You have a right to know what your government is doing.
That right includes having access to public records, so you can verify how, and how wisely, your tax dollars are being spent.
And a part of our mission as a newspaper is to protect that right.
Thats why joining a landmark public records audit of law enforcement agencies that was released last week was so important.
The results show most of the local, county and state agencies we contacted did poorly. We asked for simple documents, such as police reports and statements of economic interests.
Coordinated by Californians Aware, an open-government advocacy group, our reporters were instructed not to identify themselves as journalists. Its a tactic rarely used in journalism, but the only way for us to see how you, the public, would be treated. No one lied. If they were pressed, they had to answer who they were.
Of course, agencies have no right to ask for your name, identification or why you want the public information. You want it because youre the taxpayer, and they work for you. That is enough.
Local police officials said they have always been helpful and open to our paper, and they have been for the most part. One also said the audit was designed to have them fail.
Californians Aware took off points on an agencys final score if a clerk sent an auditor to City Hall next door. We put that in our story to reflect those concerns.
But this was about the publics treatment, not ours. This was not about the men and women who risk their lives every day to protect our communities; this was about a bureaucracy that failed to be as transparent as it should be.
This audit is just the first of many that this paper will be doing. We intend to audit school and water districts as well as cities, and down the road we may return to law enforcement.
We are not seeking bad news; were looking for our agencies to follow the law.
My last column asked readers their opinions on how to improve our paper. Here are just some of the responses:
Ernest Norsworthy from Rowland Heights said we need to greatly expand our letters-to-the-editor section to get more points of view about a subject.
Ernie C. Black from Valinda said we should write stories about those who have overcame great obstacles to graduate high school or college.
– Below are the full responses:
Ernie Norsworthy, of Rowland Heighs:
“Your plea is plaintive, your reasons rational and your plight is plenty bad. (Was that too much alliteration?) But calling attention to the fact that others are in the same sinking boat is no solace to them.
Or you could say Houston, (or a thousand newspaper places) weve got a problem.?
In my opinion, newspapers in general snub their readers and print what their mostly liberal editors want to put out for their own edification.
In my subscription cancellation letter to the Los Angeles Times I had some suggestions to improve that papers once fine reputation. Mainly, it was to look at the Chandler era and try and emulate its mostly conservative viewpoints. Could that same kind of suggestion apply to your paper?
As a frequent writer to your paper I have noticed your slant to the left. In a world of right-handedness it is hard to understand why lefthanders see things quite differently. And the same is true of left-leaning publications. Whatever its worth, here is my two-cents worth of suggestions:
Greatly expand your letters? to a full page; get as many points of view about a subject as possible. For example, there could have been a much greater expansion of views about the Wal-Mart site approval and its subsequent opening.
If your publication rules are so tight as to squelch some letters, review your policies on this.
The OC Register is experiencing the same kinds of problems as yours but there is something about the feel? of that paper that is compelling. For one thing, they have a separate squib on each community in the county (a la USA Today with states.)
I have traveled through many small communities in America and have read many small-town papers. They seem to thrive despite the mercurial changes in bigmedia.? I believe those small-town papers provide the sense of community many people long for.
It is not news that newspaper readership has been declining for decades. Is it because of increasing national illiteracy? Or maybe papers do not fill the needs of their readers as much anymore.
The answers are somewhere between the internet (speed) and relevance. I do not believe newspapers will escape their relevancy since Guttenberg unless they consciously try.
Ten years from now print media will be very different from now. It is up to some smarter people than me to figure out ways for newspapers to remain relevant while making a profit.
And the answers to the questions in your column likely will not come from the general readership but from the ingenuity of people able to look at the mlange of disparate pieces and to come up with workable solutions.”
-Ernie C. Black, of Valinda:
“Your column in todays Tribune is interesting. I wonder why some
companys make the wrong choices, trying to guess what the customers want
and what they need. But they never ask why we no longer buy their product
or why we went somewhere else to shop. They never want to hear what is
wrong. Instead they come up with an incentive trying to attract new
customers and keep the old ones without trying to change what they
already have. I cancelled TV guide because it became larger is size and
became an entertainment magazine instead of a TV guide. I am constantly
receiving offers to renew the subscription but they never ask why I
dropped them in the first place. Then your newspaper decided to “grow”
it’s included TV listings with your Sunday Edition. So now instead of a
neat little TV guide, I have to keep this unsightly section of
“newspaper” laying around.
I commend you for reaching out and asking “what can we do?” Every
day we read stories of car chases, bank robberies, drive-by shootings,
etc. But we rarely hear what happened to those who got caught. You should
have a daily column called,”Today In Court” that would relay the outcome
of the trials for those individuals who are convicted of such crimes. You
already have the original story in your archives and the follow up is
public knowledge so there shouldn’t be much research involved in “follow
We always read about someone pulled out of a rushing canal during
a rainstorm, or a baby found in an alley, or some family left homeless by
a fire and they have now where to go. How about a follow up story on the
those who overcame great obstacles to graduate from High School or
College. A story is only as good as it’s ending. And we should be able to
read about these endings in your newspaper.
You may think that nobody cares about the homeless guy, dumpster
diving for his next lunch. Most people pity him and some people help. And
nobody wants to end up like him. However, nobody knows how he got there.
I think it would be a service to everyone, especially our youth, if they
knew what led up to his dismal situation. Maybe someone will see them
self on this road and do something to avoid it. Once a week or so you
should pick out someone who is homeless and profile them. Find out where
they have been, would they have done anything different what advise do
they offer. What ever became of the people who made the news what it was
The stories we read in the newspaper will only become history if
they include an ending.”