For the Sake of Civility The U-T Needs to Change

Hope on my mind

Hope comes easy for me.  It can rise from the words in a kindergarten girl’s poem where everybody lives happily forever and ever, or it could come out of the energy of thousands of San Diegans standing in the middle of Broadway singing “Give Peace a Chance.”

I didn’t realize, though, how hopeful a human being I am until I found myself one day holding out hope that the San Diego Union-Tribune, a rag that, on good days, over the years, has made me gag, could change and become a factor in helping San Diego become all it can be.

I didn’t see this hopeful moment coming.  I was leaving the Union-Tribune Building one day when it dawned on me that I had a smile on my face.  And that had never been the case when I look back on all the times I’ve walked away from the place.

But this was a new Union-Tribune.  It truly was.  Now, before somebody wonders if I’m in the early stages of Alzheimers, I’m not asserting, in any way, that the paper changed, hugely, and was on its way to becoming a beacon of hope, but they had hired a man, Jeff Light, as editor, a man who listens.  I know because moments after meeting him I was bending his ear about how the U-T, in all my years in San Diego, had been out of touch with communities like mine.  “The paper rarely speaks to us,” I said, saying “rarely” to be polite.  And he heard me that night.

And later other people of color spoke to him.  And he heard them too.  And the next thing we knew we were on a Community Editorial Advisory Board being listened to, respected, given opportunities to tweak editorials here and there, in efforts to have them written in a way that wasn’t so “one sided,” shall I say.  Those were the kinds of exchanges that made me walk away from the building smiling that day.

It was going to be slow as molasses rolling down course sandpaper but we were on to something, something special, something unique for this city.  We were finding ways to tune into each other, blending liberal and conservative thought, ever so slightly, ever so lightly, bridging the gap between our communities and the city’s major rag – enough for me to play with the words “San Diego Union-Tribune” and “hope” in the same sentence in my mind.

Before we could really get rolling, though, a rumor arose.  We heard that the paper would be sold but we didn’t think, particularly, in our reverie, that what we had started would end practically no sooner that it had begun.  The new owners, surely, would see the value in what we had done.  Wouldn’t they?

Well, suddenly we had a paper which boasted, jingoistically, on its cover every day:  “The World’s Greatest Country and America’s Finest City.”

Suddenly we had Roger Hedgecock, Mr. Light Up the Border, hater of gays, writing essays to us regularly.

Suddenly there’s a full page advertisement for U-T TV, one with an old football hero and some other guy checking out a hot babe’s behind and I thought I was back in junior high.

Suddenly we’re fed sophomoric tabloid like news coverage where the thoughts on the mind of the paper’s owners seem to fly off the pages into our emotions as though there was no attempt made whatsoever to be unbiased, thoughts that have become predictable, seemingly created with the very intention of insulting those who think differently than them.

I mean Occupy Wall Street protestors are flag burners?  Really?  I’ve been around a lot of folks in this movement and I have yet to see a flag burned, although I’ve seen some people carrying the flag proudly.  Barack Obama is the worst president ever?  Just like that, with his first term still not completed?  And Dubya doesn’t make the cut after his lies caused so many of our teenagers to die?  For our freedom?  We’re free?

How anti-union, anti-worker, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-poor and anti-you name it can a paper be?  How can they never find anything to criticize when it comes to corporate greed, the military industrial complex, the irresponsible rich, local developers, the GOP, or their boy, Carl DeMaio?

Who ever thought that right wing radicalism could be taken to such a depressing new level, even by the San Diego Union-Tribune?

So many of my friends, who are dropping subscriptions to the U-T like the paper is hazardous waste, ask me why I don’t resign from its so called Community Advisory Board.  Well, although hope comes easy for me I’m hanging in there, barely, struggling to be hopeful that this madness can be turned around.  I find little traces of hope in just knowing that every now and then there’s talk in town about how we can make San Diego a better city, a more inclusive city.

But the chances of creating such a hopeful community environment are dim when our major paper divides us, and labels and bullies many of us, having declared its way of thinking supreme.

And when a paper so powerfully bestows on us its non-objective, non-impartial, non-life affirming, non-inclusive, non-community building views, we, as a city and county, lose.

