Monday, August 4, 2008

Readers criticize story on hiking

Q: Lance Leage was one of my cousins. Why would you include the information about his 20-year-old court history in the article on his death while hiking? The family couldn’t see how that would have had any bearing whatsoever on the reported circumstances of his death, which was a fall. Should it become relevant, then I can understand it. The family was very hurt by the inclusion of that information.
—Brodie Leage, Orland (near Chico)

Q: I was disappointed in your story about the missing hiker Lance Leage and how it brought up his criminal background. What happened 20 years ago is irrelevant to what happened on the trail. I am more interested in knowing what happened on the trail and why he slipped and fell. The story was in poor taste and hurtful to the family.
—Paula Martin, Paso Robles

Q: As a parent who lost a child 20 years ago, I am sympathetic to the family. I think the inclusion of the past criminal record would make the tragic situation that much more hurtful. As a reader, the story left me with several questions. Here’s a young man, 42 years old, running down a trail in flip flops. What was that about?Who is this mysterious friend from L. A. with no name? And how could a bloody shirt be found separated from the body? Why weren’t these questions pursued? I’m much more interested in this and not his past.
—Pandora Nash-Karner, Los Osos

A: Since we published the article about Lance Leage on Tuesday, we have received about 30 calls and e-mails from the family, their friends and some individuals who don’t know the Leages, all raising the concerns expressed above. It was not our intention to hurt the family. Clearly, however, our report did, and we are deeply sorry for that.
The journalists that day considered whether to include the information or not. In the end, we included it because there were so many unanswered questions surrounding his death and he had an extensive criminal record that spanned the latter half of his life.
We understand why some readers would be upset. Some journalists in our newsroom think we should have held the information for a later story that more fully reported on the police investigation.
Exactly what happened on that trail remains to be known. The results of a toxicology report, which won’t be completed for several weeks, may shed some light, and whatever it shows we will be sure to share.
As for the questions about how the tragic accident occurred, we have asked those questions and will continue to do so. At this point, law-enforcement authorities aren’t releasing any additional information, saying their investigation is ongoing. We will share information with you as we learn it.
-- Sandra Duerr

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Are we trivializing war crimes? NO

Q. A week ago you printed a story with the headline, “U.S. general accuses White House of war crimes …’’ in which Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who investigated the abuse at Abu Ghraib, says, "... there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes." This seems like a pretty important story, one that should have been displayed prominently on Page A1. But instead, it is buried on Page A8 without even a reference to it at the bottom of page A1. How in the world do you justify minimizing such an incredibly important story? Do you consider war crimes trivial?
-- Mark Phillips

A. We agree that this story – and more significantly, this issue – is an important one. That’s why we published (and hope that you read) a five-part investigative series called “Guantanamo: Beyond the Law’’ on the front page last week and dedicated more than six entire pages to it. This exclusive series by our Washington bureau disclosed the Bush administration’s policies and practices at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan – including how U.S. forces routinely rounded up the ‘wrong guys’ and abused them. It made abundantly clear that the rule of law, Geneva Conventions, was thoroughly stretched if not outright violated by Bush policies. The story you reference reiterated the theme of this series, so we played it on Page A8.
Clearly, story play is a judgment call and wise people often disagree. We believe we positioned this story correctly.

Q. When the vast majority of newspapers are either reporting non-news or reporting with biases that render the information irrelevant, I want to thank you for taking the step to engage in real reportage (your Guantanamo Bay series). The Bush-Cheney policies demand a thorough investigation and an impartial evaluation and this will only come from an independent media. I hope to see more of this caliber of news.
-- Elaine Watson, Los Osos

A. You are most welcome. Indeed, we will continue to offer strong investigative coverage from our Washington bureau. The staff there has been praised nationally for exclusives on intelligence failures leading up to the war in Iraq and taking a hard look at the administration’s justifications for war.

