There's no sport in bashing the San Diego Union-Tribune, our lumbering, slow-moving daily rag. It's like hunting baby seals with an Uzi, except in this case the seals can be found sipping mocha cappuccino lattes at a Mission Valley Starbucks.
Yet, it is the only paper in town, the oracle of truth and knowledge in this little Rotary Club paradise. And these days the paper is in rare form, blowing away even dedicated U-T bashers.
We're not talking about the usual mixture of arrogance and surly laziness that makes the U-T a worthy sister paper to the Borrego Sun. ("Hey we kicked their ass in the Copley awards!")
Some things are just typical, like the headline proclaiming, "Behind the Scenes / TV Critics Conference" over a story about a press conference. Or the fawning Super Bowl coverage, the breathless accounts of every charity event and news section headlines like, "Downtown turns into funtown."
And, of course, there are the hee-larious bloopers, such as the photo caption that referred to Michael Gipson, a source on a state budget story, as "Mel" Gipson, providing further evidence that the U-T editors are still at the top of their game.
But, even in U-T terms, things moved into the realm of the weird last month when reader representative Gina Lubrano broke the news that Union-Tribune editor Karin Winner "expects staff members to report events accurately."
This may have shocked staffers, who didn't think Winner was really interested in anything they did, as long as she wasn't disturbed during her La Jolla lunches.
But even Winner was perplexed, Lubrano informed readers, with a Jan. 18 story on the Martin Luther King parade which said the group included "more than 100" peace advocates. This seemed a wee bit strange to organizers of the event, who placed the number closer to 1,200.
On this one, even Lubrano had to acknowledge the paper screwed up, at least when you put it in the context of "reporting events accurately." She quickly ruled out bias or deliberate sabotage, which, after much deliberation, left only "error on the part of the reporter," who maybe should have tried a wee bit harder to "get a better reading." Moving into revolutionary territory, Lubrano concluded "the editor of the story is also to blame."
Lubrano made it clear everyone involved feels badly. "They know the error affected the Union-Tribune's credibility and professionalism," she wrote. Although she stopped miles short of explaining how the reporter and editor managed to turn a group of 1,200 into 100, she felt compelled to note that credibility and professionalism are "highly prized by this newspaper."
This might come as a shock to anyone who read the paper's coverage of court documents released after the conclusion of the trial of the murderous suburban pedophile perv, David Westerfield.
Early on Lubrano concluded the U-T's coverage was "measured and subdued in comparison to some other media" in the way it handled the sweaty details of those wild thangs, Brenda and Damon van Dam, parents of the little girl who was killed by the perv. When it jumped into the mud, the paper was only "reporting questions being raised by the community and on the Internet," Lubrano concluded.
Well, that's a fine journalistic creed, but it doesn't explain why the U-T felt compelled to release all sorts of steamy details about the van Dams' first fling weeks after the end of the trial, unless the U-T was "reporting questions raised" by the community of hot swingers websites.
There was absolutely no rational explanation for the editors to run the juicy tidbits about the van Dams' steamy Halloween in 2000 so long after the end of the trial, except in the eyes of the U-T staffers, it was better than reading "Penthouse Forum."
It would take real leadership to ward off those impulses, and leadership is a skimpy commodity at the U-T, where the slogan is, "those that can do, those that can't get promoted."
Recently the "Currents" section brain trust gathered and pondered and studied research and ate the bark of the Yucca plant for vision and decided, after several complex calculations, that it would be a good idea to dedicate the Friday section to-get this-the "weekend." That type of radical thinking, boys and girls, is why the U-T editors get the big bucks.
Not content with this bold stroke, longtime "Currents" editor Lee Grant apparently decided, "What this section needs, dammit, is more me!"
So after years of laying out wire copy, Grant has a new Friday column with the clever, well-edited title, "Ravings, rants, quirks and quibbles from a movies maniac, with an eye on a weekend in the dark." The gig included a trip to Park City for the Sundance Film Festival, where Grant discovered the news that "one observer" described the new Bob Dylan movie as "the stiff, pretentious quality of bad amateur theater."
For all we know, the "observer" was the bellboy in Grant's hotel, but this is apparently the new gold standard of U-T entertainment coverage, the type of clever repartee the U-T leadership believes will boost circulation and send rabid subscribers rushing to their driveways every Friday morning to pick up the paper.This strategy might seem strange to some "observers," but the You-T has always marched to its own drummer. It just so happens that in this case, the drummer is the stoned fill-in for the Benny Goodman Band, circa 1939.