But the truth is, San Diego has pretty much evolved over time, into a politically moderate, socially progressive metropolis and as such we should regard what the Union-Tribune is doing as an emergency situation – and various organizations and powers-that-be in our diverse communities and in higher places, need to come together and let this paper know that we aren’t just going to sit around and tolerate their narrow ultra-right wing inspired views.

It’s our city.  And I can envision a better more hopeful world if our major paper respected us and joined us in changing it for the better – for their own well being and ours.

Photo courtesy of



Ernie McCray

I was raised in a loving and alive home, in a black neighborhood filled with colorful characters in Tucson, Arizona. Such an environment gave me a hint that life has to be grabbed by the tail as tight as a pimple on a mosquito's butt. With no BS and a whole lot of love. So, from those days to now I get up every morning set on making the world a better place. On my good foot*, and I hope my writing reflects that. *an old black expression

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  1. avatarkd says

    Really. You are asking the SD U-T to become like every single other major city newspaper – one that is one-sided to the left and liberal side. I just got a subscription to the U-T for the very reason you hate it….because it represents the “other” side, because I was sick of the liberal rags out there. However, I am glad that you have your “free-press” thing happening here….but ask yourself, is it really a “free-press” or just another dime a dozen liberal rag. Have a nice day in America’s finest city!

    • avatarJEC says

      Ah, and there’s the rub dear sir – which SIDE are you on? Wearing blinders in pursuit of ideological purity – because the U-T’s twisted facts and unfootable numbers are useless for making business decisions – as long as you know – it’s only entertainment. Oh yes, are you open to instruction?

    • avatarErnie McCray says

      I’m not asking that at all, kd. Being in this city for 50 years I expect the paper to be conservative but what we’re dealing with is over the top – WAY over the top. And I ain’t asking myself nothing.

    • avatarKeninSD says

      Nice try, kd. you just keep on reading that vile, far right rag and watch channel 9 and Fox. The rest of us will look for, and support, actual news (the kind with facts) without the fringe spin and purposeful misinformation and lies you so enjoy!

    • avatarErnie McCray says

      Whoo, that’s a big order. And my mommy isn’t around to hold my hand but I’ll give it a go (smile).

  2. avatarJEC says

    Like a secret video tape, clues to Manchester’s vision might also be found hidden in selected words – one especially – “instruct” – used in headlines and copy. He will ‘instruct’ us, define reality for us. Like some medevil lord ‘instructing’ his underlings in what to think and how to act. Indoctrination is another word – but it’s not used in print, just practice.

  3. avatarAnna Daniels says

    Ernie- I don’t think the “new” U-T has abandoned a commitment to civility. It is lacking in integrity, which is far worse. Acknowledging divergent views is the foundation of respect for a diverse community and essential in the pursuit of truth. Neither respect nor truth are anywhere to be found.
    I agree with Norma Damashek’s sentiment- “We don’t need no stinkin’ newspaper.”

  4. avatarShelley Plumb says

    Ernie, I admire your tenacity and your good soul, but I don’t think I could ever go back to the U-T (and I subscribed for 42 years) unless Manchester, Lynch and Hedgecock are out and people with journalistic integrity are in. I am enjoying my new subscription to the L.A. Times and hoping they will open an office here in the near future.

  5. avatar says

    First of all, Ernie Mc Cray is essentially a teacher, a writer and a truly good person — never uptight, looks at life with fresh eyes, readily forgives error and is always ready to start anew. These qualities inform his life and make him able to hang in at Manchester’s U-T. The U-T is lucky to have his human experience and his African-American voice on the Editorial Advisory Board. We’ll see how long the Board continues and if Ernie can handle the new regime.

    Personally, I don’t think Manchester is worse than the Copleys: in the really old days retired Marine “Brute” Krulak “oversaw” editorial content for “errors.” And Republican Party orthodoxy always has been strictly enforced. I also don’t agree that present editor Jeff Light is as enlightened as his last name indicates or as his calm demeanor suggests. Light was hired as a slasher and cutter for interim U-T owner Platinum Equity of Beverly Hills and continues to run the paper for Papa Doug. Will it be run into the ground? We’ll see.

