By Doug Porter
The topic for the evening was ‘Grade the Media’. Local newsmakers were invited by the San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists to offer critiques of media coverage at a forum held at Point Loma Nazarene University last Tuesday evening.
Sitting on panel were Darren Pudgil, former Mayor Sanders’ director of communication from 2008 to 2012, Jan Caldwell, public information officer for the SD County Sheriff’s Department, and Michael Shames, the controversial former leader of the Utility Consumers’ Action Network (UCAN).
I wasn’t there. I ‘watched’ the evening unfold via my Twitter account. I’ve read a couple of accounts written by people who were there. And watched a couple of clips posted on YouTube. So much of what I’m writing about here has been gleaned through other people’s eyes (or fingers, as the case may be).
Having been both a newsmaker and a reporter, I wasn’t surprised by much of what went down that evening. People charged with delivering information and messaging are sometimes displeased with how their ‘stories’ are handled. People who report said information and messaging are often judged on their coverage via the lens of whatever perceived bias is associated with their organization.
He said… She said… You say tomäto. I say tomáto. Yada, yada.
Then it Got Interesting
The Big Questions of the evening arose out of comments made by the panelists about the people they talk – or don’t talk- to in the course of their professional lives.
‘Who qualifies as a Reporter?’
‘What qualifies as a news outlet?’
Darren Pudgil talked about his perception of the local media scene (from Craig Gustafson’s UT-San Diego story):
“There’s a wide spectrum,” Pudgil said. “You have the U-T (San Diego) which is now kind of right of Reagan and then you have (San Diego) CityBeat which … has been left of Lenin.”
How out-of-touch is that guy? Being ‘right of Reagan’ describes the ‘center’ of the political spectrum these days. Being “left of Lenin’ means that he’s a) never read any Lenin and b) isn’t aware that CityBeat’s electoral endorsements fared waaay better than the UT’s. (Does that mean the voters are all secret commies?)
Pudgil might have thought he was speaking in metaphorical terms, but the actual practices followed in the Sanders’ press office leave lots of room for doubt there.
Then there was the commentary by law enforcement flack Jan Caldwell. She started off making the perfectly valid point that she’s a human being and reacts better when people treat her with respect and politeness. And she followed up with the most controversial statements of the evening, going into a Hunter Thompson-esque riff about overweight guys writing from their basements while wearing blue slippers.
The cat was out of the bag. What do ‘we’ ‘do’ about writers who don’t fit the ‘journalism school graduate’ mold? You know, bloggers, alt-press-types, and geezers like me with an axe to grind. Here’s Scott Lewis, from the nearly-respectable Voice of San Diego reacting on Twitter:
Check out the paleo curmudgeon who controls press access to sheriff in San Diego, folks. She doesn’t like bloggers: youtube.com/watch?feature=…
— Scott Lewis (@vosdscott) February 21, 2013
As bad as it was –IMO, Caldwell should really look for work in another field, maybe customer service for the DMV—her comments have triggered a needed discussion among the journalism/wanna-be set about press credentials. Here’s the laist takedown of her.
I think that any organization/individual on either side of the newsmakers vs news reporters spectrum that can’t see the changes occurring in how people receive and digest information is sticking their head in the sand.
Hell, the most popular news show among the younger set airs on Comedy Central. Why watch NBC7’s coverage of a police standoff when you can get much more interesting and less repetitive information from Twitter?
We Need to Talk
Columnist Matt Hall (good storify here) is sheparding folks towards perhaps another forum to air opinions on just that subject. I say go for it. Just make sure that your invites go beyond the usual PR Newswire list. Here’s food for thought by Sara Libby. (By the way, I don’t own any slippers)
And while we’re at it, let’s talk about all the ‘news’ being manufactured these days. There’s an ‘exposé’ on the front page of UT-San Diego today about SANDAG, our regional planning agency, ginning up its public relations efforts to the tune of $40 million over the next five years. And then there’s the media machine funded by San Diego County, which is larger than many reporting organizations.
I understand the desire to manage the news, I really do. It’s taken us a decade to get past a couple of cranks in the local news media derailing the perfectly sensible idea of recycling water by tagging it as ‘toilet to tap’.
But there are questions. So many questions. What should the public know about the ‘news’ these pr machines generate? Are all bloggers equal? Who decides? Can organizations afford to only talk to a limited segment of the media?
Stay tuned. I’m just getting started on this one. Here’s a video of Jan Caldwell, mouthpiece for the SD Sheriff’s Dept., doing her thing at the SDPJS event, along with comments from Pudgil about why the corporate media is all he is willing to talk to and UCAN’s Michael Shames talking about how he got screwed by sock puppets:
Todd Gloria Doesn’t Get It
I give Councilman Gloria credit for trying to communicate. His social media outreach is second to none, especially when it comes to content. Here’s his take (from Facebook) on the controversy over the hotel tax-that’s-not-a-tax and Mayor Filner’s refusal to sign off on the deal. Note that the public is invited to weigh in on this topic at the end of his spiel.
