April 30th, 2010
Day 3: From 97 degrees to snow; Ain’t America great?
By David Cuillier
Bakersfield, Calif. – On Thursday, Day 3, I headed out of San Diego by 4 a.m. to get through L.A. before rush hour, driving north to the Bakersfield area. Good thing I left early because I nearly got stuck in a snowstorm!
In the 4,000-foot pass between L.A. and Bakersfield the snow came down hard, causing cars to slide off the road and the authorities to close the freeway. A big change from the 97-degree heat in Phoenix a few days before. While cars skidded around I took a quick detour deeper into the mountains to visit The Mountain Enterprise in Frazier Park.
This weekly publication, circulation 3,000 or so, is a feisty community paper. Sure, it has the typical local coverage you expect in a weekly (my favorite was the story on the upcoming cow-pie bingo, which brought back fond memories of when I was in the Future Farmers of America in high school).
Gary Meyer, Patric Hedlund and a few other staffers work their tails off holding those in power accountable to the residents in this unincorporated area of Kern County. For example, in today’s issue, they write about the school district’s sloppy tracking of student funds (see story). They use public records to expose an important issue. It goes to show that ANY newspaper, no matter how small, can do outstanding work using public records.
Tip No. 3: Look through your school district’s expenditures of student body fees to see how the money is being spent. Is it spent directly on students or other stuff to cover school deficits?
This is what journalism is all about. If those few folks weren’t there, the 10,000 people in that area would have no voice. They would have no way to challenge authorities who abuse their power or misuse their money. For these journalists, it’s not just a job – it’s their community. It reminds me of my hometown weekly that gave me my start in high school, shooting pictures, covering prep sports and writing the cops blotter. The Mountain Enterprise office was right out of The Shipping News (great movie – rent it!). They even had an office dog, Joey (they call him their “news hound”).
After visiting Frazier Park I drove to Bakersfield and had a wonderful session with the news staff of the 50,000-circulation Bakersfield Californian. These reporters knew their stuff. They demonstrated true commitment to go to the wall for open government.
Friday: A visit with the Hanford, Calif., newspaper, then on to San Francisco for the SPJ region 11 conference.