Newsletter: June 19, 2013

Dear friends of inewsource,

Thanks to so many of you, our stories are continuing to break web traffic records! So, we’re delighted to have created a much snazzier home for them. Check out our newly redesigned website at www.inewsource.org and let us know what you think.

Keep reading the newsletter for news by us and about us. You’ll find, for example, that reporter Brad Racino wrote a column about his NCTD coverage for the national Investigative Reporters and Editors website.

This kind of work is thanks to your support. Forward this email to a friend!

— Lorie Hearn, executive director, inewsource    loriehearn@inewsource.com

Brad: reporter, photographer, web master extraordinaire

In all of his spare time (which is generally between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.), Brad Racino updated our website.

We wanted “to create a much smoother, cleaner, and more modern-looking site with a lot more content available on the front,” said Racino. Another goal was to make it easier for us to upload and organize content.

The project took about a month, with a web designer suggesting a template or “theme,” as it’s called, and Brad doing the coding, updating old stories, adding many photos and dealing with search engine optimization fields, widgets and style sheets.

Now you can keep an eye on the big picture by tracking our major projects at the top of the home page. Also, you can check the center column below that for the latest and most popular stories. A revolving list on the left leads you to work by colleagues elsewhere, and a list of topics in red type on the right guides you through our archives.

There’s still some tweaking to do, but we hope you like the fresh, contemporary look as much as we do.

Popular and provocative

Making the latest list of the most popular stories at the KPBS site was “Homeowners Overcharged Thousands in Special Property Taxes” by Joanne Faryon and Kelly Paice, with data journalists Kevin Crowe and Ryann Grochowski contributing.

The story was about the discovery of mistakes in tax bills that will get two homeowners big refunds and has the city and our staff both poring over data for one Mello-Roos district to see if there are more errors. It’s inspired many comments. Making this possible was our interactive map, which lets people see what they and their neighbors pay in Mello-Roos fees.

Federal agency takes a look at North County Transit District

Our coverage of the North County Transit District has already led to both internal and external audits.

Now Brad Racino has learned that the Federal Transit Administration is actively looking into the transit district. As he reported, inewsource has been keeping the federal agency informed of its coverage, which began with an examination of transit safety issues raised by security officers.

Transparent fact-gathering

As an experiment in greater transparency in reporting, we gave you the option of taking a closer look into our source material for one of the recent stories.

For Brad Racino’s report “Auditor Finds Major Deficiencies in NCTD,” viewers could toggle between one version with a moderate number of hyperlinks to original documents and another that offered oodles of chances — 71, to be exact — to take a virtual look over Brad’s shoulder at the paper trail. That hyperlink-heavy version drew more of you than the traditional format, and you spent more time with it.

For more details, see Brad’s story at the Investigative Reporters and Editors site mentioned above.

If you weren’t already a news junkie, this virtual ride-along with a reporter could turn you into one.

Grim prospects for access to local records

As our partner KPBS reported, Californians risk losing important access to local public records unless Gov. Jerry Brown vetoes a trailer bill (See Section 4) passed by the legislature Friday as part of the state budget.

Earlier reports focused on proposals to end the required notice of local public meetings as a way to cut the state’s reimbursement costs. However, as the First Amendment Coalition’s website explains, last-minute changes in the bill also mean that local governments would no longer have to do the following:

1. Provide records in searchable electronic format, even if they exist that way. (This would yield insignificant savings and could give requesters information in a useless format, according to the First Amendment Coalition.)

2. Respond to public records requests within 10 days. Without a deadline, agencies could ignore requests indefinitely, said the Coalition’s executive director, Peter Scheer.

3. Give reasons for denying access to records. This allows governments to be totally arbitrary in handling records requests, Scheer said.

“I think this has the potential to be very serious,” he added. He agreed that it’s the local government agencies in California that are most reluctant to honor records requests.

Since he thinks the bill caught many people off guard and doesn’t do what the governor and lawmakers intended, he’s optimistic that it will be vetoed or rescinded, and he’s already brainstorming possible action if it’s signed. Meanwhile, his website encourages people to dash off emails to the governor urging a veto.

inewsource partners with San Diego State University for Geo-Location Research Project

inewsource is working with Amy Schmitz Weiss, associate professor at San Diego State University on a special, innovative news project that we would like to inform you about. She would like to get your opinion about a geo-location news prototype, about mapping the news.

In order to participate, check out the map in the middle of this page here: http://inewsourcegeo.org/newsource

and then complete a brief survey here about the prototype: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/NT8KZGV

For your time and participation in the survey, you will be entered into a random drawing for the chance to receive an Apple gift card to purchase iTunes music or a mobile app of your choice worth $20 or a check of $20. Ten people will be selected for the drawing.

shadow-ornament

We'll let you know when big things happen.

About Lorie Hearn:

Lorie Hearn is the founder and executive director of inewsource.