Our Favorite VOSD Stories of the Year
A reader’s guide to the best we had to offer in 2012.
News stories come, and news stories go. Lots of them.
Despite the huge cutbacks in the news industry over the past six years, tens of thousands of news stories were printed, uploaded or aired across the full universe of media in San Diego.
VOSD alone managed to publish hundreds of articles in 2012.
Some of these stories are still on our minds and, perhaps, still in our hearts. At their best, they made a difference by changing how we look at our leaders and ourselves.
To honor and publicize this great work, we’re spotlighting the most memorable and meaningful local journalism of the year.
Next week, we’ll highlight the work of other media outlets in town and of Sam Hodgson, our contributing photographer. But first, we asked our own writers to choose their favorite stories that they wrote in 2012.
They chose stories about brawlers and borrowing schemes, a prickly politician and political puffery, hidden artwork and a not-so-hidden horrific stench, and more.
Here they are:
Kelly Bennett, arts and culture reporter
What is it about? A brewery built in Barrio Logan after Prohibition boasted bright murals and colorful windows, furniture and even ceiling beams.
The property is now a parking lot. But after languishing in storage for a quarter-century, the artwork is being retouched to be installed in the neighborhood again.
Why the writer liked it: This is the kind of story you typically hear about after it’s too late — like if the city had disposed of the artwork after so many years or couldn’t get funding to fix it up. But in this case the artwork was more or less intact, even if it had been languishing for decades. It was a treat to work on the story together with Angela Carone at KPBS. It was fun to work in a new medium to tell our stories differently to both of our audiences.
Megan Burks, Speak City Heights reporter
The story: “Healing 44th Street“
What is it about? Speak City Heights, a collaboration of VOSD and other media outlets, zoomed in on how a City Heights shooting affected a single residential block.
The June 30 shooting, which left two dead, hushed residents who were afraid to come outside. That is, until the charismatic grandfather of one of the victims invited them to meet in his “outdoor conference room” (his apartment complex courtyard) to talk about healing — not just from their immediate trauma, but also from the cumulative trauma of poverty.
Why the writer liked it: This is Speak City Heights’ mission in a nutshell: elevating the voices of residents above the white noise of police blotters and breaking news.
In this case, the statistics backed a common City Heights stereotype — that it’s a dangerous place to live. But the story dug deeper, portraying its characters as problem-solvers instead of victims.
Readers wanted to connect to offer condolences and donations, and some offered to help purchase surveillance cameras. Others offered programs to empower teens on the block.
Will Carless, education reporter
What is it about? The Poway School District pushed the boundaries of state law to put together a huge bond deal that the state attorney general’s office concluded was illegal. The district and its advisers may have set a dangerous precedent that could allow school districts around the state to borrow millions of dollars more than voters think they approved.
Why the writer liked it: This piece was far more important and controversial than my other big story about the Poway district’s now-infamous billion-dollar bond.
It was also the most challenging story I’ve ever written. I had to come to grips with some dark corners of municipal finance and the story took me a few weeks to really iron out.
Hopefully, it served as a warning to school districts that, no matter how complex, we’ll be taking a look at your bond deals.
Rob Davis, former senior reporter
The story: “Doug Manchester: San Diego’s Cheerleader in Chief“
What is it about? Manchester, the new publisher of the San Diego Union-Tribune (now known as U-T San Diego) and self-proclaimed “cheerleader” for the city, opened up about his life. He said his days of tirades and temper explosions are history and says he wants to focus on “positive news”: “I hope we can smile at San Diego.”
But there were hitches, even as of this story’s publication in January: “Neither Manchester or Lynch has run a newspaper before. And it has shown.”
Why the writer liked it: This is a definitive profile of Manchester at this point in his life on the occasion of his emergence into the city’s cultural establishment. The piece helped illuminate one of the city’s most talked-about people in 2012, an especially important person given his purchase of both of the county’s major newspapers.
Liam Dillon, politics reporter
The story: “The Politics of Bob Filner’s Personality“
What is it about? The story explored now-Mayor Bob Filner’s famously prickly personality, which even many of his own allies admit can be overbearing.
Dillon launched the story after telling Filner that virtually everybody has some story about a fight they had with him decades ago. Filner disputed the claim, saying he can’t go anywhere without people stopping him to say how much he had helped when they needed it.
Why the writer liked it: Some folks couldn’t get past the first paragraph, with a quote describing Filner as the “Grand Canyon of assholes.” But the story also explores the development of his political philosophy, which is based on Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings and his own experiences.
Filner’s decision as a teenager to join the Freedom Rides is not only one of the most impressive things any politician in San Diego has ever done, it was his first and most profound example of direct, confrontation on behalf of an underdog.
