton of money into Patch, literally starting 800 websites overnight. They had a cookie-cutter formula on how each website would be look and function, with a goal of turning a profit within a couple of years. Or less.

In the early stages as money flowed, there was some excitement (and concern) that Patch was going to break new ground in publishing local news online. They paid good wages to the editors who managed the websites, and developed many bells and whistles to involve readers in their products.

But it became clear very early that key ingredients were missing for success. It started with the model where one person does everything to publish news. Those nicely paid editors of each site were responsible for writing, photography, posting stories, proofing and probably a lot of technical support. They also worked 60 to 70 hour weeks.

From my perspective, this model was literally impossible to maintain. Not only were people burning out after 6 months (creating a ton of turnover), they had no real area of expertise. I can only imagine the difficulty of attending a news event, having to write a story, shoot pictures and video, and then go back to the office to edit, and publish all of this and deadline. Then do it all over again in a couple of hours.

I’ll confess, we at the COURIER have learned to multitask and have done this in a pinch. But it’s critical to start a news gathering business built on people who bring a particular expertise and skill level to the table. And then use them in that area. That’s why in most cases Beth Hartnett writes, Steven Felschundneff shoots pictures, and Mary Rose sells advertising. This is the “old school” way of managing the news coverage, but it works. Of course, it’s also expensive.

So as Patch employees burned out, quality which was mediocre at first, became much worse in the end. Without a quality product, your business will not survive.

With advertising never really taking off, especially at the local level, Patch seemed doomed after just two years of existence. AOL continued to pour money into Patch, losing at least $25 million annually. To their credit, they kept going longer than most media companies would.

In this day and age, profits come first, and never can start soon enough.

Which brings me to the Orange County Register. The newspaper that literally had become the darling of the industry. Notice I wrote that in the past tense.

But there still is a good story line. Guy arrives (Aaron Kushner) on the publishing scene with lots of money and a Stanford background, and saves Freedom Communications (OC Register’s parent company) from bankruptcy in 2012. He is a true romantic about newspaper publishing and bucks every media trend by reinvesting in the Register print edition, hiring back many laid off employees.

Mr. Kushner says strong content will build community, sell subscriptions and thus bring advertisers back to the newspaper. Changes abound as Freedom buys the Riverside Press Enterprise and starts a daily newspaper in Long Beach. Then we hear talk of the new Los Angeles Register. Clearly, Mr. Kushner has some sort of kryptonite and has a direct line to Superman.

I personality thought this philosophy was a rock solid approach. Focusing on quality content is job one at the COURIER and it continues to work for us. The Orange County Register magically became thick with pages, full of ads. We watched, and hoped, that this grand experiment would work.

It’s far from over, but Houston, it’s 2014 and we have a problem.

Turns out Register leadership were expecting an immediate turnaround and readers would flock back to the newspaper, and continue using the website. They have not. In fact, subscriptions have been flat even after all this investment. Profits since 2012? No one from the outside really knows.

My opinion Mr. Kushner? You are doing a great job so keep up the good work. I think the plan will work, but you have a solid four years to go. A newspaper cannot cut and trim the product for almost a decade and then expect readers to jump back on board immediately. Even with all your good intentions. In fact, it’s a lot easier to lose readers than get them back.

Unfortunately, it may be too late to heed this advice. This could have been a two-year plan from an investment perspective. The Register recently announced layoffs, 32 in all, including the longtime editor Ken Brusic. The new editor Rob Curley has a reputation for digital innovation. But even with increasing digital revenue, it won’t all pay the bills to maintain Mr. Kushner’s vision. 

Staffers are also wondering how they are going to literally report news from all of Southern California with well, less staff.

There’s more to this story, but I’m having serious déjà vu. A company goes into emergency mode because of the pressure for a return on investment. As money dries up, the cost cutting starts, impacting the quality of the product. It becomes a vicious circle.

So here’s hoping the Orange County Register will have great success. I worked there once and care about many of the staffers.