-- Sandy Duerr

Monday, June 9, 2008

Action shots show strain of the race

Q. That picture you ran of my daughter was the worst photo I have ever seen in a newspaper. She ran a great race, but from the photo you would think she ran poorly. This was her final high school track meet, so why did you pick such a bad photo to end her career on? You owe us an apology.
-- Alan Williams, father of San Luis Obispo High School track star Tonie Williams

A. The photo in question was published on Page 8 of our Sunday sports section June 1. It shows Mr. Williams’ daughter, Tonie, just after she crossed the finish line in sixth place in the 400-meter event at the state meet. This particular race is one of the most difficult in track, pitting the best runners from throughout California.
Our photo shows Mr. Williams’ talented daughter in the heat of competition. Our managing editor, Tad Weber, notes that “pictures of athletes in the midst of their sport might not be any subject’s preferred pose, but we certainly aren’t trying to make anybody look bad. We're sorry this photo upset Mr. Williams.”
A quick review of other athletes’ photos that we published the same day – and that we published other days from other competitions – reminds me of what my 13-year-old daughter tells me of the pictures taken of her playing soccer: She hates most of them.
So why do we publish action pictures?
Because the intensity and emotion they convey make them compelling – plus the photos typically reflect the athletes’ determination and athleticism. Showing athletes during their events – just as we portray other people during news or feature events – also captures history in action.
In the case of Tonie, a freelance photographer who took pictures for us at the state meet sent us two pictures, says Sports Editor Ashley Conklin. Her eyes were closed in one image, so he used the other one.
To be sure, we photograph athletes in feature settings when we’re writing stories about their achievements. We did such a story on Tonie Williams in 2007 (see photo from then).
The question raised by Mr. Williams reminds me of a question posed by a Morro Bay High School football fan last fall: “Why do you publish photos of football players with their helmets on? You can’t see their faces.’’
Our answer to this fan was similar: We want to document the event, and at the same time, put our readers on the sidelines to help them experience it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

News vs. advertising

I received a call this morning from a man who owns a cattle ranch near Cayucos. On the ranch is a home he rents to tourists who want to experience the ranching life. Such agritourism is a new way for ranchers to make some extra money from their main asset, their land. This caller was hoping we might do a story on his home and the piece of country he offers city slickers.
We often get these kind of calls. Our local news editors, Executive Editor Sandy Duerr and myself are targeted by business people who either suggest that stories be written about their enterprises, or they offer to write special columns for our readers, usually in a specific field, like money management or medicine.
Journalistically, we cannot promote one business at the expense of not writing about others in the same field. Nor can we let one business person have a speciality column when that person's competitors would not be granted such a status. If we did allow such coverage, we would be promoting that business owner over others. Journalistically, that is unfair, and the information is suspect.
Advertising, by contrast, is all about marketing one business or specialist. Someone spends their own money to buy space in our pages for their promotion.
This is a basic concept, but it is interesting how often I get asked by readers why we cannot "do a write up" about a certain commercial enterprise. We can't because it would be the wrong thing to do.
_ Tad Weber

Monday, May 12, 2008

Who makes front-page decisions - and when

Q. In the movie about Watergate, editors hashed out what news they were going to run on the front page. Do you do that and if so, when? And how many people are involved in those meetings?
-- Gary Dove, Rotary Club of Los Osos

A. We meet at least twice a day on weekdays and once on weekends, barring major breaking news when we meet more often. The local news editor, managing editor, presentation editor, online news producer and I initially huddle around 10:30 a.m. to discuss the day’s top stories, what we envision going online and what the next day’s front page might look like. We also get an update on our online traffic and which stories are attracting the most interest on our Web site,
We meet more formally at 2:15 p.m. with representatives from each news desk (business, sports, features and wires too), as well as our copy editors and page designers – about 10 to 12 people. Most of our decisions about the front page are made at this time. But we typically make the last call around 6 p.m. after we’ve had a chance to review the top state, nation and world stories that are just beginning to move on our wire services. After this, we review the front page as it is being designed to make sure the stories and photos are displayed where we think they should be.
If major breaking news occurs after this, some – or all – of this planning gets thrown out -- and we start over, on deadline.

