Santa Barbara Politics, Media & Culture

Monday, October 22, 2007

Community Postings and Reporting on Crime -- Where Do We Draw the Blue Line?

Mayor Marty Blum commented on BlogaBarbara yesterday and it caused me to think, stop and consider most of the day. She brought up a good point in that she doesn't think "anonymous postings speculating about crime are good for the community. People have vivid imaginations and to play to their fears is wrong. Let's all have the facts, then talk."

While I don't think the blogging community really thinks that there is a conspiracy in city government to suppress information, I'm not sure the City of SB is structurally set up to provide all of the related information freely unless they are asked -- especially if it is not in the Police Department's or the case's best interest. I can understand that investigations require discretion and the Police Department needs some room to find out what happened in the second Spearmint Rhino incident in a little over a year -- but I can't help but think that Dawn Hobbs would have written about this on the 14th or 15th of this month.

Why wouldn't the SBPD downplay something they don't have a lot of information on which involves a prior crime scene? A proactive reporter is more likely to get this information than a reactive Public Information Officer giving it. No judgment here -- each would be doing their job which is why I see the Mayor's point of view and consider it very valid.

The fact is that we don't have someone like Dawn sitting by her police scanner, ready to report what happened as she saw and heard it. When you are a temp that can't leave De la Guerra Plaza, this kind of creativity and commitment to the news isn't going to happen. When you are part of any other news organizations in Santa Barbara with limited resources -- how are you going to cover something like this?

What we have seen with the Ralph's Ralph incident and perhaps now with this stabbing is that the traditional way of getting information about what happened last night when you heard a scuffle in your neighborhood or ran into traffic on Carrillo Street is outdated as we no longer in the age of the hyper-local Internet, GPS, text-messaging, blogs, etc. have the desire to wait until tomorrow or the next day to see the official press release. We also have more information as random citizens post photos and commentary related to their experience shortly thereafter. We can't tell which is more relevant and real any longer in the age of YouTube.

Mayor Blum is right in that we need to let the Police Department do their work and not light a fire under the "word on the street". And, people like myself need to be careful not to name names or information that is too specific as this is the job of the City of Santa Barbara and our Police Department. Where does that leave us, however, with our "right to know?" Do we have that right? or did Police Departments have more say in how we viewed that right a decade ago?

Our combined efforts as a blogging and Internet community at disseminating information is something the City and the Police Department are not used to and I hope we can all agree -- even tacitly -- on suitable, reasonable rules of engagement. Mayor Blum is right, but where does that leave us as we continue to practically live blog as a major event happens?

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Anonymous eight santa barbara said...

Sara, you are exactly right.

The point is that the news sources we have didn't pick this up. The blogs have been pushing the breaking news just as much, if not more, than the News-Press, Independent, and Daily Sound.

It had nothing to do with the PD refusing information. The issue is how we get our news, and whether, since July 2006, we get it at all.

What bothers me as well is that the 'police blotter' that is published often has a comical tone to it, and takes light stories to publish. Meanwhile, somebody gets stabbed and, though it's public info, no one bothers to report it. That is frustrating.

The information is there, but unless someone asks, it is lost to the 'word on the street' and to speculation.

I wonder if, in light of the lack of news sources willing and/or able to ask for serious information from the PD, we ought to simply make use of this page below and post everything without having to be filtered by editors, lack of resources, or whatever obstructions exist by our major news outlets...

How long has it said that?

10/23/2007 12:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How long would it take for the City to set up an information blog?

You know the answer, so what is the City's excuse in that respect?

10/23/2007 5:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sara is right, it is certainly not the job of the police department to publicize on-going criminal investigations. SBPD takes constant criticism for not having enough cops on the street. It seems unreasonable to think they should allocate resources to write news releases. News coverage is the job of professional journalists who cover beats on a daily basis. Currently in SB we have no one who meets that criterion. SBNP defines local news as fluff pieces for the owner's friends or propaganda for animals. The Sound and Indy are earnest but understaffed and do not publish daily.

Perhaps most disturbing is that the dearth of news reporting extends to radio and TV -- media we need in case of real emergencies. Ever try fishing through the radio dial for info about why there is a huge plume of smoke looming over the mountains or the cause of gridlocked traffic you are stuck in? Closest you get to real-time news coverage is impromptu listener call-ins on Matt M.'s morning show or the poor Baron reading verbatim from the SBNP. Yesterday at mid-day I flipped on TV to check the fires that were consuming California. Sure, CNN and Fox had people in Atlanta or somewhere trying to guess what they were seeing on live helicopter feeds, but the only thing approximating local news was channel 9 from LA. We've got 70 plus TV stations showing re-runs of Judge Judy while hundreds of thousands of people are being evacuated and the air is filthy with ash and smoke. This is the "information age"?