Mr. Kushner, if you want to talk, Mondays are usually good for lunch. I’ll come visit since I know my way around your building. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Claremont still in the dark on future of golf course property

As the clock continues to tick towards shutting down the Claremont Golf Course on December 2, many residents, especially course customers, are still wondering what is really going on with the beloved city mainstay.

Yes, the Claremont University Consortium that manages the course has said it’s a financial issue, citing valid reasons such as water costs and waning customer support. But usually when a public landmark is shuttered, future plans are announced.

That’s not the case here, as the University Consortium has been as tight-lipped as a guard covering Fort Knox. Also, during the process of closing, it became clear there was not a real effort to work on keeping the course open. Given its legacy, other parties surely would have showed interest in the course, at least from a discovery point of view. But it never happened. My bet is there are plans for the property, residents just don’t know what.

Even just last week, the University Consortium continued to throw out numbers showing how course revenues were down, and how the course loses money every day. But have you seen the course lately? The condition has regressed to the point where it does not meet the standards of any golf course, anywhere. And this isn’t just in the last few months. It’s been going on for years.

Just look at the dirt driving range and the overgrown grass and weeds. The course has not been well cared for, not because of the hardworking staff that really cares about the course, but for lack of investment in upkeep. Why would people go? There are only so many of us who will go for nostalgic reasons.

Finally, why can’t the driving range and putting area remain open? Given the fact there is nothing left to water, expenses could be kept at a bare minimum. It would also allow the many community sports teams, Claremont High School golfers included, to practice there. This would be a great community gesture by the Consortium, because it impacts a lot of people, young and old. But again, there has been no interest and no community input.

I’ve always felt the The Claremont Colleges should be a strong partner with Claremont in making the city a better place to live for everyone. But when a city icon is closed out of the blue, with no apparent effort to save even a portion of it—and no information is given about future plans—it just feels like Claremonters have been left in the dark on a decision that really impacts their quality of life.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Local candidate endorsements play integral role in political process

Writing COURIER endorsements for political candidates is serious business. It’s where a community newspaper (and website) can have an impact in selecting community leadership.

Our previous publisher Martin Weinberger, was also a political activist who made sure all voices where heard during the election process. He went on to not only endorse local candidates, but those running for state and national positions, including propositions, all the way to the presidency. When there were numerous races and issues to vote on, it was not uncommon to see Claremonters carrying the COURIER to the voting booth.

Martin was also very particular about doing his research on people running for office, and for local elections, was less concerned about party affiliation, focusing more on the right people for the job.That approach and philosophy continues today as the COURIER staff endorses three candidates for the November 5 school board election.

The process is quite simple, yet we try to take the extra step. On October 22, the editorial staff set up interviews with all 5 candidates. After much discussion beforehand, we settled on 3 key questions that would be asked to each candidate. There were also two additional questions tailored for each individual.

Asking the same questions to five people in one day can really be an eye opener, and is great for making comparisons. Each person answers questions differently, even when giving a similar answer. This makes it easier to get a sense how they carry themselves, the passion in their beliefs, how their life experiences will help them excel, and quite frankly, whether they are educated on the issues.
After the sessions were over, we reviewed our notes and discussed if there was agreement on how to support. This year was particularly difficult because all candidates offered something unique, while clearly being committed in helping Claremont schools.

The next day, before making any final decisions, we attended one of the candidate forums for the public. This gave us a chance to see how they dealt with the public, and each other. It was important to see how they interact as a group since 60 percent of the future school board sat in front of us.
There were no fireworks, but again, we left impressed with the entire group.

Loaded with all this information, from one-on-one, to a public group setting, the COURIER staff arrived at endorsement choices.

The process of writing an endorsement can be tedious since it goes through so many edits. We want the wording to be just right, with a focus on the positive.

We think this was accomplished.

The good news for city residents is whoever wins the race for school board on Tuesday, will excel at representing Claremont.