San Diego SPJ panel on 'Bolts Beat,' stadium issues

Updated at 7:40 p.m. May 28, 2015

Veteran journalists who cover the Chargers say the NFL team is moving to Los Angeles — and don’t shoot the messenger for saying so.

“Every shred of evidence points to the fact they’re leaving,” Union-Tribune sports columnist Kevin Acee said Wednesday night at a panel discussion on the “Bolts Beat.”

Hosted in a room that once housed former U-T publisher Doug Manchester’s car museum, the event was sponsored by the San Diego Society of Professional Journalists and drew close to 30 people.

Fellow panelist Bernie Wilson, longtime Associated Press sports writer, said the Chargers are “scared stiff” another team will beat them to Los Angeles — either at planned stadiums in Carson or Inglewood.

“I think they’re gone, too,” Wilson said in a nearly 2-hour discussion that often touched on their “fatigue” covering the complicated issue. “At a certain point, enough’s enough.”

Mighty 1090 sports producer Marty Caswell and Voice of San Diego editor in chief Scott Lewis also spoke to an audience peppered with editors and reporters from San Diego media (including KPBS, The Daily Transcript, and local student papers) plus local bloggers.

Caswell said it’s hard to think local stadium advocates can come up with a “feasibility plan” in four months — a deadline for action.

“The last thing they want is to be the third team in Los Angeles,” Caswell said, referring to the Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams.

Lewis, unlike the others, says he still enjoys covering the stadium saga and its ever-changing landscape — partly because it draws the public into considering land-use and civic issues they don’t normally address.

“The NFL puts on the show,” he said. “And we have to decide (whether) we’re in the bidding (for) the show.”

Wilson’s take: “What’s in the best interest of the NFL? I’m done (with the answer).”

Speaking with lockerroom-style honesty and informality, the panelists agreed the Chargers are not media-friendly — freezing out some reporters, failing to answer questions and refusing to make team owner Dean Spanos available for interviews.

But Lewis said, “Ironically, the Chargers are being honest about what they want.”

As a result, media outlets that report their determination to move to the larger market to the north draw the wrath of fans.

Wilson said fans don’t like reporters when they write the truth, and Acee said: “I’ve gotten a lot of guff … for not ‘being a fan.’”

“There are a lot of people who want to hear: It’s all going to be OK,” Lewis said, bemoaning the refrain of “get it done, get it done” by groups like Save Our Bolts. “There are few things you [can] tell the fans that they want to hear.”

Lewis said readers should think of him — and his reporting — as a “warning alarm,” not a “jerk … trying to poison the situation,” adding: “I think they want to leave.”

But Lewis — who said the Chargers might fail to bolt — threw responsibility for the stadium mess back to the cities fearing loss of teams.

He said the mayors of San Diego, Oakland and St. Louis should confront the NFL about how the league — which he called a “cartel” — is treating their communities.

“You’re treating my constituents like garbage,” Lewis wants them to say.