10/23/2007 7:15 AM  
Blogger johnsanroque said...

I believe that bloggers who think of blogs as some sort of alternative journalism have an incredibly exaggerated opinion of what their role is. With the rare exception of a few blog sites that are conscientious about being news sources, blogs are merely opportunities for participants to unload whatever random thoughts they have without any accountability, fact-checking, or even the identity of the blogger.

People who see themselves are junior investigative reporters or citizens out to expose public corruption are probably doing damage, either intentionally or unintentionally, 99% of the time because without accountability or research, accuracy and fairness are not required. The blog about the stabbing is a great example of something Blogabarbara should not have touched. It was mostly a series of suppositions and accusations written by people with axes to grind about an event they know nothing about. The difference between this and other issues on Blogabarbara is that this one had potential to compromise ongoing police efforts or perhaps harm the rights of individuals involved. People who blog to expose news or corruption and think of themselves as some type of half-assed journalists need to come back to earth.

I participate in this blog because I like to express my thoughts and I hope to engage other bloggers in an exchange of ideas. Actually, that rarely happens. Most bloggers have no desire to respond to challenges to their ideas—they merely want to get things off their chests. That’s a valid reason to participate as well, but not very satisfying to me personally. Yesterday, people used the stabbing incident to vent about the Mayor, Police Chief, News-Press, Daily Sound, City Council, gangs, and suppression of information—all without facts except for the posting by the Mayor. There’s no bright, defined line between what a blog like this should or should not cover, but the stabbing report was on the wrong side of wherever that line might be drawn. The right of free speech doesn’t eliminate the need for judgment, taste, or fairness.

10/23/2007 7:33 AM  
Blogger MCConfrontation said...

The cops and the press whitewashed the Klotz murder last year, no doubt about it. I think it must happen all the time. I'm with the camp that says it's a tourism and image thing that we don't get all of the bad news here.

I rarely read the NP, maybe someone can tell me: is there a police log section where it lists all the arrest that were recently made? If yes, then maybe we're just not looking hard enough, or expecting too much, of the PD.

10/23/2007 9:57 AM  
Anonymous citywatcher said...

I have been thinking a lot about the question of whether we have a "right" to information and, if so, what, exactly, is that right?

I wish we, the public, did have such a right but reluctantly come to the conclusion that we don't, because having a right means that someone has an obligation to provide info, unbiased info not out of the mouths of the government.

But there's the rub: isn't the government us or at least our representatives? The question should be rephrased: doesn't the government and all of its arms such as the police have a duty to inform us of what is happening in OUR city?

Yes, I think it does, but that's rather meaningless since they have the power and we don't — that is, we have delegated our power to them. That leaves us only the power to protest.

And then there is "johnsanroque"'s comment: "The difference between this and other issues on Blogabarbara is that this one had potential to compromise ongoing police efforts or perhaps harm the rights of individuals involved."

What an extraordinary statement! Carried forward, it would mean there should be no reporting of any police work. No reporting of crimes, until the alleged perp. is formally charged. The police would become the determinator of whether individual's rights would be harmed or not (and we know, not necessarily in SB, how that has worked out in many places.) Knowledge is power - and all power would be concentrated in the hands of the police and government.

I don't know that we have the right to be informed, a right without enforcement being rather meaningless. Instead, I think we, individuals, as citizens, have the obligation to inform ourselves as best we can. If we didn't know before, we know now that she (or he) with the press has the power and the right to do with it as he/she wishes. For us in SB, that means in essence we have no daily newspaper of record willing to dig deep. (Sorry, DS, but you aren't even close yet - I add the "yet" still hopefully.)

And that leaves the blogs. In SB for local news, we're back to the days of the 18th and 19th century when the only press were the newssheets --- and that's what the blogs are, with greater possibilities of info dissemination but without the professionalism of trained journalists.

That being so, better something than nothing and I applaud blogabarbara for publishing. Too many of the other blogs are light weight - or are ego-driven; "sara dlg" not only provides an unedited forum but acts at times as a news provider. Would that we had also an indepth daily press concentrating on the issues rather than the personalities, observing a separation between editorial op-ed and news, but we don't.

