More About Nothing

UPDATE: Air Pollution Control District Director Larry Allen’s letter demanding retraction was just published on CalCoastNews along with Forbes columnist Steve Hayward’s rebuttal.

Ever since District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill wrote a letter to the editor for The New Times, there’s been a fixation on the supervisor that’s truly amazing. It started as a satirical letter that colorfully identified those who are susceptible to conspiracy theory thinking, and it snowballed into an op-ed column featured in Forbes Magazine. Look at the big picture and ask yourself, “Does this really matter?” Continue reading More About Nothing

Why I Didn’t Cover Agenda 21 and ICLEI

For about four months or so, I was working on an article about certain conspiracy-riddled subjects that outspoken conservatives and libertarians in San Luis Obispo County have been talking about. They’ve gone before the County Board of Supervisors and repeatedly lampooned the Democrats serving on the board for enacting policies in accordance to Agenda 21, a voluntary non-binding agreement by the United Nations that supports environmentally sustainable development.

The very same outspoken conservatives and libertarians have linked Agenda 21 to an agreement that Supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill signed at the Central Coast Resilient Communities Symposium in Santa Barbara. The supervisors reportedly signed the Resilient Communities for America agreement on June 21 last year. Both appear as signatories on their website. It’s not like they’re hiding it. It’s not a big secret.

So what’s the big deal? Continue reading Why I Didn’t Cover Agenda 21 and ICLEI

The Templar Complex

We thought we’ve seen everything. Since my latest article came out on Friday, a conversation has taken place about journalism ethics. The conversation came after people experienced the initial shock of seeing this video by the so-called Knights Templar — otherwise known as Citizens Protecting Children, Longarm Productions, Robert Bacon etc. It looks as though the son of CalCoastNews’ co-founder Daniel Blackburn either produced the video or was a collaborator. Either way, it’s not good.

CalCoastNews has not responded to the article. It appears that they have taken the approach that the problem will eventually disappear. I mean, who reads us anyway? Nothing a good, dismissive shrug can’t fix, right? But there are way too many problems here. We’ve been covering their exploits for the past couple of years, but that video — and the way it was produced and promoted — shows a serious, serious problem. We’re talking about uploading copyrighted images from blogs, businesses and news organizations without their permission. We’re talking about identity theft. We’re talking about the fact that a news site would push their work through several layers of anonymity while pretending to be part of the seething, foam-producing mob.

On Jan. 19, a Razor reader posted on the Citizens Protecting Children Facebook page the following message:

“My first question is who are the citizens behind your mission of protecting children? Besides Karen Velie’s kids what other children are you trying to protect? Can you point out any other cases of “child kidnapping” that has you concerned? Any comment on the photographs that were apparently copied and pasted from the world wide web? You do know that using others images is an ethical if not legal trespass and something no ethical journalist would do without giving attribution? Looking at this page I would have to say that this is a thinly “Vieled” page to push one agenda and it ain’t for protecting children.

Any comments at all?

And Alan Blackburn Robert Bacon’s response? “You are an enemy to the people.”

Bacon also posted the man’s Facebook profile photo on their page, writing, “You have identified yourself as a supporter of filth.”

Questions answered. See, wasn’t that easy? You cannot make this stuff up. I cannot wait until Mr. Bacon goes into Photoshop and puts a Hitler mustache on my face.

Obviously there will be more to come about CalCoastNews. There are a lot of things happening from their co-publisher being unceremoniously booted from 92.0 KVEC as a guest to pursuing San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson for allegedly changing details about a drug raid that happened on Dec. 4 last year. They sure know how to make friends.

Just ask Citizens for Protecting Children, who wrote on Dec. 28, “Thank you Dave Congalton and Dan Blackburn for bringing this to our attention.”

No, thank YOU!

The Tired, Ongoing Los Osos Sewer War

I’ve been reluctant to discuss the Los Osos wastewater project since I retired from writing columns about it a little over a year ago.

The project is now estimated at $173 million, which is a lot, but it’s being paid for with a myriad of loans and grants. Of course, Los Osos residents are going to be paying for the rates and charges, including operations and maintenance (O&M) costs. The sewer project is on a lot of people’s minds, but rarely will people come out and express an opinion about it. Essentially Los Osos has advanced so far in collection system construction, it would be financially cumbersome for homeowners to somehow stop the project, reverse course, and reanalyze the alternatives.

Even so, there are some residents who appear at San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors meetings every Tuesday morning. For the sake of full disclosure: I dedicated many of my columns to the preservation of their right to speak at these meetings. There was always a kernel of truth to what they were saying. But over time, the repetition has, in many ways, diluted their overarching message. Now, constructive dialogue and solutions are conveniently left out of their comments and there’s truly no intrinsic benefit to being present at these meetings.

