In an item just before noon last Friday on Mendocino Sports Plus, the ubiquitous Elk-based news outlet with a small army of devoted followers on its ever-streaming Facebook platform, founder and Editor Paul McCarthy wrote that MSP was experiencing technical difficulties; they were having computer problems. He added, with his characteristic humor, served New-England bone-dry: “we won’t be posting much today until we can get this straightened out…”
That turned out to be Paul McCarthy’s last post and likely the end for MendocinoSportsPlus, the much-relied upon purveyor of “hyper-local,” tidbits, hot tips, local sports, highway crashes and fire evacuation orders followed by nearly 30,000 people, mostly on the Coast.
In a moving and eloquent post on the MSP site Saturday, his son Shane McCarthy announced that his father had died sometime Friday night. Paul was 66 years old. Shane remembered his Dad’s sense of humor, his happy outlook on life, his inquisitive nature, and his seemingly boundless energy.
Paul McCarthy was born in Lawrence, New Hampshire, and grew up in Salem, a blue-collar exburb of Boston. The Yankee background left an indelible mark on Paul in the form of his unforgettable accent and his bone-dry witty worldview. It was there that McCarthy first got printer’s ink on his hands, working as a cub reporter and staff writer in New England, learning the journalistic trade, including the standards and ethics that guided his life. This was in the early 80s, before the demise of printed-on-paper newspapers. One of Paul’s colleagues, a fellow writer, took to calling him “Scoop,” the coveted handle of young reporters.
Of those early days, Shane remembered his father saying that he “attended countless pointless meetings and pointless countless meetings.” That humor was vintage Paul McCarthy. And it is tempting to simply paint him as a happy-go lucky Irishman who navigated by the seat of his pants.
But the underlying reality was a bit more nuanced, as is often true. Shane said that his Dad’s ready sense of humor and easy-going vibe belied a intelligent and highly analytical mind. He was a stickler for details and accuracy, often obsessing over and revising a story online to reflect new information. McCarthy closely scrutinized data analytics on the MSP site, identifying precisely which posts had the most reader engagement and views, which piece was liked and forwarded to others, and many other metrics.
Paul McCarthy met Shane’s mother through a mutual friend in the early 1990s, and Paul followed his love and left the east coast for Santa Rosa. He lived there for a few years before settling in 2000 in tiny Elk, at the sprawling Beacon Ranch, working as a hand and caretaker. He came to the Mendocino Coast, as many have, a transplant from another place who found a home among the beauty and the solitude and most certainly the eccentric people.
He raised Shane as a single father, attending all of his many games as Shane grew up. It was attendance at these games, Shane said, that reawakened the dormant journalist in his father — the “sleeper cell” as he called it. Paul felt that the coverage of these events in the local papers was pathetic, far below the standard he had known in New England. It irritated him that the effort that the kids made on the field was in no way matched by the writers covering the events, nor by the editors and owners at the papers who would hack a game story down to one paragraph to accommodate more ad space.
So he started writing again.
Shane remembers that the idea for MSP began to take shape in his Dad’s mind shortly after he entered Mendocino High School as a freshman and became an integral player on the re-constituted Cardinal football team. (Mendo High had mothballed the football program some years earlier due to lack of interest.) As Paul continued to submit his work to local papers, he became increasingly dissatisfied with coverage space and so launched a Facebook page, Mendocino Sports…Plus in 2012. Shane said for his Dad, the “Plus” in MSP was his license to pursue any story that was relevant and of interest to his readers.
McCarthy would attend all the Mendocino games home and away, often traveling many hours round trip, to Laytonville for example, and back to Elk, to cover the event for his followers and of course for the benefit of the kids involved, and their parents. McCarthy also arranged to have Programs printed for these games with each player’s photo, name and stats. He did this for the kids and their families. And he did it anonymously. Later, as MSP grew in size and influence, McCarthy developed a small network of financial donors to fund these gifts, sponsoring worthy kids and events.
It was the “Plus” side – the non-sports content – that became the focus of the site as time went on. After Shane graduated Mendocino High School and went on to St. Mary’s College (where he subsequently graduated Cum Laude, and now works as the Director of Information Technology) Paul began covering more non-sports stories, although Mendocino Coast High School sports remained a mainstay of the site.
