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Inappropriate Behavior from the Editor of the Davis Enterprise

Onate-taking-overEveryone knows that newspapers are under severe threats to their survival and have been for some time.  The Davis Enterprise is no different.  Yet newspapers play an essential role in informing the community, fostering community dialogue, and forging community.  That makes me loathe to criticize the Enterprise.  But when the new Editor, Sebastian Oñate, engages in practices that undermine those very goals, I feel as though I must speak out.  I do so not to hurt the Enterprise further but rather in the hopes of changing his ways, or if that is not possible, to encourage the paper to find a different Editor.

The problem with Oñate’s practice is this: he has engaged in practices that demean and disparage readers.  This serves to reduce participation and harm one’s sense of community, not foster it.  An Editor should always take the high road and be seen as open and fair to all.  Unfortunately, Oñate has not done that, as the following examples illustrate. (If images are too small to read, you can click to enlarge, or just follow the links).

Comment-on-Enterprise-articleIn response to a commenter on an Enterprise article who said, “the University must take on the responsibility of housing their students and not look to Davis to meet that need” – a widely held view – Oñate stated that “the idea that we can just ignore the students and let other entities deal with them is the worst sort of head-in-the-sand denial.”  That is an insulting and demeaning response that fails to take into account the reasons why someone might hold such a view.

Another example is Oñate holding up a reader’s writing to ridicule.  This was a reader who has submitted an op-ed and was unhappy about having her work reduced to the length of a letter to the Editor.  Whether that was the right decision or not, she did not deserve to be the object of Oñate’s criticism.

Disparaging-someones-writing

Both of the subjects of these attacks were women.  Two is not a pattern, but then again, this tweet together with this tweet suggests that Oñate might not have the sensitivity towards women and women’s issues that one would expect the Editor of a newspaper to have. 

Sell-maps

Cyrus-comment

And then, there are remarks that are downright snarky and unnecessarily insulting, asking whether there is “a class in law school on composing super-jerky emails” and, a few days later, complaining that the “lawyer who wanted special treatment for her letter to the editor finally gets it to me, with the name of the candidate she's backing misspelled.”  Is this how people who submit their thoughts to the Davis Enterprise should be treated?

Lawyers-jerky-emails

Lawyer-misspells

Apparently, though, Oñate feels that, even after being “lectured on how, as the capital-E editor at the newspaper, [he is] supposed to keep [his] yap shut when people criticize us online,” it’s “not going to happen, folks.”  (I don’t know which incident this is in response to, but if anyone does, please leave a comment below).

Capital-E-editor

Maybe some don’t find these examples as egregious as I do.  If you are in that group, consider that Editors need to uphold a higher standard in order to properly serve the goals of the community – that what might be tolerable for an individual to do is simply unacceptable from the person who is guiding both the overall direction and the day-to-day decisions of a newspaper.  The practices of the Editor of the Davis Enterprise need to change.

Comments

Pam

Thank you for getting this information out. I do find Onate's overt demeaning of members of the public on social media egregious. The behavior reflects very poorly on the Enterprise. Even more troubling is his apparent close-mindedness. I long for the return of the days when the Enterprise had a real investigative reporter.

Dan Cornford

In this context I think it is appropriate for me to re-post a comment I made on an article on this same subject on May 26:

"It, alas, gets much worse than this. Here is what I wrote on Nextdoor last week after hearing from one of our leaders in the fight against NIshi 2.0:

" I think the issue with the Davis Enterprise (DE) goes beyond this. And in this context I would like to highlight one in particular. I usually disagreed with the political views of Debbie Davis and the DE (and still do), but Debbie went out of her way to be fair and to always publish opposing view be they Op-Eds or letters. Moreover, in doing so I always found her unfailingly courteous and efficient. It has recently come to my attention from another contributor to the DE that apparently that policy no longer holds as the new editor will not publish an Op-Ed on an important issue in our upcoming elections despite having published far more Op-Eds and letters on the other side of the issue."

I am seriously thinking of canceling my sub (that I have had for 18 years when I first arrived in Davis) to the DE when it expires in August with a letter to the owners and editors explaining why. Perhaps others are thinking the same???

Eileen Samitz

It is shocking and disappointing that the helm of the Davis Enterprise has been gone from Debbie Davis to this new editor. How can the Davis Enterprise allow this kind of unfair and disrespectful behavior by its editor?

The editor has no business undermining or suppressing community opinion on the relevant issue that Davis is facing. Is this where the Enterprise is headed? Not printing any opinion that the new editor Sebastian Onate does not agree with and then allowing him to ridicule community members ON HIS FACEBOOK PAGE?

Davis community members submit articles to the Davis Enterprise in good faith believing that the Enterprise will be fair and publish both sides on an issue. Yet, the Enterprise apparently allows this kind of disrespect and condescension to community members broadcasted on Facebook by their new editor.

