About James Meier

I'm James Meier, a 15-year journalism veteran, who's spent the past nearly seven years at The Desert Sun and MyDesert.com in Palm Springs, Calif. I grew up in Orange County, spent many years reporting and editing there, and am enjoying working in the desert. I'm now the Senior Editor of Business, Data and Education. Reach me at James.Meier@thedesertsun.com or on Twitter @tdsJamesMeier

The Desert Sun collects 11 California journalism awards

The Desert Sun has had an extra special day today.

We as a news organization do what we do, journalistically, for the readers. That includes all of the news we break and all of the investigative work we dig into on a regular basis.

But we still appreciate recognition from our peers when they also note our work when placed side by side with other great examples of solid journalism.

On Saturday, Desert Sun Executive Editor Greg Burton took a trip to Los Angeles to help honor all of the great work news organizations in California tackled and produced in 2012. The following column from Greg talks about that work and the awards The Desert Sun and MyDesert.com brought home: 

The Desert Sun collects 11 journalim awards from CNPA

By Greg Burton, Desert Sun Executive Editor

More than a year ago, we refocused our newsroom on storytelling, investigative journalism, digital innovation and community engagement.

We invested in watchdog reporting, creating an eight-person iSun team that is producing revelatory work on energy and the environment, health and education, politics and public corruption. Our team of investigative reporters is comparable in size to newsrooms much larger than ours.

We hired more reporters. We hired more digital producers. We partnered with California Watch and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

We retooled community reporting so that we didn’t reaffirm neighborhood news, we discovered it.

We put a premium on deep reporting, regardless of subject: boxing, golf, modern design, music, hotels, real estate, pollution, public pensions and taxes.

We reinvented our approach, launching mobile apps for music, mycoachella.com, and for high schools, digitalnatives.net, and for our main news site, mydesert.com.

Our greatest return on investment is a strengthened connection to readers in the Coachella Valley. We earn this by shining a light on mistakes and misappropriations, by injecting reason into public discourse, by celebrating good people and great feats.

Today, I want to recognize a few of the people who work for your newspaper. On Saturday, The Desert Sun took home an unprecedented, for us, nine first- and two second-place trophies in the annual California Newspaper Publishers Association journalism contest. Our staff earned honorable mention in two other categories, for 13 total awards.

Nearly every aspect of our work received praise: Digital, investigations, narrative writing, feature storytelling, special sections, coverage of the environment, government, business, education, sports.

No newspaper in the state won more first places than The Desert Sun except for the LA Times.

During lunch at a Sheraton in Universal City, The Desert Sun collected nine first-place awards for:

1. Best Investigative Reporting: Marcel Honoré’s package of stories on toxic pollution in Mecca

2. Sports Coverage: For the day-to-day excellence of The Desert Sun’s Sports section, a staff award with a nod to sports editor Matt Solinsky and assistant sports editor Shad Powers

3. Coverage of Business, Financial or Economic News: Mike Perrault’s story on vacant commercial office space in the Coachella Valley

4. Best Local Government Coverage: Erica Felci and Rebecca Walsh’s investigation of Riverside County’s $1,144,000,000 pension gap

5. Best Writing: Drew Schmenner’s captivating retelling of the death of two hikers at Joshua Tree National Park

6. Coverage of Environment: Our iSun team’s special report on the Salton Sea’s evaporating hope

7. Best Sports Story: Drew Schmenner’s package on the history of boxing in the Coachella Valley

8. Best Feature Story: Bruce Fessier’s examination of the rebirth of Sunnylands

9. Coverage of Education: Michelle Mitchell’s special report on the digital divide at schools in southeastern Riverside County

And second-place awards for:

Best Website: MyDesert.com

Special Sports Section: Our sports team’s coverage of the Humana Challenge

Also this week, in New York City, our mobile app program for schools was recognized by the International News Media Association.

Judges praised DigitalNatives.com and our collaboration with Cathedral City, Palm Desert and La Quinta high schools to deliver student-created content via mobile apps. Our innovative approach shared the spotlight with two programs from Brazil.

We’re in talks to deliver this program to every high school — so if you care about students in Palm Springs, Indio, Coachella, Rancho Mirage, Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells and elsewhere in the valley, ask your principal to give me a call.

Finally, our sports team earned distinction in three categories from the Associated Press Sports Editors. We received honorable mention for the overall excellence of our Sunday Sports section and Humana golf tournament special section.

Nobody, though, was better than Leighton Ginn, who was named the best beat reporter among peer sports writers working anywhere in America.

APSE singled out Leighton’s coverage of Timothy Bradley and boxing in the Coachella Valley.

Leighton’s a knockout winner.

