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Voice Growing Fainter?

Numbers have taken a free-fall to 20,000–25,000

The beginnings were auspicious enough — and Voice of San Diego garnered copious praise from various media-watchers who anointed it as a model for the news-diggers of the digital age. Bankrolled largely by Buzz Woolley — a local real estate and technology magnate — “the Voice” was launched in February 2005 as an online-only source for San Diego news. Seeking to position itself as the local portal for stories that “go unreported,” the Voice boasts that — as a privately funded, not-for-profit enterprise — it can provide tough, hard-hitting investigative reporting on local stories (e.g., political scandals) that other San Diego media might shy away from.

When reporter Will Carless uncovered the chicanery within the San Diego Southeastern Economic Development Corporation in 2008, the Voice’s fortunes appeared on the rise. Acting on a tip provided by (some have speculated) councilman Jim Madaffer, the Voice received plaudits aplenty when it trained the spotlight on SEDC president Carolyn Smith. Due in no small part to the reportage, the self-dealing Smith — whose lavish and illegal salary caused an uproar around town — was canned after 14 years at the unsteady helm.

Eventually, star muckraker Carless left to freelance in Indonesia. In the wake of his departure, some readers had begun to characterize the Voice’s news coverage as a bit “soft”; however, as recently as October of 2009, the site had reported a strong upsurge in visits. (According to online media-tracking service Quantcast, voiceofsandiego.org went from an average of 40,000 or so visits per month in late September to 100,000 by early to mid November.)

But recent weeks have seen a third major redesign of the website and, along with it, a precipitous drop in visitors; having peaked in mid November, the numbers have since taken a free-fall to 20,000–25,000 per month.

What gives? Voice editor Scott Lewis might have provided some clues on December 6 via a breezy, colloquial piece in which he laid out, for the Voice faithful, his explanation for recent changes to the site. Among other things, Lewis discussed the rationale — or lack thereof — behind the Voice’s policy of limiting comments by readers.

Until the latest makeover, which was completed December 2, the site had permitted readers to post comments (anonymously and otherwise) — but only on op-ed pieces, never on straight news stories. Lewis stated that all Voice articles were now to be fair game — but that anonymous posts would be verboten. The decision to implement the new ID-shackled give-and-take stems from a Sunday brunch that Lewis enjoyed with the brain trust of MinnPost.com, an operation with which he is enamored.

Impressed with the Minnesotans, who’ve never allowed their posters anonymity, the Voice brass has implemented a registration system: no ID — no comment. By aping the MinnPost “verification” strictures, Lewis hopes to avoid “forums [that] turn into something resembling more of a bathroom wall than a civil congress.”

Civil or not, however, attendance at the Voice congress seems to be dwindling these days. For his part, Lewis seemed unconcerned when I spoke with him in late December. Although he conceded that the website redesign has caused broken legacy links and other expected disruptions, he attributed much of the recent dip to seasonal fluctuations, explaining, “December is always a rough month.” Sounding an upbeat note, he expects a resurgence as 2010 commences. “We had a fantastic day yesterday and we already have 1700 fans on Facebook.”

Mystery Solved?

Weather Balloons and Street Flares

Channel 10 wants to reassure you that the UFO you saw early on New Year’s Day wasn’t extraterrestrial in origin but simply the brainchild of El Cajon trickster Todd Fassler. Channel 6 and Signonsandiego also propose an earthly cause for the light show, but offer instead a “Chinese sky lantern” theory behind the glowing holiday array.

Channel 10’s Hal Clement cheerfully kicked off their on-air coverage by crowing, “Mystery solved.” But on the 10news.com message board, things seemed a bit murkier. One commenter, comparing the attribution to the much-maligned Roswell, New Mexico, “weather balloon” theory, noted, “Strange how the news never had the guy explain how he got the flared powered balloons to stay in triangular formation.”

A doubting poster on Signonsandiego’s board cited the altitude, speed, and maneuverability of the objects as reasons to question the lantern theory.

