Bill Hocker | May 16, 2018
Register photo of the rally
The real rally
Much is made by the opposition to Measure C about the need for fact-based decisions. But the fact is, as we've found with countless technical reports from developer's consultants over the last few years, facts can be arranged to make whatever point needs to be made, and usually the person with the most money has the most often approved arrangement.
The two photos above are facts. Which shows the reality of the Measure C rally? The Register in their article on the Measure C rally gives a woefully misleading impression about the strength of support for the initiative. Just as one of their articles on the heliport initiative initially showed a fire helicopter, giving the impression that Measure D would affect emergency response flights, this use of a photo that subtly undermines the initiative goes outside the bounds of objective reporting.
Given the editorial board's disdain of citizen initiatives despite agreeing with their intention, it does seem, whether unconsciously or not, that the Register is acting as a political tool for the moneyed establishment interests in this one-company county. Add to that the No-on-C ad banners that appear at the top of every article or LTE about Measure C and it seems to many of us like we've returned to the days of William Randolph Hearst.
Sean Scully responds:
Thanks, Bill. I am aware of the Yes on C's displeasure. I do take vigorous exception to the line " Facts, unfortunately, go to the highest bidder." That is an allegation of the highest possible journalistic misconduct. We would never make such a public assertion about you or anyone else without evidence and a fair chance to comment, and it dismays me you would do so to us.
Bill Hocker responds:
OK, I've removed the line. Not being a real journalist, I often let my hyperbole get out of hand, and the comment was intended to be a more general complaint (which I do believe) than Register-specific but in context was pretty accusatory. I have no way of knowing what your intentions are, but all the facts point in one direction: that the Register editorial board, despite agreeing with all of the intentions of measure C and D, decided to adopt the main talking point of the wine industry that these matters are best left up to them and supervisors rather than the people. You are acting as the voice of the industry, whether you see it that way or not. The fact that much of the Register's revenue comes from that industry gives it an unseemly appearance. Tensions are pretty high over these issues, and a very misleading photo provoked a reaction.
Sean Scully responds:
What's interesting is that you're wrong about "much of the Register's revenue comes from that industry." The wine industry does not advertise with us, by and large. Their target market is far beyond our humble purview - wineries generally don't need to reach Napa County residents. Same, really, with tourist-based business such as hotels and resorts. Our tent-pole advertisers are local businesses such as car dealerships, mattress stores, and realtors. The loss of Vallerga's, for example, was a sad day for us, whereas wineries such as Caymus, V. Sattui, or Alpha Omega could vanish in a puff of smoke and we'd never notice the difference, revenue-wise. Election seasons are a little different, depending on the issue - The No On C campaign is obviously spending money with us this season, but then again, so is Yes on C. I don't believe the No people would have been any less inclined to advertise with us had we endorsed C than the Yes people are now.
And as far as the editorial board - it is a separate matter from the news department. It has no influence on the news coverage. Barry, Kevin and the others in the newsroom do not sit in on the board meetings, they don't participate in the discussion of the editorials. It's no secret I sit on the board, of course, but I take seriously the separation of news and opinion, and most of the base-level planning and editing for news coverage takes place several rungs below me on the management chart anyway. And as an ethical matter, editors and reporters rebel when directed by higher-ups to skew their coverage - it would be as serious an ethics violation for them to obey such an order as it would be for me or anyone above me to issue that order.
I'd be happy to have you come out and see what we do so you have a better sense of how we operate.
Bill Hocker responds:
Thanks for the clarifications. Let me also say that Barry Eberling's reporting over the last few years has been excellent, presenting both sides fairly and going out of his way to make sure the concerns of those of us who often feel disenfranchised in planning decisions are restated in each article. No complaints there.