Greg Burton is executive editor of The Desert Sun and mydesert.com. Email him at Greg.Burton@thedesertsun.com and follow him on Twitter @gburton

Poll: More than half of USA supports legalizing pot

Here’s a topical story today from Raju Chebium, The Desert Sun’s Washington Bureau reporter:

WASHINGTON — More than half of Americans favor legalizing marijuana, and support has grown among the young and the old, according to a national poll out today.

The Pew Research Center said it found that 52 percent of adults believe the government should allow people to use pot — the first time in four decades that a majority of Americans have held that view.

Forty-five percent oppose legalization.

The survey showed that 65 percent of people born since 1980 support legalization, up from 36 percent seven years ago. Half of the Baby Boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – also favor legalization, up from 17 percent in 1990, according to Pew.

Researchers polled 1,501 adults between March 13 and March 17, and the margin of error is 2.9 percentage points.

California, Colorado, Oregon and 15 other states allow marijuana use for medical purposes. Last fall, voters in Colorado and Washington state took the unprecedented step of allowing the recreational use of pot.

Ten U.S. House members, led by Democrats Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Jared Polis of Colorado, are working to overturn the 43-year-old federal ban on pot. But their bills aren’t expected to pass.

Climate lab: Cal Tech, JPL team up to determine Los Angeles’ carbon footprint

It’s a monumental task, but Cal Tech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory are putting their great minds and gadgets together to figure out Los Angeles’ carbon footprint, nonprofit news organization California Watch reports. 

Regions all over, including the Coachella Valley, are working on determining their footprints, in order the cut back their carbon monoxide emissions. Electricity and transportation are the two main contributors to all cities’ greenhouse gas emissions.

Learn more about how Cal Tech and JPL plan to determine L.A.’s carbon footprint with gadgets atop Mount Wilson at California Watch’s website.

Gas prices break yet another record

As you’ve noticed unless you avoid driving, gas prices throughout Southern California have been skyrocketing.

That’s not an understatement in that, according to AAA, gas prices have now risen the most in a one-month period — 57 cents. The state average is now $4.203, though SoCal is higher. The Inland Empire comprised of Riverside and San Bernardino counties is paying an average $4.276, still shy of the $4.688 record set Oct. 8.

“Prices have now gone up even more than they did during the spike in October and the one last February, and more quickly than they did during any one-month stretch in 2008, when we had another big spike,” said Auto Club spokesperson Jeffrey Spring.

“Los Angeles drivers are now paying nearly as much as drivers on Maui for regular unleaded, which is unprecedented.”

How have you been dealing with the rising gas prices? Driving less? Cutting back on other expenses? Shelling out the dough? Let us know via email at localnews@thdesertsun.com


Sens. Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein support new immigration plan

Here’s a story from The Desert Sun’s Washington Bureau reporter Raju Chebium today:

WASHINGTON – California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein – who represent a state with the nation’s largest number of undocumented immigrants – support a Senate plan that would overhaul the immigration system and offer those living in the U.S. illegally a path to citizenship.

A bipartisan group of senators unveiled their plan on Capitol Hill on Monday, one day before President Barack Obama releases his own recommendations during a visit to Las Vegas.

“It’s great to see movement on comprehensive immigration reform,” said Boxer, D-Rancho Mirage. “While the devil is in the details, I look to working with my colleagues on this legislation.”

Feinstein, D-San Francisco, said any plan must provide a way for undocumented people to become citizens eventually but also require them to pay taxes and fines and learn English. Tightening border security and providing an effective way for the U.S. agriculture industry to hire foreign laborers are other critical elements, she said.

“The comprehensive framework outlined today by the bipartisan Senate working group is a major step forward in the effort to reform our broken immigration system,” Feinstein said. “As a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, I am encouraged by today’s progress and look forward to working closely with my colleagues on this issue.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee will take the lead in holding hearings to examine the reform proposal.

The Senate plan calls for a special legalization path for undocumented farm workers, but the specifics have yet to be worked out.

Of the 11.2 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. in 2010, 2.55 million lived in California – more than in any other state, according to the Pew Research Hispanic Center. California is also home to millions of legal immigrants, many of whom work in Silicon Valley.

The plan was put together by Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Marco Rubio of Florida, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

Opponents blasted the plan.

Rosemary Jenks, director of government affairs for Numbers USA, accused the senators of trying to “out-amnesty Obama,” and said their plan merely reworks the proposals that were defeated six years ago.

It offers “meaningless enforcement measures, mass amnesty, and increases in legal immigration, with taxpayers left to foot the bill,” she said.

Don’t be alarmed: The jets are coming back to Palm Springs

It’s been nearly a year since the Department of Defense announced it would cut back on the amount of military jets flying into Palm Springs International Airport following uproar from Palm Springs residents who were sick of the flyovers in their neighborhoods.

Since that March announcement, a few jets have stopped by here and there as part of training missions and refueling.

But over the next month, beginning on Wednesday, about 18 T-45 “Goshawk” trainer jets from Navy Training Air Wing 2 based in Kingsville, Texas, will visit off and on between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., the Navy announced Friday. They’ll temporarily operate out of Naval Air Facility El Centro.

