Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Daily Breeze v. The South Bay?

There is nothing wrong with in-depth, hard-hitting investigative journalism, as long as the truth is uncovered, or what people read about gets them mad enough to do something constructive about it.

The Fourth Estate, otherwise known as The Press, was intended to the key security against misrule.

Expose to the voting public what our leaders are doing, good or bad, and hold them accountable.

Perhaps for that reason we find so much entertainment and infotainment media in our cultures, and politicians who tacitly support it. Keep people distracted about former Olympic medalist Bruce Jenner's transgender transformation, or recount Miley Cyrus' latest display of self-loathing and shame, and they will find local or national politics too complicated or extreme to follow.

Yet local papers exposing behind the scenes corruption can agitate sufficient interest from readers. The year-long expose by the Daily Breeze's former education reporter Rob Kuznia about now-terminated  Centinela Valley superintendent Jose Fernandez. The LA Times made short work of the rapacious former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo, who was bilking hundreds of thousands out of the small city's working-class residents, along with a greedy, complicit city council. These exposes should quicken people to pay attention to what their local leaders are doing, whether on the city council or the local school board.

Yet for the past few months, it appears that the Daily Breeze has spent more time needlessly upsetting local leaders, refusing to listen to them, or to honor their side of any story. Other complaints have centered on the paper's wider focus on LA issues, without extensive interest in South Bay matters.

Carson, California discussed boycotting the Daily Breeze because of its frequently "negative" reporting. When describing crime, one of the city councilmembers complained that the paper would deliberately describe the incidents occurring "near Carson", when the paper could have reported that the crimes occurred in Los Angeles, or near Torrance.

Does Carson have a crime problem? If it does, then the paper has a duty to report it. There have been a number of upsetting shenanigans taking place in the city, from the petty squabbles among city councilmembers (they would switch name placards on each other), to the recent hiring then firing of a city manager, all within one month. The city even toyed with passing an anti-bullying ordinance. Were the city leaders going to sue each other as soon as that ordinance was passed?

One source has informed me that city leaders in Torrance and Lomita do not want to speak with the current Daily Breeze journalist assigned to their cities. Another source had suggested that one South Bay mayor had threatened the paper's editors with a lawsuit if they did not back away from publishing certain stories? Libel and fraud is wrong, but when the paper is exposing incompetence or the misdeeds of local leaders, local readers should applaud.

South Bay, Los Angeles (Metro,net)
The question remains: How does any reporter balance writing the truth about government without alienating key contacts?

As long as the local press is doing its job, following tips and leads, reporting the facts of a story, considering the different sides of an issue, then the paper's stock and esteem will not diminish for local readers.

Still, any reporter who insists on repeating old conflicts, or republishes tired accounts of past mistakes, is not going to gain credibility, increase readership, or engage the public to hold South Bay government officials accountable. Newspaper editors and publishers must exude impartiality, integrity, and honesty in their stories. Some recent columns in the Daily Breeze, however, have left the impression that there are personal differences setting off conflicts among editors and local government officials.

The local press cannot operate on a "We v. They" model. The truth  may require reporting many sides, yet no story can be credible if incredibly one-sided, focusing only on bringing out the worst without resorting to key first sources, eyewitnesses, records, and accounts. Hopefully, the strained animus between city officials and the local paper will dissolve where needed, and South Bay residents will learn more of the good, as well as do something about the bad, in their city governments.

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