In all fairness, Channel 10’s Allison Ash — “acting on a tip” — did interview Fassler, who “explained how he creates the hovering lights with weather balloons and street flares.” For its part, Channel 6, whose phones were “ringing off the hook” with sightings of “a triangle of red lights,” reported in its online account that the sky-watchers’ descriptions “sounded identical” to the objects that, in the station’s prior news stories, had “turned out to be Chinese sky lanterns.”

To its credit, Signonsandiego, was slightly more circumspect, stating that the best of photos sent to them by viewers “would appear to indicate” the lights came from the lanterns. Despite writing, somewhat cryptically, “Sometimes strange lights in the sky are just that,” reporter Andrew Kleske quoted a San Carlos woman who — after a bit of internet research on the popular, Chinese paper contraptions — was somewhat skeptical of the lantern explanation.

As for Todd Fassler — whose “confession” was readily accepted by Channel 10 — he told Allison Ash that in addition to being fun, his hobby “gives you guys a job.” [None of the above reporters were available for comment.]

Advocacy or Sloppy Reporting?

No One Favors Drunk Driving

The headline “Despite Deaths, DUI Arrests Skyrocket” implies cause-and-effect. Reporting on the 798 San Diego area drunk-driving arrests during the last two weeks of 2009, nbcsandiego.com noted that there were nearly twice as many of the hapless handcuffed as there had been during the same period in 2008.

But why would fatal auto accidents — commonplace in San Diego County regardless of the booze factor — decrease the number of local busts of motorists deemed under the sway of John Barleycorn? The coverage not only failed to make a case for the conclusion, it unwittingly offered a convincing and contradictory theory by quoting a spokesman for the local authorities who cited the yearly “crackdown” as the reason for the increase.

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Comments

scottlewis Jan. 14, 2010 @ 4:20 p.m.

Hello, I appreciate your concern about the traffic to our website your deft attempts to make me look naïve. But allow me a minute to clear up some just plain mistruths.

I, Scott Lewis, am the CEO of voiceofsandiego.org, not the editor. That designation belongs to my longtime friend and associate Andrew Donohue, who runs one of the most productive and inspired teams of reporters I've ever known.

You say our traffic went down according to quantcast.com. May I direct you to that measurement source again (http://www.quantcast.com/voiceofsandiego.org).

Not sure what you were looking at but you completely misread it. You say our traffic has "taken a free-fall to 20,000–25,000 per month." There's nothing on the quantcast graph that comes close to those numbers. And as you can see, we're right back where we were before the website redesign (and its new comment policy) at more than 94,000 people per month.

You write that I seemed unconcerned. That's because I'm not concerned. I hate even talking about those numbers because we measure our success based on our impact, our loyal readership and our number of members, which are all growing well. But nonetheless, I figured that if you're going to play the part of a media columnist, and use these graphs to make your point, you might want to read them accurately.

Furthermore if you want to use that measurement, I wonder why you don't highlight sandiegoreader.com's estimated numbers on Quantcast (http://www.quantcast.com/sandiegoreader.com), which show it at well below half our readership. I don't think that means anything about attendance at your own "congress" or whether you've gone "soft" but "some have speculated..."

Which brings up the last point: You say "some have speculated" that Jim Madaffer provided the tip on the SEDC investigation. That's hilarious, if only because the man wouldn't even speak to us after we called for his resignation in 2006. We followed the SEDC story through for two and a half years of hard-nosed investigative reporting. While we certainly miss Will Carless as a person and an incredibly talented journalist, he wasn't the first, last or only investigative reporter on our staff. We've replaced him and even grown our reporting staff since he left six months ago. In fact, we're in the process of finishing up what will be our third multi-part special report in the last two months.

Thanks for calling, at least. Had I known you wanted to write about more than just our traffic numbers, I'd have loved the chance, as would Donohue, to have offered up perspective on it. Sorry you didn't give us the opportunity.

