If you did not know before; it was made clear today by Michael Stetz of the Union Tribune. I have always said the Union Tribune was a bush league, yellow journalism paper that was not fit to line the bottom of a cat box. Today, I can point to why I say this and I don't think there is anyone who can argue. Michael Stetz wrote; "Remember, City Hall – we buy ink by the barrel," an article defending the pathetic series of articles related to city payroll. If there was ever a doubt to the length the Union Tribune will got to publish a story; the truth be damned, it was made clear today by Stetz.
To refresh those who may have forgotten the articles; Eleanor Yang Su and Craig Gustafson, Staff Writers, and Agustin Armendariz, Staff Data Specialist, wrote a series of articles for the Union Tribune titled: "Watchdog Report / Digging into San Diego's Finances." The first segment was "City's payroll surged in '08." In the article was a link to a City web site allowing people to view City employee compensation. This caused uproar from employees and then the mayor for the lack of context of the information presented and the failure to accurately report ALL elements of the data being presented.
The second article in the series; "City workers' pay goes beyond base salary" was ANOTHER ignorant, twisting, inflammatory article that spins the facts to such an extent you would think EVERY City employee was making a mountain of money from specialty pay. AGAIN the lack of articulate, detailed and specific information leaves the reader thinking there is some sinister, back room, sneaky agreement to allow employees to fleece the taxpayer.
The third and final article in the series; "City payroll sees big gains in high-income earners" again spins data and failed in their efforts to accurately report in context the increases in compensation for city workers. The articles when viewed as a whole, failed miserably to report facts in a manner that accurately reflected the status of city employee wages, benefits and the cuts to these wages and benefits over the past four years. The impression left with readers based on the information provided by the Union Tribune was City employees had received excessive raises since the mayor took office (We all know this is NOT true).
The mayor; in my opinion defending HIMSELF; fired off a nine page letter to the City Council refuting the articles and the spin of the data provided. The mayor followed this up with a letter to the editor of the Union Tribune (which the Union Tribune FAILED to print in its entirety) decrying the failure to place in context the wages and benefits paid to employees.
Along comes Stetz and his "we buy ink by the barrel" piece that is clearly a threat to anyone who dare point out the failure on the part of the Union Tribune to provide factual information to its readers. Stetz starts off making two points; ONE, the link to City employee compensation was public information and the Union Tribune had "every right" to publish the link. TWO; the City provided the link and Stetz made excuses to the Union Tribunes refusal to "pony up" $1,900 the City required to provide the raw data in a more useful form. Stetz reasons the City should have paid (taxpayer money) for the auditor to re-do a data base for the Union Tribune. Hey Michael; the Union Tribune may have had "every right" to publish the link; but just because you had that right, did not "make it right." You lost complete credibility placing blame on the City for refusing to do the work for your purported "Staff Data Specialist" and culling the numbers from the data. You further lost credibility for your shameful and inadequate justification for publishing the link without providing the context of the data and Karin Winner's pathetic attempt a justifying its use hiding behind the "public's right to know" mantra.
Stetz then strikes home what many have thought and believed for years; Truth does not matter; it's selling newspapers that matters. Stetz writes; "I do have a dog in this fight, of course. I work for the newspaper. I love the newspaper. I believe in it. And I'm seeing something of a trend with it, one that I think public officials in the region should be aware of: We still have ink. And while we have hardly been wary of spilling it before – we've done lots of tough pieces on local governments and elected leaders over the years – I believe we are more prepared than ever to use it." Stetz continues; "My reaction: Try us. C'mon." So the hell with context, full disclosure, factual presentation of data and information; we will write what we want, how we want and if you challenge or refute anything we print, we will use the barrel's of ink we have to destroy you even if it is a lie. We got it Michael.
Stetz then takes the next step and makes these statements; "I am all about going to the mattress. We may have a leaner staff, but, believe me, it's meaner. We're not a bunch of happy scribes, given the state of the industry. After what we have been through – buyouts, layoffs, furloughs – I think the overall consensus is that we don't want to play." I heard someone out there sniffling; was that from crying about the turmoil and grief of a once proud group of professional journalists who no longer exist within the bounds of the Union Tribune because of these buyouts, layoffs and furloughs? The Union Tribune staff does not want to play Michael? If you are all that unhappy; go do something else. It is clear your anger and hell bent desire to ruin any respect those taxpaying, resident, city employees earned, is clouding any ability you have to provide accurate, articulate and objective news to the reading public.
Stetz begins to feel his oats and begins to pound his chest as he nears the end of his diatribe; "With the city payroll series, we didn't play. It took months of work and exposed not just that the city hasn't clamped down on payroll as much as advertised, but that some city employees get extra pay for rather unusual reasons." You are kidding aren't you Michael? That was a tongue in cheek comment, right? It is obvious Stetz did as much homework and fact checking for this "article" as the three "watchdog investigative reporters" did when working for "months" on the inaccurate series that spawned the ire of City employees, retirees, the mayor and others. The series lacked context for data; truthful background analysis; and a true comparison of wages and benefits from prior years. If accurate presentation of factual data and information to educate and inform the public was the goal; The Union Tribune and its reporters FAILED MISERABLY.
Stetz then makes the boldest of his statements; "But, more and more, even I want to muscle up. (And here's good news: The newspaper, as yet, does not test for steroids.)" I get the use of metaphor and he is not really espousing the use of steroids; but let's take a look at what he is saying. Stetz is making clear the Union Tribunes position and bent on writing what it chooses and how it chooses. Stetz is making clear the Union Tribunes willingness to use ALL the ink in its many barrels, to fight for their right to be a yellow newspaper. Stetz is making clear for anyone who was on the fence and not yet sure where the Union Tribune is headed since it was sold; the trash heap or recycle bin.
If you have yet to cancel your subscription; what are you waiting for? (Cancel subscription here) The latest attempt at justifying the pathetic performance of the journalist's for San Diego's only newspaper should be sufficient justification to end any relationship one may have with this company. Coupons can be had on the internet; ads from business and retail outlets can be found on the company web pages or at the entrance to most stores; Yahoo, MSN, AOL, Voice of San Diego, and many other mediums are available to provide the needed fix for news junkies. If you miss the garbage written in the Union Tribune; tune in to any of the five local television stations and watch the news; they all read the paper to you; the only thing you may miss is "Dear Abby."
I have said for years we need to challenge inaccurate, false and misleading information being presented to the public from politicians, journalists and others. I have encouraged people to immediately address this information and provide the truth, context and COMPLETE details of whatever it is being opined upon, that is being inaccurately spun. I would encourage continued writing of letters to the editor and correct that information you know to be incorrect. I would encourage you to read the blogs on signonsandiego.com and address the incorrect and misleading information being put forth as fact by the likes of Chris Reed, Richard Rider, Michael Stetz, Ricky Young et al. We may not have barrels of ink or paper by the truck load; but we have facts, honesty and the truth. In my opinion; worth much more than the Union Tribune's ink and paper filled with lies and yellow journalism.