People of Sacramento commenting on the news: Darrel Ng

Darrel Ng, senior public relations director at Anthem. Photo: Kevin Fiscus.
Darrel Ng, senior public relations director at Anthem. Photo: Kevin Fiscus.

(This is the 29th installment in a weekly series with people who don’t work in journalism commenting on the news. Photography by Kevin Fiscus. If you’d like to participate, message or tweet me.)

Meet Darrel Ng.

He’s 37, a Montebello native, a University of California, Berkeley, graduate, lives in Land Park, shaped the communication strategy for numerous political campaigns and now works as a staff vice president in communications at Anthem.

Outside of the Capitol, he may be best known as the creator of Cowtown Eats. The local compilation of happy hours, launched in 2009, has grown to include reviews, Q&As and a daily tip sheet of restaurant and dining news from outlets throughout the region.

“I find it rewarding. People you meet are so hardworking,” he explained to Kathy Robertson of the Sacramento Business Journal last year. “I know there’s a lot of vitriol — and venom is the currency of the Internet — but that’s something I do my best to avoid.”

We caught up at Magpie Cafe in October to talk about the city of Sacramento, media consumption and his thoughts on the news.

Darrel began to consider himself a Sacramento resident in 2009 and laughs when co-workers ask if he’s ever going to move back to Los Angeles. He can’t imagine dealing with SoCal traffic and admits to feeling “spoiled by the compactness of the region.”

He says the city can do more to capitalize on it’s greatest good: the people. Build more homes, offer more amenities and support an infrastructure that leads to fewer cars on the road. The less time commuting, the more time engaging with each other.

“I’m excited by the energy of people trying to make Sacramento better,” he says, mentioning Portal and Bright Underbelly as “energy put into action.”

He expects more people will be attracted to Sacramento and predicts conflict among traditionalists and others seeking to guide the city in a new direction. The Golden 1 Center, he says, has already ignited downtown and activated a dormant space.

“Why wouldn’t we want 100 events there a year instead?” he says.

He’s more pragmatic than bullish, skeptical of studies touting the economic benefits of publicly-financed sports stadiums. It’s simply moving money around, he says, redirecting dollars from the suburbs to downtown.

“It’s the price we have to pay to not be Fresno,” he says.

He expects an influx of restaurants to open near the arena (a recent post was a reminder of how many are on the horizon) and predicts a concentration of talent will elevate the dining scene. Personally, he’d like to see a Chipotle-style Korean BBQ concept, more prix fixe experiences and less of an obsession on farm-to-fork boosterism.

“We’ll see a period where we’ll have many, many new restaurants and some of them will fail because they won’t be able to stand up to the competition,” he explained to Rick Kushman on Insight last year. “But, in the end, I think, our collective goal of having a sophisticated scene will be greatly helped by having the arena downtown.”

In the same way he has an eye out for the next new restaurant, he’s curious about the up-and-coming news start ups and content creators. He wonders: What can this third-tier — positioned behind traditional outlets and established alternative publications — do to breakthrough? Can a half-dozen podcasts come together like sections in a newspaper?

He thinks about design. Ads fund content but they often bring a poor user experience. How will the business and economics of journalism play out?

On a day-to-day basis, he’s simply trying to use his time wisely and he relies on Twitter to do that for news.

“I consume more tidbits of news and long-form news, and less 700-word articles on something,” he says.

For any story in that 500- to 800-word range, he expects to have already seen the nutgraf and the four most interesting tidbits shared on social media.

“There’s a price to pay when clicking through links,” he says. If you click, and there’s nothing new to learn, it’s a disappointment. “You figure out what sources provide value, and what sources don’t.”

Darrel answered the following questions by email about how he gets the news. Text submitted September 21.

How do you get your news?
I mainly get my news from Twitter – both for my day job doing PR for a health insurance company and for Cowtown Eats. It’s quick, it’s chronological and there’s no algorithm guessing what I want to see (at least yet).

[Editor’s note: Twitter introduced an optional timeline setting in February to surface tweets you may have missed.]

I also read industry-specific tip sheets or digests to make sure I didn’t miss anything. My current routine includes POLITICO Playbook, POLITICO Pulse, The Sacramento Bee’s AM Alert, REDEF Media, Capitol Weekly’s The Roundup and The Nooner by Scott Lay. I’ll top that off with an occasional visit to Facebook or The Drudge Report to see what’s trending.

