Podunk cities need love, too

Readers of my former U-T column who emailed Editor Jeff Light expressing their desire that I be kept on were responded to with a fairly lengthy reply, which was nice of him.

The content of the email, however, contained language that was frankly dismissive of the desires of former North County Times readers and makes one wonder whether the ownership of the U-T ever sincerely intended to incorporate that newspaper’s philosophy or, as many had feared, simply wanted to eliminate a competitor.

Particularly concerning to me and those of us who have been regular readers of the North County Times or its predecessors, Light’s statements regarding the U-T’s intentions in covering local government is troubling. In his email he says, “No, we are not trying to be the North County Times. Our goal is not to cover every action of every political subdivision.”

Of course, the NCT didn’t “cover every action of every political subdivision”, either. But it certainly covered a lot more than is being covered right now.

Light says, “I think you all can appreciate that we are caught somewhat between the majority of our readers, who want broad regional coverage, and a smaller group that wants a very local approach in the style of the North County Times. Both groups are important – but of course it is hard to please everyone.” The “smaller group” he’s talking about is the approximately 70,000 former readers of the North County Times who expected to continue to get the coverage they had always gotten.

When U-T management complains that the North County Times model is broken, I have to laugh. When they bought the newspaper, they completely ignored the input of the senior managers they kept on during the transition about how to run the operation. They apparently disregarded the obvious fact that many of the subscribers to the NCT also had U-T subscriptions and would consequently cancel one or the other. They ignored the negative impact the owner’s editorial philosophy would have on readers who were not of the same political persuasion. They cut back on coverage of North County then raised subscription rates by over fifty percent.

Why—do you suppose—did subscription revenue fall?

The people who want that broad regional coverage might be like the letter to the editor that sticks in my mind from a particularly condescending reader from the coast who complained they only wanted news about the coast and the big city to the south and didn’t care to hear about what was going on in the “Podunk cities“inland. Be careful what you wish for.

It is impossibly narrow-minded, and even simple-minded, to think that what goes on in the communities around you doesn’t matter to you. It is also dangerous.

Consider for one moment the possibility that the current mayor or city council member of one of those Podunk cities becomes a candidate for higher office, one which affects your jurisdiction. If you lived in the state of perpetual blissful ignorance—such as the one now being imposed on North County by the U-T—you might have no idea how that individual performs in office.

Roads don’t stop at city boundaries, and the decisions that other cities make to build or not build them affect their neighbors as much or even more.

Then there are the various regional governance issues, as well as the various obscure special districts that rarely endure much scrutiny.

I’m no Woodward or Bernstein, but in the past several years I have tried to shine a bright light on several issues of local or regional import that I felt bore closer scrutiny. Based on comments I have received over the years, my efforts have been appreciated.

Among other things I have expressed concern over governance at the Tri-City Healthcare District; I have questioned accountability at the North County Transit District; I have challenged the Escondido City Council’s attempts to rush into building a minor league ballpark without proper due diligence and it’s recent attempts to provide financing for the Escondido Chamber of Commerce to refinance their office building.

The background for those columns came from the dedicated work of reporters given the time and resources to pursue a story. The notion that you can get the same from some random blogger is absurd nonsense.

I won’t pretend every reporter is good, or even that every reporter is hard-working. But every reporter that works for a real news organization is paid, and because of that, there is a measure of accountability that is lacking from many of the so-called “free” news sources. Not only that, there is an editor somewhere hopefully making sure the story has been cross-checked.

North County needs a real news organization again. I’m willing to help find one, how about you?

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