So, yes, the police should be encouraged to do their work as professionally as they can and are. But we out here, at the mercy of street rumors, should be informed of what is going on. For that, the city - our government composed of our representatives and servants - has a duty to inform us ---- especially since we have no other way of knowing what's going on.

Ignorance of public affairs, crime and government, may be blissful for some but it is disastrous for democracy.

10/23/2007 11:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous 7:15 said it well. This town has an astonishing number of media outlets for its size--and they are all so involved in scraping and fluff that the real stories go unreported. What I wouldn't give for all those experienced reporters and edtiors to have a real daily newspaper and some experienced radio journalists to have a real home where news like the fires would be reported accurately, quickly and with an eye to public service rather than ego.

I won't hold my breath, however.

10/23/2007 11:50 AM  
Anonymous donaldo de Santa Barbara said...

I think that the content of Mayor Blum's comments are exactly what Blum's detractors complain about... Blum's answer did not adddress the original question and then went on about another incident. Perhaps Blum is in the dark about the level of crime here as well.

10/23/2007 2:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about thought crime?

Apparently SB City College was intimidated into not offering an adult education course on the HOT principals because of fears of offending neighborhood groups that are worried about higher densities....TKA took credit for the "victory" in the NP the other day...

10/23/2007 4:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to Wendy McCaw's boast that she would provide "the best local news to be had"?

Down the drain?

10/23/2007 5:57 PM  
Blogger Turtle said...

If the newspapers being understaffed is the problem, has anyone considered assisting the local papers by submitting the info directly to them? They can then do the fact checking and publish facts.
They need to be more responsible than bloggers.

10/23/2007 5:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aren't we starting to take ourselves just a little too seriously? Blogging is editorial comment pure and simple and is not a source for verifiable facts. Don't you edit comments? Do you insist on multiple verifiable sources? Did anyone seek confirmation from the PD before it was decided the comment could be posted? During the Zaca Fire a "sky is falling" email was widely distributed as "fact" regarding contingency plans for the evacuation of all of SB. Was it true? Was it ever verified? What's the difference between an email and an anonymous posting? Again, just because there is a news vacuum doesn't mean blogging is news.

10/23/2007 8:12 PM  
Anonymous eight santa barbara said...

SBPD Press Release Page has been blank and 'coming soon' for 19 months. If the PD notices that no one is asking for info after the fall of the News-Press, how does it not occur to them that it might be time to post the crime info because nothing is getting reported? The PD has a PR problem and it starts with not making it a point to tell people 1) what is happening, and 2) how well you are doing your job.

If the papers have time for weak 'blotter' they surely have time to report a stabbing. Noozhawk reported the stabbing after I wrote to them and verifying with the PD, and today they posted the info about a 50-year old who was robbed on Shoreline (very similar to what another person posted here). Understaffed, they may be. But if they don't even have an intern to call the PD every day and ask, in less than 2 minutes, "What kind of day has it been?" then should we trust that they'd get the information out any differently than a blog?

This actually happened, a stabbing occurred at the Spearmint Rhino, that was verified by the Mayor and the PD. The details were not, however, even though Lt McCaffrey tried to get more info out of me while refusing to confirm anything (see the comments in Conservative Turtle's Blog from last week's post).

Again, if not the PD, if not the City, if not the News-Press, Daily Sound and Independent... who is left to report what happens in our City? Many people hoped, with the internet taking over in the last 10 years, that we'd finally have a medium for getting news quickly and reliably. The major outlets in the City have largely failed to embrace the medium, and, thus, we are left to other people to get our news. Which is the same way many people get news anyway. It's just electronic 'word of mouth' on the blogs.

Blogs are the last resort. So, if not the blogs, then who?

10/23/2007 8:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nothing wrong with blogging, but there is something wrong with having no professional journalists reporting the news. As for Wendy's "best local news to be had", well, that is exactly what she thinks she is now providing. Her idea of local news is whatever animal cause or social goings-on of the rich and famous might strike her fancy. Basically, Wendy's got her own blog except it gets printed daily and sold all over town.

10/23/2007 9:35 PM  
Blogger John Quimby said...


You get it.

Folks, News is wherever you find it.

Sara, thanks for posting the Mayor's and you own thoughtful comments. Thanks for bringing this issue up for consideration.

