Today’s Top Story: Fire at the building around the corner.

En Español

They made the chalkboards out of wood and chalkboard paint Monday morning. Then they decided what the most important stories of the day were: a Russian warship docked in San Francisco Bay, massive floods in Brazil and Jiangxi Province in China, the World Cup scores. They chalked them up carefully, in neat block printing.

In the afternoon, a fire broke out in the house around the corner. They put that up on the board too. It was their first scoop. They beat out every other news outlet in town, including this one.

“It still kind of smells like smoke here,” says Dan Allende, a lanky blonde in a Lady Gaga T-shirt. “We could go up on the roof of this building and see the damage. But then the fire department covered it with a tarp.”

Dan Allende and his co-publisher, Ian Cox, are two design interns visiting from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. They work side by side at a huge worktable covered in glass bottles and heaps of paper, in the garage-turned-workshop of artist Amy Franceschini (Franceschini is in Italy over the summer). Their task: build a functional ethanol still out of a fiberglass bathtub for the arts group Future Farmers.

This has not been without its hitches. The ethanol, which is intended to power vehicular transport, is being stored, Southeast Asia-style, in glass bottles that they drill and fit with rubber stoppers.

“On the East Coast we could just go through the trash and find lots of bottles,” says Allende. “Here, there’s a bottle deposit, so there’s a lot of competition for glass.”

They were inspired to start the newspaper by the example of Alfred Sirleaf’s “Daily Talk,” a set of nine chalkboards set up alongside a busy road in Monrovia, Liberia. Among their ultimate hopes: that the project spreads to other garages, that people in the neighborhood send them stories (609-410-3552 or They also hope to find someone who can translate the news into Spanish. They’ve named their publication “Periodical: Power Outages,” on the grounds that it doesn’t require any electricity to run. Also because it seems like a cool name.

So far, one day into the project, they like it. Instead of just walking by, now people stop by the open garage doors and discuss the news printed on the chalkboards. Especially, Cox and Allende report, the World Cup scores.

Born in New Jersey, Allende and Cox have been in San Francisco for exactly three weeks.

“It’s awesome here,” says Allende. “It’s not muggy. The people are friendly.”

“We love it,” says Cox. “Though sometimes it’s chilly.”

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Heather Smith covers a beat that spans health, food, and the environment, as well as shootings, stabbings, various small fires, and shouting matches at public meetings. She is a 2007 Middlebury Fellow in Environmental Journalism and a contributor to the book Infinite City.

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  1. new Liberian-style news agency opens at a garage around the corner. So far only one typeface “hand-chalked”.

  2. new Liberian-style news agency opens at a garage around the corner. So far only one typeface “hand-chalked”

  3. Such a great story. Thanks for telling it. Hope Baltimore Guys will do election night coverage!

  4. Wow, this is great. I like the way people stop to discusss the news of the day. Way back here on the east coast (Baltimore), communities don’t discuss the news very much. I’m sure it is better in SF, especially in the Mission. This should be a model for all over.

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