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Before making the phone call, I researched for weeks. I typed out my questions.
You divulged your history? You profited $75,000? How have you been hands off on a $409 million deal?
And then I dialed.
A fixture of San Diego’s downtown community answered the phone, in her gruff voice.
Nancy Graham, then the top leader of the city’s downtown redevelopment agency, didn’t sound happy to hear from a reporter she’d never met. But I’d heard she was negotiating a big development deal with a company she’d done business with a few years before. And she hadn’t disclosed that relationship.
I questioned. She deflected. All those allegations? “A bullshit argument,” she said. I could hear her seething. She wasn’t involved in the downtown deal, she said, and she didn’t have a business relationship to disclose.
I kept digging. Within weeks, the real story unraveled: In all, she’d been involved as a public official with $1.5 billion in deals proposed by her former business partners. She’d gotten hundreds of thousands from them, some while in office here. And she hadn’t disclosed the connection.
Here’s my point in reviving that story: Without Voice of San Diego, I wouldn’t have been digging, doing the investigation needed to make that phone call. I wouldn’t have been around to follow up, to keep writing, to keep pushing to learn what really happened. Criminal charges wouldn’t have been filed. A $32,000 fine wouldn’t have been levied.
Without us, her conflict of interest might have remained hidden and reinforced the perception that nobody notices these kinds of things.
But VOSD did exist. And miraculously, I had a job there. A job whose primary focus was to find and tell stories that people would prefer go untold. A job that only existed because of this community’s commitment to funding it. We haven’t been cheerleaders. We’ve written the real stuff.
The city councilman whose torrential home water use didn’t match his save-every-drop rhetoric. The monster truck-sized holes in SDG&E’s case for building a transmission line with a nearly $2 billion price tag. The federal agency that’s killed 18,700 animals here since 2005 but hasn’t disclosed basic facts about its publicly funded work.
This job has been so incredibly rewarding. I feel so privileged to have been given the chance to work here, on the cutting edge of journalism’s new frontiers, alongside some of the brightest, most dogged people I’ve ever met.
Now I’m leaving. I’m newly married, and my wife and I want an adventure before we have kids. We’re off to Indonesia in mid-October. Then: Australia, New Zealand and a one-way ticket to Ecuador in January. We want to have a good explore.
I am incredibly grateful to Andrew Donohue and Scott Lewis, whose leadership at VOSD helped make it what it is today. (I also appreciate them hiring me way back in 2006 for this dream job.)
But even more, I’m grateful to the VOSD community. Those who read it, financially support it and give money so my colleagues and I can do our jobs.
Here’s the thing. Every day, every year, San Diegans have a choice to make. Do they value the journalism we do? Do they care about investigative, independent journalism? Do they want reporters in this city whose bosses aren’t telling them to write positive stories?
Conventional wisdom about San Diego holds that we’d prefer to think happy-fun-time-beach-party thoughts and not confront the very real challenges that exist here. In that imaginary world, a story about a $1.5 billion development fiasco would go untold. We’d be too busy playing beach volleyball.
But VOSD is a living, breathing stake through that cliché’s heart. San Diegans want an independent press that challenges authority and digs for the truth. And damn, knowing that makes me feel so good about this city. You do care, after all.
So I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I’ll work for free my last week here and donate every cent of my last week’s salary to VOSD, the institution that I’ve been proud to call home since 2006.
One condition: I want our members and would-be members to match it, and then some. If we get $10,000 in donations before Oct. 5, my last day here, I’ll write a check before I walk out the door one last time.
Make me work for free. Donate here.
Rob Davis is a senior reporter at Voice of San Diego. You can contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0529.
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