Dulce Garcia and Tony Manolatos share a light moment at “Grade the Media” forum. Photo by Ken Stone

Updated at 9 a.m. March 2, 2018

A local PR heavyweight called out Mario Koran of Voice of San Diego. A Dreamer shamed KGTV for being clueless on her DACA campaign.

Click for audio of “Grade the Media” forum at Point Loma Nazarene University. Photo by Ken Stone

And a survivor of the Las Vegas concert shootings said some media accounts made up things about him — even falsely saying he was married.

So it went in a tough-love critique of local news outlets Wednesday — the annual “Grade the Media” — at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Sponsored by the San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the event gave subjects of stories a chance to share their thoughts and grade local coverage.

Panelists at the 80-minute forum were:

  • Taylor Winston, the 29-year-old Iraq war veteran from Ocean Beach who with a female acquaintance drove about two dozen Route 91 Harvest Festival victims to the hospital in a work truck he found on the grounds. (Taken, more than stolen.)
  • Dulce Garcia, a 34-year-old Dreamer and immigration attorney living in the Oak Park area who is part of a lawsuit aimed at keeping President Trump from rescinding the DACA program.
  • And Tony Manolatos, a 47-year-old former Union-Tribune reporter who now has public-relations clients including the San Diego Unified School District, Councilman Chris Cate and opponents of Community Choice Aggregation.

(San Diego Councilman David Alvarez was scheduled to appear, but notified forum moderator Claire Trageser, a KPBS reporter, that he was late in returning from Sacramento.)

”San Diego Unified has gotten unfair coverage from Voice of San Diego,” Manolatos said, singling out reporter Koran for saying on social media and podcasts (as well as his stories) that the school district was inflating its graduation rate by “unloading” struggling students on charter schools.

“And it wasn’t true,” he said. “Kids are counseled all the time. They get options if they are struggling.”

A charter school is “up to you and your parents,” said Manolatos, who later slammed the nonprofit news site for not disclosing in its coverage and recent “Parents Guide to Public Schools” that Voice co-founder and board chairman Buzz Woolley is a major funder of the charter-school movement.

In response to Manolatos’ comments, Voice on Friday noted how public records back up Koran’s reporting, with an October 2017 story saying school staff members recommended students find a new high school on at least 238 occasions.

Manolatos’ $25,000 contract with the school district is mentioned in a story headlined “The Year San Diego Unified Established Itself as the Agency Most Hostile to Transparency.” (He had a similar job with the Grossmont Union High School District in 2016.)

But Manolatos didn’t spare other media outlets.

“Overall I’m just really disappointed in the lack of coverage — education coverage — in San Diego,” he told an audience of 40 at Colt Hall on campus. “Really, other than Voice, nobody really covers education on a regular basis.”

He even called for someone — perhaps at the U-T — to start a weekly media criticism column.

“I would give the local media a B-plus,” Manolatos said. “They would get an A-minus except for the tweeting — that drags you down.”

He said local reporters want to tweet like the U-T’s editorial and opinion director Matt Hall — who was live-tweeting the event at @GradeTheMedia — and Scott Lewis, Voice’s editor in chief, who wasn’t present.

“But they forget that Matt Hall and Scott Lewis are paid [to express] their opinions,” Manolatos said, and then addressed reporters: “You don’t understand how often your tweets are emailed around — more often than your stories.”

Garcia, a criminal defense attorney whose Mexican parents brought her to the United States when she was 4, divided her grades between Spanish- and English-language news media.

Spanish media got a B-plus because they “reported on me as a person,” she said. “It’s not an A because they had me pretend I was on my keyboard. They had me get out of my car, which was super dirty that day.”

The English media earned a C because it failed to show up enough at her rallies and protests — called “actions.”

KPBS reporter Claire Trageser, well-prepared as moderator, asked insightful questions. Photo by Ken Stone

“I feel like sometimes I have to do something that is outrageous or big,” Garcia said. “I always get asked by the English ones, not the Spanish ones: How many people do you expect to show up? Does it really matter?”

(Besides, she said, she once expected 100 to attend, and 10 showed up. At an art show, she counted on 50 to come, and 500 did, “so I never have an accurate answer.”)

