As much as I adore Oakland, I have to admit that it always feels great to get away for a while. At home I tend to forget how incredible it feels to fall asleep in silence and make it through a full eight hours without getting woken up by sirens, motorcycles, or the mentally ill. Getting out of town also gives me an excuse not to blog for a while, which is nice, because getting something thoughtful and informative up here on a daily basis is kind of…um, challenging.
At least once a week, someone asks me why I do this, and the truth is that I don’t really know. I believe people should know what their government is doing and where their tax money is going, and there just doesn’t seem to be any reliable source providing that around here. Leaving town reminds me that it isn’t just because I love Oakland. I do, but beyond that, I think I’m just hopelessly geeky when it comes to local politics. Even on vacation, I can’t seem to get my mind off it.
Everywhere I go, I find myself quizzing locals about the current metro controversies. I spent Thanksgiving learning about my hometown’s narrow (and expensive) escape from annexation by the big city next door. During a weekend getaway earlier this month, I was reminded that Oakland’s struggles with development, density, and affordability are far from unique, and hardly limited to urban areas. (I also learned that tiny Frisco, CO has the same height limits through the entire town as planning staff proposed for Telegraph Avenue this summer.)
Whenever I visit the Electric City, my hostess barely gets a chance to greet me before I demand to know what’s happened with the 10th Street Bridge since my last visit (I like to think of the bridge as their version of the Ninth Avenue Terminal).
So naturally, when I grabbed a copy of the local paper to enjoy over coffee this weekend, I headed straight for the metro section. (I usually like to start my Sunday mornings with the Week in Review, but the Gold Dust Casino and Lounge wasn’t selling the Times.) I was astounded at the quantity of their local government coverage. On a good day, I’ll find maybe three stories in the Tribune worth adding to my little news feed on the side here. I’m coming up on two years of doing this in April, and I don’t think there’s ever been a day when I marked more than five. If this blog was called A Better Great Falls, there were nine stories I would have tagged. Nine! In one day!
A reference to local bloggers in an article about their longtime city manager’s retirement spiked my curiosity, so of course the second I found an internet connection, I did a little exploring. My perfunctory search found seven regularly updated blogs covering local politics! Two provide ABO-style detailed information with minutes and agendas and staff reports and the whole deal. Two! In a town of 56,000 people (and about 400 bars)!
All this just makes me wonder – why is Oakland’s political coverage so piss-poor? I mean, the Trib has basically one and a half writers covering government here, and the Chronicle has one plus a twice a week columnist. Last week the Express announced big changes to their model, which basically boils down to filling the paper with user-generated content, a move that might have been exciting if they had made it, say, 10 years ago. Instead, it just makes them look more depressingly out of touch than usual (does Stephen Buel not know about the internet?) and at best, about two years behind the trend.
And our metro blogosphere is no better. One acquaintance has a habit of sweetly referring to ABO as the best Oakland blog, which warms my heart, of course, but usually ends up making me feel kind of depressed. I mean, it’s pretty easy to be the best when you don’t have any competition. The only blog in my “Oakland Politics” links section that updates with any frequency whatsoever is Dogtown Commons, and if I’m being honest, it isn’t actually about Oakland politics at all. I just stick it there because I love it so much, and Dellums and Tucker come up occasionally. In terms of metroblogs that aren’t specifically politics-focused, there’s Living in the O and Oakland Goods, and that’s about it. What gives? Great Falls has dozens of active metrobloggers! You can see from my links list that we have a fair number of blogs out here, and I like most of them when they do write, but that only happens like every two months or so on average.
I used to think that quality local news coverage was dead everywhere. But apparently not. Shouldn’t Oakland’s residents have at least as much information about their government as a small town in Montana? Do people here just not care?