I have been living in San Diego for the largest part of the last 28 years. During that time, we have gone from two newspapers to one newspaper to two and back to one. We have a weekly, The Reader, which is tremendously uneven but often very good in a muckraking sort of way, and another weekly, City Beat, which is newer and cheesier and often funny if also light-weight. The two I remember from day one were the Union and the Tribune which became the Union-Tribune and after a failed attempt by the Los Angeles Times to do a San Diego version (San Diegans are not going to love anything with “Los Angeles” on the cover) we have only the UT as a consistent daily read. There are other papers like the black-owned “Voice and Viewpoint” but they are only after a niche market and willingly seem to write themselves into a cultural cul-de-sac. The UT is our paper of record and by many many standards it is not a good paper. But it is what it is.
Last year the UT won a Pulitzer for taking down Randy “Duke” Cunningham. Duke was always a piece of crap but it wasn’t until he started nakedly lining his own Republican pockets that the UT found the fortitude to take him down. Good for them. They didn’t spend a lot of time being introspective about the fact that they had never to my knowledge tried to unseat the S.O.B. from Congress and in fact had always sung his praises. It’s a military town and he was a fighter ace. No questions asked please. His takedown and the UT’s prize are symbolic of the greater demographic changes taking place in San Diego. According to Lionel Van Deerling, resident democrat and columnist for the UT, the city is now blue and the suburbs are red. We are a county that has always gone to Bush in a state that goes the other way. But that dog is getting tired and the highly educated populace is trending bluish especially in the over-priced housing in the city limits. I guess you could say that things are looking up.
But our media lags. We have always had a second rate media. Local TV news is polished and pathetic. The UT is still owned by the corpulent Copley family, old Republican money that refuses to spend enough of it on their paper. Look at the size of the UT versus the LA Times and it becomes obvious that we are just not in the same league in terms of resources and talent. Eventually the UT will have to join the wider world and sell outside the market as the Times appears to do or it may fade away. Look at the advertisement section and watch it shrink day by day. San Diego would like to be known as one of the great cities of America and the world. We have the scientists to do it: Scripts Research Institute is already at the cutting edge of the global warming problem. But our leaders are too comfortable and foolish. So will we too be if we don’t demand more from our local media.