Sincerely, Scott Lewis CEO, voiceofsandiego.org

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Maassive Jan. 14, 2010 @ 4:42 p.m.

Sloppy. I think you, sir, need to issue a big fat correction.

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DMaass Jan. 14, 2010 @ 4:45 p.m.

Sloppy. I think you, sir, need to issue a big fat correction.

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CuddleFish Jan. 14, 2010 @ 5:50 p.m.

Chingale.

Gotta say, I read the SDU-T, The Reader, CityBeat, Voice of San Diego, La Prensa, and the Navy Times. I even read those little throwaways that they put in the laundromats. All of you guys are unique, and you are all excellent, sources of information and entertainment. I hang out here at the Reader for the most part, mainly because of the neighborhood blogs and the community of bloggers who post regularly on that forum.

Can I just say in reference to No I.D. - No Comment, do you also apply that to sources in your stories? Because if you don't, then I don't see why you impose that rule on your readers. Posters should have the ability to speak frankly from behind a screen name, even if that does mean you have to police the site fairly rigorously against flaming and trolls, etc. I personally would not feel comfortable naming names in certain situations if people know my identity.

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Willcarless Jan. 14, 2010 @ 7:16 p.m.

Just a quick note,

Had you bothered to contact me, you could have easily cleared up who provided VOSD with the tips that led to the uncovering of the bonus scandal at SEDC. That's not something I've ever kept secret. The original tips regarding the irregularities with SEDC's tax records came from a community activist who has regularly provided myself and Andrew Donohue with information about the organization over the years.

Instead, you decided to speculate, without providing any evidence or citation, that the tips came from Councilman Jim Madaffer, a claim that conveniently casts aspersions on VOSD's credibility and backs up the other, entirely false, claims you have made in this column.

I've been keeping a tally, and it seems that just about every claim you made in this column (apart, of course, from the fact that I'm a star muckraker) is false.

Might be time to run a correction eh?

And next time you decide to speculate about who my sources are, feel free to contact me via telephone, email, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, SMS or mail.

Cheers,

Will

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DMaass Jan. 14, 2010 @ 8:27 p.m.

Hey Cuddlefish: Did they delete a conversation we were having?

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CuddleFish Jan. 14, 2010 @ 8:49 p.m.

If you are speaking of the other thread, it appears some comments were deleted. What in the world is going on here?

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DMaass Jan. 15, 2010 @ 12:05 a.m.

No, it's fine. I was totally on the wrong thread. How do you fish manage to find your way through this whirlpool of a site?

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CuddleFish Jan. 15, 2010 @ 12:17 a.m.

Us fish are good at whirlpools. :)

Actually, I don't know how others manage, but I go down to the section on the left where it shows the link that says "50 latest comments" to keep up with the comments on stories, articles, and staff blogs.

For neighborhood and staff blogs, I go further down the page on the left, and click the link where it says "50 latest blog comments."

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SDaniels Jan. 15, 2010 @ 12:50 a.m.

re: #4: "I've been keeping a tally, and it seems that just about every claim you made in this column (apart, of course, from the fact that I'm a star muckraker) is false."

Cool! You should have used "Star Muckraker" as your handle! Think I'll start a collection of cool handles, and auction them off to the highest bidder ;)

re: #5 and 6:

So was there a deleted convo? Can you pretend you're having it again?

Btw, DMaass, a kudos is in order for the shy Fish here, who is the one responsible for the advent of the "50 Latest Blog Comments," not to mention other neato stuff that has made our Reader blogging more efficient. Not sure what we did before such techno improvements; there is such a lot of traffic here now that following threads necessitated frequent "favoriting," which is now much less necessary.

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DMaass Jan. 15, 2010 @ 10:52 a.m.

SDAniels: No there wasn't a delete comment. I was confused as to which post I was on.

Kudos to Fish then.

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CuddleFish Jan. 15, 2010 @ 11:35 a.m.

I pay her to say that stuff, Dave. :)

To get back to the topic: Is Moss Gropen off the rails on this?

