A curious thing came across my feed last week. It turns out that former Examiner crime reporter Mike Aldax, whose saucy use of words like "thug" and "goon" always livened up my morning reading, has taken a job as the sole editor of The Richmond Standard, a new "community-driven" hyper-local news site about Richmond, California, which happens to be owned and sponsored by Chevron, which operates a major refinery there and which has had its share of bad PR. Aldax remains a great writer, and now he's tasked with running a site that functions simultaneously as watchdog of Richmond's mayor and city council, news source, police blotter, local food blog, chronicler of the Richmond hip-hop scene, and community bulletin board.
There is also a link in the navigation to the "Chevron Speaks" section, not written by Aldax, which includes responses to media reports from the company's in-house PR team, as well as job listings and press releases.
Last week he covered a story about Richmond mayor Gayle McLaughlin accepting a free trip to Ecuador from a PR firm that may or may not have sent phony protesters to a Chevron shareholders meeting in Midland, Texas. The story is fascinating, actually, because McLaughlin failed to report the travel gift on any conflict of interest forms, and this same New York-based PR firm is working with the Ecuadorian government in an effort to lay blame on Chevron for rainforest pollution there. The story has an obvious angle, as its coming from Chevron's own paid news source, but it still points to an odd behind-the-scenes battle happening that isn't being written about elsewhere. Aldax writes, "McLaughlin’s association with the MCSquared public relations firm and her decision to accept the travel payments as a gift from the Ecuadorian government raise new questions about how far she is willing to go to battle Chevron, Richmond’s largest taxpayer."
Then this week, Aldax writes about a funny irony in vice mayor Jovanka Beckles is proposing a call for decorum and a curbing of "abhorrent behavior" by the public in Richmond City Council meetings. Aldax notes that it's ironic since Beckles was accused just two months ago of hurling an F-bomb at councilmember Corky Booze in front of the public during a recess at a council meeting.
Aldax tells SFist,
The goal of the Standard is to be "community-driven," a statement we've been criticized for because Chevron sponsors the site. But it really is community driven, and I'm striving to be even more so. When a community member sends me a flyer for an upcoming event, it is my duty to publish and distribute it... Since we do not rely on advertising, we don't worry about publishing click-heavy stories. That's extremely liberating for me as a journalist.
Much as we occasionally enjoy checking in on the sordid local dramas of nearby Vallejo, this new source of Richmond dramas should provide some entertainment too. Even if it is, partly, a soapbox for Chevron's agenda.