05/18/08

SUPERVISOR 5TH DISTRICT COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO

For the Record

I am concerned there are times when people receive a distorted version of the truth from the news media; whether it is in print, on radio, television or over the Internet.

Because of that, we recently added a communication feature to the home page of our Fifth District website. The purpose is to give you accurate information on news in North County, developments from my office, and how that is reported or ignored by the media. I think “For the Record” is a more accurate description of what we are trying to provide our constituents.

Our intention is to maintain clear lines of communication with the people we serve. We want you to know exactly what is happening in the Fifth District. As you know, we routinely provide information to the news media in the form of media advisories, news releases, and I am often interviewed by reporters in person or over the telephone. Sometimes the only way our information reaches you is through the media. Unfortunately, what you receive in the newspapers, on radio, television, or over the Internet; is often suspect. I think our web site feature gives you a better chance of getting the truth and will allow you to draw your own conclusion.

The media has a clear advantage in the information process while the public and governments rarely have the kind of forum to respond in like manner to distortions, innuendos, misstatements, bias, or lies. That’s why we offer “For the Record.”

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To help you better understand the current climate within the news media, I’ve asked John Culea, my Director of Media and Communications, and someone who was a broadcast journalist from 1969 to 1980, to give his insight into today’s media. John worked as an anchor/reporter in Phoenix, Chicago, and San Diego. In addition to being honored with six Emmys for his work in television news, he earned the reputation of being a “fair and balanced” journalist long before it became a slogan.

For many years, John also taught broadcast journalism and news writing at Point Loma Nazarene University. He joined my staff in 2001, and I believe his thoughts will give you an understanding of what kind of message is often delivered by the “messengers” of today.

Bill Horn

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The State of the Media

By John Culea

Much of the media today is desperately struggling to survive. Local newspapers are cutting coverage, eliminating jobs; giving early retirement, buyouts, or issuing pink slips.

The San Diego Union-Tribune has lost 19% of its Sunday subscribers since 2004 and recently axed ten percent of its employees; including top reporters, one of which helped the paper win a Pulitzer Prize.

The North County Times, while reporting tiny gains in subscribers, has gone through its own round of employee reductions and has a circulation a third that of the Union-Tribune.

Nationally, overall newspaper advertising revenue last year fell nearly eight percent, including a more than nine percent drop in print advertising that was offset partially by a nearly 19 percent increase in online advertising, according to the Newspaper Association of America.

In hopes of retaining subscribers, especially young adults who realize they neither need nor want a newspaper; the Union-Tribune in 2005 became the first big-city daily to give away free classified ads to individuals. TheUnion-Tribune also gives away thousands of copies every day in North County of Today’s Local News.

Network television news has been losing viewers for a generation at a rate of one million a year. According to industry sources, in 1980, the big three of CBS, NBC, and ABC counted 53 million viewers. In 2006, the number had plummeted to 27 million.

Local television news, once a money-printing machine, has also seen dramatic erosion in viewing levels. Ratings and shares for television news stations in many cases are half what they were not that many years ago. Numbers that once would have triggered wholesale firings, new sets, new logos, and new slogans are now celebrated as victories.

While radio and the Internet may be the only mediums that are not on life support; they have their own problems.

The San Diego region once had several radio stations with news departments full-staffed by seasoned professionals. Today, most local radio news is outsourced or divvied out to whoever happens to be in for the day. Last year, KOGO gave up its all-news program in the mornings for a talk format. An exception is KPBS 89.5 FM, with more than 20 people making up the largest radio news staff in the County.

The biggest change in radio and perhaps the single most important reason for its current success, especially AM radio, is the talk-radio format. This is not always “news” as we generally know it—rather it is largely driven by opinion mixed with public forums that can, on occasion, provide objective opportunities for listeners to reach their own conclusions on issues and candidates.

The Internet continues to increase in popularity as a news source with Newspapers displaying their editions online along with hundreds of websites offering news digests, breaking stories, opinion, and what to me is a journalistic plague; the blog. While blogs offer a free exchange of ideas and opinions, in truth they exemplify the depths to which media outlets have sunk to keep from going out of business. For newspapers, their blogs may one day be viewed as the final desperate act to survive before being swallowed up in a Jurassic-like communication tar pit.

Media blogs frequently violate long-standing journalistic traditions of fairness by allowing people to post anything they want without being identified. Newspapers, television and radio stations do a great public disservice by not monitoring the content that often gives bogus information and false impressions that can lead to irreparable damage. And in cases where a Letter to the Editor is printed with the name of an individual, you wonder what kind of editorial judgment exists when a paper like the North County Times prints a letter from a person who said Supervisor Horn was playing golf during the October 2007 Wildfires.

There are several explanations for the current state of journalism. Some media sources are dying because of self-inflicted wounds. Their stories are predictable, shallow and often a waste of time. Other media outlets have failed to adapt to changes in communications; others are victims of corporate greed, while some have alienated their readers, viewers, or listeners with blatant bias.

With television news viewing levels declining, the once attractive salaries and perks paid to TV news anchors and reporters is a fraction of what it once was. The result is a rapid turnover of street reporters who are willing to work for what would have been a pittance in the 1990’s. Consequently, you have inexperienced reporters who do little preparation, often have only a vague clue about the region, its politics, and its government structure; and sometimes are unable to tell you the difference between a Petty Officer and a Lieutenant Colonel or that the City of San Diego and the County of San Diego are not the same.

There are occasions when reporters commit long amounts of time and resources to work on a story. Their editors expect them to justify that time with a story. In the case of the North County Times’ examination of Supervisor Horn’s calendar, access to his office, and time he spends serving his constituents; the facts revealed there was no story. However, instead of recognizing that and moving on to “real news,” the North County Times went ahead with not one, but two misleading stories. In the end, the newspaper’s actions only serve to further erode what tattered remnants of trust the public has for the North County Times.

There is no greater quality for a news organization or a reporter than trust. Integrity is something that must be earned over time—and once lost, rarely can and probably should not be restored.
I don’t think the general public is aware of how some members of the media manipulate the truth or the egregious efforts they take to control public opinion.

Here’s an example:

There is a person at a local newspaper who contacted an organization supported by Supervisor Horn. The organization was told by the individual that the person loved what the organization did, wanted to do story about them, but could not because the newspaper person “hated Supervisor Horn” and everyone who objected to people who are in this country illegally. The only way the newspaper person would write a story about the organization is if they would send a letter to the newspaper disavowing their association with Supervisor Horn. I’ve learned never to say, “I’ve heard it all,” however, I nearly did on that one.

That’s some of what the messenger of today is about and that’s why you can find “For the Record” on Supervisor Horn’s website.

Never forget; the news is a business. Its main purpose is to make money and right now, the gravy train is a little greasy and members of the media are slipping and sliding to keep themselves on their feet and relevant.

People ask me, after spending nearly half my life in television news, do I miss it. My immediate response is a resounding, “No, especially with the way it is today.”

I appreciate the opportunity to serve on Supervisor Horn’s staff. We have a great team of public servants who are gifted, conscientious, and fun to work with as we support a man who has served North County better than you’ll ever read about in print, see on television, or hear on the radio.

Culea Signature

 

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County Administration Center 1600 Pacific Highway San Diego, CA 92101

tel: (619) 531-5555 fax: (619) 685-2662
North County office: 325 S. Melrose Ave., Suite 5200, Vista, CA 92081 tel: (760) 806-2400 fax: (760) 806-2404

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