YOLO SUN OPINION :
One of the absolutely most active and valuable civic volunteers of Woodland recently remarked with long-simmering frustration that Jim Smith, Editor of the Daily Democrat: “is a despot.”
This is surely a cruel thing to say about someone in the journalism business, but Smith’s style of craft has lately slid to a new nadir of unethical conduct.
This community leader’s view of Smith, while colorfully expressive, is much more common in general than Smith might be expected to believe; and of course, the Daily Democrat is such a constantly available subject of intensely broad community disdain, derision and outright ridicule, that it’s a wonder alert and responsible voters would ever take seriously any of its political endorsements.
There are, of course, various and curious problems with the news flow and news content of this paper.
The larger and much more serious problem, however, is that the traditional (professional) “firewall” — between the opinion and news functions of this newspaper — does not exist — whenever it is inconvenient for whatever Smith desires to contrive within the political arena.
____ No City Budgets? — No News Story? ____
Huge case, directly on point: Woodland has not produced a publicly available, municipal budget for the two latest fiscal years, 2010-11 and 2011-12.
These two years represent the mayoral term of current county supervisorial candidate, Art Pimentel, whom the Daily Democrat has strongly endorsed.
Add to that, its strong endorsement for city council candidate Jim Hilliard, closely connected to the local Chamber of Commerce, which has been closely connected to the budget by frequent and special updates about municipal budget processes — and here’s a double-decker dose of embarrassment involved with this two-year, no-budget debacle.
Absence of a public municipal budget (for two years running) is a spectacularly appalling condition for a city and its public / voter relations, and it is an enormously questionable basis for glowing press recommendations about reliable fiscal stewardship, especially in these historic times of economic depression.
This no-budget situation was revealed during a public city council meeting earlier this year, when (then) interim city manager Kevin O’Roarke directly confronted the city council about this matter and firmly advised that a regular public budget be prepared for the upcoming fiscal year (2012-13).
In a subsequent interview with Yolo Sun — O’Roarke frankly admitted that he was totally flabbergasted by this unusual absence of a normal city budget.
O’Roarke described repeatedly asking for various budget information and receiving only a few pages about narrow, selected subjects, leading to his finally exclaiming: “But where is the actual budget?”
Yolo Sun inquired about the reasons why the city has no budget documents for these two years, with O’Roarke responding: “ I didn’t ask them.” He seemingly didn’t want to raise conflicts with the city council in his (interim) effort to put the city’s financial situation back on track.
O’Roarke indicated (in a colorfully figurative way) that in his quite well-seasoned experience, for such a gross violation of basic civic convention — in other communities — the city hall / manager / council: “would be eviscerated.”
____ “News Story!” ____
“News story!” practically screams out from these facts and circumstances, which have been in the possession of the Daily Democrat for months.
Its reporter was actually present at the city council meeting wherein this information was initially revealed. Additionally, lack of a municipal budget was noted in a candidate ballot statement for city council, as well as being noted in his interview with the Daily Democrat.
This key subject was also briefly raised within the limited venue of the League of Women Voters city council candidate forum and thus broadcast to the rather limited viewership of a municipal cable channel.
Although original and substantial, those are not the only sources for the Daily Democrat of such extraordinarily interesting and important information — especially during an election season.
____ Chamberlain Supporters Complain ____
Yolo Sun has recently learned that the county supervisorial campaign of incumbent Duane Chamberlain (opponent of Pimentel) has been vigorously objecting to Jim Smith about the stark absence of coverage by the Daily Democrat of what would be conventionally understood as a: “major news story.”
Of course, publishing such a news story would tend to erode Pimentel’s (and Hilliard’s) electoral credibility and critical voter support in the midst of this journalistically endorsed quest for public office.
So, despite placing its journalistic reputation (such as it is) upon the chopping-block, the Daily Democrat seemingly can’t find this red-hot news story.
Plainly, Jim Smith can find this news story. In fact, some supporters of Duane Chamberlain would in their frustration / exasperation with him, like to put it where he’d be certain to eventually discover it.
Some Chamberlain supporters declare that Smith flatly states that he will not publish this news story, crassly excusing his conduct in one flimsy way or another.
Slyly, Smith has recently included a very brief mention of this subject within a large article (June 2) about the city budget which is currently being prepared (fiscal year 2012-13). Buried within the middle of this (quite late for the election) news article is the curious and inadequate excuse of a “financial software conversion” having prevented city council publication of the city budgets of 2010-11 and 2011-12.
Even further — these Chamberlain supporters indicate that Smith has flatly (and unfairly, unethically) refused to sell them any advertising space for use in raising this particular subject / news story — claiming that he would then have to provide equal space for Pimentel to respond.
In effect, Smith is thus censoring basic political speech / advertising.
____ Troubled Waters ____
Of course, this strange aspect / twist / paradox of journalistic affairs easily illuminates the absolutely basic requirement for a proper news story.
Illustrating profoundly delusional notions of ethical conduct in journalism, Smith has created and waded into seriously troubled waters — since his unethical conduct generates adverse consequences of a serious breach of public respect and confidence in our political institutions and processes.
Voters must have enough relevant information to make political decisions. Important topics other than this budget debacle were also denied coverage by Smith in the weeks leading up to this election.
The “press” is the only occupation / profession named in our nation’s founding documents and likewise utterly crucial for success within our democratic system of government.
Smith has effectively tainted the vote within our local elections, through journalistic malpractice of conniving to censor the news.
Betraying in such a cavalier fashion, fundamental journalistic obligations to Woodland and its voters, the Daily Democrat has now entered into an irreversible predicament within this community.
It is the local newspaper-of-record, but it has not only become a festering-sore on the body public; also, it has now infected our primary political organs, being itself a cancerous organ that should soon be removed and replaced with an actual newspaper with integrity, perhaps the most important vehicle for democracy.