-- Sandy Duerr

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Go on and criticize us ...

Q. In January, you (Opinion Editor Stephanie Finucane) assured me that letters critical of The Tribune are not a reason for rejection. Am I to believe that a letter critical of the paper's editorial board is another matter?
-- Donald Hirt, Paso Robles

A. We have long published letters and viewpoints critical of our editorial positions. “While we do reserve the right to reject letters that contain personal attacks and/or unfounded allegations, we don’t reject letters on the basis of political ideology,’’ says Opinion Editor Stephanie Finucane. That said, letter writers should keep in mind that we have a larger than usual volume of letters right now, and that will likely continue to be the case through the November election. We’re delighted to have so many submissions, but it does mean that it may take longer than usual for a particular letter to appear.

-- Sandra Duerr

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Check out our "Photos from the Vault''

Q. “Photos from the Vault’’ is an amazing blog! I recommended it to my dad, who is an elementary school teacher in Atascadero and is very interested in local history.
-- Diana T.

A. We’re so glad you enjoy it. The Tribune’s articles and pictures “are the record of a community’s hopes, ambitions, successes and disasters,’’ says senior photographer David Middlecamp, who created the blog last November. He hopes it will “give people a stronger connection to their evolving community -- where it has been and where it is headed.”
So far the blog has proven quite popular. “It seems to be a gathering point for folks to share their memories,’’ Middlecamp says. “People can click on the photos to see a larger version and post comments on what they see and read.’’
In searching for photos in The Tribune’s archives, Middlecamp says he looks “for news, seasonal stories, trends, beginnings, endings, oddities or a pop culture moment. … It is not all cheerful nostalgia; there are cringe-worthy moments of dated coverage reflecting the bias of the times.” Many photos don’t make the cut, such as awards banquets.
Middlecamp tries to post three photos a week and enjoys the give-and-take among online readers. If you haven’t visited the blog yet, I encourage you to do so at Besides learning about some of our county’s history, you’ll gain insight into the major national news of the day and our own newsroom’s operation.

-- Sandy Duerr

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Reader calls some stories "tabloid journalism''

Q. I am livid about the nonsense articles that are being printed in The Tribune about (San Luis Obispo City Councilman) Allen Settle. To me this is tabloid journalism and not worthy of The Tribune. Allen Settle has worked tirelessly for the citizens of San Luis Obispo and our beautiful community for over 25 years. Why don’t you print an article about all his good works and not the crap you’re printing now?
-- Naoma Wright, San Luis Obispo

A. Councilman Settle has, indeed, worked hard on behalf of his constituents for many years. We have addressed Settle’s many contributions over the years on other occasions. But with all due respect to the councilman and to all city residents, the issue about whether his primary residence is within the city is very relevant. For his part, the councilman’s answers about where he truly lives – in the common-sense definition of residency – have been incomplete and legalistic.
The law requires him to live in the city, and most voters would take that to mean where you sleep, eat and entertain friends – not just an address from which you send mail and record on your income tax.
-- Sandra Duerr

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Reader upset over sexy photo we published

Q: That photo you ran of Toni Braxton on Page A2 Wednesday was extremely repulsive and lascivious. It is one of the worst photos I have ever seen in a family newspaper. I'm not a prude -- I am a healthy male. But that was beyond the pale.
-- Lee Agon, Paso Robles

To be sure, the image we published in our Espresso column on Wednesday of Braxton is eye-catching. The singer is shown in a performance at the NBA All-Star game in January. Here is a link:
The photo was chosen because that is what AP provided along with a story about a health problem forcing her to cancel a concert.
To be sure, we are in charge of everything we put into The Tribune. But we use our wire services, such as Associated Press, for coverage of people and events beyond our borders. This is especially true for celebrity news.
We try to be sensitive to the images we use. Celebrities today, however, are often dressed in provocative costumes, and that is what we are limited to choosing from.
_ Tad Weber

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Our coverage of Councilman Settle: tabloid journalism?