NONE of this would ever happen if Debbie Davis was still editor at the Enterprise and they have compromised their newspapers reputation and integrity by allowing these offensive actions by their new editor Sebastian Onate.

I have been an Enterprise subscriber for over 30 years and I am shocked see this completely inappropriate and outrageous behavior by the new Davis Enterprise editor, particularly with his insults to community members on his Facebook.

Luanna Villanueva

I am very unhappy with the uneven coverage of the recent election which was evident in the lopsided numbers of letters supporting opposing candidates and measures. Now I see the editor makes disparaging comments about letter writers and women on social media which I do not follow. How unprofessional! It seems we have a Trumpesque editor of the only local regular print “newspaper” in Davis. I haven’t gotten around to canceling my subscription yet but I will. Is this what the publisher wants?

Richard Kulmann

Not to be too picky or light about this serious issue, but I could not find Mr. Onate on Facebook. His 'firings' appear to originate from Twitter; note the "@" symbol preceding his posts. I don't have or need a Twitter account so cannot verify.

Roberta L. Millstein

Richard, if you follow the link above that says "Enterprise article" and scroll down, you will see that Mr. Oñate uses his Facebook account to reply to a comment on an Enterprise article.

Also, you don't have to have a Twitter account to see things posted to Twitter. For every screenshot in my post, there is a corresponding link that you can follow to double-check (unless the tweets get taken down, which of course is beyond my control).

Roberta L. Millstein

Mr. Oñate has, apparently, responded to the post above by saying:

"The big exposé on my social media inappropriateness has dropped online, and let me tell you, folks, it is a PG-rated horror show. I won't link, only to spare your tender sensibilities, but it's out there ..."

and

"If anyone who follows me on Twitter/Facebook has an issue with anything I post, I'm willing to listen. But if you're digging through my feed looking for something to complain about, not so much ..."

By focusing on whether his posts were "PG," he has completely missed the point about whether his comments are appropriate for someone who is the Editor of a newspaper, someone who should be informing and building community, not playing favorites or denigrating readers or groups of readers.

https://twitter.com/OSeb1/status/1006205340696711168
https://twitter.com/OSeb1/status/1006206455471431680

Tanya Perez

As a colleague of Sebastian Oñate's for 16 years, allow me to offer some insight.

He is not anti-woman and is, in fact, completely supportive of women, including his three female reporters (among the team of four), female associate editor, and many others to whom he offers complete respect. Sebastian is not close-minded, nor is he biased. Saying it in these comments does not make it true.

Pam, we can't afford an investigative reporter.

Dan, it is not true that we "will not publish an Op-Ed... on the other side of the issue." Sebastian does it all the time.

Eileen, this is a false claim: "Not printing any opinion that the new editor Sebastian Onate does not agree with." Plus, op-eds are run past the publisher and Enterprise owners.

Luanna, in regards to this comment — "I am very unhappy with the uneven coverage of the recent election which was evident in the lopsided numbers of letters supporting opposing candidates and measures." As was the case when Debbie Davis was editor, Sebastian runs a representative sample of letters on both sides of an issue. If you saw more letters to the editor in support of a certain issue, that's because we received more letters in support.

And finally, Roberta, much respect to you for your understanding of a community newspaper's role. But be aware that Sebastian is a fabulous editor, even if he has a different style than Debbie Davis. Regarding your comment that you might "encourage the paper to find a different editor" — Sebastian was rigorously trained by Debbie, absorbed her understanding of community news and wants what is best for Davis.

Roberta L. Millstein

Tanya, thank you for your comment and for sharing your perspective.

But this is not about Mr. Oñate's state of mind or how he treats people he works with. It's how he's been treating readers and about the standards he sets as an Editor. It's there that I -- and many others I have talked with -- feel that he has fallen short.

I am not looking for him to be replaced. What I wrote was, as I stated explicitly, "in the hopes of changing his ways, or if that is not possible, to encourage the paper to find a different Editor." If he refuses to change his practices, then yes, I think he should leave. But if he is as good an editor as you say, then it shouldn't be too difficult for him to engage with readers more respectfully. Debbie Davis certainly did, and I have heard that from many people who otherwise disagreed with her.

Sadly, though, his most recent tweet shows that he has missed my point entirely:

"The big exposé on my social media inappropriateness has dropped online, and let me tell you, folks, it is a PG-rated horror show. I won't link, only to spare your tender sensibilities, but it's out there ..."

This is not about being PG. Again, this is about being respectful and even-handed. Frankly, Tanya, even though you and I haven't always agreed on everything, I'm surprised to see you defending the comments he has made, because I can't in a million years imagine you making them. I think you would know better.

J.M.

I would like to see some sort of quantitative analysis of the letters to the editor (and op-ed) printed (vs. published to the website and not printed) during this election season, which I strongly suspect would disprove Tanya's claim that "Sebastian runs a representative sample of letters on both sides of an issue. If you saw more letters to the editor in support of a certain issue, that's because we received more letters in support."