    Meanwhile, if the advent of Doug Manchester has awakened local newspaper readers to the value of the great daily Los Angeles Times — yes, a great paper, even though its owner Sam Zell has put it in financial jeopardy –then, fine. The LAT will not be coming down to save San Diego, but you can still subscribe to it and never have to say you’re sorry. Local news and movie listings are in the longtime alternative weekly San Diego Reader and other sources.

    • avatarErnie McCray says

      Hey, Frances, with this statement I’m going to hire you when I run for president in 2016 (smile).

      • avatar says

        Somebody complained to me about your piece here invoking “civility” — a frequent cover used by the Establishment to subdue dissident voices — but I said you genuinely live by that code. Shame on the fakers and full credit to you, Ernie. You are the best!

    • avatar says

      Fran, I agree with much of what you say, especially about Ernie’s human qualities, but I have to disagree on whether the Manchester paper is worse than the Copley Press was. You’re forgetting that even the Copley-owned outfit, during a time when the general political climate in San Diego was more conservative than it is now, gave us a moderate sibling to the S.D. Union–the Evening Tribune, which had a more liberal editorial bent and ran less ideologically slanted news. Manchester, on the other hand, has dropped all pretense of trying to serve the whole community and, in my eyes at least, has pushed the U-T to the right of even General Krulak’s brand of proganda “news.” Unlike the Manchester U-T, I recall the S.D. Union or Tribune ever being this militaristic, and they never printed right-wing editorials on special pages that are wrapped around the front of the A section It’s literally over the top!

      Manchester is a super-wealthy one-percenter playing with his new toys, the U-T and U-T TV. Let’s hope he gets tired of them soon and that he’ll lose a little of his money when he eventually sells the paper with a much smaller readership than he started with.

  6. avatar says

    Ernie … pal of my life and fellow dissenter … you always do me proud … the dilemma I’m sure I share with many others is that I’m addicted all these years to having a local newspaper. Gotta have the comics and the puzzles and above all the obits (which is how I decide whether or not I should get out of bed) . Oh how I miss the old Sentinel !

    • avatarErnie McCray says

      There’s so much truth to the addiction of having a local newspaper. We didn’t have much when I was a kid but we took the daily paper, had a couple of magazine subscriptions, and always had a radio and a record player. Life was good.

    • avatarShelley Plumb says

      If you are addicted to the NY Times crossword puzzle like I am, you can get it online @ for $39/year. You can either do it online or print it out as a PDF. The LA Times has a crossword – not as challenging as NYT – but okay. It also has sudoku, kenken, and Jumble.

  7. avatar says

    You can also get the New York Times locally in paper or online. I try to check it online as much as possible. Also the Washington Post is available online. Why screw around with local bullshit propaganda newspapers like the U-T when truly great newspapers with throught provoking articles are available. As for local news, KPBS is a good source.

    • avatar says

      Well, John, I take exception to your reliance on KPBS for local news.
      KPBS proper — the local wing — long provided a genteel version of journalism reflecting an old San Diego party line that once was dominated by the Copley Press and downtown establishment. In recent years KPBS news coverage has become responsive to a different set of major contributors with essentially the same interests in maintaining the status quo — Irwin and Joan Jacobs, Stan and Pauline Foster, William Lynch and others.

      Case in point: the former Editors’ Roundtable of guest journalists has morphed into a truncated noon news program anchored by Maureen Kavanaugh and other moderators that offers infrequent, watered-down, careful, pro forma explorations of vitally important subjects. Like the takeover/makeover of our only daily newspaper by Doug Manchester; SDG&E’s San Onofre shutdown and SEMPRA’s attempt to stick ratepayers with costs from disastrous wildfires while regularly conducting unofficial rolling blackouts throughout greater San Diego ; the critically important Mayor’s race and the philosophical chasm that separates the two candidates; the failure of our embedded GOP County Supervisors to establish unified fire service like all other California counties or to adequately discharge their social service responsibilities to burgeoning numbers of recession-affected recipients of foodstamps; the breakdown of both Board and Superintendent leadership at San Diego Unified School District.

