Trashing the Tribune

October 5, 2011


San Luis Obispo’s trash container ordinance was recently converted to “trash ordnance” fired at the city council when the Tribune published large color photos of all five San Luis Obispo City Council members’ homes on the front page of the Sunday edition.

Is it fair to lob a return volley?

Two years ago, I published a lightly read report on my website which revealed one of our county grand jurors was a former registered nurse. Her license was revoked for falsifying patient records, unprofessional conduct,  and stealing and using patient drugs, thus depriving   patients of prescribed medications.

Tribune crime reporter Nick Wilson

Tribune President and Publisher, Bruce Ray's trash can

Tribune photographer David Middlecamp's trash can

Home of Tribune Vice President and Executive Editor, Sandra Duerr

Sandra Duerr's rental property

Tribune environment reporter David Sneed

According to Penal Code 893, “A person is competent to act as a grand juror only if… he is in possession of his natural faculties, of ordinary intelligence, of sound judgment, and of fair character.”

My report questioned this individual’s fitness for grand jury service. The San Luis Obispo Tribune felt otherwise.

Instead of reporting the revelation, the Tribune published a critical editorial suggesting the privacy of this juror was invaded because my report included a public document where jurors list their home address. This public document was necessary in order to present incontrovertible proof that our juror and the disciplined nurse were the same individual.

Fast-forward two years.

This week, I am struggling to see the difference between my 2009 report and the Tribune’s decision to publish photos of council member homes replete with street names for the convenience of Google Street View voyeurs. Was there a major scandal uncovered? No.

Four of the five council members left their trash containers in view of the street “blatantly disregarding” a city ordinance “that they created”. Far be it from me to defend the city council, but only three of the current five were on the council last year when the ordinance was voted upon. The Tribune didn’t bother to report this fact, nor investigate former mayor Dave Romero and council member Allen Settle, nor report that the ordinance originated with the city planning commission.

Yet, the Tribune did see fit to invade the privacy of law abiding new councilman Dan Carpenter with a photo of his home.

And the Tribune blundered by failing to recognize new councilwoman Kathy Smith resides in a private development and was not in violation of the ordinance. Smith was thrown under the trash truck with the rest of the council. Usually, this is called libel, but I didn’t see a front page retraction in this week’s Sunday ink.

Make no mistake, the Tribune article is well-deserved by the remaining three council members who created an ordinance only enforced by neighbor snitching (termed “complaint driven” by those who feel “snitch” hits too close to home). But front page photos of homes seems uncalled for in the petty case of refuse container placement.

Or, maybe I’m confused. Is trash can visibility a higher offense than nurse misconduct?

More poignant, though, is how the article speaks to the level of Tribune investigative journalism. Occasionally, the Tribune performs good public service by publishing valuable information such as public salaries and holding the feet of government to the fire via presentation of fact. Still, Tribune investigative pieces are mostly child’s play: simplistic public records requests or drive-by photographing of council member residences.

I am compelled to offer that the Tribune should take notice of the complicated and arduous investigative pieces undertaken by other local news sources. Hard work investigations that require days or weeks of interviews, obtaining documents, research, and professional consultation are sorely lacking at the Tribune.

Instead, the Tribune is quick to criticize investigative efforts made elsewhere. Certainly not every investigative revelation exposes a violation of law, but that doesn’t mean the Tribune should criticize the ethical questions that arise. The public wants and has a right to know about public affairs. When the Tribune produces in-depth investigative reports of higher quality than elsewhere then I will give ear to their criticisms.

Simultaneously, the Tribune is long on staff editorials. Tribune editorials often seek to sway public opinion, influence elected representatives and determine elections. Indeed, Tribune editorials have seeded and fueled sentiment for and against election candidates. Journalistic organizations might choose to include independent editorial content as thoughtful points of view, however Tribune editorials often seek outcomes. Presenting uncolored complete facts is a role of the press to which the Tribune frequently fails.

Often times, Tribune reports mix content and editorial. Certain staff fill both shoes. Lately, a photographic editor’s blog content has been appearing under the “news” category. Whether this is by design or lack of journalistic rigour is unclear.

One of my favorite local figures is Mr. Benjamin S. Brooks. Mr. Brooks–a man of superior attainments regarded as one of the most skillful members of the San Francisco bar–bought the San Luis Obispo Tribune in 1886 and served as editor for thirty years. I believe Mr. Brooks, who lies in the old Masonic section of the San Luis Cemetery, would be dismayed by the dearth of substantive local content in today’s Tribune.

