Monday, June 02, 2008

This "Investigator" Is Clueless

Two weeks after the paper first heralded his hiring, the News-Press' new "investigative" reporter, Robert Eringer, finally had his first story published in Saturday's edition of the paper.

And if you were like me and thinking the the subject of the first article would be "The Barnwells, The Untold Story," "Helenegate" or even, "Craig Smith, The Truth Behind the Blog" well, think again.

A clue to the fact that perhaps the article wasn't a barn burner was the fact that it ran in the Saturday edition, the day of the week that historically is the lowest readership day for any newspaper, and that it ran as a column, indicating it escaped the editing process that would presumably accompany a news story.

If his first effort is supposed to be an example of shining a light onto a dark, dimly lit topic that is little understood but has a daily impact on the lives of a significant numbers of Santa Barbarans, Eringer's dive into investigative reporting has turned out to be a belly flop.

Perhaps motivated by what passes for interesting conversation these days at some Montecito watering holes, Eringer explores the possibility of Coast Village Road "seceding" from the City of Santa Barbara and returning to the the status of an unincorporated area of the county.

He cites other examples of municipal secession, one from Portland, Maine and the other from somewhere in Kansas, the latter example only serving to highlight the fact that the choice of topic for this initial foray into in-depth reporting is positively Oz like.

What Eringer evidently utterly failed to investigate in doing this story is the fact that California has a procedure for dealing with "secession" only it's called "detachment" and it is initiated by the making of an application to the county's Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO). All of which makes Eringer's examples of how things were done in Maine or Kansas pretty much irrelevant.

LAFCO's operations and processes are positively byzantine and if not in need of being investigated, some explanation would be a welcome addition to the public discourse. Of course delving into how LAFCO operates and what it would entail if someone really wanted to seriously talk about a neighborhood detaching itself from the municipality that has jurisdiction over it would actually require some real investigation and reporting, something that's woefully missing from Eringer's initial column for the News-Press.

Apparently Eringer didn't knock on many doors or drop too many dimes in researching the secession story. He only quotes two individuals in the article. One is the director of a "secession think tank" and the other is Danny Copus, head of the Coast Village Business Association.

And, (surprise, surprise) no quotes or points of view in the article from people or organizations who might be skeptical of the wisdom of Coast Village Road "seceding" or, more accurately, detaching itself from the City of Santa Barbara.

So is this in-depth investigative journalism or casual drive-by reporting? Or, given the high cost of gas on Coast Village Road and pretty much everywhere else around town, maybe we should call it "stroll-by" reporting?

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On the Web Over the Weekend.

My buddy George over at "I'm Not One to Blog, But . . ." has his take on Travis Armstrong's latest anti-union screed.

Lively discussion over at Blogabarbara about the ruling of a federal judge denying immediate reinstatement of "the News-Press 8."

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Spotted at the Cure concert Thursday night at the Santa Barbara Bowl; News-Press owner Wendy McCaw along with "the best kept man in Santa Barbara" and "Larry the Cable Guy" who was there with his wife, Charlotte Boechler, the paper's assistant features editor. All seated together in the front center of the VIP section.