Monday, February 06, 2006

CIRM and the $40 Million Matter

God and the Main Stream Media – they both move in mysterious ways.

The case in point is whether the California stem cell agency is broke. Lawsuits have prevented it from issuing the bonds that were designed to fund it. So the agency has been living on the dole with loans and handouts, although that is a less than a positive way to describe the $5 million the Dolby Foundation gave to CIRM.

Last month reporter Marisa Lagos of the San Francisco Examiner reported that the agency had raised $40 million, basically solving its financial crisis. That is a big story. On a slow day, it might even be front page news for many California newspapers -- properly told.

Lagos' Jan. 17 report was based on a speech by stem cell chairman Robert Klein that none of the Main Stream Media covered. In covering that speech, she was following some of the basic rules for good reporting – be on the scene, cover the principal, don't assume. She deserves considerable credit for even knowing about the speech. It was not publicized by CIRM and did not surface in advance with any of the usual Web search engines. So why has her report been widely ignored?

For those of you who do not keep up with the twists of the newspaper business, the Examiner is a shell of its former self. It has found itself in a situation where it cannot charge for circulation and is distributed free, including home delivery, in some San Francisco area communities.

That means that other newspapers with paid circulation do not pay much attention to it. They sniff at a story in a free newspaper, weekly or daily as is the Examiner. So the Main Steam Media do not try to match stories in these ragtag rags even when they enjoy greater economic success than the conventional dailies, which many of them do.

The California Stem Cell Report (this thing that you are reading) did confirm that CIRM has raised $40 million. But what may be more interesting is that the figure has now been reported in the Main Stream Media. Say what you will, having information published in a newspaper is still more important than having it published on the Web. It probably has to do with the smell of the ink, but if you want to know more, send me an email and I will explain.

Reporter Terri Somers of the San Diego Union-Tribune, which is very definitely Main Stream Media, reported the $40 million figure once more in a story during the weekend. She said that Klein, at an appearance Friday at the Stem Cell Research Center at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in La Jolla, basically confirmed the amount. Somers deserves kudos for pursuing the $40 million matter, which all of the other major newspapers in California have ignored.

The mysteries of the Main Stream Media are deep and complex. In discussing coverage of the $40 million matter, we have touched on only a sidelight of the media's arcane and byzantine world. Next week we tackle God.

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