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By Eric Johnson
Published Mar 27, 2023

The Elephant in the Room: Incivility, at both ends of the political spectrum, wreaks havoc on our democracy. We can do something about this. The Elephant in the Room: Incivility, at both ends of the political spectrum, wreaks havoc on our democracy. We can do something about this. Image credit: Photo illustration by Victor Zastolskiy, Shutterstock

Connection or Chaos?

Greetings from Midtown Sacramento, where this morning broke bright and cold for the second day in a row. Don’t know about you but I’m ready for the warmth of spring. And trying to feel good about the rain that’s still to come.

The three articles that I’d like to share with you this week are related in a way that isn’t obvious, so let me explain.

• In a blog that we often use to share what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, CALocal’s CEO/director of product, Chris Neklason, presents some new features, and describes exactly how they are designed to help you Discover, Connect and Act.

• Sam Boykin, whom some of you will recall as a reporter and editor at the great Sacramento Business Journal (he now resides in San Antonio, TX), reports on a heroic effort to bring political conservatives and liberals together in conversation.

• Our own Jon Vankin presents a yarn of an Explainer about the history and current state of the State of Jefferson secessionist movement. As you will see, this involves a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter drinking heavily with the founder of that movement on the last night of that man’s life.

There. See the connections? No? Well, read on. 

The Business End of Journalism

New York Times CEO Meredith Kopit Levien has built a stellar career as an innovator in digital media around her belief that “quality, original, independent journalism at the local level is... foundational to community, to society, and ultimately to democracy." 

Keep in mind that Ms. Kopit Levin came up on the business side of the news industry, having joined the Times a decade ago as head of advertising. You may be surprised to hear that passionate statement of commitment coming from someone outside the editorial department, but take it from me, it’s common. Pretty much every ad director, production person and distribution manager I met during a couple decades in the newspaper industry was all-in on the journalistic mission. 

Speaking of distribution: In an interview last week with Nilay Patel, editor of The Verge, Ms. Kopit Levin talked about something we call “the funnel.” In online media, this is what has replaced the army of truck drivers and delivery folk who work to get a printed news product into your hands. 

“If there’s one thing that we are more obsessed with commercially than anything else, it’s, ‘Can we be interesting and compelling enough to get you to come more times per day or week, and can we get you to read, watch, or listen to the next thing?’” 

And ultimately: to subscribe. (Cue choir of angels.)

CALocal’s CEO/ director of product, our friend Chris has spent the past few weeks polishing our funnel, and he writes about it in his latest blog post:

California Local's Spring 2023 Roadmap

We're working to make it easier for you to find your way around this awesome state by improving our site architecture and User Interface, and building out two new editorial products.
Several projects are underway to make California Local beautiful and more functional. We're working hard to make it even easier for our members to citizen. (And remember: 'Citizen' is a verb!)

Meet the Radical Centrists

When we made this assignment, I was afraid that this story might be somewhat bland. It is, after all, about compromise. It’s also about civility in civic life, which is something we champion.

Sam’s piece is not bland. It’s an excellent profile of three people with very different points of view—and one thing in common.

If you are one of the many people for whom the word “center” (in the political context) is tarnished, I point you to the words of William Butler Yeats, whose 1919 description of what happens when the center does not hold is as scary as it is prescient.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

I'm not intending to insult passionate partisans on either side of the culture war. And yet ... maybe there's a better way.

Bridging the Great Divide

Braver Angels members discuss election reform.
In a time of unprecedented polarization, Braver Angels encourages citizens to do something completely revolutionary: listen to each other.

The Breakaway State

Finally, everything you need to know about a movement that has been trying to pull California apart (literally) for 82 years. And is still pulling.

I believe it's wise to note that the Caifornia government's bias toward coastal and urban constituencies, back in 1941, inspired a large number of people to want out. Are we doing better by our rural brethren today? 

State of the State of Jefferson

The State of Jefferson Double-X flag symbolizes the California's supposed "double cross" of its northern counties.
State of Jefferson is a movement by northern counties to secede from California and form a new state. Here's everything you need to know about this secessionist movement, which started in 1941 and remains strong today.

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