Specifically regarding the DA race - why did The DAVIS Enterprise choose to print so many letters from out-of-town Reisig supporters? Why the reprints of month(s)-old letters so temporally close the election? Why the disappearance from davisenterprise.com of at least one letter in support of Johansson (https://web.archive.org/web/20180524063322/https://www.davisenterprise.com/forum/letters/da-race/)?">https://www.davisenterprise.com/forum/letters/da-race/)?">https://web.archive.org/web/20180524063322/https://www.davisenterprise.com/forum/letters/da-race/)? Why refuse to print op-eds by Johansson supporters? E.g., the group including Nora Oldwin, Ann Block, and Lisa Lance had to pay for ad space for The Enterprise to print their erudite, evidence-based piece instead of simply printing it as an op-ed - meanwhile, the Enterprise chooses to run this long propaganda piece supposedly by Reisig (I doubt he wrote this himself): https://www.davisenterprise.com/forum/opinion-columns/restorative-justice-for-a-better-community-2/

All of this is now combined with "editor" Sebastian Onate's flagrant contempt for members of his supposed community. His posts are not even witty or clever. He comes across as bitter and humorless. I'm not amused.

Pam

Tanya. The side of Sebastian Onate you wrote about is the side you know from working with him. It is not the side that he shows to the public on his Twitter feed. I hope that there is no argument that his Twitter comments were unprofessional and inappropriate especially because the feed is public and he identifies himself as the editor of the Davis Enterprise.

Eileen Samitz

Tanya,

While you may feel compelled to defend Mr. Onate, perhaps it is because he is in a supervisorial position above you, or if not, perhaps because he is a co-worker with you at the Enterprise. Either way, his inappropriate and condescending comments on-line are inexcusable, particularly since he is an editor at the Enterprise.

Further, perhaps you cannot appreciate his lack of balance in what he permits to be published since you don't need to go through the "gate-keeping" roll. He clearly is abusing this roll and his responsibility as editor by not being even-handed to publish community commentary of opposing sides of the very important issues affecting the entire community.

Debbie Davis was a real professional editor, who would never have treated community members and their input in the disgraceful and disrespectful way that Onate has. The Enterprise should be embarrassed, and if it is not, that is an indicator that the Enterprise will not last. That would be tragic for our community as well as the Enterprise and its employees.

I have been a subscriber for over 30 years and want to see the the Enterprise continue, but this outrageous behavior by Sebastian Onate is a serious discredit to the Davis Enterprise's reputation. His antagonistic follow-up comments posted after seeing this article clarify his lack of professionalism and his arrogance.

You can continue to try to be Onate's "apologist" Tanya, but that only makes you part of this serious problem that Onate has caused for the Davis Enterprise, which is a huge disappointment.

Brian Johnson

(First time on this website)
A month before the recent election I wrote a short letter about the Measure J ballot item. Two before the election I modified my letter and submitted it again. it never appeared. From all the comments regarding the new editor, I now know why. I'll post it below and the reader can be the judge. Brian JohnsonLetter to the Editor, The Davis Enterprise, May 23rd. 2018


Geography versus Nishi 2.

Richards Bloulevard is fully loaded already:- You can do all the studies and planning you want. The situation that cannot be changed is the geography of Davis.
The southern edge of downtown Davis is a mere 100 yards from an historic one-lane-each-way tunnel under the railroad.
1. Between the tunnel and the close-by I-80 Freeway is Olive Drive. Soon to be a feeder of student “traffic” from the already approved Lincoln 40 project. Planned occupancy is 708 individual students.
2. Almost opposite of Olive Drive on the west side of Richards we will have the planned and approved Hotel and Conference Center, where Cafe Italia used to be.
3. Should NIshi 2 pass; Richards would be affected by both pedestrian and bike student “traffic” coming out of Olive Drive. These three factors have not been mentioned up to now.
Feeding from the proximity of Olive Drive, are the on and off ramps for the I-80 Freeway.
As Bob Dunning mentioned in this newspaper on 4/22/18, “most of us avoid the Richards underpass like the plague.” I’m firmly convinced that the existing mess at Richards cannot be fixed by “fixing it”.
Short of new over-the-freeway ways of avoiding Richards completely, Richards will always be an even greater big-fat-mess should Nishi 2 be added to already approved projects adjacent to Richards Boulevard.
Finally, a caution; Vote NO on Measure J. (Not to be confused with the City of Davis Ordinance, Measure J, which required residents to vote on projects outside the City limits.)

Roberta L. Millstein

Welcome to the Davisite, Brian.

Thank you for sharing your experience. Although I didn't write about it in my post, I also submitted a letter fairly early on that was not published.

Your thoughts are always welcome here, so I hope you find your way back.

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