The venerable National Geographic and its associated media properties go ga-ga for redwoods this month. The October issue of the magazine is just coming out; it features a long story and photographic essay, as well as a format-busting foldout cover meant to give some idea of just how impressive the gloomy old masses of cellulose can be. A video version of the same story will air on the cable National Geographic Channel on Sept. 29.
Meanwhile, National Geographic Traveler chips in with a short piece that names "The Coast Redwoods" one of the "50 Places of a Lifetime." And National Geographic Adventure magazine for the same month lists Arcata as one of America's "Top 100 Adventure Towns," citing the city's Community Forest as Exhibit A.
For civilians, this gushy effusion from our pith-helmeted admirers may seem somewhat nauseating. You're coming on a little strong, there, Reginald! But people paid to monitor such developments couldn't be more excited, because this kind of press can be expected to draw in new tourist units by the droves.
Until marijuana-tasting tours really take off, the redwoods are our region's biggest draw, by a long shot. Richard Stenger, media relations manager for the Humboldt County Convention and Visitors Bureau, says that his agency is accustomed to pitching the big trees first and foremost. That's what the people want to see, and they come from all over the world to see it. Our own selves -- our offbeat culture and exotic, somewhat foreign ways -- figure in as a secondary attraction, at best.
So we have been upstaged by the flora, and not for the first time. Perhaps this is as it should be. The good news is that, in place of the tree, we seem to have become adept at harvesting the tourist dollar. According to a report that Stenger's office is about to deliver, hotel occupancy throughout the state of California fell 12 percent in the 2008-09 fiscal year; in Humboldt and Del Norte counties, it fell only 2.5 percent. According to Stenger, the figures show that we have one of the most resilient tourism sectors in the state, by far.
Now it looks as if we're going to get another boost from readers of the Geographic. And if this means that we're going to have to spend more of our energy being friendly to people wandering in white shorts ... well, there must be worse fates.
For the second year running, the Society of Professional Journalists (Northern California chapter) has honored Journal contributer Marcy Burstiner's investigative reporting class for producing the best "Student Special Project" of the year. We printed both projects in the Journal, as has been our arrangement for quite a while now.
This year's winner was "Meltdown: What the demise of Eureka Ice tells us about our public health and safety," which was our May 14 cover story. The article looked at the shutdown of the Eureka Ice plant on that city's waterfront, and unearthed years' worth of public records showing that many local, state and federal agencies had long known that the plant was a chemical nightmare just waiting to happen. The previous year's project -- "Nobody's Fault: The anatomy of a suicide in the Humboldt County Jail" (May 15, 2008) -- detailed the death of a young, mentally troubled Hoopa man while in custody, and looked at all the ways in which state-run mental health programs and the criminal justice system had failed him. The national SPJ later named it one of the top three student projects in the country for that year.
There is heavy competition for these awards, including from nationally ranked undergraduate journalism programs around the Bay Area. We congratulate HSU's journalism program for their fine work, and we are honored to help bring it to the county.