The best part of working for an investigative news outlet is freedom from the pressures that most journalists feel every day to produce something — there’s always a press conference, always a speech, always a court ruling, always a litany of small developments that it’s easy to feel obligated to digest and describe for your audience.
The worst part of working for an investigative news outlet is that freedom breeds a much different kind of pressure: If you’re skipping all those incremental daily news developments, it better be for something good. Something big.
We see this most often when new reporters come on board and immediately fret that their first story must be something monumental that takes down a system or gets people fired. That can lead to paralysis.
But when reporters get in a groove, settle into a beat, work their sources and find something that excites them, man, that is fun to watch. We saw it over the last year with Andrew Keatts’ incredible SANDAG investigation, Ashly McGlone’s FieldTurf series, Mario Koran’s grad rate reporting and much more.
This week, we’re kicking off a new series by Maya Srikrishnan shining a light on the hidden homeless families of San Ysidro. In the series, Srikrishnan will examine how the region’s housing crisis, San Ysidro’s location on the border and government agencies’ conflicting definitions of who actually counts as homeless all work against families that don’t have enough money to afford conventional apartments or homes in San Diego. Our freelance contributor Gabriel Ellison-Scowcroft has also contributed some fantastic photos and multimedia packages to drive home the experiences of these families.
Covering vulnerable people and populations requires an extraordinary time investment as reporters work to gain sources’ trust and navigate all kinds of hurdles, like working with sources who don’t have a fixed address or cell phones and who speak limited English.
That’s a good example of why investigative reporting is both a luxury and a burden: It affords time, resources and freedom to pursue stories that matter; but you sure better deliver.
What VOSD Learned This Week
For years, critics of San Diego County leaders have charged that the county stockpiles its cash instead of spending it on vulnerable residents it’s charged with helping. At least part of that is true, Lisa Halverstadt found in a series this week on the County Board of Supervisors’ spending priorities. The county does have a bigger bank account than virtually every other county in the nation. And leaders have self-imposed rules limiting how much they spend.
Advocates and political opponents say homelessness has reached a crisis point, and that the county should loosen its purse strings in order to tackle the problem.
Those complaints are taking root – two supervisors this week proposed spending $25 million on affordable housing. Halverstadt looked back at how current board members prioritized building stuff and amassing savings, and how that might be changing.
In other budget news, the state passed its massive budget this week, and San Diego’s state lawmakers weighed in on what they were happy – and upset – to see included.
San Diego politics has been uncharacteristically interesting and feisty lately. For the most part, Mayor Kevin Faulconer came out on the losing end of all the drama, after the City Council killed his plan for a special election this year. Now, the mayor’s staff is getting a shakeup.
The special election might be dead, but the debate over whether to expand the Convention Center will surely live on. That’s why it’s important to vet the mayor’s claims about why an expansion is needed and what impact it would have.
San Diego’s Rapid bus is quite slow. There are a few easy ways to make it faster and more reliable – and a few harder, more controversial solutions too.
What I’m Reading
• Two separate investigations this week come to similar, disturbing conclusions: that violent incidents in Mexico can be traced back to U.S. policies. One story focuses on a 2011 massacre across the border from Texas; the other zooms in on the chilling string of murders of Mexican journalists. (ProPublica, The Intercept)
• A thorough debunking of the NCAA’s claim that paying student athletes would hinder their educations. (Vice Sports)
• An important investigation into why pineapples are suddenly all over women’s clothing, home décor and cell phone cases. (Lenny Letter)
• Sarah Kliff is the most prolific health care reporter in the country. She writes that in her years of covering health care policy, she has never witnessed lies and obstruction like what is unfolding as Senate Republicans create an Obamacare replacement bill under cover of darkness. (Vox)
• You’ve probably heard some stories about how women were quietly behind some of the greatest works of literature. Here’s a modern spin: There are also women secretly producing the content those ubiquitous “social media influencers” post. (Marie Claire)
Line of the Week
Dianne Feinstein: So tell me what you discussed with the president.
Sessions: Where is your seersucker?
Feinstein: (coldly) Seersucker is only for Thursdays.
Sessions: Then I shall not answer on the grounds of a long-standing Justice Department policy that I have just now invented.
— From a fictional recounting of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Senate testimony this week.