The Bee does Stockton Forward

The SacBee writes about Stockton Forward, the group trying to influence visiting reporters.

“People who look at these things usually see them as you’re trying to wallpaper over a hole in the wall,” said Gary Pettey, an associate professor of communication at Cleveland State University. “They’re desperation, more than anything else.”

Sad, but true. I haven’t written about Stockton Forward because I don’t want to criticize well-intentioned people. Especially since some of them, Fritz Grupe, for instance, have a real heart to help the city. But the truth is they don’t get how media works. From their bubble, they think they can influence it the way they influenced City Hall: with money and lobbying and hired expertise.  

They can’t.

Their fundamental premise is wrong: that the media has an ethical obligation to balance negative and positive news.

“Don’t we deserve 5 or 10 percent to be positive?” asked Dea Spanos Berberian.

No. As Clint Eastwood said in “Unforgiven,” “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” Stockton has no national newsmaker, no national politicians or arts figures (Rep. Jerry McNerney does not command national attention for Stockton). It has no TV stations based here, only tiny bureaus of Sacramento stations. So we rarely make “positive” national news. Usually, the only time we filter up into national headlines is when something bad happens. It is that way for all mid-sized American cities.  

As for regional coverage,  a station exec usually won’t run a “positive” story on a Stocktonian because the Sacramento stations cover a vast area. The exec evaluates whether people in Walnut Creek or Citrus Heights will care. They don’t, any more than we care about a positive story about someone in Walnut Creek.

But when a city becomes the largest in American history to file for bankruptcy, people pay attention.

Journalists care less about whether something is positive or negative than whether it is true or false. Business people sometimes care less about whether something is true or false than whether it is good or bad for business. OK, fine. Some of the moneyed bigwigs in Stockton Forward have achieved truly remarkable success doing things their way, so it’s pointless to tell them they’re spinning their wheels.  

I would just add a couple things. 1). The developers in Stockton forward are sprawl developers or bankers who financed sprawl. Sprawl is an underappreciated contributor to Stockton’s bankruptcy. So the very people lamenting the bad ink and blaming the media contributed towards Stockton’s bankruptcy and the tide of bad news.

 2). The Marshall Plan will likely reduce homicides and gang violence. That will ultimately change the tenor of the news. The right way to change image is to change substance.

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    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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