TRANSPARENCY CUTS BOTH WAYS
My interest in Paul Swearengin’s influence (if any) at City Hall requires me to take a brief but relevant detour.
I’m not suggesting the Mayor’s husband did anything wrong or unwise regarding the Al Radka contract. I am saying full disclosure is important in debate on public policy.
That’s why it’s time to explain how I came to write for CVObserver.
I am 65 years old (66 in February – Social Security, hooray!). I’ve been a reporter for a handful of Valley newspapers, including The Fresno Bee.
The Bee last fall went through what my bosses called a “reduction in force.” I retired from the newspaper business. I like to think The Bee and I parted after 28 years on the best of terms.
But I had no desire to stop reporting.
I got a phone call from Brooke Ashjian about a week before I left The Bee. Ashjian is a successful Fresno-area businessman and a member of FUSD’s board of trustees.
The Ashjian and Hostetter families have been friends for some 20 years. We live in the Bullard High School area. Our children went to the same FUSD schools. My older daughter worked for Ashjian in various capacities for more than 10 years. She now works for a county in Northern California.
Ashjian said he’d heard I was retiring.
“If you’re interested in keeping your hand in journalism,” Ashjian said, “you might consider CVObserver. It’s run by a buddy of yours – Alex Tavlian.”
Tavlian was a student writer at The Bee. We once joined forces to cover a neighborhood meeting on a proposed community facilities district for Fresno’s Universally Accessible Park. That is complex stuff. I hadn’t forgotten that Tavlian picked up everything real fast.
Ashjian said CVObserver was an Internet site based on local news, with an emphasis on politics. He gave no details on CVObserver’s finances. I didn’t ask.
Tavlian is a busy, young (mid-20s) Fresnan. He is CVObserver’s publisher, political reporter and web designer. He also attends law school full-time in San Diego.
Tavlian and I met in early November at Fig Garden Village. A few days later, I turned in my first story.
I’m not a CVObserver employee. I’m a freelance writer. If Tavlian likes what I produce, he pays me. It’s that simple.
In other ways, though, it’s not simple. Take it from someone who began delivering The Bee in Lindsay in 1961 and started reporting (as a stringer for The Bee and The Lindsay Gazette) in 1965 – the newspaper game isn’t what it used to be.
Of course, we all know that. The Internet and Google have changed journalism forever. The Bee newsroom I left on Oct. 23 reflects that new reality in a most painful way for a loyal old-timer like me.
But these are exciting times for journalism. Tavlian and his CVObserver are proof. A.J. Liebling once said, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” Not anymore. Not if you know how to decipher a government meeting, write a sentence and build a web site.
You ask of me: What’s your outlook on life?
No one is entirely objective. Human nature isn’t built that way.
An editor at The Bee once told me (with a smile), “George, we could put you in a phone booth, add everyone in the newsroom who thinks like you, and there still would be room to dance.”
I am a big fan of “City Journal,” the web site/quarterly magazine of the New York City-based Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.
I like covering municipal government because it touches every aspect of life. CVObserver should aspire to be like “City Journal” – wide-ranging, fearless, provocative.
I won’t be around forever. I hope CVObserver lasts a long time. But if it doesn’t, something like it will spring up. That’s what happens when you combine the First Amendment, the Internet and human curiosity.
I know Tavlian is involved in local Republican politics. He has never asked me to shade my stories in a particular direction. I call ‘em like I see ‘em.
So, there’s my full disclosure for this story dealing with disclosure.
Let me add a final point, one I learned by writing for CVObserver.
Only a young editor has the necessary cover these days to take a chance on an old reporter.
Thank you for the column George. You are absolutely right to be concerned about a potential conflict of interest in this situation. Any outsider looking at something like this involving the Mayor’s husband would think there was shenanigans.
That being said, I know both Mr. Frazier and Mr. Swearengin. I can say with as much certainty as I have that this is a from the heart project for both. I have not met or know two better people in my life. I know Terrance and Paul are community based individuals that I would have no question trusting with my own kids and property. I am envious of both with respect to their honesty and sincerity. I can only hope and pray to be considered their peer. I know that sounds like lofty praise, but like I said I know them both. I have seen them in situations where doing the “right thing” was the only thing considered. This opportunity is great for Fresno youth. Terrance has proved his commitment to Fresno 100 times over. He walks the walk in all that I have seen him do.
You are right to ask the questions. The lost art of journalism depends on you doing so. Shining a light on the project should not be an issue.