Snowstorm hits Access Sacramento

The public-access channels (Channels 17 and 18 on your Sacramento cable box) wound up showing a full minute of video snow Monday night, starting at 6 p.m. Technical difficulties? Not exactly. The one-minute snowstorm was part of a nationwide protest by public-access stations, intended to let viewers know about efforts in the U.S. Congress to let some telecom companies off the hook for local franchise fees that pay for public-access television. That includes televised local-government meetings; distance-education classes from California State University, Sacramento, and Los Rios Community Colleges; Hmong, Russian and other cultural programming; and a whole lot of other eclectic, noncommercial stuff you can’t find anywhere else on television.

Aside from that, cable franchise fees pump about $6 million into our local general fund every year, said Ron Cooper, executive director of Access Sacramento. “This is going to have a negative impact on local governments in so many ways,” Cooper explained.

Access Sacramento was just one of many local public-access channels across the country that participated in the rolling snowstorm. For more information, go to www.alliancecm.org.

Fewer Bees in flight

Circulation of The Sacramento Bee dropped steeply in the past six months, by 4.85 percent or nearly 15,000 daily copies, according to figures released Monday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. That puts an end to the paper’s almost uncanny ability to buck the newspaper industry’s subscriber-shedding trend.

Though daily newspapers’ daily copy sales have been dwindling for the past few years, the Bee and its parent, The McClatchy Co., have been able to maintain modest gains. However, McClatchy CEO and Chairman Gary Pruitt said during the company’s most recent investor conference call that he expected the company as a whole—which includes the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, The (Tacoma, Wash.) News Tribune, and the Fresno and Modesto Bees—would post its first circulation loss in 20 years. He estimated about a 1-percent drop.

Here at the company’s flagship, the numbers were much worse. The Bee sold only 290,553 copies Monday-Saturday and 332,069 on Sunday. That’s down from 305,394 and 341,157, respectively, reported at the end of March 2005.

Other newspapers in California fared worse. The San Francisco Chronicle posted a weekday loss of almost 80,000 copies, or 16.58 percent, and the San Diego Union-Tribune lost nearly 21,000 copies, or 6.24 percent.

Speaking during the investor conference call, McClatchy Vice President of Operations Frank Whittaker said home subscriptions for the company’s newspapers remained strong, while losses could be blamed largely on single-copy sales.

Pruitt added that McClatchy’s numbers remain better than the rest of the industry’s.

“We do think over time we can out-perform the industry and certainly out-perform the competitors in our markets in terms of holding on to audience,” he said.

Dog law breeds fear

Dawn Capp and a statewide team of volunteers are trying to educate dog owners about the slippery slope that can lead from dog-specific breeding laws to virtual bans on pit bulls and Rottweilers—popular breeds that have been tied to attacks on people and other animals. Capp’s team also is gathering the first of the 375,000 signatures it needs by mid-January if it wants a shot at halting a new law giving cities and counties the right to enact “dog-breed-specific ordinances concerning mandatory spay or neuter programs and breeding requirements.”

Jackie Speier’s Senate Bill 861, signed into law in October, clearly states that “no specific breed of dog is inherently dangerous or vicious,” but Capp fears that if cities and counties insist on spaying and neutering certain breeds, insurance companies will take notice and even threaten to drop people who own those dogs. Feared breeds like the pit bull could become virtually extinct in certain jurisdictions, said Capp, and even animals that have always been well-behaved may be abandoned in shelters. The new law makes no exception for show dogs or search-and-rescue dogs, said Capp, nor for service dogs that assist people with disabilities.

Capp’s group has only until January 9 to qualify a referendum for the ballot in 2006.