Yesterday, the Vanguard turned 12 years old. I find that tenure rather stunning because, more and more, I’m working around people who were not here 12 years ago. On a regular basis I get asked: why I started the Vanguard, what I think of the Davis Enterprise and whether I think it will survive.
What I find interesting is that, even among people who don’t particularly like the coverage of the Enterprise, most want it to survive.
I have been a big critic over the years because, at the core, one reason why I started the Vanguard is that I felt that the Enterprise did not represent my views on a range of issues and did not sufficiently cover the other side of the story.
Since the June election, there has been a lot of push back against the Enterprise among those who supported Dean Johansson, believing that the paper was biased against him. Some of that was driven by an editorial in which they not only endorsed the incumbent Jeff Reisig, but described Mr. Reisig as one of the most progressive DAs in the state (questionable at best) and depicted the supporters of Mr. Johansson as “driven by ideology.”
This has been my chief criticism of the Enterprise: Davis is a very progressive community, and yet the Enterprise is quite conservative in a lot of different respects. They endorsed Jeff Reisig in a community that voted for Dean Johansson with 56 percent of the vote. Not only did they endorse Mr. Reisig, but they dismissed the majority of the residents of this community.
There was a letter recently that appeared where the writer laid this out, and she also laid out evidence that the Enterprise was not even-handed in terms of publishing letters to the editor. She writes, “I have seriously considered dropping my subscription to the Enterprise over this mischaracterization of both candidates and your dismissive attitude toward voters with serious concerns about justice in Yolo County.”
But she added, “Instead I’m renewing for six months… I hope that you will use this time to do some actual journalism…”
This column, however, is not about the DA’s race and so I hope readers will read what I think is the most important part coming up. The Enterprise has always been a bit out of touch with the politics of Davis, but they can survive that if they re-think their mission. The problem is, I don’t think the Enterprise really gets that times have changed for journalism.
I read Tanya Perez’s column from Sunday. I like Tanya. And I hope if she reads this column, that she will take this as constructive criticism, but her response to this issue frankly demonstrates to me why I think the Enterprise is in trouble.
This is the latest in a serious of columns that you might call “Save the Enterprise” columns. And, to be fair, we have seen some “Save the Sacramento Bee” columns too, as they continue to struggle across the river.
Here is the problem: “The Enterprise aims to give you the information you cannot get elsewhere.”
She then writes: “We are trying to give you context for local issues. And we are working to tell you what people in our immediate area want to know. That is our core mission.”
She continues: “The Enterprise is how you know who is running for the local school board, and what is being done to increase salaries for underpaid Davis teachers.
“It’s how you find out about housing developments being considered for Davis. And what happened to two missing teens from Woodland. Or how the city and UC Davis are working together on the campus’ Long Range Development Plan.”
This is the problem – she is wrong here. I am sorry, but you can find out about those stories in a number of places. We cover them. You can read about them on Facebook.
Let me give you a way-out-of-left-field analogy to illustrate this point. I follow football recruiting for a certain college football team I root for. I started in 1999 when the internet was fairly new. The guy who runs the site, who has a journalism degree from one of the top journalism programs in the country, talks about how their mission has changed in the 15 years he has been doing this gig.
Back in 2003, they were the ones who broke what players committed to what program. That was their job – be the first to report. The problem is that in the last 15 years, we have the rise of Twitter and so prospective college football players now use Twitter to announce their decisions, or they call press conferences.
A recruiting service is not going to be breaking the news on who is going where, because, by the time they find out, their audience already knows.
Their job has changed. The Enterprise’s job has changed as well. The Enterprise needs to ask itself, what is our core competency? Because I can tell you that, if it is to bring those stories, people can find out about most of them elsewhere.
Put it this way – when it comes to reporting political news, I think the Vanguard holds up well against the Enterprise. We might even exceed them in breadth of coverage on political issues. And we provide that coverage in real time, with vigorous community-based discussions and in detail that a newspaper cannot bring.
That is our core competency. But we are not a newspaper. We are not going to bring the next layer of stories to the public: “Are we getting a new animal shelter in Yolo County? Who hit a home run in the last high school baseball game? Which businesses are opening soon? What houses are for sale?”
Like Tanya Perez, “I don’t want to live somewhere there is no local paper” but, at the same time, the local paper needs to adapt to the new times, and, frankly, they are for the most part running their paper the same way they did in 2006 when I started, and probably the same way they did 30 years ago – and neither they nor the industry will survive unless they can change.
Following the Trump election, papers across the country recognized that one core value they could provide the public is to be the non-biased disseminator of information to the public. That was particularly important in the face of not only “Fake News” but the rise of disinformation and an elected president who treats “truth” as an inconvenience.
The problem is that the media both locally and nationally has failed on that account. The local paper is biased. The national media is biased. The result is that the area the mainstream media could most occupy has been ceded.
But here again, I wonder if the industry gets it. Ms. Perez writes: “When people write to us saying how they will stop their subscriptions if we don’t/do something — I’m thinking of a recent letter to the editor about our coverage of the district attorney’s race — I don’t understand the sentiment. It seems like cutting off your nose to spite your face to try to … to what? Make the newspaper go out of business? Does that help you?”
Ultimately it doesn’t help anyone to make the newspaper go out of business. But, at the same time, why is the newspaper not taking this concern more seriously? You can’t argue with people, who are disappointed with your coverage, that your coverage is really great.
You can get people who tell you all the accolades you want, but the bottom line is that the market share of the people actually reading the local newspaper is declining.
It is not my job to fix the local newspaper. But my suggestion would be to stop with the rah-rah columns, stop getting defensive and figure out what you can do better within the resources you have.
Continue on this trajectory and I think it does a real disservice to the community. But at some point it is adapt or perish. Right now the paper is failing to adapt.
—David M. Greenwald reporting