Jeff Ackerman: The Union covers news relevant to our readers
It seems we’ve struck a nerve in The System that runs our legal, municipal and school affairs in these parts. How can I tell? Because of the typical cries of “tabloid journalism,” which is pretty common when The System doesn’t like the media poking around in its business, which is supposed to be the same as the taxpayers’ business.
County Manager Rick Haffey wrote a guest column last weekend wherein he suggested, “Good news isn’t welcome at The Union.” That comment follows similar cries from others (judges, district attorneys, sheriff’s department officials, county supervisors, etc.) when we have questioned The System. Mostly, I suspect, it’s because The System does not like to be questioned when it comes to certain matters, such as a revolving door for criminals (you ought to see the rap sheets of some of these familiar names in our Police Blotter); questionable court decisions; double-dipping for government employees; or a practice of appointing, not electing, judges, which is common around here (leave in mid-term, help appoint your replacement, who will be in office for 20 years because no lawyer wants to run against a sitting judge). We happen to have an editor who is curious about such practices. He wonders if it might not be a leftover from the “Good ‘Ol Boy” days we all thought were behind us. And this is without my editor even visiting the Law Enforcement breakfast table on a Wednesday morning.
Haffey, who happens to be a nice guy, was sticking up for his bosses, which is not a bad thing to do, really. A couple of members of the Board of Supervisors (his bosses) were mad because our reporter quoted them as suggesting that a sushi restaurant would be a cool thing to open up at the county airport. They said they were “just kidding” when they said that and that our reporter should have known they were “just kidding.”
Really? This is California, and it is not that far-fetched to imagine a government-sponsored sushi bar at an airport. Last time I was in an airport they had an “oxygen bar,” where travelers with hangovers could suck up almost pure oxygen for just $20 or so. In fact, I attended a meeting in Nevada City recently and they began the meeting with a musical session (we each picked out an instrument) designed to make sure we were in harmony with Mother Nature prior to discussing the panhandlers urinating in public and the general state of the economy. In fact, a sushi bar seems perfectly normal, all things considered.
Before I get to the “tabloid” part of journalism, let me address the “good news versus bad news” accusation. I went through the last seven editions of The Union and here is what I found:
Monday, April 2: On the Learning Page we had a feature titled, “Eighth-graders make video yearbook at Magnolia.” Bad news? Not unless you don’t like videos. Below that story we listed the winners of a recent school district writing contest (which we sponsor every year, by the way). On Page A3 that day we had a photo of some nice folks making pasties at the Methodist Church. I suppose that might fall under the category of “bad news” if you don’t like pasties. Our Page One bad news that day? It was a feature on three sisters who play for the Bear River High softball team. How is that for bad news? On the right of that front page story was news that a Jamba Juice store was opening soon. That could be bad news for beer drinkers.
Tuesday, April 3: On the Business Page we profiled a local business called Swenson’s Outdoors. It even had a photo. In the Sports section we profiled a high school snowboarder. The Page One “bad news” story that day? It was a story about bunnies. That’s right, little, fluffy bunnies. The story suggested that it might not be a good idea to buy a bunny for Easter because they can be tough to care for. I have three of them myself, and one of them is a real pain in the cotton tail.
Wednesday, April 4: A Page One piece titled “County Jail hits pay dirt” was a feature on a demonstration garden and compost project at the county jail. Below that on Page One was a feature on a new Grass Valley City councilwoman and how she is learning about her new role.
Thursday, April 5: Uh-oh … a Page One story on the Railroad Museum. That one was placed just below the infamous sushi-bar-at-the-airport story, the one that got all the officials’ shorts in a wad.
Friday, April 6: We sent our City Editor Trina Kleist to Mexico with some local Rotarians who were providing dental care for some folks who otherwise would not have gotten their teeth fixed. She gave us a wonderful feature story on Friday.
Sorry, Rick, it doesn’t look like you did your homework on the good news/bad news allegations. Maybe you were “just joking”?
As to the accusation that we practice “tabloid” journalism these days … well … if you are referring to the case of a father accused of sodomizing his son, wherein we wondered why The System wasn’t really prosecuting him aggressively (they are now), or the animal control officer who asked her fellow deputy to hold her crank so she wouldn’t get busted … looks like we’re guilty.
When it comes to understanding journalism, I’ll side with my editor over, say, a career bureaucrat. One has a master’s degree and almost three decades of journalism experience, and the others seem to be spending too much time at the Wednesday morning breakfast table and still believe The System is better off in the hands of the Good ‘Ol Boys and out of sight of the “tabloid” journalists.
Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299, firstname.lastname@example.org, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.
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