Recently I wrote here about attending Ontario’s and Pomona’s, and sometimes Rancho Cucamonga’s, council meetings. Occasionally I’ll go to meetings in other cities as well.
Some people ask why the heck I go to any of ‘em. Masochism?
Well, I spent a good 10 years as a City Hall reporter in various cities in Northern and Southern California, giving me a fairly good understanding of how local government works (or doesn’t). As a reporter, I always enjoyed taking something impenetrable and dull to most people and rendering it interesting, and even entertaining at times. It was a fun challenge, and besides, people ought to know what’s happening in their community. To me it’s like a public service.
So covering meetings is enjoyable (mostly) for me, maybe especially because I don’t have to be there. During the slow parts I usually listen with one ear while reading a New Yorker.
Meetings allow me to get something current and newsy(ish) into my columns, and also to get a sense of what’s going on in our communities and meet the folks who lead them. My attendance has paid all sorts of dividends as far as learning tidbits of local lore or word of pending developments that spawned columns or items only tangentially related to government.
Also, although I try to avoid being mean to anyone, I feel I can be a little snarkier when writing about our electeds than when I write about average folks.
Some readers, I’m sure, skip my government-related columns. Others tell me those are their favorites. (Maybe because of the snarkiness.) I try to strike a balance by making sure to write plenty of feature-y stuff and not overload the column with politics. That means limiting the number of meetings I attend.
I read our newspaper carefully and in a sense track what all our cities are doing. When something is important, or weird, I’ll parachute in.
But what I did fairly early on was decide it worked best to follow a couple of councils fairly closely, so that I, and readers, would get to know those council members better. They almost become like characters — sitcom characters in some cases — and maybe seem a little more like real people than they do in our just-the-facts news coverage.
Although I don’t always write about the most “important” part of the meetings, I think at times the freedom of a column lets me give a more accurate view of what it was like to be in the room. For instance, during the Debbie Acker era in Ontario.
Now, why are Ontario and Pomona the two councils I cover most closely? A sense of duty, really.
I chose them — starting with Ontario, and later adding Pomona — because to my mind they’re our core cities, the ones where this newspaper’s precursors, the Ontario Daily Report and the Pomona Progress-Bulletin, were published. Ontario, of course, is our current home base.
Being a newspaperman makes me a part of a long, honorable (generally) tradition as well as part of a continuum of local journalism here. And of course you already know I look for connections between past and present.
Well, in a way, I feel like I’m honoring the spirit of the Report and the Prog, and the readers who followed them, by giving special attention to Ontario and Pomona. Doing so gives me a foot in both counties too.
Of course, if I weren’t getting good material from one or the other, I might rethink things, but both are pretty reliable at providing fodder, and they’re both cities that deserve attention.
I write about all our cities in one fashion or another, but this is why my council coverage, and thus my coverage in general, tends to focus on Ontario and Pomona.