Because these seem like mighty big discrepancies to me.

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SDaniels Jan. 15, 2010 @ 5:29 p.m.

Which reminds me, uh, Mr. Fish? Could I have a raise? I mean, it's tough out here day after day kissing your scales, and uh, like, I'm totally grateful for the job and all, and you look lovely today, but...I need formula for the baby, and Hoss's overalls are getting patchy...

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CuddleFish Jan. 15, 2010 @ 6:28 p.m.

Wallet's on the nightstand. Help yourself.

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Fred Williams Jan. 15, 2010 @ 9:30 p.m.

VOSD is doing great work. The fact that both Scott and Will commented on this erroneous story speaks volumes about their openess and willingness to engage with the community.

Do I agree with everything they write? No! Have a look. I never hide behind a pseudonym, on VOSD, Reader, UT, or CityBeat. I'm glad that VOSD has done away with anonymous commenting because I think people should be held accountable for their views.

I appreciate ALL of the local media in San Diego. Each has a role to play, and the more light they shed on local government the better.

I do wish they'd stop this back and forth of criticizing each other though. The CityBeat/Reader Josh Board thing is a real shame, because the result was losing a provocative local voice.

Rather than trash talking the competition, they ought to be putting their time and effort into reporting news.

Can y'all declare a truce already?

You know what I'd love to see? A weekly video of Dave Maas, Scott Lewis, and Don Bauder discussing local politics. THAT would be awesome...

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PistolPete Jan. 15, 2010 @ 10:17 p.m.

"....and with a roundtable roundhouse kick to the chops, Don Bauder is crowned BADDEST MOTHERF***ER THIS SIDE OF THE MISSISSIPPI!!!!"

I'm thinkin' PPV. :-D

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CuddleFish Jan. 15, 2010 @ 10:39 p.m.

Is David Rolland still doing the Editors' Roundtable?

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Fred Williams Jan. 15, 2010 @ 10:52 p.m.

Don "Slaughter" Bauder enters the ring and rushes Scott "Lefty" Lewis.

But Lewis drops into a crouching mantis stance and sends Bauder flying into Dave "Maasacre" Maas.

The crowd goes wild...

Maas recovers, and pulls out his poison pen. Lewis slaps the Matt, and Potter jumps into the fight with a stack of government files which he flings into the ref's face.

Blinded, and groping wildly, the referee blows his whistle...enter the Watchdog from the UT, who proceeds to growl and bark...until Maas points to its erroneous numbers. Humiliated, the Watchdog lies down and whimpers about how it's been misunderstood.

Will "I Could Care Less" Carless jumps up from his poolside seat, thows down his umbrella drink, springs into the ring, and brandishes the Freedom of Information Act.

Ian Trowbridge and Pat Flannery, from their box, grumble about how they've seen this all before, and how in the good old days the combatants wore tights and masks.

Suddenly, the loudspeakers begin blaring a Dvorak symphony. Bauder pulls himself off the floor and delivers a flying roundhouse kick...it connects, and Bob "Bowtie" Kittle skittles into oblivion.

The bell rings, the crowd cheers, anonymously of course, and round two is over...

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PistolPete Jan. 15, 2010 @ 11:02 p.m.

During the Intermission, the 10 minute version of this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pX2aK4VyTQ8 is played...

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SDaniels Jan. 15, 2010 @ 11:22 p.m.

"a provocative local voice."

Fred, do we exist on the same planet? The same plane, even?

Provocative local voice. That's what Fallbrookians thought of Metzger, too. Dang, folks, we lost a provocative local voice, y'all! Now, who is going to speak our deepest, darkest (pardon the pun!) desires and hatreds?

Give me a f'in break. Whose ass were YOU paid to kiss with that statement, for reals, now?