N. Wright left a message on my voice mail this morning upset about our coverage of SLO Councilman Allen Settle:

"I am livid about the nonsense articles that are being printed in The Tribune about Allen Settle. To me this is tabloid journalism and not worthy of The Tribune. Allen Settle has worked tirelessly for the citizens of San Luis Obispo and our beautiful community for over 25 years. Why don’t you print an article about all his good works and not the crap you’re printing now?"

I appreciate Wright's sentiments and others who might agree with her.
But I respectfully disagree that the subject matter – whether Councilman Settle’s home in SLO is his primary residence – is not relevant. It is relevant. Recent questions have been raised about the frequency of Settle’s stays at his hilltop home in rural Arroyo Grande, and one city resident plans to send a letter to the California attorney general to express his concerns. As an elected official for the city of SLO, Settle can best carry out his duties if he actually lives in the city he represents. Our news coverage has explored what the law says about residency, and our editorial has taken a stance on the matter. We have addressed Settle’s many contributions over the years on other occasions.

-- Sandra Duerr

Monday, April 7, 2008

Why we reported high school gun stories differently

Q. I am a student at Atascadero High School and I find it very unfortunate how two similar incidents occurred and how they were reported so differently. I’m talking of the incident of guns on high school campuses. … While the incident at SLO High was barely reported at all, and months after the fact, the incident at Paso Robles High School was exaggerated and over-reported. Why is San Luis Obispo immune to negative publicity while north of the grade gets more than its fair share? … I love living in San Luis Obispo County, but why is it so divided?
-- Cindi Weber, student, Atascadero High School

A. It would take a lot of time to try explaining the parochial and sometimes divisive nature of our county. But I can address the difference in our coverage of the two incidents cited. Briefly, we wrote more stories about the one in Paso Robles because of deeper parental concerns about safety overall at the high school.
For those who don’t recall, let me recap.
Rumors of a possible fight or other violence at Paso Robles High School prompted parents to pull their children out of classes on March 14, 2007 and officials to double the number of uniformed police officers on campus then to four. Fifteen percent, or 321 high school students, didn’t attend classes that day, and an additional 355 students were absent for at least one class period. That merited a front page story. While no incidents occurred that day, the strong parental concern over these rumors and fights and thefts at the school led officials to set up a meeting to discuss school safety. More than 300 people attended. We covered that prominently, as well as ongoing efforts to increase security at the school.
In San Luis Obispo, school officials and police were alerted by a tipster to the gun incident at SLO High School nearly two months after it occurred. Police investigated and determined that two students had a .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun on campus Jan. 18 in their backpacks and shot it at a target on undeveloped school district property next to the ball field at San Luis Coastal Adult School, which is next to the high school. The two students were arrested for allegedly bringing a gun to school; that investigation ultimately led police to arrest two other students suspected in multiple home burglaries. This news made our front page. As far as we have determined, there was no major parental outcry. The story ended there.
_ Sandra Duerr

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

How did we hear about the choking boy?

Q. How did you hear about the Nipomo school secretary who saved a choking 7-year-old boy?
-- Member, Rotary Club of Los Osos

A. Principal Paul Jarvis of Dana Elementary School called to tell us about the incident, according to Don Murphy, assistant city editor. Jarvis wanted to praise school employee Fella Gutierrez, whose quick action was credited for saving the life of the first-grader who was choking on a grape. We greatly appreciate such news tips. Please call local news editor Matt Lazier on our news hot line at 781-7928 — or e-mail Lazier at or

-- Sandy Duerr

Monday, March 31, 2008

Reader wants more online newsletters and puzzles

Q. I receive daily the online version of The Tribune. I have a couple of questions: First, why don’t I get the online version sent on the weekends? Second, when I am traveling I would like to access the daily Jumble word puzzle and crossword. I can’t seem to find them on your site. Can you direct me?
-- Marla DeMarco

