Press Clips: Best and Worst of SOS Coverage


sutterLeave it to our old friend George Skelton, the grumpy Dean of Capitol Pundits, to come up with the one and only original observation about Governor Gandalf’s mail-it-in State of the State speech on Wednesday.

Our Department of Media Criticism and OCD Shut-Ins, finally shaking off the 72-hour plastered stupor into which we submerged moments after the NFC championship game (four most feared words in the English language: Richard Sherman, Communications Major), promptly buckled down to read all 10,558 words of more than a dozen top SOS stories.

If you don’t believe us, count ‘em yourself.

The closest thing we found to a highlight among the stories Jack Kavanaugh linked to on R&T was this surprisingly cheerful insight by Mr. Cranky Pants himself:

none_skelton_It was also refreshing to again see a politician read from a written text — one he wrote himself — and not from a teleprompter. Reading from print on paper, even if he’s looking down at the podium, just seems more sincere.

Now that’s what we call old-school.

Flying flags and dumb Sutter jokes: Beyond that it was pretty slim pickins’ (see 2014 resolution on avoiding clichés – ed.), as California’s leading papers defiantly disregarded the industry’s conventional wisdom for unconventional times, i.e. saving ink-on-trees publications depends on offering readers unique content they can’t find elsewhere, instead all writing the same story that was tired old news by the time readers saw it. A sample:

 During a 17-minute speech devoid of surprises…

 Brown…delivered a restrained speech that was largely without surprises.

 (T)he speech offered nothing new, even recycling a previous quotation from the Bible about thrift.

Make no mistake, we get why this happens, and we certainly did it ourselves enough times; having your own coverage of the governor’s formal start-of-session speech used to be called “flying the flag,” and for prestige reasons, every paper wanted their own guy or gal’s byline on its own yarn.

But with the savage cutbacks in staff, particularly among political reporters, it makes more sense to aim precious resources at digging around for an exclusive story in one of the chronically uncovered executive agencies of state government, dissecting a piece of the budget, or just taking a source to coffee to troll for something new, instead of spending the day reprising Brown’s unfunny jokes about Sutter’s thoughts on the budget and pulling sound bites from a speech that’s already on the web in full transcript form.

As a practical matter, the most crisp and workpersonlike report on the SOS was written by Juliet Williams of the AP, whose stuff every paper is already paying for anyway, and who in reality said everything there was to say with a nice, double-barrel lede that summed the whole thing up in 28 words (filing two whole words under the ancient, no-lede-longer than-30 words city desk rule):

Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday delivered dual messages in his annual address to the Legislature: California’s resurgence is well underway but is threatened by economic and environmental uncertainties.

deckerOn the other hand, she had a glove: With all that said, loyal readers well know that Calbuzz is not one of those nay-saying news organization that does nothing but carp and criticize. No, we demand our global staff — issue-driven, solution oriented — always strive to highlight the positive and look for glimmers of excellence, however rare. So, such-as-they-are kudos to:

Cathy Decker for a forward-looking, by-God L.A. Times analysis of the national political context of Brown’s speech, and how it presages the fault lines of the 2014 midterms (The switched [traditional party] roles put a spotlight on the strategic thrusts and image weaknesses that both sides will seek to exploit in this year’s midterms, in California and elsewhere). In another story her note that Republicans seeking the governership have “pinnacle envy” also gets an honorable mention for Best Made-Up Near-Freudian Reference Sneaked by the Copy Desk.

Kevin Smith and Steve Scauzillo of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune for forgoing the dozy, predictable canned reaction quotes from Sacto hacks in favor of rounding up substantive comments from seven sources from their own circulation area, doubtless of greater interest to their readers, from Mayor Eric Garcetti to Rick Wetzel, a guy who owns a small business called Wetzel’s Pretzels.

Steve Greenhut of UT San Diego, who kissed off Brown’s rosy claims of a state surplus by digging into the ugly numbers about California’s mounting unfunded pension obligations (subscription).

And then, sadly, the worst of the worst:  In the category of news that stays news, some genius LAT editor thought he’d pull in readers with this boffo hed: “Republican, Democratic lawmakers divided over Brown speech.” This just in: “Niners blame costly turnovers on Seahawks defense,” “Researchers say sun, moon key to day-night shifts,” “L.A. dog chases L.A. cat over L.A. fence.”

In other news:

Calling Coop of the Chronicle: It’s been nine days since Dianne Feinstein testified to the Senate Commerce Committee that she saw a drone from the window of her Presidio Terrace hacienda, and that it “wheeled around and crashed, so I felt a little good about that.” No word yet on which S.F. emergency services agencies responded to the scene or what carnage they found when they arrived.

Costco Carla strikes again: Chronicler Carla Marinucci, first to expose eMeg’s lousy voting record, setting the tone of tough coverage of the 2010 governor’s race, is back at it with her latest scoop on newbie GOP wannabe Neel Kashkari’s similar, just-found interest in democracy. (Calbuzz holds nicknaming rights for “Kneel, Cash and Carry”).

Enough to make a hog puke: Besides the final seconds end zone pick of Colin Kaepernick, the most sickening sight of Sunday’s game was Arnold Schwarzenegger playing the fool, wearing a stupid wig while pretending to play ping-pong in a shameless Budweiser ad.

bettyMust-read: Mega-kudos to Friend of Calbuzz Betty Medsger, whose new book, “The Burglary” is a page-turning yarn from the extraordinary anti-war days of the 1971, the result of decades of relentless work digging out the story behind an excloo she broke at the WashPost more than 40 years ago.

Separated at birth: There was something strangely familiar in reading the obit of Hiroo Onoda, the Imperial Japanese officer who stayed posted on a small island in the Philippines until 1974, refusing to believe World War II was over; then it hit us — his world view was that of our pal Jon Fleischman, also stuck in a time warp, in his determined fight on behalf of the caveman army of California’s Republican party.

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There are 3 comments for this post

  1. avatar chuckmcfadden says:

    Speaking of boffo headlines, remember the one over a second-day story for pms (back in the day when there were pms) on a gang slaying?

    “Mobster remains dead.”

  2. avatar parkboy says:

    You missed the SacBee’s lede in Friday’s paper: “Gov. Jerry Brown has pursued two multibillion-dollar water and high-speed rail projects so aggressively in recent months that it loomed conspicuously how carefully he stepped to avoid the projects in his biggest speech of the year.” “Loomed conspicuously”? Can something loom INconspicuously? And, besides, how does something absent (the Gov’s failure to mention the projects) loom at all?

  3. avatar Diane Curtis says:

    “It was also refreshing to again see a politician read from a written text — one he wrote himself — and not from a teleprompter. Reading from print on paper, even if he’s looking down at the podium, just seems more sincere.”

    I’m so glad ol’ Cranky Pants — and I say that fondly — has been bothered by the increasing use of teleprompters by politicians, especially by Obama. I thought I was the only one uncomfortable with the trend.

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