Welcome to the Member Report, a new weekly members-only benefit of the Raise Your Voice program. Each week, we'll share tidbits of news and information, as well as some of the unusual experiences we encounter as we push to uncover the truth and explain the issues impacting San Diego.
The Voice of the County
By VOSD CEO Scott Lewis
CityBeat ran an interesting story this week examining the costs and philosophy behind the county of San Diego's CountyNewsCenter.com.
When CityBeat reporter Dave Maass called me to talk about it last week, he probably didn't expect the earful he got. This is a topic I've obsessed over.
Let me explain.
It seems the county's chief executive, Walt Ekard, has finally acted on his long frustration about the media's lack of focus on positive or even not-bad news about the gigantic government agency he runs.
So, he's created a news website. It's a sort of "Voice of the County Government."
You can see it as a way to go directly to the people with information, without simply hoping the press covers it without filtering or mangling it. Or you can see it as state-run media.
But Ekard is proactively dealing with a common complaint: You never write anything positive about us!
I agree. We don't. We don't do a lot of positive stories about places like the county. It's not Voice of San Diego's role. This is why I have, for years, candidly encouraged him and others to do it themselves.
Now, CityBeat's story focuses on costs, and I think Ekard and his team have some questions to answer about how much they spent on their website. The story shows that they spent more than Voice of San Diego, CityBeat and KPBS spend on their web infrastructure combined. The county would not explain to Maass why.
Maybe the county will do its own story on that.
This is, though, a good vision of what the future holds. News organizations are struggling mightily. Just today we learned that the New Orleans Times-Picayune will stop publishing a print edition every day. The reporters at this storied, beloved and historic institution are bracing for massive job cuts.
In a world where the resources for the kind of journalism we do are diminishing, we must focus them appropriately.
The county, on the other hand, has a guaranteed source of income and it spends $3.1 million a year on its public information officers, many of whom were talented writers and broadcast journalists.
So, you have independent journalists with dwindling resources and you have a county with a lot of money. Who should have the responsibility of covering the county's positive news?
In a world like this, we believe it's our role to a) Make sense of what the county and others write and say, fact check it and explain it. And b) Find out what they don't want to say.
After all, that's the true value of independent media.
As resources for public service journalism are lost, we can't use the few that remain simply to transmit information from one source to the masses. In other words, if a journalist is out there working and their only job is to take what someone says, write it down and put it out to the people, that journalist is not worth investing in.
People like Walk Ekard, the county, and football teams, and other politicians are only going to get better and better at using their own tools to send people information they want to send.
We must focus our efforts on holding them accountable and making sense of the world around us. It's a service to the public. As they're bombarded with tweets and news websites, they need a place whose mission is to figure out what's true, explain what's happening and find out what's going wrong.
As papers like the Times-Picayune collapse, it drives me nuts that they don't ask their community for support. They aren't built to do that.
They're built to sell ads. And as advertisers also find their own ways to go direct to the public, newspapers are stuck in a tough spot.
Our mission at VOSD is to preserve and enhance the true role of the independent press. And that's what we think you'll support. Without having to cover the fluff and pomp of daily civic life, we can focus your hard-earned dollars on that mission.
And if you want to hear about all the great things the county is doing, let them and their well-trained staff explain it to you.
You can pay us to make sure they don't lie.
I heard about an entertaining exchange about journalism in San Diego recently. It seems that after Doug Manchester and John Lynch purchased and renamed U-T San Diego, Lynch paid KPBS's General Manager Tom Karlo a visit.
I got some rumors about what was said so I asked Karlo about it.
Karlo said the new U-T CEO was very respectful and impressed with what KPBS had done. The station is a model in its sector for converging web, TV and radio functions. And the newsroom they built is extraordinary and just beautiful.
But Lynch got more serious with Karlo.
He said he and Manchester had determined that KPBS was the U-T's competitor and they did not like, at all, that KPBS got government subsidies as they went about competing.
"He told me he didn't think it was right that government was competing with a businessman," Karlo said.
Karlo told him they didn't think they were in the same business. KPBS does analysis, he said. "It's a different journalism," he told me.
The first month of our new Raise Your Voice membership program went very well. With that initial campaign launch coming to an end, we will be sending fewer solicitations but the campaign will go on indefinitely.
You see, we're no longer doing the quarterly membership campaigns we used to do. You know what I mean: Where one day, you see us set a seemingly random goal for the month and then bug you until we reach it.
We had done quarterly drives like that because, frankly, that's what public radio does.
But public broadcasters do that because they have to interrupt programming to make a sustained plea for support. They can only do it quarterly because interrupting program is tough on the audience.
We're moving to a consistent conversation with our members and readers. We're going to be clearly explaining what we need, where we're at and regularly inviting people to become members in ways that are easy to swallow.
So, a recap: In that first month of the campaign, we received 268 donations and signed up 140 new members.
It was great for an April. Thank you so much.
As of the beginning of May, we were 35 percent of the way to our revenue goal for the year with a third of the year completed.
So please, ask your friends if they're getting the Morning Report, or if they are engaged with us but aren't members, and help us explain why this service deserves support. Even if we can be annoying or frustrating, if you want the operation to continue and improve, it needs support.
And sponsors are finding us to be more and more of a value as well. If your company or organization needs to get a message out to the most informed people in San Diego, we can help.
Help us raise your Voice.
I'm Scott Lewis, the CEO of Voice of San Diego. You can contact me directly at email@example.com or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it's a blast!): twitter.com/vosdscott.