A. We created our online newsletters for the weekdays, when more readers seek to access our stories online. We haven’t seen a similar demand for the weekends, plus there’s less breaking news then. That said, we do send out breaking news alerts on Saturdays and Sundays when warranted, just as we do during the week, according to Online Editor Sally Buffalo. Similarly, we haven’t seen reader demand for online Jumble or crossword puzzles, so we have not bought them. Thanks for your keen interest in The Tribune, however, and for your suggestions. We’ll keep them in mind as we continue to expand our news and features content on

-- Sandy Duerr

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Reader praises photo pages

Q. I just wanted to thank you for the beautiful photo page in Saturday's Tribune! Truly wonderful photographs within the theme, “Order to the Chaos.’’
-- Janice Peters, Morro Bay

A. You are most welcome. All the credit goes to Joe Tarica, our presentation editor who envisioned the concept, then selected and laid out the photos. “When we have enough room in The Tribune, pages like this are a nice treat to offer readers, providing a look at some of the unusual pictures that wouldn’t otherwise make it into the paper,’’ Tarica said. “When I was perusing the images from last week, a nice pattern (literally) developed. In addition to combining effectively under a common theme, each one tells a mini-story that can be appreciated essentially from the photo and caption alone.”
-- Sandy Duerr

Monday, March 17, 2008

Thanks for Tribune's series on poverty

Thank you for running the series on poverty in our county. It’s certainly something that needs to be shown to all of us.
-- Jesse Arnold

I wanted to write to commend your series about the struggles of those who live below the poverty level. Your words touch us all and your statistics are heartbreaking. … Every American deserves a chance for a roof and a toilet and some food. I know we can all work together to make it better for all, to simplify the system, to not make them invisible, to appreciate what potential they might have that could help our world as well.
-- Judie Najarian

Our thanks to you – and the others who contacted us – to let us know how much you appreciate our efforts to deepen readers’ understanding of our community. As Janice Fong Wolf, director of grants and programs for the SLO County Community Foundation, wrote us, “we all need to be aware of what is often an ‘invisible’ population.’’
_ Sandra Duerr

Friday, March 14, 2008

Identifying men arrested for alleged lewd acts in Atascadero park bathroom

Q. Why didn’t you print the names of the three men arrested at Atascadero Lake Park last week on suspicion of lewd acts?
-- Several readers

A. The three men were all suspected of misdemeanor crimes, and The Tribune generally does not report the names of those arrested who face misdemeanor charges. If we do, we’re obligated out of fairness to follow that person’s case through the courts and report the outcome, particularly if the person is found not guilty.
“The Tribune’s staff time is limited, though,” said Matt Lazier, our local news editor. “There are many more misdemeanor crimes than there are more severe felonies. So when we do cover a misdemeanor case, most of the time we do not name the person arrested.”
There are exceptions, however -- for instance, if a prominent local resident is accused of a misdemeanor. A good example is a case July 18, 2007, when the Sheriff’s Department arrested three men on suspicion of lewd acts after a sting near Pirate’s Cove nude beach.
The Tribune first reported the arrests July 20 without the names of the three men arrested. However, our staff learned that morning that one of the men arrested was Geronimo Enrique Cuevas, who was a priest at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Nipomo.
“Because of Cuevas’ standing in the community and the trust inherently placed in priests,” Lazier said, “we felt we needed to print his name.” Cuevas’ case is still making its way through San Luis Obispo County Superior Court. He has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of committing a lewd act in public, soliciting a lewd act in public and sexual battery.
We followed this same reasoning today in identifying one of the men, Larry Arnold Starling, because he works as the concessions manager at the Mid-State Fair. He holds one of the key jobs at the fair, which is one of the county's major events of the year.
_ Sandra Duerr

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Shocked by our editorial cartoons

A longtime subscriber said he couldn't understand why The Tribune published what he characterized as inflammatory editorial cartoons on our opinion pages Monday. Both focused on Michelle Obama -- giving two contrasting opinions.

Editorial cartoons have long been a staple in American politics because of their lacerating wit. We recognize that what is witty and provocative to some can be entirely disagreeable to others.
The cartoons we published Monday demonstrated that well.
We don't expect readers to like -- or agree with -- all of the cartoons we publish. We offer them as another form of commentary.

