While I’m guessing some coverage of interest to progressives will continue to appear, the heart and soul of the organization appear to be headed in another direction.
By Doug Porter
There’s trouble afoot at San Diego CityBeat, the alt-weekly known for its focus on local progressive politics, arts, and music.
Editor Dave Rolland and associate editor Kelly Davis both cited plausible professional reasons as they exited the publication in March, with Rolland promising readers “our departure does not foretell CityBeat’s demise.”
Incoming editor Ron Donoho started off vowing to “continue this alt-weekly tradition,” and pledging to “stink up the place if our local leaders foul things up.” Unfortunately these promises were woven into a bizarre scatological analogy, ending with “if we see brown, we’ll flush it down.”
This week’s “From the Editor” messaging takes on the pressing issue of promposals, which we learn are the latest silliness from high schoolers looking for creative ways to score dates for the end-of-year dance ritual. It’s a real first world problem, folks, one Donoho wants us to consider as “latest sign that the apocalypse is upon us.”
Here’s the editorial’s conclusion:
Abolishing the promposal is not something we can legislate. In a way, perhaps this surge is a sign that the economy is getting stronger. Great. But if 18-year-olds have access to more disposable income, let’s encourage them to save money for college, or teach them how to manage the minimum-wage income from their part-time jobs.
Here’s an idea for a tutorial: Will Ferrell creates a FunnyorDie.com skit that lampoons and shames the act of promposing. He spends a million dollars to rent a plane to skywrite a message, but the plane crashes into the gal he’s asking to prom.
Ferrell is arrested for involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to hard time in jail. That’d go viral.
While I realize that all politics and no culture makes for a boring publication, the drama going on behind the scenes at CityBeat seems indicative of a broader agenda. While I’m guessing some coverage of interest to progressives will continue to appear, the heart and soul of the organization appear to be headed in another direction.
FYI-From the Wikipedia page on the new editor:
Donoho is the recipient of over 40 awards from the San Diego Press Club and Society of Professional Journalists. Donoho previously contributed to NBCSanDiego.com. Donoho is the co-author of the book The Coronado Company: The True Story of Surfers, Smugglers, and Marijuana. The Cornado Company is the subject of a film, Coronado High, directed by George Clooney. In 2013, Donoho was one of ten national finalists in a Ron Burgundy look-alike contest.
Davis Gets Dumped
The first clue I had came via Facebook, as Kelly Davis, who’d stayed on to help through the transition, let the world know she’d been unceremoniously dumped.
Hey everyone: For the last few weeks, I’ve been proofreading CityBeat and continuing to write my cocktail column. I’ve also picked up some of Kinsee Morlan‘s tasks while she’s on maternity leave.
Well, I was just informed by CityBeat’s new editor, Ron Donoho, that my services will no longer be needed. I will no longer be writing my cocktail column, or the shopping column. No news stories. Nada….
…yesterday I told the company that they’re violating state law by not paying employees who leave Southland Publishing their full unused vacation pay. This comes after they forced me to be an independent contractor simply because I filled out the wrong paperwork. They also accused me of having a long history of taking vacations and not reporting the time off, which simply isn’t true.
This is a paper that David Rolland and I—and many, many others—worked for 13 years to build. The new editor has come in and made a number of changes that cause me to question whether the solid wall Dave built between advertising and editorial is being slowly chipped away; I know it’s being chipped away. And the editorial page that used to make me so proud has now become a joke (read tomorrow’s editor’s note and you’ll see what I mean).
While this superficially might seem like a combination of new management and a disgruntled former employee, the back story suggests otherwise.
In 2013 and 2014 a breast cancer diagnosis, a double mastectomy and multiple rounds of chemotherapy slowed associate editor Kelly Davis down a little, but she continued her duties as associate editor. Perhaps that’s where the accusations of not reporting time off came from, even if it’s not true.
Here’s a couple of snips from Dave Rolland’s farewell to her:
In my admittedly biased opinion, Kelly became San Diego’s best and most prolific journalistic authority on homelessness, bringing her trademark compassion to the topic and, I believe, helping persuade politicians and influential business and philanthropic groups to move homelessness from an unpleasant political problem that got swept under the rug to almost a chic issue that became an important plank in political platforms (see Kevin Faulconer’s own trajectory on the issue)…
…It was inevitable that Kelly would outgrow CityBeat. I think that happened awhile back, but she cares so deeply about the paper and wants so badly for it to flourish that, until now, she’d been unable to walk away. For some time, I’ve been gently trying to nudge her out of the nest, at the same time fearing the day when she’d finally fly. I worried because it’s been 13 years and five months since I’ve had to put out a weekly paper without her…
Davis is a certainly not some flake. Her venture into freelancing raised nearly four times the goal of her IndieGoGo crowd-funding pitch to continue her impressive body of work on the criminal justice system in San Diego. In recent weeks her freelance efforts have borne fruit with bylines in Voice of San Diego and UT-San Diego.
Dave Rolland has gone on to Sacramento, where he’s working for Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins’ staff. (If you have doubts about whether Atkins harbors further ambitions after she’s termed out in 2016, consider Rolland’s move northward as a strong counter-argument.)