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SDaniels Jan. 15, 2010 @ 11:25 p.m.

re: #14: Mr. Fish, there must be some mistake--there are only twenty-dollar bills in this wallet! Oh, thank you, sir! We'll be sure to get the Rite-Aid brand of formula, and yes, sir, we will away to JC Penney immediately for those man-sized bibs. ;)

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SDaniels Jan. 16, 2010 @ 12:45 a.m.

re: #18: What #19 said. "Skittlin' Kittle" should be his regular handle. ;)

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SDaniels Jan. 16, 2010 @ 3:29 a.m.

I would like to post a retraction of selected statements in #21 to Mr. Williams:

Clearly, Mr. Williams and I exist somewhere in the same solar system. In fact, it is my firm belief that both Mr. Williams and myself, as organic life forms, derive crucial nourishment from aforementioned solar body and its planetary environs.

Moreover, I expect no "f'in break" from Mr. Williams; indeed, I did not deserve such a requested break.

Further, Mr. Williams has not likely, nor will he likely, accept illegal funds or "pay to play" from "who," "whom," or any first, second, or third person party linked to the profession of the quill.

Lastly, I did not intend to suggest that Mr. Williams would place his most vocal orifice upon the fleshy portion of any aforementioned third party's nether regions, for pay or any other reason whatsoever.

This concludes the "selected" portion of this retraction program.

As for the statements I am not at leisure to retract, these do not concern Mr. Williams directly. Suffice to say that I in no way believe that Mr. Fred Williams is a fan of David Metzger.

"Dang, folks, we lost a provocative local voice, y'all! Now, who is going to speak our deepest, darkest (pardon the pun!) desires and hatreds?"

I would prefer, of course, that no one step in to answer the above question, which should remain rhetorical. ;)

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Fred Williams Jan. 16, 2010 @ 6:11 a.m.

Oh, now, SDaniels...that's kind of you.

Though some would dispute that I originated in this solar system, I think it's universally recognized that I do indeed refrain from oral-rectal gratification at the behest of local journalists.

:-)

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DMaass Jan. 16, 2010 @ 2:52 p.m.

OK, people, the name is Dave Maass. M-A-A-S-S.

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antigeekess Jan. 16, 2010 @ 4:23 p.m.

"...I do indeed refrain from oral-rectal gratification at the behest of local journalists."

That's not what I heard.

:)

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rickeysays Jan. 17, 2010 @ 10:21 p.m.

Yeah, SD, I'm sure you like it better around here now with no one to offend your liberal/artsy/politically-correct sensibilities. Hell, Mr. Maass even likes it around here now. But personally I find this place a lot more boring without Josh's observations to stir things up. BRING JOSH BACK!!!

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SDaniels Jan. 17, 2010 @ 11:37 p.m.

Ahh, attacking me because you are missing your "bro," are you, rickey? Maybe you'll find a place you like better, too, then?

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rickeysays Jan. 18, 2010 @ 11:04 p.m.

I understand. You're just like those right-wingers that listen to Rush and watch Fox. They like only hearing people agreeing with them, and nobody challenging their world view. It's not about getting to the truth. It's about having your own opinions reinforced, but never challenged.

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SDaniels Jan. 18, 2010 @ 11:54 p.m.

Oh, am I JUST like that, rickey? If I were, then I never would have attempted to engage you in any intelligible debate, and if you weren't JUST like them, you would have attempted some intelligible discourse, wouldn't you, now? The problem with you and I is that you have a strange reductionist and essentialist notion that culture does not influence the way human beings act and grow, and you simply want me to agree with you on it.

For the zillionth time, rickey: If you reduce all to genetics and biblical-traditional notions of "choice," then you certainly have an agenda to support that people of racial and ethnic backgrounds whom you don't like, will always act the way you don't like, and you may see them as intellectually inferior to yourself. This is the impasse you are at, but you can't see it, so how are we to discuss culture, the vast area in which I have been working and sharing knowledge with others in for decades?

Don't worry, I have plenty of people to talk to and debate with, who actually offer real debate. I suggest you go find a few, and come back to talk with me when you're ready to admit the existence of cultural and social influence.

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