There is a new voice in San Diego media and, if you listen closely, it sounds incredibly like the voice of San Diego, circa 1987. It's a website called Voice of San Diego, the mating of aging Union-Tribune castoffs, the UCSD tech crowd and tons of La Jolla money, resulting in a news site with the vibe of a Sunday brunch at the La Valencia.
Launched two weeks ago, Voice of San Diego promises to provide readers with an "independent and credible source for relevant news and information." It also promises "courageous reporting on a region not fully understood or reported by existing media," a clear bitch-slap to the Union-Tribune, a notoriously uncourageous example of existing media that also happens to be the former employer of several of the site's board members.
The star attraction is former Evening-Tribune editor Neil Morgan, the ever-genial gadfly, who was tossed aside by the paper last year. He is joined by former U-T columnist James Goldsborough, who left the paper last year after Heir Boy, the horizontally challenged trust-fund baby who inherited the paper from Mommy, spiked one of his columns. Toss in yuckster columnist Michael Grant and editorial icon Bob Witty and the site is a who's who of spurned, under-appreciated legends of the U-T.
So perhaps it was not a complete shock when the Union-Tribune-assumed motto: "You can never be too petty"-devoted a grand total of two paragraphs in the business-briefs section to news of the launch of this well-financed, online media operation featuring big influential local names (and then had to run a correction on the story).
The main driving force behind the operation appears to be editor-in-chief Barbara Bry, one of the original founders of UCSD's CONNECT, an influential tech group. Bry, who once worked for the Los Angeles Times, also helped start ProFlowers.com and presumably made a little coin off that deal.
Voice of San Diego has been set up as a nonprofit, with funding from foundations and certain individuals, including board member Buzz Woolley, a longtime tech-industry money guy who also helped start UCSD's CONNECT. So it's not like the venture is scrounging for loose change, at least for now.
Morgan's presence gives the site a little heft, thanks primarily to his ability to call up old pals like former Gov. Pete Wilson and Walter Cronkite, who Morgan has fawned over in print for decades. But most of the site's initial offerings lacked punch, unless organizers think San Diegans will rush to their computers every morning to read Goldsborough ponder such issues as "Could America become a fascist state?"
In its infant stage, the site has been able to keep up a steady flow of news briefs, but, in general, it could use an energy boost, maybe a couple of double espresso shots. At the very least, someone is going to have to inform the aging voices that in the blogger age, two or three columns a week isn't going to cut it. Give people a daily dose or they'll develop other habits.
So far, there has been only a trickle of meatier stories. A point-counterpoint with Mayor Dick Murphy and Peter Q. Davis had entertainment value but didn't exactly advance the debate, unless readers were surprised to read that Mayor Dick believes "this year is going to be a time of great change for our city." An interview with City Hall rabble-rouser Carl DeMaio sounded vaguely familiar, except for this scintillating exchange:
Voice of San Diego: "If you were to dance in public, what song would you want playing?"
DeMaio: "God, you guys are going for, like the weird questions, the Barbara Walters questions. "If you were a tree, what tree would you be?'"
According to the bios on the site, there are only two reporters with any depth of journalistic experience, which is going to make it tough to "be a credible source for relevant news and information." Many of the stories so far have the faint ring of a social-studies term paper, such as the feature on San Diego's "road to recovery," which seemed to be making the case for the city declaring Chapter 9 bankruptcy, a recurring theme in the site's early work.
But Voice of San Diego has loftier goals than mere courageous journalism. It's all about voices, encouraging "civic participation through an interactive forum that offers diverse perspectives." That means a more positive approach, giving many of the articles a clunky chamber-of-commerce booster tone, focusing on the self-important quest for "solutions."
One of the early postings was from Mary Walshok, UCSD's associate vice chancellor of public programs, who assured readers that she would write about "some of the not-so-obvious regional successes which may represent potential solutions to many of our all-too-obvious regional problems."
Well, who wants to miss that?
The site is all about bringing in "diverse perspectives," backers say, but, judging by their lengthy list of early voices, diversity only applies if you're the CEO or president of a local civic organization.
There's a noticeable lack of real people, San Diegans who may not represent a community group. Organizers say the site will welcome all comers, but until it starts featuring the perspectives of a tattooed lesbian Megadeth addict, or maybe the president of SDSU's Charles Bukowski Fan Club, it won't really be the voice of San Diego.Write to MsBeak1@aol.com and editor@SDcitybeat.com.