The Coast and all its many happenings — both curious and peculiar, and profound and tragic — found their way onto his feed — usually sooner than later — a result of his never-ending curiosity. If it happened in Mendocino county, or it was happening, MSP covered it all, from car chases to high school volleyball games to social happenings. McCarthy was a news hound and adrenaline junkie, relentlessly following raw news feeds on police and fire scanners, monitoring local news outlets, and perhaps most importantly — gathering intelligence from his devoted legion of followers along and about the Coast.
MSP was fueled by a combination of old school pioneer values – the neighborliness and community of isolated places – and new technology. McCarthy had a close back and forth with many of his followers, who eagerly supplied him with streetwise tips and leads on breaking stories. MSP was a comforting presence to many in a lonely and isolated place
In MSP, Paul McCarthy found an outlet for his creative and inquisitive nature and his seemingly boundless energy and irreverent good humor. For many people starved for information and sometimes even for human interaction, he became the favorite chatty neighbor at the fence-line, always ready with a good laugh and useful information. And, facilitated by interactive technology, his followers rewarded him with their trust, and became a network of tipsters that provided him with a steady stream of leads for stories on his ticker. It was a lively back and forth between McCarthy and his followers in which information flowed in both directions.
He was quite the modern day Town crier of the Mendocino Coast who used MSP to carve out a niche for himself and over the years developed the channel into a source that became the trusted authority on real time events occurring in the coastal County area by many thousands of people.
The MSP site self-describes as “An independent (pending) non-profit, hyper-local website dedicated to covering coastal news as well as sports on the Mendocino Coast, particularly high school sports. MSP has covered everything from Mendocino T-ball games to the National Division 1A College Rugby Championships.”
But that description was dated, and belied the scope and reach of MSP’s coverage – and it’s following on social media, primarily Facebook. In an age of electronic imaging devices, Paul McCarthy and MSP was a latter-day Town Crier on the foreboding and beautiful Mendocino coast. With well over 25,000 followers on his page, most of them news junkies like McCarthy, MSP was the go-to place for breaking news and event coverage, posting bulletins in virtual real-time off his monitoring of law enforcement and fire scanners. MSP provided a social and news web that made followers feel connected in ways that were important to them.
How much did local people rely on MSP? Perhaps a story will be instructive. A volunteer with the Mendocino Fire Department, a veteran of dozens of serious coast car crashes and structure fires, recently returned from a 45 day deployment on the front lines of five of the major firestorms raging in the area, including the August complex.
This veteran firefighter was shocked to hear the news. He said that local first responders actually on-site at incidents followed MSP on their personal cellphones so that they could prioritize incident response priorities. According to this man, MSP sometimes provided a level of detail that was missing in official radio dispatches.
McCarthy’s good friend and sidekick, the unofficial MSP “roving correspondent” Steve Dunlap of Fort Bragg remembers that McCarthy “would monitor those scanners constantly, and if they things got slow on the scanner traffic he would drive up to Fort Bragg to cruise Main Street” to hunt up news literally in the street.
He was an inveterate news hound and his good-natured take on local happenings made Paul McCarthy a family friend in many homes along the scattered communities of the Mendocino Coast.
I will always remember the Paul McCarthy that I met a few years ago, in 2017. It was a cold and blustery January night and I walked out of the howling wind and slanting rain and darkness into the warmth and light and noise and colors of the Mendo High School Gym. The two varsity girls teams had taken the court, and I was there to cover the game for a local paper, just beginning to write again myself after a long “dormant phase.” Of course the kids and the parents and families were in the spartan bleachers, and there on the stage was the official scorer’s table and KAKX’s broadcast table, and what appeared to be a radio announcer, a man about my age, about to call the game live on-air. I decided against going up on the stage and opted to cover the game from the court perimeter.
But I thought it wise to go up at half time to introduce myself to the people on the stage. What stood out is that no one stood out. Except Paul.
Paul McCarthy was the virtual antithesis of the laid-back hippie California image one conjures up about residents hereabouts. This was the Paul that I met: booming voice that spoke of New England and Boston; a beaming smile and and a ready, booming laugh. In a world that sometimes seems a bit black and white, Paul McCarthy was in Technicolor.