Similarly, I don’t see a benefit to wielding a fanatic disdain for those speakers. The narrative constructed by the sewer fanatics is that the people you see appear every Tuesday have no right to speak for they are “obstructionists” who are trying to stop the sewer at all costs, and in the process of their so-called obstructionism, their activism cost the community millions of dollars. Repetitive opinions don’t cost anything except a couple of minutes worth of hot air from individuals who pledge their allegiance to the microphone more than the residents they claim they represent.

It is a futile undertaking to psychoanalyze the Los Osos sewer debate because, for all intents and purposes, the debate is no longer viable in the face of construction progress that’s been made. There will always be an issue that people will come up and market it to their dwindling followers as the silver bullet that halts the sewer, but no fruit is borne from their labor.

I’ve received e-mails from Los Osos residents who forward to me the latest strategy to take down the “nefarious forces,” as in the same so-called nefarious forces that supposedly orchestrated the “kidnapping” of CalCoastNews’ co-publisher Karen Velie‘s grandchildren. The debate has transformed into an ambiguous-but-somehow-irrefutable conspiracy theory, and the dots are connected by former Los Osos Community Services District director Julie Tacker. When she’s not engaging in microscopic, tattle-tale activism that does nothing to reform the municipalities that opposes her personal agenda, Tacker regularly delivers an opiate of false hope to residents — and that opiate is forwarded to me.

It’s no longer a debate. It’s a game, and it’s a game that I refuse to play. Will the conversation ever steer to a direction that can help close the community rift? Not likely, but if anyone has any ideas, I’d like to hear them.

Let’s Define the News for 2014

Every one of us has our own definition of what “news” is, yet we always defer to a corporation, an organization or a newsmaker to determine what is newsworthy. We always have someone project the news to us, and we accept it. We often don’t question it — and that’s unfortunate.

I’m not a fan of generalization, but a lot of news media tend to thrive on sensationalism. They get inside our heads, and psychologically manipulate us to provoke strong emotions. Then we’re so consumed with the sensationalism that we’re distracted from matters that we feel are important. When the media willingly engages in psychological manipulation, we can safely say that they abandoned journalism.

The subjugation of journalism is defended with the following arguments:

  1. We’re only covering subjects that many people are talking about
  2. We’re raising awareness of a controversial subject
  3. We want people to know the truth

In response to the first argument: It’s quite easy to determine popular topics, especially in the era of social media and the ever-expanding horizons of the digital world. Just because a subject is popular and relevant in the public eye does it mean that it’s newsworthy. Popularity and relevance are considerable factors, but the media often ignores the story’s impact. How does a story impact people? How many people does the story impact? How does the story personally affect the reader? These questions are rarely acknowledged and answered.

In response to the second argument: Labeling a story “controversial” only means that the story raises ire and has multiple viewpoints associated with it. However, it’s way too easy for the media to create a controversy. All it takes is a writer, a reporter or a journalist to make that determination. They may write or report on something that actually happened, but the severity of it is regularly dramatized to drum up more interest. We have to ask ourselves, “What is ‘controversy’?” and determine the criteria for deeming something as controversial instead of blindly branding a story as such.

Here are some suggestions for handling a controversial story:

  • Specify the severity of the disagreement or conflict. For example, is the dispute offensive and in poor taste, or is it a matter that affects people physically and mentally?
  • Look at who is involved. A feud between two high-powered celebrities is minutiae compared to public policy that affects millions of people. It’s best to analyze a controversy by the objective scope of impact
  • Leave yourself out of the story. Some media sources are passionate about controversial subject matters, but far too often they inject themselves into the discussion and become part of the miasma. Doing so cuts the story short of any deeper understanding or context because the narrative is fixed
  • Talk to people. The best — and perhaps the most unethical — way to create a controversy is to not talk to those who are at the core of the issue. Send an e-mail, pick up the phone. You may not personally agree with the people you’re seeking opinions from, but you do it anyway and state their side of the story
  • Let the readers make up their own minds. Sometimes, the conclusion of a story is obvious. It may be obvious to me or you, but there’s no need to render an opinionated conclusion (unless you’re a blogger or op-ed columnist) if you’re able to clearly divulge all the facts. You never know. People might agree with you without being coached!

Lastly, the truth. People deserve the truth, but often times the “truth” is portrayed without context. We’re in a society where news content is more disposable due to its abundance and ability to be manipulated. The “truth” is manipulated, and the truth (without the air quotes) is obscured. The situation calls out for readers, listeners and watchers to be more vigilant in bringing the news to the newsmakers. In other words, people who receive the news should be actively informing the media of the news. If people were to inform the media with news — while using the critical faculties of an honest journalist — then there will be news.

It will take a crowd-sourced effort for the media to wake up and learn what news really is: an empathetic yet boldly objective connection to the hearts and minds of humankind.