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More on recent problems with the Davis Enterprise

A response to Tanya Perez on the purpose of the Davis Enterprise

Perez-and-Beckett In Sunday’s paper, Tanya Perez writes a spirited and mostly reasonable defense of the Davis Enterprise, but she doesn’t quite get it.

Lamenting the loss of eagle-eyed editor Debbie Davis, AP news stories, and the like, Perez writes:

The Enterprise aims to give you the information you cannot get elsewhere. We know you have Google, so you can look up the recipe sections we no longer carry. You can Google comic strips you miss, or AP News stories or national headlines.

 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 [emphasis added].

Right on.  This is certainly why I subscribe to the Enterprise – why I subscribed as soon as I moved here and why I continue to subscribe.  I am always a little baffled when people say they don’t read the local paper.  I think it’s important to know what is going on around us, even more so than what is going in the state or nation.

Where I think she misses one of the core missions of a local paper, however, is where she 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?

Here I assume that she is referring to Laurel Beckett’s letter, “Disappointed in coverage of DA race”.  And here is where a glaring omission in what Perez considers to be part of the core mission of a local paper becomes apparent: the Letters section.  The letters are an essential place where the community can speak to each other, and yes, sometimes criticize the newspaper both for its coverage and for its expressed opinions.  I find it striking that she did not say so explicitly (although she does say that she reads the letters).

Perez does admit at the outset of her piece that she finds it “pretty off-putting” when people criticize the Enterprise, but also admits that she thinks “it comes from a sense of ownership and community for the local newspaper.”  Unfortunately, Perez fails to see that this is exactly where Beckett is coming from when she criticizes the Enterprise’s coverage of the DA race.

In her letter, Beckett points out that the Enterprise falsely presented Jeff Reisig as a progressive, falsely presented Dean Johansson as “out of the mainstream,” and derided  Johansson’s supporters (20,360 people or 47.6% of Yolo County voters) as being “driven by ideology.”  These are serious charges, charges that I would have thought Perez would take seriously. 

Instead, Perez focuses only on Beckett saying she will consider unsubscribing if coverage doesn’t improve, and Perez thinks that that is cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.  But what good is local coverage if it is biased and inaccurate?  Beckett is not threatening to unsubscribe because her favorite comic strip has been dropped.  She is threatening to unsubscribe over charges that go to the heart of that “core mission” that Perez describes. 

That is a reasonable response to a local paper that is failing to deliver on its core mission.  I would hope instead of being defensive, the Enterprise would indeed vow to do better, as Beckett urges.

Comments

Jim Frame

When a newspaper loses sight of the distinction between the newsroom and the editorial page, it risks alienating subscribers. Allowing the publisher's political preferences to bleed over into reporting is a great way to reduce circulation. This is an Enterprise problem, not a customer problem.

Laurel Beckett

Thanks for this thoughtful commentary. I subscribe to the Enterprise precisely because I want more complete coverage of local issues. But I expect in return that the paper will adhere to journalistic standards of accuracy, even if I do not agree with all of its positions or endorsements. When the paper fails in this basic ethical responsibility, it is on us to call it to their attention, and politely request better work. If they continue to violate basic ethical journalistic standards, then we ought to reconsider our financial support.

Roberta L. Millstein

Jim and Laurel, thanks for your comments. Agreed. I do truly hope that the Enterprise works to improve itself and not just defend its bad behavior, as Tanya Perez seems to do here.

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