Is Escondido Alliance a newspaper bent on reviving community journalism or a liberal “propaganda advertisement”?
The bilingual tabloid [posted here] made its debut in late April, with 10,000 copies distributed free to 30 retail and news rack locations and households in center city, say its owners.But publishers Marco E. López and Nina Deerfield, both Escondido residents, make no apologies for the partisan nature of the monthly, saying it “absolutely” has a progressive bent. The first households to get the paper were in the heavily Latino council District 1, López said, aiming to sway the November mayoral and council elections.
“There’s been a real interest in what Arizona has done with their anti-immigrant policies,” said López, 64, a nonpracticing lawyer who once worked for labor leader Cesar Chávez. “Basically, what we’re pointing out is that — hey, we have an Arizona here in California.”
How might they deal with reader perceptions it’s out to get people and promote a cause?
“I would ask [U-T San Diego publisher] Doug Manchester the same question,” said Deerfield, 62. “The reality is that the press around here is very, very slanted. We’re trying to redress that [imbalance].”
Escondido Councilman Mike Morasco, an ally of conservative Mayor Sam Abed, says his reaction to the inaugural issue was “pretty negative.” He said he was bothered by the contributors — “individuals who have very strong roots in the Democrat Party.”
Morasco told Times of San Diego: “I consider it a propaganda advertisement for a specific position [in the] political arena. … But it’s not a newspaper. They can try to color it any way they like, but it’s still yellow.”
The 16-page paper, formally called Escondido Alliance/Alianza, is the first print enterprise devoted to Escondido news since the North County Times folded in 2013. The hometown Times-Advocate merged with the Times in 1995.
Articles included a front-page piece by former North County Times columnist Rick Mercurio headlined “Escondido Needs a Newspaper!” and two pieces critical of Abed’s effort to put a charter-city measure on the November ballot.
Victor Manuel Torres of La Raza Lawyers contributed a column (in English and Spanish) about racial profiling, and a short story notes how the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, will stage an “Opera’s Greatest Moments” Concert.
Deerfield said she and López are using their own money to print the paper, with four full-time volunteers to produce it — along with submissions from friends and the community. Advertising is being solicited “as we speak,” she said last week.
“We’re not paying anybody,” Deerfield said of the staff. “We just need enough money to print it.”Although the paper has a website and webmaster, the publishers aren’t yet using social media to promote the paper.
“The interactive aspect of Facebook is very off-putting,” said Deerfield, who teaches T’ai Chi and yoga and works out of her home as a naturopathic physician.
“I keep calling myself a neo-Luddite because I realize this [news operation] is going backwards,” Deerfield said in a phone interview. “But it’s important, and I think people actually are missing a newspaper to read.”
She said people without Internet access “must not be left out of the conversation.”
López promised that all council and mayoral candidates would get questionnaires, but concedes the paper might not get complete cooperation.
“We know who’s going to be supportive … of our paper,” he said. “So that’s how we’ll proceed.”
Among the first expressions of support was a large note on Page 7 of the May issue from Dolores Huerta, longtime partner of farmworker icon Chávez and president of her own foundation.
“Your newspaper … can serve as an instrument for positive change,” Huerta wrote. “I know you are up to the challenge. Si Se Puede!”Only a handful of ads appear in the first issue, including congratulatory notes by committees backing mayoral challenger Olga Diaz [currently a District 3 councilwoman] and District 1 candidate Consuelo Martinez.
But newspapers in the digital age are having a hard time becoming a commercial success.
Don Harrison, a former Union-Tribune politics writer and Grossmont College journalism professor, says he sees challenges ahead for Alliance.
“In the first place, most people are not political activists, nor do they want to be,” he said. “They are too tired from making a living, and taking care of their children, to become government and politics junkies.”
He advises the paper to show people how an issue affects their lives personally — such as a pedophile lurking in a park where they take their kids or an apartment house with a safety hazard.
“These [kinds of stories], if written with close attention to the facts, and framed in terms that hit home — rather than in the political mumbo jumbo of ‘votes,’ ‘budgets,’ ‘committees’ and ‘political parties’ — may command attention.”
But Alliance will need to broaden its coverage in order to increase its appeal to become a financial success, said Harrison, now editor and publisher of San Diego Jewish World.
“The problem is to get the people who may become interested to read the newspaper in the first place,” he said. “That will mean finding out what the readers (rather than the writers) are interested in, and giving them information about those subjects as well.”
One-time U-T features columnist Michael Grant, another former Grossmont College journalism professor, said a monthly print schedule is too infrequent, “and Alliance is a weird name for a newspaper.”
For his part, publisher López said he hopes to take the paper to twice a month after six months, and expand delivery beyond store counters and the center city.
“A lot of people are interested in getting the word out there,” he said.
But Councilman Morasco, an Escondido resident since 1967, disputes the contention that excitement is building over the newspaper.
“There’s no buzz about it,” Morasco said. “If there is buzz, it’s going to be from those who are happy and patting themselves on the back for their distribution. But as far as individuals I know, they don’t even know of its existence.”
First word of the coming Alliance was posted April 13 by Miriam Raftery on the East County Magazine website.
“López says Escondido has had a virtual ‘news blackout’ on many issues of importance to residents, such as motivations behind turning much of a community center over to a private owner,” Raftery wrote, quoting López as saying of the council majority: “These guys are doing what they want.”
Morasco agrees with López and Deerfield that Escondido needs a newspaper.
“We’ve lost the personal touch that had been there for so many years,” said Morasco, a longtime physical therapist who recalls being a Times-Advocate “paperboy.”
“The Times-Advocate and the North County Times gave us a sense of firsthand information by individuals who lived and functioned in the city and were a part of the fabric of the city,” he said. “And we just don’t have that anymore.”
He said Escondido “has wound up on the short end of the stick [in news attention], and we don’t have the coverage we’re accustomed to.”
Unless “something major happens,” crime will not be a focus of Alliance, Deerfield said.
Any sports reporting planned?
“Once the Steelers start playing again, I’ll get interested in sports,” said a laughing Deerfield, a fan of the NFL team in Pittsburgh.
López said he and Deerfield handed out 150 newspapers recently at an Escondido flea market.
“People are frightened,” he said. “It’s pretty clear [Escondido] is really an occupied zone, and that’s how the mayor has chosen to direct his policies.”
López promised investigative journalism, saying the paper is looking into allegations, made in 2008, that the mayor had hired undocumented help on a certain building project — reports that Abed denied.
District 4 Councilman Morasco, whose next race is in 2016, said: “If … their sole purpose is to elect a new mayor and find a replacement for [Ed Gallo in] the District 1 seat, then all I can say is everyone has a right to any form of propaganda they choose.”
For their part, the publishers wrote in an introductory column: “We at Alliance/Alianza are committed to reporting on the facts while maintaining the highest journalistic standards, to be truthful and informative, rather than malicious and rancorous.
“And, we promise you we’ll have fun too!”
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