-- Sandy Duerr

Monday, February 25, 2008

Political candidates: Is our coverage fair? Yes

Q. It bugs me that you give Hillary Clinton so much coverage. Her picture appears in your coverage far more often than Barack Obama’s or any other candidate. This has been true throughout the political season. Why don’t you count it up and see if I’m right?
-- Ross M.

A. We strive to be fair to all candidates, keeping in mind the news unfolding as states have held their presidential primaries. Until you asked, however, we hadn’t conducted a count. But intrigued by your concern, I looked back at our coverage since Feb. 1 through this past Friday – 22 days.
Here’s how the photos stacked up on the Democratic side:
-- 22 photos of Hillary Clinton plus four photos of her supporters including husband Bill and daughter Chelsea.
-- 21 photos of Barack Obama and four of his supporters.

On the Republican side, there were 15 pictures of John McCain; six of Mike Huckabee and one of a Huckabee supporter; four pictures of Mitt Romney and one photo of Ron Paul.

This picture count includes small thumbnail-sized photos. In most cases photo sizes of candidates – both Democrats and Republicans – were identical in size. This is not by accident, as we have consciously worked to ensure balanced coverage.

I also counted political stories during this time frame. If you look at only those stories that focused on a specific candidate, here are the results: McCain, 7; Huckabee, 6; Obama, 6; Clinton, 5; Romney, 3. This count excludes stories that focused on issues, such as fundraising for Democratic candidates, or that offered roundups of a Republican primary or Democratic primary, for example.

It’s important to keep in mind that the Republican race was pretty much decided as of Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, while the Democratic race has been closely contested. In addition, it’s fair to say that the candidates’ gender and ethnicity makes the Democratic race historic in a way that the Republican contest was not.

-- Sandra Duerr

Monday, February 18, 2008

Reader upset we called it a "drag" race

Regarding "Car hits Md. street-race crowd; 8 killed, "2-17-08; the error, which is mentioned numerous times, is this isn't a drag race! The story is about a illegal street race and "drag race" should never have been mentioned. I've been involved in motorsports most of my life and we've worked hard in many cities to gets kids off the street, such as the ones who were involved in the illegal street race in Maryland.You do a great disservice to the community and those that actually help.When you have an erroneous story such as this where you help to destroy everything we do, it is simply and totally irresponsible to SPREAD this garbage. DO NOT call illegal street racing, drag racing. Drag racing is a LEGAL sport run at drag strips throughout the U.S. The fact is, drag racing is the largest organized motorsport in the world. PLEASE, do not continue to hurt our efforts to get kids off the street - WHICH YOU DID.
_ Daryle W. Hier, Paso Robles

In my reply to Mr. Hier, I explained that we ran a story on the incident supplied by one of our wire services; we did not originate the story, which was published in Sunday's edition. We are of course responsible for everything we put into our paper, but we do rely on wire services for coverage of news events outside of our county.
I told Mr. Hier that our readers grasped the difference between a drag, or illegal street race, and formal drag racing at a track. The picture and headlining with our story surely would have shown to the readers that this was something on a public roadway, thus illegal and dangerous, and not a professional race track. So, I do not believe we harmed the sport, nor do I feel our coverage was "garbage."
_ Tad Weber

Monday, January 28, 2008

Reader says we slighted Obama's win in SC

I am so disappointed once again with The Tribune's front page headline article choice in the wake of Barack Obama's historic win in South Carolina. Your editorial choices consistently support the status quo of idea of divisive pessimism ... We deserve better. While that article raises some valid points it is a second page story with Obama's trouncing 55 to 27 was the front page story!
_ Mary Cowitz

