The Best Local Journalism of 2013

The Best Local Journalism of 2013

Image via KPBS

KPBS created a level of trust that allowed Bob Filner's accusers to come forward to tell their stories.

“There’s no good journalism in San Diego!” We hear that every now and then, especially from snooty local journalists who should know better.

In fact, local media outlets produce some mighty fine work. Check out these remarkable stories from 2013 that left us with a greater understanding of this place we call home:

Uncovered: Cabal Behind Political Blitzkrieg

The story:Secret Anti-Demaio Campaign Revealed Group’s Assault Aimed to Damage Demaio,” by Craig Gustafson, U-T San Diego, March 24, 2013.

What it’s about: In 2012, a secretive group produced a 200-page “dossier” and nagged local reporters to jump on a bunch of nasty allegations regarding mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio and his partner. With one exception, media outlets were unimpressed by the charges and refused to publish or air stories.

Who was behind the skullduggery? The U-T uncovered the answer: “some of the city’s biggest movers and shakers” clandestinely plotted to push DeMaio, a Republican, out of the race.

Excerpt: “[Fred] Maas and his cohorts may have run afoul of state and local campaign laws when they raised money for the project and failed to disclose its financial backers or spending activity. The group continued to resist subpoena attempts by local and state investigators for information throughout the mayor’s race as those involved tried to keep their roles in the project from being made public by saying it was a journalistic endeavor.”

Why it’s exceptional: One of 2013′s blockbuster local news stories, this article exposed an attempt to use the cover of journalism to hide the sordid machinations of a political attack machine.

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A Shocking Death Toll at Local Jails

The stories:60 Dead Inmates,” a multi-part series by Dave Maass and Kelly Davis, San Diego Citybeat, 2013.

What they’re about: They killed themselves. They were killed, one beaten to death by a man named “Evil” in the cell they shared. They died of problems apparently linked to drug use withdrawal. In total, 60 local jail inmates died from 2007-2012, and more (at least another 10 more) died this year.

The death rate from 2007-2012 was the highest of the state’s top 10 jail systems.

Excerpt: “[The 60 dead inmates] were 56 men and four women. Thirty-six were white, 15 Hispanic, six African-American, one Korean-American, one Native American and one was a Chinese national. Most suffered from substance abuse and/or mental-health issues, and many were transient before their arrest. Their average age was 46. The youngest was 18.”

Why they’re exceptional Even when they’re flush with money, news organizations don’t devote much time to the problems of prisons and jails. These stories exposed a deadly problem and carefully rebutted excuses.

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As Hospice Collapses, a Man’s Life Ebbs

The story:When Does End Of Life Begin: Hospice Under Scrutiny,” by Joanne Faryon, Inewsource, Feb. 5, 2013.

What it’s about: San Diego Hospice, one of the most well-known hospices in the country, collapsed this year amid allegations of massive fraud. It faced claims that it kept people on hospice much too long, robbing the federal government of Medicare funds.

Inewsource, a non-profit news outlet affiliated with KPBS, followed a dying man who spent his last months at home on hospice care. He stayed alive for months and months, becoming the kind of patient who raises questions about the purpose and expense of hospice care.

Excerpt: “At the heart of the spiraling cost is a group of patients outliving their six-month prognosis. Under pressure to save money and find fraud, Medicare is now asking, are they really dying?”

Why it’s exceptional: With a kind of delicate intimacy, the story turns the dying man, LC Sallis, into more than a number or a symbol. He died fewer than two weeks after the story appeared.

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Filner’s Alleged Victims Speak Out

The stories:Filner Harassment Scandal Grows As Second Woman Comes Forward,” “Third Woman Comes Forward In Filner Harassment Scandal,” “Four More Women Accuse Filner,” by various reporters, KPBS, July 2013.

What they’re about: KPBS, which usually does more analysis and in-depth coverage than breaking news, dominated much of summer’s Filner coverage through its interviews with women who claimed the mayor sexually harassed them.

Excerpt: “He stopped me and he got very close to me. And he ran his finger up my cheek like this and he whispered to me, ‘Do you have a man in your life?’ I jumped back. I was very, very startled. And I said, ‘Yes, I have a man in my life.’ … I was really rattled, I got in the car with the two guys I was working with and I told them never to leave me alone in a room with Bob Filner again.” — Ronnie Froman, former city chief operating officer.

Why they’re exceptional: KPBS created a level of trust that allowed these women to take the courageous step of coming forward to tell their stories. The station handled the interviews respectfully and without sensationalism.

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More 2013 Stories to Remember

• CityBeat writer Jon Campbell was the first to expose the remarkable fact that local police agencies are monitoring the movements of countless drivers around the county by scanning their license plates: “With 36 million scans and counting — an average of 14 for every registered vehicle in the county — the database provides a mappable, searchable record of the movements of thousands of individual drivers.”

• In series of stories in conjunction with the Center for Health Reporting, the U-T chronicled “Deadly Neglect” at local assisted living centers: “At least 27 San Diego County seniors have died since 2008 from injuries and neglect suffered in the facilities.”

• “For reasons unique to the region, San Diego County will be the first to stick a big straw into the Pacific,” reported the Los Angeles Times’ Bettina Boxall in a story about plans to build the nation’s largest plan to pull drinkable water out of the ocean. But the Carlsbad plant, she writes, is no panacea for our endless water woes.

• CityBeat editor Dave Rolland had never heard the journalism term “tick-tock” for a news story that offers a moment-by-moment chronicle of an event. But he created a classic tick-tock in his immensely readable and emotionally devastating September story titled “How Donna Frye, Marco Gonzalez and Cory Briggs Ended Bob Filner’s Political Career.

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Randy Dotinga

Randy Dotinga

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego and president of the American Society of Journalists & Authors. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga

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