In the process of compiling Cowtown Eats, I open up 53 tabs in Google Chrome and go through those too.

What’s the first news event you remember?
The first news event that I remember actively deciding to watch was the election returns for the 1984 re-election of President Ronald Reagan. I was six at the time, and I remember being enthralled by the political process, electoral college, etc. It’s probably fitting that I spent the first decade of my professional life working in politics.

 

What content do you pay for?
For news, I only subscribe to The Sacramento Bee online. For entertainment, I am a part-time cable TV subscriber (meaning I have cable during the later part of the NBA season and playoffs) but am otherwise a cord-cutter with an over-the-air antenna, Amazon Prime and Netflix.

What’s the last great thing you ate?
I had a great etouffe from Kru in late August under new chef Ricky Yip. If you’re looking for a way to spoil yourself, go to Kru and either order your whole meal off the specials menu or turn over all control to the chef and order omakase. The etouffe was one of that night’s specials.

 

Who’s doing it right in news?
I think there are a lot of people doing great work in Sacramento. The California Politics Podcast by John Myers of Los Angeles Times and Anthony York of the Grizzly Bear Project remains a must listen. Staying in the vein of politics, David Siders of the The Bee and Chris Megerian of the Los Angeles Times constantly turn out scoops and insightful pieces.

On the food front, I love Rick Kushman’s work, either as a fill-in host on Capitol Public Radio’s Insight or the longform pieces he writes for Sacramento News & Review and Sactown Magazine. I think The Bee’s new restaurant critic Carla Meyer has really found her footing and voice in her new role.

On TV, I am constantly amazed by how Good Day Sacramento’s Cambi Brown is able to make any subject interesting.

Name the three most important issues facing Sacramento.
These are two very important long term issues facing Sacramento, though I am happy to stipulate that crime, homelessness, the school system, etc. are actually more important, especially on a short time horizon.

(1) Managing growth intelligently — I’ve lived in Sacramento since 2001, and the current version of Sacramento is drastically better than it was 15 years ago. Sacramento will undoubtedly grow in future years, but there are the competing forces of traditionalists/conservatives who want to keep things the way they were when they grew up/moved to Sacramento vs. those who are looking to modernize the city.

Certainly, unfettered growth isn’t the answer, but we need more housing on The Grid, Land Park, Curtis Park and East Sac, etc. We should open our arms to these new residents, not fight them. We should welcome the fact that they won’t have to commute a long commute back to the ‘burbs – time that they could be spending with their families, friends, working out or even just working.

(2) Developing an identity — Sacramento has an identity crisis. Many well-meaning people believe that Sacramento should emulate other great cities. We need a Walk of Fame like Hollywood, they’d argue. We need a brand/nickname for every block of downtown and midtown, they say.

Sacramento should be the best version of Sacramento we can be. We have the great fortune of having the intersection of two rivers. Why aren’t we taking advantage of that with a developed riverwalk? We will never be LA, San Francisco or San Diego. We should embrace our destiny of being a great mid-sized city and figure out what we can do to get there more quickly.

What do you absolutely hate about the news?
In the era of big data, I hate that a string of anecdotes can be passed off as news when data exists to either prove a theory or disprove a notion. Sure, it’s easy and less work to interview several people and quote the relevant anecdotes, but that doesn’t mean any truth is revealed. No matter how sympathetic a story. the news should be more data driven and less anecdote driven.

What’s the most important issue to you that’s not being covered well enough?
Sacramento’s religious population. Sacramento’s priests, ministers and others in positions of power deserve the negative attention they receive when there is wrongdoing, but there is great work being done by Sacramento’s churches, temples and mosques. It’s unfortunate that so much of their activity happens outside the traditional workweek when most reporters work, but if they can figure out a way to cover sports (which also happens after hours and on weekends), they can do a better job about this too.

If you could be anywhere, an-hour-and-a-half drive away, where would you be?
Having gone to Cal, my happy place is Memorial Stadium in Berkeley on a Saturday afternoon watching Cal Football. We have a great quarterback, great receivers and an improving defense, and I’m eternally hopeful that we’ll make the Rose Bowl one of these years.


Follow Darrel (@DarrelNg) on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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