It puts his cantankerousness in perspective. “Filner’s a fighter,” I wrote, “and fighters have to bruise to win.”
Andrew Donohue, former editor
The story: “DeMaio’s Real Role in the Financial Crisis“
What is it about? Then-Councilman Carl DeMaio, a candidate for mayor, made the boldest of many bold claims: He took credit for uncovering the city of San Diego’s financial crisis in 2003.
“That’s no small feat,” our story said. “The unfolding crisis exposed a corrupt political and governmental culture. It turned the city upside down, forced a popular mayor to resign in disgrace, and led to criminal charges and the discovery of investment fraud.”
DeMaio didn’t just make his claim once. He said it repeatedly, although he sometimes threw in a qualifier.
The problem? He did no such thing. He didn’t uncover the financial crisis.
Why the writer liked it: It showed that one of the two mayoral candidates had rather brazenly fabricated a piece of his resume.
Randy Dotinga, Morning Report writer and freelance contributor
The story: “Rise of the Brawlers“
What is it about? San Diego’s politics and its media have always
shared a certain gentility: “Republican but not extreme. Sunny but not cerebral. Refined and generous but not transparent.”
The death of former newspaper publisher David C. Copley, who represented the old guard, spotlighted how things changed almost instantly. There’s a brawler running the paper, and a brawler running City Hall. And they’re far from being on the same side.
Why the writer liked it: The Morning Report, which I wrote most days, channels the voices of our writers and of VOSD itself. And the news stories I write for VOSD tend to be pretty straightforward. So it was a big change of pace to write a column and let loose with my own perspective.
One reader wondered if I “have to take something for your stomach when you write this kowtowing drivel,” while another accused me of “white-washing” the Copley family history. I did get a compliment of a sort: “The boy’s got pop and zing and he’s a stringer no less!”
Pop and zing? Is it 1948 again? Gadzooks!
Lisa Halverstadt, news reporter
The story: “What’s the Big Stink About La Jolla Cove?“
What is it about? The bitter stink at the La Jolla Cove is caused by piles of bird guano. Nearby residents and business owners have suggested ways to clear off the bluffs surrounding the cove, but any solution must be vetted by multiple regulatory agencies. That’s because the area is one of 34 state-protected areas, and the droppings are considered pollutants if they don’t naturally fall into the ocean.
Why the writer liked it: I never imagined my favorite story of the year would be one I can’t independently confirm since I don’t have a sense of smell.
I enjoyed the opportunity to break down the complex rules and regulations, as well as the science behind the stench and possible clean-up efforts despite my nasal shortcomings.
The story went national. The New York Times weighed in, and a national news crew interviewed key players.
I hear recent rains have lessened the stench but it’s likely to return soon.
Andrew Keatts, land use reporter
What is it about? A complicated item appeared on the City Council’s docket one week before Mayor Bob Filner’s inauguration and received little to no attention after the council unanimously approved it. The more we looked into the lease, the more unorthodox it seemed.
Why the writer liked it: The piece described what was so unusual about the lease extension while also indicating that this was the beginning, not the end, of our exploration of the agreement.
Keegan Kyle, former crime reporter
The story: “Hundreds of Kids Arrested on an Unproven Hunch“
What is it about? No recent police initiative has received more praise from San Diego’s elected leaders than a program designed to swarm entire neighborhoods and arrest kids for breaking curfew. We investigated those arrests and claims that the program has reduced violent crime.
Why the writer liked it: Our weeks of reporting raised serious questions about the program’s impacts and spurred a vibrant discussion across the city. You can find an overview of the series here.
Scott Lewis, CEO
What is it about? Many people don’t know that one of the most expansive unfunded mandates the federal government has passed came from Ronald Reagan. It was the guarantee that, if you walk into an emergency room, you will get medical treatment. This story examines one case and put it in context with the new Affordable Care Act.
Why the writer liked it: Health care has always been interesting to me from a national perspective. Now, as a manager of a several employees and the sponsor of their health care, it’s become a deeply personal issue. I was excited to find a local angle through which I might be able to explain a national issue.
Sara Libby, managing editor
The story: “Sob Stories Emerge Late in Election Season“
What is it about? After most local candidates spent the bulk of the election talking about pensions and financial mismanagement, things took an abrupt turn – they were suddenly concerned with curing cancer and helping families in crisis.
Why the writer liked it: This was my first shot at analyzing local races after having spent months covering national contests in Washington D.C.
Dagny Salas, web editor
What is it about? Will Carless’ story about Poway schools’ billion-dollar borrowing scheme attracted national attention to the issue of capital appreciation bonds. We compiled those stories in one easy place for readers to follow along.
Why the writer liked it: It demonstrated the investigation’s impact and gave us one central place where we could send our readers to learn more.
Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.