Editor’s Notebook: The complaint department

Tom Bodus, Editor in Chief

I don’t do these columns nearly as often as I’d like, mostly because doing them well requires time and focus I usually believe would be better allocated to assisting with local news coverage.

The old days when newspaper editors essentially directed traffic in the newsroom and occasionally pontificated about the issues of the day on the editorial page are pretty much in the past. You’ll find a lot of editors these days serve as player-coach. You’re as likely to see them with a camera and a notepad covering a local event as you would a regular beat reporter.

In short, everyone at this newspaper works very hard under confining circumstances that most career folk I know wouldn’t tolerate. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t, either, except for the fact I’ve grown to love the work for its own sake.

You know what I don’t love? Complaints.

I realize they come with the territory, and usually I’ll brush them off without much thought. Sometimes I’ll even make an apology if it’s warranted. But every once in a while, I’ll get a complaint that really goads me. The other day, I got several.

“You sadly have proved with today's issue, October 18, 2020, your very poor journalism,” wrote one reader. “I was almost shocked that you chose not to cover yesterday's 300-plus Trump Car Rally with some 500-plus people involved of many ethnicities. You did cover a small pride parade with many large photos and story on the front page the other day. Strong journalism is supposed to cover the news, not just their own biases.”

Another reader volunteered: “Many of us are wondering why you did not cover the Trump rally and parade that was in El Centro on October 17th? It was covered by other news sources but was ignored by your paper. It is obvious that you are showing bias to the other candidate.”

There was also this: “Sad there was no front page news on the Trump parade! Liberals being liberals!”

And then, of course, there’s today’s letter on this very page: “How could you not represent this news? Only proves that you are a Democratic newspaper and not just reporting the news, you only promote Democrat news!”

Let’s start with first things first. I’ve never registered with a political party in my life, and I never will. I’d say my politics veer slightly right of center, and I try not to let them influence my editorial decisions. My only objectives are to be accurate, interesting and fair, regardless of what I’m covering.

My resources are extremely finite, but my patience with self-professed journalism experts is even more so. So let’s talk about that Trump Parade Saturday.

Not a single person involved with the Trump rally had the presence of mind to reach out to this newspaper for coverage prior to the event. If you want attention, you've got to communicate in advance, not complain after the fact. That doesn’t mean we will cover every event in person, but I’ll generally try to work something out if at all possible.

Had I known about this event, I likely would have attended personally. I would have been interested in learning, what was the point?

Literally every man, woman and child in Imperial County could cast a vote for Donald Trump and it wouldn't have the slightest impact on the national election. California is not a swing state, and Imperial County doesn't have enough voting clout to affect even most state political races.

So in the grand scheme of things, Saturday’s rally was largely a symbolic event, not one that would alter history in any meaningful way. That doesn't mean it wasn't worth covering, but let's not overstate its significance.

I understand (again, not because anyone told me about it) there’s another of these rallies set for Saturday at 5 p.m., starting from the former Lucky’s supermarket parking lot in El Centro. I plan to show up. I won’t be wearing a MAGA hat or T-shirt, or waving any flags. I’ll just be there do my job as best as I can … as usual.

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