Blogs may not be traditional news sources - yet. But most of us can smell the bloggers who do their homework and those who don't.

And johnsanroque, don't sell yourself short. Spirited opinion from you has often made me interested in finding fact.

I'm one who loves to cast opinion. This makes me all the more reliant on those who lead with reason.

So by all means Mayor Blum. Let's review the whole story. Lets have the facts and talk.

Since any one of us may be called to serve on a jury of our peers, let's consider it an act of civic duty to know the facts before we give out justice.

10/23/2007 9:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

10/24/2007 6:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The mayor seems awfully busy these days, blogging, running an election, hosting a radio show, planning to meet with other mayors, serving as her own pr person. Maybe she could find some time to deal with oh, how about figuring out why so many people have been hit by cars, or why her staff allows so many trees to be cut down illegally. But that's not nearly so much fun for her, I guess.

10/24/2007 7:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish all city council people would impose a moritorium on out of town conferences. Particularly those where they pick up awards.

The rest of us stay home suffering through this city's many daily local problems and we are not happy the city council is all about out of town awards.

10/24/2007 8:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe it is just that our institutions have not fully caught up with the internet age.

Would be nice if there was some kind of public records requirement that all (except special cases at the discretion of some board of judges and senior officers) police reports get posted to a clearing house website, and their incident locations posted on a map.

It being an enterprising and free country, some jurisdictions might be doing this already.

The SB County Sheriffs have kind of a useful version, but the City of Santa Barbara's, as noted before, not so useful yet. The Beat Officers are listed however, that is nice!

You know, just about every dollar expenditure by government should also be traceable by citizens on the Web too. Now that would be nice.

10/24/2007 12:56 PM  
Anonymous sa1 said...

What ever happened to the right to privacy?

Why is it, CW, 8SB and the various anonimoosi, any business at all, knowing what happened to a private citizen on the sidewalk?

It seems to me the critically important right to a free press has more to do with moitoring and reporting on gov't actions, not the daily lives of private citizens. Do you really want your face and name plastered over the internet because of a fender bender? How about some cell phone video of a domestic dispute? I bet a lot of you would love to have a picture of yourself and your latest dalience posted for your spouse and kids to see.

Are we now turning into a society of amature citizen papparazzi?

Are you the ones who are going to encourage the council to put in 24/7 video monitoring of all public spaces monitorable from the internet? How about we open all the phone lines and cell frequencies so you can all monitor and report on what's up in your neighborhood?

By the way, let me take a look at your tax returns and citizenship papers to make sure you're not actually a criminal too.

I hear we're building new people cages up north so there'll probably be room for the very few that are not squeaky clean like the vast majority of law abiding Santa Barbarans.

I doubt it though. Given the fact that politicians and lawyers would be mostly out of business without constantly manufacturing the latest offensible activity to ensnare the unwitting. They salivate at the prospect of bigger fines, bigger fees, bigger claims to be saviors of society.

Now do as I say... Remove your hands from the keyboard, hang up the phone, turn off the TV, raise your hands slowly above your head, walk outside...and get a life!

And most importantly, quit worrying about mine!

10/26/2007 9:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eight Santa Barbara, you wrote "Noozhawk reported the stabbing after I wrote to them and verifying with the PD, and today they posted the info about a 50-year old who was robbed on Shoreline"--could you or someone else please provide a link to the Shoreline stabbing story? I couldn't find it on Noozhawk. Thanks.

10/26/2007 6:16 PM  
Anonymous donaldo de Santa Barbara said...

Found under "Cop Calls" I guess as humor.

10/28/2007 6:01 PM  
Anonymous eight santa barbara said...


The reason it is important for people to know, is that someone with a chip on his shoulder participated in 'jumping' a non-member/non-affiliate. And this knife-wielding person remains at-large. This is of concern to all of us.

More importantly, the larger issue of why some stabbings get reported and some don't should be asked here and anywhere. From where do we get our news when there seems to be a vacuum in reliable news reporting.

Oh, and just as sex ed won't have 10 year olds fornicating in the Sunken Gardens, reporting a violent crime is not going to lead to cameras in every home.

The "slippery slope" is an interesting concept, but it's not as sound an argument as some people think.

I say this as a joke, not as an insult, because I'm sure you and agree on many things and name-calling doesn't do anyone any good: don't flatter yourself; perhaps your mother, a child or significant other, but few of us are actually worried about you.

Good times, sa1 ;)

10/29/2007 7:33 PM  

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