PHOTOS: T-45C Goshawk jet fighter trainers at Palm Springs airport in April 2012

Palm Springs International Airport will be used for refueling, so we can expect to hear and see about three jets a day, the Navy said in its email announcement to The Desert Sun.

This will be a different set of military jets than those that used to fly into the airport. Those were based at the Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar near San Diego.

PHOTOS: Military jets flying into Palm Springs in 2011 amid complaints

At the time, Coachella Valley residents increasingly expressed concerns about the noise from military jets as their activity at the airport had spiked.

There were 2,202 military flights in and out of Palm Springs in 2011 — nearly double what was reported in 2008 and a nearly 58 percent jump from the 1,397 flights in 2010.

The Marine Corps has used the Palm Springs airport because of its “excellent service” as a contracted fuel provider and because the airport is close to key training areas, Defense officials told then-Rep. Mary Bono Mack after she brought the matter to their attention.

The Marines made use of the airport one of its “best practices” last year, defense officials told Bono Mack at the time.

The latest training activity begins Wednesday and is expected to run through Feb. 1, the Navy said.

What do you think?

Share your thoughts on the visiting military jets with us via email at localnews@thedesertsun.com

Three F-18s were lined up on the tarmac behind Atlantic Air at the Palm Springs International Airport on July 1,2011.The planes were on a training stop-over. The noise from military jets flying into and out of the airport had become a point of controversy within the community.

Watch out! An asteroid’s passing by today. Might want to duck and cover

So, apparently an asteroid’s passing by Earth today. Yeah, it’s about 100 feet wide and flying by at a relatively close distance — about a quarter of the distance to the moon.

And scientists only discovered it a week ago. I’m hoping they’re right about the 59,000-mile buffer between us and it.

Anyway, learn a lot more about the small asteroid and how we’ll be just fine — fingers crossed — by reading the full story here.

Don’t forget how to duck and cover just in case.

Riverside County Dems claim Republican voter fraud

Republicans have fraudulently registered Democrats to vote … as Republicans, a Riverside County Democratic group claims, according to a story by California Watch.

The GOP has reported an increase of about 35,000 new Republicans in Riverside County this year alone, the nonprofit news organization reported.

“In a complaint filed last week with the county registrar of voters, the Democrats presented affidavits from 133 Democratic voters who said they had been re-registered as Republicans without their consent after they encountered petition circulators outside welfare offices and stores,” California Watch reported Wednesday.

“One voter complained that his registration was changed to Republican after he signed what he thought was a petition to legalize marijuana. Another said he was told he was signing a petition to lower the price of gasoline, according to the affidavits.

“Among the Democrats who said they were involuntarily re-registered as Republicans: two aides to retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard Roth, a Democrat locked in a tight race with Republican Assemblyman Jeff Miller for a state Senate seat.

“Many of the complainants were Latino or African American,” California Watch pointed out.

“Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for the Democratic Party’s voter registration efforts, said Republican signature collectors might have improperly re-registered thousands of Riverside County Democrats. Maviglio blamed a GOP registration committee, the Golden State Voter Participation Project.

“Ashley Giovannettone, spokeswoman for that project, said that it has a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy on registration fraud.

“‘Registering Democrats as Republican doesn’t help our cause,’ she said.”

Check out the entire story here.


Who were America’s poorest presidents?

Well, we now know that President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney both are pretty well off.

Most presidents and presidential candidates are. Americans can debate as to whether that’s a good thing.

But what’s also interesting is to note that not all U.S. Presidents were rich. In fact, several practically left the White House with pennies to their name.

And that’s why many former presidents write books after leaving office.

Though many might think the poorest president was raised in an Illinois log cabin, he wasn’t. He was for quite a while, but lawyers even did well enough for themselves in the mid-1800s.

So who was it? Here’s a great take by Huffington Post on which presidents ranked the poorest. And, yes, Lincoln made the list.

And, for a bonus, the richest presidents can be found here.

Was it Hoover? Nope. It may surprise many as to who topped that list.

Who uses Facebook more: Men or Women? What about Twitter?

The Pew Research Center, which looks for statistics on various topics such as immigation, has come up with some nifty social media stats.

How many Internet users are on Facebook? About 66 percent. About 70 percent of Internet-using women frequent Facebook and and about 63 of such men do.

So, as we all could’ve guessed, Facebook’s popular.

Where it gets interest are the stats pertaining to other social media fads, er, sites.

About 20 percent use LinkedIn, 16 percent use Twitter and only 12 percent use Instagram.

And, though Pew didn’t provide such stats, I”m going to guess that 100 percent of  Internet users regularly visit www.mydesert.com. That could be slightly off.

And if they don’t, they should. It’s a great site with lots of helpful news and information. OK, shameless plug over.