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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

September, 2006

 

CRITICAL OBSERVER:
Plotkin Making The News Again
By Alex Horvath

I don't think that Robert Plotkin, the Bolinas resident and (relatively new) publisher of the Point Reyes Light gets it. Nor do I think that he will understand things any better after he reads this item. But in the interest of bringing back community journalism, and in hoping the editor doesn't sully his own good name any more than he has via hyperbole, lawsuits and degree of arrogance, or pomposity that I have never witnessed in the time I have lived in and been around West Marin, I shall try and explain.
I have yet to meet Mr. Plotkin-but I have been reading about him lately in the pages of newspapers from around the country. The most recent article was local- a detailing of the case between Plotkin and David Mitchell, the former editor and publisher of The Light. The article from the Marin Independent Journal details a battle that has changed from a bitter exchange between the two back in February to a battle now over free speech and First Amendment rights. At issue now, believe it or not, is Mitchell's right to pen a column and write articles (about West Marin) for an online newspaper based in Bodega Bay, in Sonoma County. Also being litigated is the online Bodega Bay Navigator's ability to publish "Sheriff Calls," an item that has been a staple in The Light for decades. Plotkin's attorney fired off a letter to Joel Hack, the editor of the online Navigator, threatening legal action if The Navigator were to publish their own version of Sheriff Calls. At the same time as The Light was rattling sabers at The Navigator, the Pt. Reyes newspaper began expanding its coverage north out of its normal circulation range to-Bodega Bay! Stories about the Sonoma County community have now been gracing the pages of The Light-to the chagrin of regular readers clamoring for more local news.

To its credit, The Navigator didn't back down and has started their own version of Sheriff Calls, which are a matter of public record, anyway, and any newspaper, print or online, should be able to run them.

The end result of all of this took place in a San Rafael courtroom the other day when Marin County Judge John A. Sutro issued a temporary order restraining Mitchell, whose writing earned The Light a Pulitzer Prize in 1976, from covering items about West Marin for the online Navigator-including his popular Sparsely Sage and Time column. Mitchell disagrees with the preliminary ruling and will be back in court on October 6 when the Judge will make a more formal ruling.

Meanwhile, Plotkin and the new Point Reyes Light continue to confound most people with common sense. Smart as he is, I don't think that he realizes what he got himself into when he bought the small country weekly newspaper.

Yes, there is a highly-intellectual community living along the coast of Marin. But they are not intellectuals that need to be spoon-fed exactly how intellectual that they are via sometimes pandering articles that attempt to be "literary journalism." Bring back school board meetings, and water district minutes-things that affect the population there. Take a stand editorially on the fallow deer that are about to be snuffed out by the Feds! And, please, no more articles about the demise of pay phones, shoe-flinging, or photos of severed goat heads at raves!

Online ads hoping to attract reporters to The Light looks for the next Orwell, Kapuskinski and Didion. The ads go on to talk about The Light's "institutional reputation" and that it is a "mighty-mite" of a newspaper. That may have been true while being run under a Pulitzer prize-winner, but it takes a while for anyone to fill the shoes of something that, indeed, was once looked up to as the newspaper of record for the area. And one that had the fortitude to collapse a corporate cult that was in our midst, and to help readers learn about the culture of their neighbors.

My best advice to Plotkin would be that he trim his sails and take a look around at all that has transpired since February. Has this been a good experience? I talk with people from the West Marin community regularly and know that many readers are no longer satisfied with The Light. There are some that have mentioned no longer buying the paper. One business owner assured me that she would certainly not advertise. Plotkin is obviously very astute and has a passion for what he loves. Is all of this public acrimony getting him any further, or gaining respect in the community? Is this thing between he and Mitchell anything but unseemly?


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