Way back in the hippie ages I was an editor with the San Diego Door, an underground newspaper with a muckraking bent. Times changed and the Door went away, its place taken by San Diego Reader. (With a little help from some of the people in power we’d pissed off along the way)
The Reader still exists today, and while there are some contributors to the publication who strive mightily to provide some context to their reporting, there can be little doubt of its role as a “safe” vehicle. The right wing Catholic politics of its owner allow it to be used as a vehicle for funding anti-women’s rights causes.
CityBeat editorials under @drolland: http://t.co/ap2z93One7 CityBeat editorials after @drolland left: http://t.co/XQd6bMr8Gz
— Kelly Davis (@kellylynndavis) April 22, 2015
I don’t think I’ve ever met Kelly Davis, although I did get a rejection letter from her on my only attempt at a submission to CityBeat. (She was right.)
None-the-less I take all this personally, as one who guided a progressive paper and saw it replaced with fluff, and as a cancer survivor who fought through the horrors of treatment by staying focused on the words I could type after the disease took away my vocal chords.
CityBeat under Dave Rolland and Kelly Davis was far from perfect, but it was a damn sight better than anything else in print these days. Given that print as a medium is a doubtful journalistic path to take for the future, it’s entirely possible we’ve just witnessed the end of an era.
Happy Earth Day
The next time you run into somebody bloviating about unions and special interest groups’ power in Washington, consider quoting this nugget (emphasis mine) from The Atlantic.com:
Something is out of balance in Washington. Corporations now spend about $2.6 billion a year on reported lobbying expenditures—more than the $2 billion we spend to fund the House ($1.18 billion) and Senate ($860 million). It’s a gap that has been widening since corporate lobbying began to regularly exceed the combined House-Senate budget in the early 2000s.
Today, the biggest companies have upwards of 100 lobbyists representing them, allowing them to be everywhere, all the time. For every dollar spent on lobbying by labor unions and public-interest groups together, large corporations and their associations now spend $34. Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying, 95 consistently represent business.
One has to go back to the Gilded Age to find business in such a dominant political position in American politics. While it is true that even in the more pluralist1950s and 1960s, political representation tilted towards the well-off, lobbying was almost balanced by today’s standards.
On This Day: 1954 – The U.S. Senate Army-McCarthy televised hearings began. 1970 – Happy #ChicanoPark Day! 45 years ago today barrio residents and the greater Chicano community stood tall and created this beautiful space. 2011– Songwriter, musician and activist Hazel Dickens died at age 75. Among her songs: “They’ll Never Keep Us Down” and “Working Girl Blues.” Cultural blogger John Pietaro: “Dickens didn’t just sing the anthems of labor, she lived them. Her place on many a picket line, staring down gunfire and goon squads, embedded her into the cause”
Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to “The Starting Line” and get an email every time a new article in this series is posted!
I read the Daily Fishwrap(s) so you don’t have to… Catch “the Starting Line” Monday thru Friday right here at San Diego Free Press (dot) org. Send your hate mail and ideas to DougPorter@SanDiegoFreePress.Org Check us out on Facebook and Twitter.
bob dorn says
Two weeks Donoho wrote a column that seemed to me to descend to the puerile rant of a Young Republican or Tea Partyer fed up with dem damn revenooers. He never mentioned Congressional budget cuts that have reduced the IRS budget to the point that it can’t answer phones nor investigate tax frauds whose numbers have been growing like weeds. The issue was his lengthy phone holds, as if anyone cared how uncomfortable the IRS was making him. So I wrote to the email address a long letter explaining how worthy of sophomore high skill social studies he sounded that ended with this:
“…to me it seems you were looking around for some tax-season drum to beat and it came off sounding like some grumpy old man wearing a McCain/Palin baseball cap was practicing some very tired licks. It’s not very much like a city beat.”
Doug Porter says
I left a couple of comments, including a link to John Oliver’s most excellent presentation on the subject…. nada…
Jay Powell says
Sounds like City Beat is morphing into the city “bleat”. Kelly Davis is one of the best journalists in San Diego and beyond. If this is how they treat her on top of the new sophomoric silly talk, …yuck… We will see who survives over there.
BTW, Matt Potter, Dan Bauder and some of the other contributors to the Reader still dig up the goods on the bads. Even the UT has been featuring some good reporting by Jeff McDonald and Morgan Lee on the shenanigans at the California Public Utilities Commission.
Bonnie Bekken says
Yeah on Jeff McDonald on the CPU shitnanigans. He learned a lot from Ray Lutz. McDonald, if he stays with it, could win a Pulitzer–IF the rate payers get a break in that fiasco.
Nobody has mentioned Donoho’s long local tenure was with San Diego Mag. That’s the first thing I thought of when his ascendance to editor of CityBeat was announced. I was afraid it would go in that milquetoast direction and it seems to be coming true.
Sniff (holds back a tear).
Bonnie Bekken says
Doug Porter, had just read this week’s CityBeat and slumped in disappointment, because there was nothing there except Kelly Davis’s insightful bio on a favorite Adams Ave. woman whose background in comparative lit brought her to Sycamore Den. Wise and wonderful writing. Then I wondered about CityBeat’s odd LaJolla ads, Donoho’s weak joke editorial. Huh? What is going on, I thought, because I thought I knew who he was and did not get it. You, as evidenced by your Free Press commentary, get it. Am sickened by what Donohue did to Davis. I don’t know what his game is, but think you tagged it well with the “Readerization” of CB. I met Donoho years ago, and did not see him as an ass at all. Well, he’s not; he is simply another San Diego Sell-Out.