Journalists often joke that they know they’re doing a good job when they piss off everyone equally.
But the truth is pissing off sources or story subjects is never a goal; only an occasional, unavoidable byproduct.
Some wary folks might sneer at the idea that journalists don’t set out to anger people, but consider this: We don’t fold up shop and cease to exist once a story is published. We keep writing more and more stories – that’s the point of a news outlet, after all. And pissing off people with whom you must interact regularly makes doing one’s job quite hard.
Enter the San Diego Unified School District.
Our relationship with the district has become quite toxic. And this is a problem, as we cover education.
See if you can spot the pattern in some of our education coverage from the last several months:
“For several months, Voice of San Diego has been trying to understand exactly how San Diego Unified reached its record-setting achievement. District staff members have not accepted repeated requests to meet in person to explain the numbers.” – Published Nov. 2
“The district did not respond to Voice of San Diego’s repeated requests on whether the district plans to continue using the blueprint.” – Published Oct. 6
“Still, Bivins did not explain why changes were made without notifying students and parents before the school year started. Through his secretary, Bivins declined to speak with VOSD about the changes. – Published Sept. 21
“Last year, VOSD noted that Marten has placed 11 principals on special assignment since she was appointed superintendent in 2013.
A San Diego Unified spokesperson told VOSD that district staff members were too busy to provide updated numbers.” – published Aug. 18
“San Diego Unified declined to provide information about how much it spent without a public records request, but Sarah Sutherland, the DWK attorney who’s taken the lead on behalf of school districts, said San Diego Unified has paid her firm about $65,000 to litigate the matter.” – Published July 21
“And earlier this week, when I asked the district communication’s office if they put together any sort of summer resource guide for families, all I heard back was crickets.” – Published June 23
“San Diego Unified spokeswoman Linda Zintz said the district would need to see a specific court opinion or regulation forbidding the arrangement – beyond the state law banning contractors from serving on bond oversight committees – before commenting.” – Published May 24
I’m certain that the fact that the district’s chief communicator made a joke – twice – about murdering one of our reporters, and was not fired or even disciplined has played a role in things getting to this point.
I don’t think that’s the only issue at play, though. Far more likely is the district has determined it’s simply in its best interest to go silent on many stories.
To be sure, the district does answer many questions we send its way. And no one – whether it’s a private citizen, a business or a public official – is obligated to talk to the media.
But when a large public school district decides to withhold information or creates hurdles to obtaining it, and when it refuses to explain its reasoning on major decisions that impact hundreds of students and families, it’s certainly not the handful of reporters in one newsroom that loses out. It’s everyone who has a stake in the education of San Diego’s children.
At the heart of our mission is the idea that San Diego should have good schools that serve everyone. That is presumably San Diego Unified’s mission as well – it’s the driving force behind the district’s push to improve and market neighborhood schools.
So let’s all drive toward that, even when it’s uncomfortable.
I know it’s possible, because it already happens in our interactions with the San Diego County Office of Education. In our coverage of that office, we’ve certainly disagreed with and even angered folks there. Yet its officials continue to provide thoughtful answers to our questions and make officials available for interviews. When they object to something we’ve written, they do so in a professional and reasonable way.
And they’ve never threatened to murder one of us, so they’ve got that going for them as well.
What VOSD Learned This Week
Alcohol often brings drama with it, and the same is true of the permits to sell and serve it.
In Pacific Beach, a virtual cap on new alcohol permits means the existing ones have become like gold – and that’s sparking some fights between landlords and tenants. The demise of one restaurant in particular offers a window into how tense things can get when an alcohol permit is at stake.
Indeed, things are tense in City Heights, where another alcohol permit fight has erupted. One business wants to transfer its permit to another shop a few hundred feet away – but the community is objecting in a big way. The leader of the opposition just so happens to own a business that sells alcohol nearby, blurring the lines between community concern and a desire to snuff out competition.
San Diego contends in its general plan that the city needs to build more housing near transit stops. It’s tried to make that happen around a particular trolley stop that’s in the works in Clairemont, but faced a ton of neighborhood pushback. Now, Andy Keatts reports, a development deal might finally be in close.
In the absence of a significant increase in new housing, San Diego’s homelessness problem rages on. Downtown hoteliers think the issue could hurt their bottom line, and are urging the city to do more to address homelessness.
Kristin Gaspar’s election marks the return of an all-Republican Board of Supervisors; Todd Gloria’s election means he’ll join a Dem-supermajority Assembly. Gloria also talked about his Council tenure on the latest podcast.
What I’m Reading
• The definitive Fidel Castro obituary. (Miami Herald)
• Spoiler alert: This fantastic dive into what the residents of Flint, Mich., continue to deal with in the wake of the water crisis ends with the reporter contracting lead poisoning from exposure to Flint’s water. (Undark)
• Time to feel bad about your new lilac hombre ‘do. This is a deep and visually stunning investigation into the exploitation that’s come as a result of huge global demand for hair extensions. (New Zealand Herald)
• Our pal Rob Davis has a new investigation revealing National Guard armories across the country are grossly contaminated with lead dust. In my hometown of McMinnville, Ore., Davis found that parents unknowingly let infants crawl on a floor blanketed with neurotoxins. (Oregonian)
Line of the Week
“Tom Herman may not win a game as the football coach at the University of Texas but he already won the Falling Face Forward Into a Giant Pile of Cash Plaque.” – The awesome lede to a story critiquing the University of Texas’ head coach hire.