The other day I walked outside to pick up the tightly-rolled edition of the San Leandro Times and shook my head in disgust. The front page headline blared the new Kaiser Permanente project will not generate property tax revenue for the city. I was bothered by the peculiar editorial decision on the part of the people who produce the paper. In a city fighting to keep one open, why would it knock another from inhabiting the huge parcel of land on Merced Street. And no less a health care provider with such an esteemed pedigree. The city needs property tax dollars but a non-profit like Kaiser in the city is a boon for any city and its criticism on those grounds is ridiculous. The frown upon my face, though, pointed to something more disheartening for me personally.
Today, marks the one-year anniversary of the East Bay Citizen and in the 12 months which followed, the lax, disinterested and utterly useless local media has done nothing to improve its worth to the residents of the area. In the past year, I have seen how the blunders and oddball editorial decisions of the San Leandro Times have stymied political progress and limited discourse on the issues confronting the daily lives of the residents of this city. This is only made worse by the sheer power the paper has giving residents free weekly news on their doorstep every Thursday morning, but its execution in the hands of Jim Knowles is literally like handing a child a loading rifle at the San Leandro Marina on a summer weekend and saying, "go shoot at the birds!"
The mission of The Citizen is not only to give the region a new way of reading and participating the news, but to encourage more points of view to enter the fray. For the existing local media nothing has changed and nothing has been learned. The Daily Review is still about paying their reporters as little as possible and encouraging stories like council meetings and fluff pieces on elderly residents helping out other elderly residents(Really? Is it a big deal if you're still alive at 90 and want to do something other than fall asleep watching the Price is Right and do we need the same story every week?)
This site is called The Citizen for a reason--it is about you--and I would like to thank all for your help in spreading the word.Perusing the Daily Review and the San Leandro lends absolutely zero insight into what the city's players are doing or what they may be doing in the future. Both papers so strive to play every single story rigidly down the center that no point of view can be discerned. This is a nice way of putting it, but to be blunt, it's called boring. I was told once by a reporter for the San Leandro Times' sister paper in Castro Valley, that he thought my coverage of the San Leandro Hospital story was a tad bias against Sutter. At first I thought, did he take Journalism 101 as a pass/fail course and then starting working for the Forum or did he not understand the story? This exchange merely illustrates how the local media works. Find out what time the meeting starts, grab a seat, take notes, cut out early and write what they will tell you is a "balanced story" and do it all over again. Can't you write a computer program to do that? Instead, none of these reporters are allowed to spread their wings and tell a story. The San Leandro Hospital story is not told honestly by giving half of the article to the point of view of the hospital and the other half to Sutter. If you present this particularly story in this manner, you are only alienating your readers--the vast majority of which support the efforts of the hospital. Are you then writing articles to placate the opinions of your readers or informing them? Well, I ask you this? Does a corporation reporting revenue of $700 million last year also need to have a newspaper aiding its efforts against the will of the people who are also the paper's sole customers. No, they don't.
Not only do our local paper's have their heads in the sand, but our local politicians have also revealed themselves to have become quite comfortable during the demise of media scrutiny. This is one of the most alarming aspects I have noticed in the daily political life of San Leandro. Politicians have absolutely no idea how to handle questions or criticism. Many on the San Leandro City Council shy away from questioning or like Vice Mayor Ursula Reed bring forth some sort of convoluted argument focusing on the discourse of election year politics when what she actually fears is the quiet stirring of general apathy raging into a vicious chorus of anger towards their actions. There is no reason why I, as a reporter, need to teach politicians how to interact with me. None. There is also no reason for those same politicians to criticize the level of discourse in the comments section of this site, either. This is the voice of the community and it is apparently very angry so it would be wise to listen up.
So, as I sit here one year after posting my first story on The Citizen, I am discouraged by the level of reporting in this area, but I am greatly warmed by the enthusiasm and deep civic pride of my readers. Despite the name-calling, many realize they live in a jewel by the Bay--maybe it needs a bit of shining--but I think their intentions are pure.
Numbers-wise, The Citizen registered 250 hits in its first month and increased readership every single month, culminating in over 11,000 hits last month. I hope to begin looking for ways to monetize the site by beginning to seek local advertising because, frankly, my ability to work full-time on The Citizen is being greatly challenged by this current economy. Also, a podcast, long in the planning stages, will hopefully debut in the next month, also bringing new avenues for local businesses to gain exposure.
Read The Citizen's first article here. A feature on San Leandro teacher Chuck Leming. It still makes me cry when I read it.Finally, I want to thank all of my readers. This site is called The Citizen for a reason--it is about you and I would like to thank all for your help in spreading the word. I would also like to thank those who have contributed their commentary to the site and those who have open many political doors allowing me to report invaluable information from the inside. This whole thing started with San Leandro Hospital lying on its last legs and many union members might say now, it's still standing, brother. It is not because anything I did, but a testament to the power of the people. If we can do this, imagine what can be done for the rest of our region.