Homeless advocate Michael McConnell (right) responds to an audience question during Grade the Media event. Photo by Ken Stone
Homeless advocate Michael McConnell (right) responds to question at Grade the Media event. Photo by Ken Stone

Updated at 4 p.m. March 17, 2017

“I love everybody in the media,” Jan Goldsmith told a group of reporters and journalism watchers Thursday at the annual “Report Card on the Media” event. Then he turned serious.

Dean Nelson, director of the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University, moderated the Grade the Media event. Photo by Ken Stone

The former San Diego city attorney, part of a four-person panel gathered at San Diego City College, read from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics before rendering his verdict.

“You’re going to get an A,” he told the San Diego SPJ audience, if you seek truth and provide fair and comprehensive accounts as the code advises. But pressed for a grade, the former judge and law school teacher said local media overall get a “B-range.”

More critical was Marquis Parks, who became a voice of protesters after the El Cajon police killing of unarmed Ugandan refugee Alfred Olango in September.

When moderator Dean Nelson, the Point Loma Nazarene journalism professor, asked for an overall grade, Parks said “E for effort.” But then Parks clarified that it was between a D and F for not properly covering ongoing peaceful protests and letting “negative images” infect stories, “wanting to see black people as savage and noncivil.”

Parks declined to specify which news outlets flunked, saying: “I’d rather give the praise” to KPBS, the local public broadcasting channel.

Two proponents of ongoing issues — San Diego’s Climate Action Plan and efforts to deal with homelessness — were more generous.

Jan Goldsmith recalled a story that falsely accused him of bugging Mayor Bob Filner’s office based on an unchecked book source. Photo by Ken Stone

Nicole Capretz, director of the Climate Action Campaign, hailed Voice of San Diego, KPBS and the U-T, but said TV outlets “haven’t been that engaged,” failing to grasp the enormity of the issue.

Still, “I’m going to say A-minus” for overall media coverage of climate-protection efforts, she said, offering broadcasters a tip: “People love seeing solar panels … People crave solutions.”

And Michael McConnell, whose 5-year-old Homeless News page on Facebook first alerted reporters to jagged rocks being placed where people camped under a Sherman Heights freeway overpass, gave a series of grades.

For Twitter use, A-plus. For truth and fairness, an A. And for understanding the issue “a B at this point,” he said, while offering an “overall A” for local media’s “solid effort on this issue.”

His advice?

“We don’t cover the county [Board of Supervisors] enough,” McConnell said. But “don’t let up on the mayor.”

He also cautioned against depicting story subjects as “the homeless,” since media wouldn’t refer to “the youth, the gays, the seniors” in narratives. “They are our neighbors, going through a crisis,” he said of what he’d prefer to be called “people experiencing homelessness.”

Nicole Capretz joined others in encouraging young people to pursue journalism careers. Photo by Ken Stone

Unlike previous editions of the event also known as Grade the Media, the 80-minute forum attracting 30 people to a City College TV studio had few fireworks and little tension.

Goldsmith faulted one outlet for accepting without checking a false account in Lee Burdick’s book that Goldsmith had ordered the bugging of Mayor Bob Filner’s office.

But the former Poway mayor and Assembly member had mainly praise for reporters, singling out Andrew Keatts for recent revelations on SANDAG and Voice colleague Lisa Halverstadt on short-term vacation rentals, plus U-T staffers Ricky Young and David Garrick, KUSI’s Steve Bosh, and inewsource among others.

“I even think [Michael] Turko does a great job at KUSI,” Goldsmith said. “He’s an attorney.”

Audience members offered Parks advice on how to get more press attention and explained why certain events don’t attract wanted coverage.

Freelancer Kelly Davis, who did groundbreaking work at San Diego CityBeat on jail scandals and homelessness, said journalists “try our best” at working around privacy laws and police restrictions, and can be forced to wait for a lawsuit to gain needed information.

Marquis Parks gave the news media an “E for Effort” for its coverage of the Alfred Olango killing and related issues. Photo by Ken Stone

Bey-Ling Sha, director of San Diego State’s School of Journalism and Media Studies, asked the panel if they’d encourage young people to go into media. All said yes.

Goldsmith said: “Look at it as a public service — and be prepared to tighten your belt.”

Capretz said: “You could be instrumental in helping change the world,” noting that she “clings” to The New York Times and PBS for news of current events. “The U-T can be an amazing source of information.”

McDonnell said: “Everyone in the media seems to be having a good time — so why not?” And he credited Voice of San Diego’s Halverstadt as a reporter “I actually learn stuff from.”

In exchange for coverage, McConnell said he could “give reporters what they want — clicks” through links on his Facebook page. “Some of my stuff gets hundreds of thousands” of views, he said.

The only pointed exchange came when Goldsmith noted meeting the San Diego Reader’s Dorian Hargrove for the first time Thursday night.

“I thought you were older,” Goldsmith said.

Shot back Hargrove: “I thought you were a woman.”

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