The Morning Report
Get the news and information you need to take on the day.
Hello all. Sorry it’s been slow in the blog, I’ve been traveling almost more than I ever have in my life. This is ironic for someone who claims he’s so committed to local journalism, I know. There are people, though, all around the country struggling with the same problems we are here and we’re working to build support systems and grapple with all of these issues together.
Nonprofit news efforts are popping up across the country and large foundations are mobilizing to perhaps help us help others, collaborate editorially and share liabilities like insurance and legal needs.
It’s quite an exciting time. I’ll have more to say about the developments as they progress. You can read this update here for more on where I was this last week. I don’t have any travel plans for a long time.
But let’s take care of some business first.
- I will be continuing my discussion about the proposed downtown library this week. Some people are wrongly getting the impression I’m being a small-minded curmudgeon who is just trying to destroy this project. I may be small minded but I’m all about building bold new infrastructure for the future. I’m trying to get us to think much more broadly about what we want San Diego to look like decades from now. If that’s not coming across, then we’ll work on it this week.
- I had a metaphor contest going last week that I need to make good on. I crafted this analogy about the city’s potential investment in a massive new downtown library:
Them building a library and yet cutting back hours and closing others would be like me laying off reporters and yet buying a dozen computers.
And I asked readers to come up with their own way to finish this sentence: “The city building a massive new downtown library and yet cutting library hours and closing other branches would be like …”
Some of the good responses:
“… like building an aircraft carrier, and executing all the pilots.”
“… putting in granite countertops and new cabinets a week after you get your notice of default.”
But the winner is reader April who said that the city building a massive new downtown library while cutting down hours and closing branches is like “granting massive retroactive retirement benefits when you can’t afford to fund your current plan.”
I’m pretty sure I know who April is but please confirm by shooting me an e-mail and we’ll send the voiceofsandiego.org T-shirt to you.
- I’ve been asked a lot about this news. Wow, a nonprofit investigative news outlet forming in San Diego? What a wild idea.
Welcome to the club. A lot of people are realizing that the nonprofit model offers a news entity a lot of opportunities and helps them focus their mission.
- I keep getting positive feedback on the new Morning Report. If you ever have trouble following our stories or aren’t sure if you’re missing something, the morning e-mail is a fantastic way to keep up. Sign up here.
- Oh and while I was out the Union Tribune provoked an angry response from city employees when it assembled a searchable database of San Diego city employee salaries.
Given my willingness to throw (always respectful) darts at the Union-Tribune, a lot of people have turned to me on this one. I think I have credible perspective on it: I’m a manager of a small but growing operation with employees who have salaries and wages. That said, we are also an investigative news outlet committed to public access to information about government operations. Finally, I have the unique joy of knowing that my salary, as a nonprofit exec, is public and has appeared in the New York Times.
So what do I think? The information is part of the public record. Anybody could do what the U-T did and assemble and reproduce it. So if you’re angry, you should try to change the law. This is an effort I would adamantly oppose, by the way.
Under this letter, writer mayor’s spokeswoman, who I’m guessing is Rachel Laing, claimed that while the information is public, the U-T used it in a “punitive” manner — as a way to attack city employees and further increase the hostility between them and angry taxpayers.
The database’s format might have contributed to this impression. It’s a simple form where readers enter a person’s name and find out how much he or she makes. This makes it seem like a vehicle for figuring out what one person makes. Not, instead, like a vehicle to better understand how the city spends its money.
So the question to me isn’t whether it was appropriate but whether it was really all that valuable. Maybe as a resource, over time, it will turn out to be valuable. But some have accused it of also being inaccurate and confusing with all the different types of compensation loaded into one number. So anyone using it as a resource will have to double check its accuracy for whatever study or story they’re putting together.
I would say this to city employees: Be proud of what you earn. It makes it look like you feel you have something to be ashamed of in those numbers when you complain so loudly about them being published. And if you truly don’t think it should be public record at all, then your ire should be directed at the legislators and courts.
And finally, editor Karin Winner bizarrely apologized for the database at the same time she defended its publication. “Particularly since the city found itself on the brink of bankruptcy, transparency about the way our local government spends our money has been yet more important. That said, I am sorry for whatever problems the stories may have caused you.”
She should also be proud of her decision. If she’s not, I don’t think the people who are upset are going to feel better with the “I’m-sorry-if-you-were-offended” type of apology.
Looking forward to a good week.