Hasta La Vista

By Becky O'Malley
Thursday February 25, 2010 - 08:56:00 AM

Ave atque vale — hello and goodbye. That was a standard greeting in ancient Rome, which a roguish blogger once compared to a Groucho Marx ditty, “Hello, I must be going.” It was also part of the rites for the dead.  

Sometimes it was turned around: vale atque ave. That’s where we are today at the Berkeley Daily Planet. “Goodbye, but now we’re back.”  

First, a few crucial housekeeping details. We want to make sure that all our readers know where to get their paper from now on.  

This is all you have to do to find us online: type berkeleydailyplanet.com into any web browser in any computer that is hooked up to the Internet. If you don’t even know how to do this, or you don’t have a computer, go to the library and ask a librarian to help you. It’s easy, trust me. 

Many readers have asked us to provide online subscriptions, so that they will be notified when a new issue comes out, or even when something newsworthy has happened between issues. At the moment, new online issues will appear as usual on Thursdays, but we will be putting up new stories every day, sometime more than once a day. If you don’t want to miss anything, be absolutely sure to send an e-mail letter to subscribe@berkeleydailyplanet.com. Online subscriptions will be free for now at least. 

We’re working up a variety of options in the brave new world of social media: Facebook, Twitter, Google Buzz and similar tools. If you subscribe, we’ll let you know about these as they materialize. 

When the Planet changes next week from a daily-online, weekly-in-print paper to go online-only, some readers will be disappointed—we know this because they’ve told us in no uncertain terms that they prefer print. Print papers have some obvious advantages: more portable, faster to skim, safer to read in the bathtub. 

But an all-online format has real advantages for readers too. It’s much easier to update stories as they develop, and reporters can produce and post copy on the fly from wherever they are when news happens. All kinds of clever technical gimmicks—graphics, video, even live blogging—can easily be added to online text, as well as links to other news sources. There are now some local bloggers who are producing interesting copy, and as we find them we’ll link to them. 

The online paper won’t have the same space limitations we’ve had in the print paper, so we should be able to offer the reading public even more information on the Web than we have in print. We’ll continue to stress news rather than entertainment, to be more of a community newspaper than an alt-weekly like the East Bay Express or the Bay Guardian.  

We’ve said from the time we took over the paper seven years ago that we’re a community paper, but a community paper for an unusual community. Berkeley (by which we always mean the city, not just the university located there) is full of intelligent, literate people who can write about an amazing variety of things, much more than any paid staff we could ever afford. The Planet has always taken full advantage of these contributors, limited only by the number of pages which advertising revenue could support.  

The special niche of local papers like ours is that they provide local readers, people who plan to stick around town for a few years at least, with a window into the operations of local government which affect day-to-day and year-to-year life. This includes both big topics (How many skyscrapers are going up in my downtown neighborhood, and will shoppers be circling my block looking for parking after they’re built?) and small (Who chopped down the butterfly garden that I planted in the traffic circle on my corner?) 

Parents with children in the public schools rely on local papers to tell them what they need to know to plan their children’s future. Some Berkeley parents care about how well the football team fares, but many more have strong opinions on topics like the number and quality of science labs kids should be offered at Berkeley High. And teachers want to weigh in too. We’ll continue to serve the school community by airing such discussions. 

What we won’t be doing is offering open-ended opportunities for illiterate anonymous bloviation and venting. Readers who enjoy that sort of thing can find it in any number of online papers these days. We’ll continue to require full name signatures on letters and to ask for phone numbers (not for publication) to verify authorship. This should be enough to keep the quality of correspondence as high as it’s been in the past.  

We have tentative plans to publish occasional print papers at intervals as yet undetermined, if we can work out the logistics. It doesn’t seem impossibly hard or prohibitively expensive to put out a “Best of the Planet” issue, perhaps monthly or bi-monthly, with limited distribution in a few locations or city-wide home delivery or anything in between. This is another reason to make sure you’re on our subscription list, so we will be able to let you know where and when you might find print Planets.  

New directions: We want to use this opportunity to try once again to provide some coverage of the whole urban East Bay scene. J. Douglas Allen-Taylor has given our readers a regular window on Oakland, and we’ve had some news from points north, including Richmond, but there’s a lot more going on there. This would be an especially good opportunity for Partisan Position contributions from engaged readers in other cities, or for linking to new and old news blogs.  

We’ve also had many requests for more food coverage of all kinds which we’ve never been able to afford on a regular basis. Foodies, this is your chance for 15 minutes of fame, or even more. In fact, we welcome contributed reviews from readers on all sorts of topics, not just food.  

That’s just a sample of what might be possible in the new and improved Planet. We’d like suggestions and ideas from all of you. 

Readers have responded both resignedly and enthusiastically to our announcement that we’re going online-only. There’s been a full measure of schadenfreude expressed in some quarters as well, including the now-familiar venomous voicemail messages and hate mail.  

But love us or hate us, going online doesn’t mean the Planet’s going away, just moving into a new orbit. We’ll be seeing you there.