Do your job, Tribune.

Kevin P. Rice of San Luis Obispo is an open government advocate.

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I enjoyed this opinion piece. Well done, and points taken!

Huzzah, and all that.

OMG, Those trash cans are way too funny. Talk about hypocrisy.

Good job Kevin and thanks for outing that nurse, i mean X nurse. Leave it to the Tribune to cover up all county embarrassment no matter what disservice they do to the members of the community.

They coverup for John Wallace, and that SOB’s management of the SSLOCSD is accumulating state fines in the $hundreds-of-thousands.

Wallace has already said that the rate payers will pay for any fines, and he (and the worthless SSLOCSD oversight board) continues to do NOTHING to address the violations, but just sits on his well-paid kiester and dares the state to issue more fines…which they do.

Who still reads the Trib or any paper for that matter; it’s the 21st century.

The online coverage cannot be compared to a solid newspaper like the LATimes.

Where I think online coverage is at its best, especially when it is starting out, is on the local coverage. As we’ve seen in SLO, CCN publishes the truth about what is going on. The Tribune publishes what the county power structure wants them to print.

The Tribune, IMO, doesn’t even qualify for a local newspaper.

I had a sense that an article like this would be coming up after the TRIB ran their “investigative” piece. In fact, I’m sure that I’m not alone in thinking that it wouldn’t be very difficult to unearth the low level hypocrisy here illustrated by Mr. Rice’s photos.

What I question, concerning both the TRIB’s and Mr. Rice’s efforts, is “why bother?” It is a lame ordinance that most likely 87% of SLO will just ignore until there’s a stinky can left out on the curb next door.

Some people just don’t have a life. Poor Mr. Rice doesn’t even get paid for not having a life, and I feel a little sorry about that. Where can I send a donation?

hahahah! ZING! Pay up, RUSS!

I did.

Indeed. Too kind. I’d use it to buy a life, but it’s going to help defray the costs of Coastal Cleanup Day 2011 at Oceano Dunes instead. Results of which are posted here:

Thumbs down for cleaning up the dunes,,hmm. Another reason to ignore the thumbs thing.

Well said, Kevin. It’s about time the Trib had their proverbial feet held to the fire. In my opinion, they actually do this community a dis-service.

I think Kevin Rice performed a REAL service by trying to alert the citizens of this “Grand Jury Member’s” lack of qualifications, not to mention lack of ethics. Keep up your good work, Kevin. I for one respect you for your investigative skills.

I agree, Kevin should be an investigative reporter.

I can’t believe that the Trib had this story as an above the fold front page Sunday story in the first place. I love the way that Kevin took those pics as the Trib did. I would love to be a fly on the wall and hear what they’re saying at the Trib.. Either someone had better buy the Trib and revamp it or they’re going to end up with the dinosaurs.

I agree Kevin Rice would make a great investigative reporter. His research on the fraud committed by the SLO Air Pollution Control Board concerning the Oceano Dunes was far superior to the Tribune which ignored the issue when the staff was caught cheating on pollution statistics and ignoring conclusions from their own Oceano Dunes Air Quality study. The Tribune knew the fraud took place, but didn’t consider it news.

Actually, the ordinance is a waste of digital pixels.

Is this an example of investigative reporting?

There should be no mud slinging when the “competition” is down. It will only be a short time until they are out.

This is not reporting. It is “OPINION” (as labeled) and a gibe aimed at pointing out how the T-T could improve. It could be taken as “mud slinging” or honest constructive criticism.

It’s an OPINION based on REPORTING.

I agree, the Tribune is definitely on it’s way out. Just look at the money and staff the Tribune has as compared to our little CCN. How is it CCN manages to get all this important information to us and when the Tribune learns about it, they spin it to suit the preference of the corrupt perpetrators? It’s so obvious at times that I have to laugh and read out loud to my wife when she asks what’s so funny. She always ends up laughing with me and saying, “let me see”, as she reads it for herself.

This article was a waste of digital pixels

Please read this before you submit your comment.

“This is not reporting. It is “OPINION” (as labeled) and a gibe aimed at pointing out how the T-T could improve. It could be taken as “mud slinging” or honest constructive criticism”