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Stateside: Newsy news

Stateside With Rosalea Barker

Newsy news

::User-generated news::
Here in the Bay Area, there is an interesting new development in news reporting. A site called allows reporters to post pitches that are then funded by donations from individuals. Reporters might also get financial support from an outlet that gets first dibs on publishing the resulting report.

One of the first pitches to be fully funded is a series on the effects an aging population will have on local authorities and services. The reporter, Cecily O’Connor, listed her Deliverables as: “A series of three 1,000-word articles with photographs of life in various cities such as San Rafael, San Francisco, Oakland, Vallejo, Sacramento and Santa Rosa. The project will be completed within one month of reaching the funding goal. It will be published on, a Bay Area-based news site focused on readers over 40. It will also be made available to others to republish.”

Interested in the effects such an initiative might have on the general freelance market, I emailed the owner of the site, David Cohn, with the following questions:

Q: It's not clear from your website whether is also putting money into this, but if they aren't, Ms. O'Connor will be getting paid 33c a word for stories that require quite a bit of travel, adding to her expenses.

A: Yes Redwood Age has donated to the story.

Q: Is the full amount donated online passed on to the reporter, or are administrative fees of some kind deducted first by

A: Spot.Us doesn't take any money for what is raised towards the $1,000.

Q: Do the amounts that reporters ask for correspond to typical freelance rates?

A: I do think 1k is a bit shy of what standard freelance rates would be, but Spot.Us doesn't determine the rate - the freelance does. The reporter could have asked for 1,500 if she wanted.

Q: Are the fact check editors paid?

A: The fact-check editors have the option of being paid 10% of what we raise. If they decline, then we divert that 10% to the reporter.

Q: Apart from those stories that will go first to news organizations that have funded or part-funded them, where will the stories be published--be they written, audio or video?

A: Stories that aren't paid for by a news organization will be made available to ALL news organization to be republished for free. They will also be published on Spot.Us. now has a pitch from a former Bay Area News Group editor, Aaron Crowe, on the demise of newspapers in the digital age and the current economy. He lists his qualifications as: “I've worked as a professional journalist for 22 years, all but one year of it in the Bay Area. I've worked as a reporter, copy editor and assigning editor. I'm currently a freelance writer and I last worked at the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek, CA, and was an assistant metro editor there. I was weekend editor at the Times and saw all MediaNews newspapers in the Bay Area. I was laid off in June 2008.”

His deliverables for $975 are: “1,200 to 1,500 words with photos. Interviews will be with top editors at Bay Area News Group, San Jose Mercury News and San Francisco Chronicle. While I haven't yet received approval from these editors to be interviewed for this story, I will make very strong efforts to get the interviews. Video may also be delivered.”

Besides giving freelance journalists the opportunity to earn money, also gives the local community the opportunity to post Tips on stories they would like a journalist to take up. The November 11 Tip linked to above seems to correspond with Crowe’s December 12 pitch, but the two have not yet been linked together.

Sometimes the amounts of money listed on the righthand side of a pitch or tip don’t add up to—or exceed—the total amount listed under Supporters, so it seems there are still a few bugs to be worked out on the website. Nonetheless, the New York Times, in an August 24 article, said that Spot Us would give a new sense of editorial power to the public.

Allow me now to join in last week’s festive expletivities: WTF??! Monday night I actually cheered a news item. It showed the Governor of Illinois standing with the workers getting the shaft at Republic Windows and Doors and announcing that he had ordered the state to immediately cease doing business with the Bank of America. Bloomberg News has an article on that threat here, quoting a former general counsel to the FDIC saying it was part of a “dangerous” trend.

Why did I cheer? Not just because the BoA received money from me as a taxpayer to use keeping people in their homes and jobs and instead used it to buy a failing investment bank so that it could put that company’s debts on their books and pay less taxes themselves, but because BoA is one of the worst offenders when it comes to shafting its depositors.

Like Eliot Spitzer after taking on AIG, the day after making his statement about BoA, Governor Blagojevich was immediately discredited. I’m not saying he’s not worthy of examination for his seeming idiocy and craven corruption, but I do think the timing is interesting. As an aside, the response of fellow workers to Blagojevich’s alleged actions was even more shocking: “It’s what politicians do all the time” seemed to be the consensus.

::Shafting Central::
In the executive summary of a November report on banks’ overdraft practices, released on December 11, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation states:

[M]ost banks whose automated overdraft programs covered ATM and POS/debit transactions informed customers of an NSF only after the transaction had been completed (88.8 percent of banks for POS/debit transactions and 70.7 percent of banks for ATM transactions).
A significant share of banks (24.7 percent of all surveyed banks and 53.7 percent of large banks) batched processed overdraft transactions by size, from largest to smallest, which can increase the number of overdrafts.

In the U.S., most banks automatically give their depositors an overdraft facility and then charge Not Sufficient Funds fees when it is used. By then processing the transactions from largest to smallest, banks harvest fees in excess of what they would get if they processed transactions smallest to largest. NSF charges ranges from $23 to $65 per transaction depending on how many NSF transactions have appeared on your account over the year. So, someone already having trouble paying their bills is forced into deeper and deeper overdraft.

As the report itself says, “if a customer has an account with a $50 balance and a total of five items (one item at $100 and four items at $10) are presented against it, the customer will have five overdrawn items in a largest-to-smallest batch process and only one overdrawn item in a smallest-to-largest batch process.” Note: Banks are not identified by name in the FDIC report.

::California’s Cowherder in Chief::
As if that wasn’t enough, on December 12, Governor Schwarzenegger announced a “Bank on California” initiative—supported by the Bank of America and the FDIC—to encourage people to open bank accounts. Talk about driving cows to a milking machine whose cups keep working even after the cows run dry! According to the press release, “California is home to two of the top three areas with the nation's highest percentage of residents without bank accounts - Fresno and Los Angeles. The Brookings Institution reports that each year Americans spend $8 billion for basic financial services through alternative financial institutions such as check cashing outlets.”

It seems that people simply aren’t flocking to open new bank accounts despite the willingness of banks to accept the Matricula Consular issued by Mexican Consulates in California as a valid form of ID—the Union Bank of California has accepted it since 1993, according this 2002 press release—and that “since November 2001, Mexican immigrants have opened new bank accounts and deposited over fifty million dollars ($50,000,000) in banks throughout California” according to the wording in AB522, a California bill passed in 2003.

The highest percentage of CA households without a checking account are Latino, according to the Bank on California website, which lists the following figures: 25 percent African American, 27 percent Latino, 6 percent white. A more interesting figure to know would be the percentage of people who once had bank accounts but who no longer do because they were badly treated by banking systems that are designed—with the FDIC’s cognizance—to punish them at every turn for living from paycheck to paycheck.

What galls me is that, not only is the Bank of America accepting federal taxpayer money in order to avoid paying its own taxes, but it’s also using California taxpayer money to promote its products. BoA’s current ads on TV have the tagline: “Bank of opportunity”—perhaps it should read “Bank of opportunism.”

While on the subject of immigrant workers, here’s a link to the program PBS’s current affairs show “Now” aired this week about the effects of global warming on nations in the South Pacific, in particular, Kiribati. They interviewed both the Australian and New Zealand Prime Minister—at that time, Helen Clark—and the owner of a pepper farm north of Auckland who employs a number of workers from Kiribati.



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