But she praised U-T reporter Kate Morrissey, whose April 2017 article answered a common question: “Why don’t unauthorized immigrants become citizens? They can’t.”

Garcia says she simply copy-pastes that story in replies to questions she gets.

“It’s my favorite because it’s become a tool,” she said.

A more difficult response for Garcia is dealing with media that appear to be exploiting her emotional personal story. But she tells herself: “This is for the movement. This is for a good cause. So I speak from my heart. So that those listening to me can relate to me.”

One time, quizzed by a Japanese reporter in town, Garcia began to describe her sexual abuse — an issue since undocumented immigrants hesitate to report crimes.

She recalled how her voice broke, and tears began to come — and sensed the camera person moving in for a tighter shot.

“That’s when I was back with my wall up,” she said. “You’re vulnerable and watch what you’re saying right now.”

She called for a line between reporting a story and exploiting it, saying: “We don’t need you to be in tears to be reporting it, right?”

Although local Spanish and even foreign media are aware of her plaintiff status in the DACA suit, some English-language outlets haven’t gotten up to speed, Garcia said.

Dulce Garcia said: “Why is 90 percent of the English-speaking media not covering this (border community)? Photo by Ken Stone

“I had a gentleman come into my office from Channel 10 [ABC affiliate KGTV] this week, who said: ‘I didn’t even know you were in town — that you were one of the main plaintiffs. And I didn’t even know there was this lawsuit.”

She said she thought to herself: “Where have you been the last [few] years?”

For Winston, the Marine veteran who saved lives in Las Vegas, the issue was more profound — that media left the scene after two weeks.

“No strong follow-up, no pursuit of accountability,” he said. “For the people involved, you feel left in the dark — like everyone has forgotten about you, and the media has moved on to the next rating.”

Winston revealed that he’s become involved in trauma therapy efforts, taking experts to Las Vegas and elsewhere — and planning a trip to Parkland, Florida.

“We’re talking with the mayor and principal [at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School]. That’s definitely not covered in really any other shootings — the mental health of the community afterwards. I can’t find anything online to address that.”

He says he bought the domain name trauma411.org. Registered on Feb. 25, it isn’t live yet.

But he says it’s about “essentially making mental health cool again. Teaching about trauma and mental health education is quite lacking.”

Taylor Winston says he’s traveling to other cities to help with their recovery from traumas like the Las Vegas shooting. Photo by Ken Stone

Winston said he made it clear to interviewers that he wouldn’t entertain political or religious questions.

“I’m not going to give you my opinion on what I think happened — whether there was one shooter or multiple shooters, a government conspiracy or what have you,” he said, noting fanciful stories he’s seen. “This is going to be about a positive message, and what the community can do together.”

With the help of a female roommate who had dealt with Chicago media, Winston said his first experience as a news story subject was revealing.

Small “facts” were made up about him, he said, that turned his account into a love story.

But to keep the story in play, “we didn’t reject it. We just rolled with it. … No reason to call them out on it.”

Manolatos asked Winston: “You weren’t even dating her? Really?” (No dating or marriage, Winston replied.)

Tony Manolatos gave Voice of San Diego a Voice a C-minus for San Diego Unified School District coverage. Photo by Ken Stone

His single tour of Iraq got inflated into two tours to “make me sound more heroic as a Marine than I deserved,” he said. (He also served on the USS Boxer.)

Winston said he anticipated the flood of media and pulled down unflattering pictures of himself on social media and made some accounts private.

Though he donated money to a victims fund, with profits from a keychain he designed, Winston said a lot of people thought he was selfish for accepting a Ford F-150 truck.

But Winston — who gave the media an A-minus for coverage of his story (outlets “could have delved deeper”) — confessed that he, like the other two panelists, had learned how to make use of the news media.

“I’ve learned how to manipulate the media, and manipulation’s not a bad word,” he said. “It’s utilizing tools you know how to use in a way to gain favor in the direction you want to go.”

Such tactics could be for negative or positive reasons, he said.

“Once you understand how media works, you can use that to your advantage,” he said. “And let them use you.”

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