When we launched San José Spotlight nearly a year ago, we came ready to work hard to earn — and keep — the public’s trust.
This doesn’t happen overnight; it comes only with time and consistently covering important local stories in a fair, ethical and transparent way. Those are the cornerstones of good journalism, whether you’re serving a community of 1,000 or, in our case, a thriving city of more than a million.
So far, I believe we have accomplished that goal.
Our stories always include multiple, diverse local voices, from all political sides and factions. I’ve fielded angry emails from Democrats and Republicans over the same story. I was told our work is “too far left” the same night a source lamented we are “too far right.”
Our growing list of 1,500-plus donors — which we disclose — include business, labor, nonprofit and community leaders and organizations. Our events have featured political rivals Councilmember Johnny Khamis standing next to Councilmember Sergio Jimenez. Business leaders in the same room as labor leaders. It doesn’t get more diverse than that.
Yet an outdated policy at San Jose City Hall continues to repress our nonprofit journalism and withhold our stories from public officials who need the information to better do their jobs.
Why? Because we don’t publish a print product.
And Mayor Sam Liccardo and his team apparently have no interest in changing the antiquated policy.
“Since the time of Mayor Reed, we’ve had a policy of not distributing clips from publications and networks that only have an online presence unless they are a nationally recognized outlet of record or a national brand tied to a terrestrial or cable news media outlet,” former Liccardo spokesman Ahmad Chapman said in response to my question about being excluded.
Every morning, more than 200 San Jose City Hall leaders receive an email with “news clips” that pertain to the city. The daily email, crafted by an employee from the mayor’s office, intends to help government officials stay informed.
During former Mayor Chuck Reed’s administration, however, a well-intended city staffer decided to exclude online-only outlets from the email list — unless they serve a national audience.
I say “well-intended” because it was a different political era back then.
Some South Bay political insiders were spewing untrue — and often hateful — rhetoric about their rivals. These anonymous blogs and websites, including one called The Daily Fetch, bore no names, no bylines and no clear answers about who was behind them.
Some people found it entertaining. Most found it damaging and hurtful. It was political fodder. It absolutely wasn’t journalism.
The staffer, speaking on background, said the online blogs were excluded from the daily news clips because they were “anonymous, politically slanted, and not news stories.”
That was years ago. Those sites are long gone.
The staffer added that the media world is “evolving” and that it is good practice to regularly reassess policies.
Outdated policies need to be changed. Even Mayor Reed, who was in office when the policy began, doesn’t think it’s fair.
“It doesn’t seem rational,” Reed told me in a recent phone call. “If it was my policy it should be changed. The mayor should be interested in what people are writing. It shouldn’t matter to him if it’s posted in print or online.”
Two reputable national news associations, in which we are members, wholeheartedly agree. Both sent letters to Liccardo earlier this year advocating for changing the policy.
“This policy is outdated and harmful to the public,” wrote Sue Cross, executive director of the Institute for Nonprofit News, a network of more than 250 nonprofit newsrooms nationwide. “Today, more than 60 percent of news consumers read news on their mobile phones. Online publications are the publications of record. Your policy of excluding online outlets reduces public access to reputable reporting and the ability of local officials to be informed by it.”
Chris Krewson, executive director of LION Publishers, said, “That this policy is issued from the heart of Silicon Valley, the home of more disruption of every industry in the nation, makes a bad thing worse.
“If the goal is to share relevant coverage of your city, then that work will increasingly be done by digital-only outlets that spring up as what’s left of the daily newspaper industry continues its inevitable slide into death,” he added.
But Liccardo did not respond. His chief of staff, Jim Reed, over the summer told me in an email that he “finds value” in the current approach and the policy won’t be changed – even though there’s no legitimate reason to exclude credible online publications such as San José Spotlight from City Hall’s daily distribution of news stories.
Our audience is legitimate and measurable. San José Spotlight has exceeded 1.8 million pageviews since our launch in January and we now have more than 745,000 readers. We are incredibly grateful.
But this is not about pageviews. It’s about fairness, inclusion and equity — and ending an outdated, discriminatory policy.
This is about ensuring San Jose policy leaders and decisionmakers have access to important information they need to better do their jobs. Information that directly affects their daily responsibilities at City Hall. Information that regularly mentions the councilmembers, department heads and leaders they work for. And information they may not get anywhere else. Many stories we reported in the past year were not covered by any other media organization.
Silicon Valley’s elected leaders should not pick and choose which news outlets should be banned from a publicly-funded distribution of information.
If you agree that this outdated policy should be updated to include digital media outlets, tell Liccardo’s office that you stand with San José Spotlight by calling 408-535-4800 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. And please help us continue providing public service journalism in San Jose by becoming a sustaining member with an annual or monthly donation.
All donations will be matched until Dec. 31 by NewsMatch.SJ Mayor - INN Letter
SJ Mayor - LION Letter