Sometimes you'll be sitting in the beanbag thumbing through the San Diego Weekly Reader and an article will make you go, "huh?" It might be a 7,000-word dissertation on the history of lint, or something like that.
Then there are stories that make you leap up and throw the rag against the wall, outraged that a stalwart member of the alternative weekly gang could be so cruelly lame.
Case in point would be the April 10 "City Lights" article by contributor Joe Deegan that focused on the effort by Neal and Lisa Westerfield to disassociate themselves from their father, David, the convicted murderous pedophile perv.
Once Dad was convicted of killing little Danielle van Dam, Deegan revealed, Neal, 19, and Lisa, 22, decided it might be a darn good idea to change their names. To anyone with a soul, that sounds reasonable. After all, there is no reason they should be saddled with the evil deeds of their father.
But the Reader poobahs apparently decided it was some sort of conspiracy, which is why they devoted 1,500 words to the Westerfield children, who had the audacity to refuse interview requests. Deegan noted that when the Reader called, Lisa "hung up the phone," hinting she must have something to hide.
But in the journalism game that's simply known as "Reader style," so no big deal.
What was inexcusable came in the article's very last line. For some reason, the Reader decided to publish the Westerfields' new last name.
Why the hell would they do that?
Think about that for a second. All these two people want is their privacy, a chance to escape the stigma thrust upon them by their dad. They were never accused of anything. They did nothing wrong, except perhaps for initially defending their father and, of course, refusing to talk to the Reader. Shouldn't they have a right to change their name?
No doubt, the Reader was perfectly within its legal rights to print the new name. It was a matter of public record. But why? Why do it? There is no "need to know."
The Westerfields are entitled to their privacy. Deegan seemed to understand that. There was a chance for people to object to the name change, the article noted, "if one can imagine any." The article even included a quote from the trial judge who found the media's hounding of Neal Westerfield "appalling."
So noted, the Reader decided to hound them some more. In their hands, the Westerfields' desire for privacy was portrayed as a nefarious scheme.
The decision to allow the name change "continued in the court's tradition of assiduous protection of the Westerfield children's privacy," as if that were a horrible, horrible thing.
The snide tone doesn't make sense. But then you start reading the story more closely, using the secret Reader decoder ring carried by all veteran Reader followers, and you see that the judge in the case was Lisa Foster.
Foster is, of course, on the Reader's extremely short list of usual suspects, the small cabal that the Reader targets on a weekly basis. Foster is the wife of Alan Bersin, the San Diego schools superintendent who can't pee in a public toilet without the Reader condemning abuse of taxpayer funds.
Foster's sin in this case was to grant Neal and Lisa's request "prior to calendar," which the Reader decided was a "dodge of public attention."
And then, in order to circumvent this "dodge of public attention" by two people who recently discovered their father was a murderer, the Reader decided to go ahead and print the new name, just in case anyone missed the original announcement, which was printed in the notices section of that widely read periodical, the Julian News.
It was a cheap shot, directed at two people who did nothing wrong.
That may sound like nothing more than the righteous ranting of a cute, but painfully shy, columnist for one of the Reader's quasi- competitors. But even the most bong-addled reader has to be wondering, What the hell is going on at the Reader?
It's the largest, most influential weekly in town, yet some of its news stories these days are nothing more than man-on-the-street interviews, which puts the Reader in the same intellectual realm as local TV news. The so-called "breaking news" column is usually little more than rewrites of San Diego mentions in other publications, with little or no effort made to verify the news.
Even worse, good stories are lost in a blizzard of cheap shots, uncorroborated reports from unnamed "City Hall insiders" and breathless exposés about $25 campaign donations. The targets are so predictable it's as if the editor goes through every story and inserts a reference to the Union-Tribune, Susan Golding or Bersin. If the topic is the incredibly wasteful use of toilet paper in City Hall, the story will begin with, "In another story ignored by the Union Tribune..." and end by noting that Alex Spanos has a bathroom in his house, too.
A couple of weeks ago, the Reader ran yet another Q&A with activist Bruce Henderson, oblivious to the widely held perception that the weekly is Henderson's official newsletter. Do the Reader editors think no one notices?
They may believe their journalism is different and quirky, but this is shaky ground, especially considering the Reader's famous holier-than-thou attitude toward all other media, as if its shit doesn't stink.
Well, the Westerfield story stinks. It's the type of journalism that gives the media a bad name.