Tourism Marketing District: Why You Should Care
If you’ve been keeping up with the news, you have likely heard something lately about the Tourism Marketing District’s (TMD) future. The TMD was founded in 2008 in response to the City’s dire financial situation and the lack of funding to promote tourism. It has been a partnership between the City and the hospitality industry through which hotels are self-assessed to fund marketing and promotion efforts for San Diego, and for local special events. In addition to contributing funding for events like the Holiday Bowl, the TMD’s promotional efforts have drawn visitors to our City. This equates to Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) revenue, on which the City depends to help fund core services like police, fire-rescue, and libraries. And having more visitors in San Diego also means that the tourism industry and the many businesses related to it remain strong economic generators and job creators.
Unfortunately, the future of the TMD is now at risk. Last year, the City Council approved the renewal of the TMD by a vote of 7-1 to preserve this successful program and its positive impacts on local residents, the City, and our economy. The Mayor opposes the implementation of the TMD agreement unless additional revenue is given to the City and hotel workers’ wages are increased. As the son of a former hotel maid, I could not more strongly favor better compensation and improved working conditions for tourism industry workers, and would support that goal if it were pursued directly. Further, I have been outspoken on the topic of the need for more revenue for the City, but the TMD is funded through an assessment on hoteliers for the specific purpose of promoting events and tourism in San Diego; state law prohibits the use of these funds for general civic purposes.
Instead of improving conditions for workers and getting more money for the City, sequestering the TMD could result in job losses in the tourism industry, as well as less TOT for the City’s General Fund if fewer people come here. In 2012, tourism was San Diego’s second largest traded economy. We welcomed 32.3 million visitors who contributed to an economic impact of $18.3 billion, generated $151 million in City TOT, and employed 160,000 San Diegans.
San Diegans want progress and practical decision-making based on principles. Moving forward with the Council’s approval of the TMD is right and necessary now.
The City Council will discuss the impact of the TMD at our meeting on Monday, February 25 at 2:00 p.m. All meetings are open to the public, and your input is welcome on this and all other topics.
UPDATE: The Independent Budget Analyst office reports that impact of the Tourism Marketing District on city of San Diego hotel room tax revenue is difficult to quantify, according to KPBS:
TMD supporters, including hoteliers and some City Council members, say it is a vital part of marketing to prospective tourists — and when more visitors come to the region, lodging houses and the city earn extra money.
But the IBA report said there is no way to account for how much the TMD accounts for the city’s room tax revenue, known in government parlance as the Transient Occupancy Tax, or TOT.
“While TMD promotions and marketing does support hotel room night stays, which is the basis for TOT assessments, it is extremely difficult to quantify the TOT receipts directly related to the TMD’s activities,” the IBA report states.
All that’s wonderful, Mr. Council President.
But you failed to address the underlying legal question here. The mechanism for collecting all this money is most likely illegal. The hotels themselves tell their customers it’s a ‘tax’ not the ‘fee’ they claimed got them off the hook for voter approval. You and six other members of the City Council got sold a bill of goods by some monied hucksters.
And if you’re really buying the line that not running the Next Big Marketing campaign will ruin tourism in the coming season, I’ve got some discount passes for the Coronado Bridge I’d like to sell you.
Trial By Jury: Soon to be a Victim of Budget Cuts?
Our state’s constitutionally guaranteed system of jury panels with twelve people for criminal cases could change or even disappear in the near future. The California Judges Association has endorsed a state constitutional amendment shrinking juries from 12 to eight members for misdemeanors and crimes punishable by up to a year in jail.
Also on the chopping block is the number of prosecutors’ and defense attorneys’ challenges to prospective jurors. From the San Francisco Chronicle:
A committee of presiding Superior Court judges wants to go further and eliminate jury trials altogether for misdemeanors punishable by less than six months in jail. Those cases would be heard by a judge. Juries would be reduced to eight members for other misdemeanors and civil suits.
Studies in other states, where smaller juries are common, have found that they increase the chance of an erroneous conviction, Adachi said. A 2004 study by the National Center for State Courts concluded that smaller juries would save money but “likely be less representative of the community.”
But the U.S. Supreme Court, in a series of rulings since 1970, has upheld convictions by juries with as few as six members. The Justice Department says 39 states authorize juries with fewer than 12 members, mostly for misdemeanor cases.
The 12-juror standard can be traced back at least to 17th century England, where legal authority Edward Coke suggested its roots lay in “holy writ,” such as biblical references to 12 tribes and 12 apostles.
On This Day: 1860 – Organized baseball’s first game was played in San Francisco, CA. 1956 – Elvis Presley entered the music charts for the first time with “Heartbreak Hotel.”1973 – The U.S. and the People’s Republic of China agreed to establish liaison offices.
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