  8. avatarChris Kehoe says

    Hi Ernie-You hit the nail on the head! I have often wondered how much civic pride and involvement the UT could engender in our community if its editorial and opinion pieces looked at what’s good for the average San Diegan most of the time rather than endlessly promoting the self interest of a very small group of people. The editorial slant of the paper is one of the most enduring aspects of San Diego’s old image as a parochial small town and Republican stronghold and nothing more. Our city is so much more than that. But most of what San Diego is today has developed with little or no encouragement, insight or analysis from our daily paper. Too bad. Chris Kehoe

  9. avatarKen Nakamura says

    Thanks, Ernie… for capturing the daily question I ask myself: Why do I subscribe to the U-T? Each day, I get more discouraged when I realize that I spend more time “reading” advertising inserts than I do the news… I am near cancellation of the U-T but hold on to that slim hope that it will be a paper open to diverse opinions and challenging ideas and coherent coverage of world and local conditions. The internet sources of news might just become the only way I can hope to really get the news…

  10. avatarChapulina Ramos says

    Thank you, Ernie for speaking my thoughts so elegantly. I wondered what happened to the Community Board, now that the U-T has devolved into the San Diego GOP Pravda.
    I cancelled my subscription and have quit reading the SDUT after more than 15 years and now rely on KPBS and the Internet, including VOSD and this website. I picked up the LA Times and was pleased to see it is not so left-leaning as I remembered it when I lived in San Fernando. Comparing the news presentation of the LAT and the U-T was quite a revelation. I had almost forgotten what substantial coverage looks like!
    BTW, for those who miss the comics, all of them are easily found on the Internet.

  11. avatarKatherine Smith says

    Just yesterday a friend told me disgustedly that he had to stop his subscription to the U-T because it had gone over the top.
    I am from Detroit where we once had a really Democratic leaning newspaper and a really republican leaning newspaper. Then they joined. Oh, well.
    I get a copy daily from a friend when he is done reading it. I do the puzzles, skim the letters to the editor, read Steve Breen, wincing most of the time (love his talent), and read the local news with an analytical mind.
    Hopefully I can soon subscribe to the LA Times myself. That would make me happy. For news I read the NY Times online, the Detroit “Click on Detroit” online and BBC e-news. The U-T can’t GIVE me their paper. It is so unbalanced it falls to the right every day.
    Glad you have hope, Ernie. Keep it up for the rest of us who don’t have any that the paper will change.
    Love reading you.

  12. avatarEd Hieshetter, Sr says

    Hi Ernie:
    I have been reading the LA Times since mid 1994 when I dropped the UT for their coverage of the murders of my step-children. I did ask them to not use our last name in the paper as the Kids father, (my wifes then husband) didn’t know she was remarried and living again in San Diego. I told the reporter that he had made death threats against her in the past. The DA’s office took those threats seriously enough to try to locate him as he was thought to be in the SD area. When the story appeared it said in part ….Ed and Avon Hieshetter who live in the College area……….!!!! There’s more but I’m about out of space here. Ernie, I have a book gift for you, when are we going to have breakfast again? AND I LOVE THE LA TIMES! Contrary to what many think I find it very balanced in it’s reporting.

    • avatarErnie McCray says

      I love the L.A. Times. It was great when they were in town and covered local news too. I still feel abandoned by them.

  13. avatar says

    I am going to shill once more time for the Los Angeles Times which is as good any day, IMHO, as the NY Times. It is ours, it is pure California: you will love it. It gets delivered to your doorstep, wrapped in a plastic bag, before 7 a.m.

    The LA Times is a serious newspaper with excellent coverage of our own state as well as LA, national and international news. It maintains many foreign bureaus, including that most exotic and foreign place, Washington, D.C. There’s sports, business, movies, theater, art, architecture, music, literature, fashion, opinionated homegrown and outside columnists, editorial cartoons and comics including Doonesbury, also puzzles.

    There are writers at the U-T that I deeply appreciate — I won’t name them lest they get fired, but they know who they are — and they are as good as any writers anywhere. But I urge readers here who love newspapers and are canceling their U-T subscription to support the Los Angeles Times — and make themselves happy and informed in the process.