PERSPECTIVE: Politicos Ignoring La Prensa’s Questions is an Affront to Our Community

Arturo Castañares Publisher

As the oldest Latino news outlet in San Diego County, La Prensa San Diego has helped inform our local community for more than 45 years, and continues a legacy of activism by examining and reporting on the actions of our elected leaders, even when our coverage may be unflattering and uncomfortable for those we cover.

La Prensa San Diego strives to keep the pulse of the community and helping to familiarize the public with the important issues of the day to ensure an informed and engaged populace, but a full and robust debate necessitates an open dialogue between our leaders and our readers. 

From the enforcement of immigration laws to local policing, from solutions to homelessness to the financial health of our cities, local government decisions usually affect the lives of our readers more directly than decisions made in Washington, DC. 

So knowing what our local elected officials are doing – and why – is a vital component to informing our news coverage, but our questions of local elected officials go largely unanswered and ignored, and it should concern our community. 

Being ignored shouldn’t be about politics or favoritism, or the size of our publication, so without any other justification, ignoring us is starting to seem discriminatory. 

La Prensa San Diego has published three articles recently that broke new information about actions of the City of San Diego, yet our requests for comment from three local leaders have gone unanswered and ignored when other news outlets are not treated the same.

We wrote an article on September 11, 2020, about a meeting in Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office during the negotiations to purchase the 101 Ash Street building in 2016. Our reporting quoted multiple senior staffers that told us Faulconer directed them to only pursue a lease deal, not a direct purchase, because he didn’t want to be seen as paying millions of dollars to Doug Manchester, one of his biggest campaign donors and one of two owners of the 101 Ash building. The reporting was important and relevant.

Although Faulconer’s Communications Director, Craig Gustafson, responded with his own statement that the claims were untrue, he also attacked our article as “reading like a gossip column”. Gustafson, who was not present at the meeting in question, could only give his own secondhand denial, but no such denial ever came directly from Faulconer.

After that, we received no further responses to our requests for comment from Mayor Faulconer’s office, and since leaving office in December, our requests to Faulconer have gone unanswered.

Then on December 16, 2020, we published an article that revealed a secret local government committee that has allocated over $200 million to police and fire agencies for tactical and surveillance equipment without any public meetings or disclosures. We asked San Diego Police and new Mayor Todd Gloria for comment on the program run by City staff and housed within the Police Department, but no responses to our questions ever came. The closest we got to an answer was a text message from the PD’s Public Information Officer that said he was advised by “legal counsel” not to provide us with a response.

After receiving no responses to our requests for comment or for public documents, we filed a lawsuit to challenge the secret meetings as being in violation of state open meeting laws. Last week, the committee amended its own charter to specifically require itself to follow all applicable provisions of the Brown Act and the California Public Records Act, now requiring them to follow the very laws our lawsuit claims they violated for 16 years.

And last week, we published a story that revealed an earlier version of a supposedly independent forensic report on 101 Ash Street was actually modified and watered down by the City Attorney before it was made public, proving that the Parker report was not independent or expository as it was promised to be. The article raised concerns that the City Attorney had a conflict-of-interest, and a self-interest, in being involved in an investigation that reviewed her own actions in order to maintain control of the report’s narrative.

In each of these three cases, our reporting was newsworthy and broke stories that were later covered by other media outlets. Our reporting was first, was insightful, and, most importantly, was correct.

But in each of those cases, the elected officials – Kevin Faulconer, Todd Gloria, and Mara Elliott, respectfully – ignored our requests for comments and dismissed our reporting as being unimportant or biased.

Biased why? Because La Prensa did not endorse them for office? Because La Prensa is a small Latino publication? Or because La Prensa is not part of the downtown cabal of insiders?

No one has questioned La Prensa San Diego’s accuracy in reporting on these complex and thorny issues. No one has pointed to any errors in our reporting. And no one has demanded a correction or retraction. Ever.

Instead, the downtown leaders just ignore us, call us names, and dismiss our standing as a long-trusted news source. Whether out of fear, out of ignorance, or out of arrogance, these leaders feel comfortable enough – and entitled enough – to dismiss a Latino news outlet that reaches a significant portion of the population of our county.

Other news outlets that play the game get advance copies of documents, of-the-record meetings, and returned phone calls. La Prensa just gets ghosted.

Dismissing and ignoring our questions is not an assault on La Prensa’s significance: it is an affront to our readers and our community.

We’re not asking for any favors; only to be treated like other reputable news outlets in San Diego.

Of course, we have soldiered on with our unrelenting coverage, our pointed questions, and our dogged pursuit of the truth. We are not deterred in our commitment to better inform our readers and to highlight both those who do well by our community and those who fall short. We will continue to build on our 45 years of service.

Whether general circulation, neighborhood-based, or community-focused, local news outlets should be acknowledged, supported, and respected, not ignored.

We challenge our elected officials to engage – not ignore – our readers. Local news outlets are an essential part of the media landscape and must continue to hold our elected officials accountable.

Anything less would be a dereliction of duty on both our parts.

We’re doing our part, so, elected leaders, please do yours.