Ms. Cowitz: First, thanks for taking the time to write and share your opinion. Let me explain why we chose the story we did for Sunday's front page. In today's 24-hour news cycle, the first news -- i.e. who won the primary -- gets widely reported online and on cable news channels and becomes well known long before our paper arrives at your home. So our challenge is to find an analysis of those results. In that way, we give you something fresh as a reader. In this case, we ran the analysis done by Steven Thomma, a reporter widely regarded for his astute coverage of presidential campaigns. He works for our parent company's bureau in Washington, D.C. I am sorry you felt the story promoted a value of divisive pessimism. Our intention was nothing more than to find a fresh take on the results from South Carolina.
_ Tad Weber

Monday, January 14, 2008

Measuring rainfall is difficult here

Several readers wondered why our totals for rainfall seemed so off base last week after the major story. I've included a couple of their queries here, followed by my response. -- Sandy Duerr

Q. For some time I have been comparing my own rain gauge with your weather page’s “past precipitation." The two have rarely come close. But now I am thoroughly puzzled. Your front page printed that San Luis Obispo had 2.45 inches of rain over (last) weekend. Yet your weather page stated that we have had only 0.57 inches during "month to date." Who's right, who's wrong, or better, why the discrepancy? I think The Tribune is an excellent newspaper, and I hope I don't sound critical.
-- David Sumi, San Luis Obispo

Q. Having run a small weather station for the city of Los Angeles years ago and having my own weather equipment, I check to see how my "totals" match up with your publication. I am very confused by the total for my city, Nipomo. Before this latest round of storms, the total was 2.36 inches. You stated, as did other publications, that the storm total was 2.28 inches. That would make the Nipomo total for the season 4.64 inches. You showed only 3.25 inches. …
-- Richard Tibben

A. We too are puzzled at the discrepancies and are working with Weather Central Inc., which provides our weather information, to remedy the ongoing problem. Weather Central told us that it published the same data for the city of San Luis Obispo during the most recent storm as the National Weather Service. The data it publishes for the cities of Morro Bay, Paso Robles and Pismo Beach are also from official National Weather Service stations. It prefers using the NWS data because “their sensors are large, expensive, calibrated on a regular basis and located only after significant scientific study,’’ according to Pat Weeden, customer service manager, newspaper services, for Weather Central.
The remaining cities whose rain totals we provide in "Yesterday Around SLO County" are from volunteer, private weather observers. Weeden says that his company does its best to contact these individuals at regularly scheduled times, to follow up when they are not home and generally make certain that we publish the best data possible. Since the observers aren’t always available to take readings, however, the company “often has missing readings, which produces ever increasingly bad data sets for the running totals,’’ Weeden says. “ I honestly do not have an acceptable solution for these cities, short of installing electronic weather stations with Internet access in each city, a dedicated PC with backup power, then assigning a data quality control person on my staff to check the readings every few hours and re-calibrate the sensors twice a year. This would cost tens of thousands of dollars a year, and is unrealistic.”
In addition, our county has many micro-climates – meaning that there could be different amounts of rainfall within just one community.
Looking ahead, we are considering asking Weather Central to install an official NWS station at The Tribune (the others are at Cal Poly and the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport). We’ll keep you posted on that effort.
In the meantime, I hope this explanation helps you better understand the issues involved in providing you a complete and accurate weather report. Clearly, our system has inherent imperfections, for logical reasons. We’ll continue to do our best to resolve them, and we thank you for your understanding and patience as we do so.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Why we ran the Benazir Bhutto interview

I’m distressed by the article in Parade on Benazir Bhutto. In light of her assassination, that article seemed disrespectful. Why didn’t you print a disclaimer saying why it was running now?
-- Sharon Brown

Ms. Brown makes a point and asks a question that several other readers have raised with us. We did print an abridged editor's note on the front page in Sunday's paper that said Parade's lead story was an exclusive interview with Bhutto and was likely one of the last she granted before her assassination.
But we should have done a better job to explain that the issue of Parade had been printed and distributed to subscribing papers weeks in advance of Bhutto's untimely death. We also should have pointed out that, despite the murder, we believed the story to be relevant because of the answers that Bhutto gave to award-winning author Gail Sheehy, who conducted the interview. It was for that reason that we decided to include this edition of Parade in the Sunday paper.
_ Tad Weber