The Weekly Ask is one short video each week that poses questions to you, our readers. This week we asked:
To see the next question in our series and leave a comment, go here. If you think of something you’d like to ask inewsource, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. You can also tweet to us: @shylanott or @bradracino.
Here’s what readers asked us this week:
Why do the headlines for your stories often show the negative view of Democrats, while similar negative views of Republicans are buried deep in the articles? It’s almost like the writer will write an unbiased story, but the editorial board wants to highlight (or smear) one side.
– Mark Thevenot via Facebook
Answered by Laura Wingard, Managing Editor:
Thanks for your observations and question, Mark.
It’s never our intent with a headline to side with any one point of view. It’s the same with our stories. The facts and data we gather are what guide the direction of our stories and coverage. Headlines never tell the whole story. They are short and generally designed to capture the most significant piece of information uncovered in the reporting. Usually, I collaborate with the reporters to craft the headlines after we’ve finished editing and fact checking the stories.
Also, as an independent, unbiased journalism nonprofit, we don’t take editorial positions, nor do we have an editorial board, like traditional news organizations.
But your question gave me pause, because you are seeing a bias in them — and that’s never our intent. So I went back and pulled our recent headlines on political stories. Here’s the list:
High-profile donors backing Fletcher, Dumanis for San Diego County supervisor
The latest in fundraising by San Diego County’s U.S. House candidates
Democrats spent 37 times the contribution limit on Nathan Fletcher. And it’s legal.
Political party spending: How we crunched the numbers
Incumbent Myrtle Cole finishes second in tight San Diego council race
‘Unprecedented’ outside spending for county supervisor’s seat and more to come
Despite incumbency, Councilwoman Cole could be underdog in fall election
Supervisors: Strong Democratic showing in possible swing seat; Desmond dominates more Republican district
Congress: Candidates in 49th strongest in home territories; Hunter strong everywhere in 50th
Republican law enforcement candidates win big in San Diego County
Election day money facts to help you vote
Outside spending ramps up as Tuesday’s election approaches
You and other readers may have perceived bias in this one headline: “Democrats spent 37 times the contribution limit on Nathan Fletcher. And it’s legal.” The story generated a lot of comments on social media. Some lauded the story. Others, including Fletcher’s wife, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, questioned why we focused on the Democrats’ support of her husband when Republicans have done the same thing in the past — a point made in the story.
But the facts are, the amount of money the Democrats are spending to elect Fletcher to the county Board of Supervisors is unprecedented.
inewsource data and politics reporter Jill Castellano did a deep dive into campaign finance records back to 2010 to show how unprecedented it is. As her data reporting found, the nearly $1 million the county Democratic Party had spent on Fletcher leading up the June primary was more money than the county Republican and Democratic parties have spent on any other candidate this decade.
The story — but not the headline — explained in detail how both political parties are legally getting around campaign spending limits by using “member communications” to influence voters. We couldn’t fit all of that into a headline, but the news in this case is the push by Democrats to elect Fletcher to what is now an all-Republican Board of Supervisors. Obviously, the stakes are high. We are continuing to watch how both parties spend their money on local races as the November election approaches, and we’ll report on what we find.
With each politics story and headline we write, we’ll continue to keep in mind, Mark, the question you raised.
What’s going on with HiCaliber Horse Rescue?
Answered by Brad Racino, Senior Reporter:
The majority of this week’s questions concerned HiCaliber Horse Rescue, a Valley Center nonprofit at the center of several government investigations over allegations of fraud, animal abuse and improper veterinary practices.
More specifically, most people asked a derivation of the same question: When will HiCaliber’s founder, Michelle Knuttila, face criminal charges from a government agency.
This is impossible for us to answer for several reasons.
First, we don’t know that Knuttila will be charged for anything. U.S. citizens benefit from a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and so far, no government agency – including the IRS, the California Attorney General’s Office and Veterinary Medical Board, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office or any other prosecutorial agency – has publicly confirmed any wrongdoing.
Second, it’s important to understand that in this reporter’s experience, most investigative agencies – from the attorney general to the district attorney – keep tight-lipped about any potential or ongoing investigations until they are complete. They have good reasons for doing this, and as a result, we are waiting like everyone else to hear what, if any, actions they take related to HiCaliber.
Third, each agency investigates according to their own timeline. An investigation may take months or even years, depending on the complexity of the case, the number of people assigned to it and its priority within each agency.
That’s a long-winded way of saying I have no idea when or if something will happen with HiCaliber. The only agency that has been open about its investigation is the California Veterinary Medical Board, and I check in with them once a week for updates. As of Aug. 9, the investigation is still ongoing.
So while you’re waiting … please check out our other, non-Hicaliber-related stories of local importance, including stories about education, health, taxes, the environment and local government. By the time you get through reading all that great work from our reporters, maybe something will have happened with HiCaliber.
Or maybe not.
Do you require more than one independent source to confirm information before you publish?
– Sue Amon Lussa via Facebook
Answered by Jill Castellano, Data Reporter:
While every situation is different, the best way to ensure accuracy is to confirm information from multiple sources. This may not be necessary in certain cases — if we want to know the correct spelling of someone’s name and their title, we can ask that person directly and usually have the right answer. But in most cases, the information we’re looking for is more complicated than that. When investigating a topic, we try to use a combination of sources — which can be in the form of documents, data or people — to confirm information. We also carefully consider how reliable these sources are, and the less reliable the source, the more verification is necessary through other means.
We'll let you know when big things happen.