Why it’s tougher for California press to inform the public

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La April 6, 2023
Presented by American Property Casualty Insurance Association, Dairy Cares, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership and New California Coalition

Why it’s tougher for California press to inform the public

In response to the COVID pandemic, many workplaces shifted from in-person to virtual communications, including state government offices. But as the impact of COVID-19 continues to wane, CalMatters’ politics reporter Alexei Koseff found that officials and their media offices in some ways remain just as inaccessible to the press.

  • Ashley Zavala, president of the Capitol Correspondents Association of California and KCRA correspondent: “The pandemic did cause some bad behavior. It let some of these agencies and some of these offices get lackadaisical in how they handled the media.”

Before the pandemic, reporters could attend live press conferences and call media phone lines managed by live staffers, making it easy to ask follow-up or clarifying questions quickly. 

Now, however, media offices send out written statements, and sometimes require reporters to send their questions via email. Requests to interview policymakers and subject matter experts are often shot down, and agency employees are discouraged from speaking to the press without permission. 

But one communications employee argues that complex questions take time and answering them requires many layers of coordination and approval.

  • Peter Melton, a public information officer with the Department of Industrial Relations: “We can’t just answer quickly to meet a deadline. It does nobody any favors if we provide information that is incorrect.”

The more cumbersome process forces reporters to extend or miss deadlines, or add a comment after publication. Even worse, it can prevent the media from informing the public of all the relevant details. 

Alexei talked to several journalists who say they ran into repeated roadblocks in their stories. They include Julie Watts of television station CBS Sacramento, who spent two years investigating health and safety failures at a state-funded COVID-19 testing lab, and Anna Maria Barry-Jester, who covered rising syphilis rates and the coronavirus vaccine rollout for the nonprofit Kaiser Health News.

While politicians can reach out directly to Californians through social media, there are fewer reporters covering the state Capitol who can scrutinize and interrogate official messages. And now that the process of accessing public officials and sharing information has grown more complicated, the distance between the government and the people it serves can grow even wider.

  • David Loy, legal director of the nonprofit First Amendment Coalition: “These message control practices do real harm to the public interest. Because the people need to know the full story, not just the official story.”

California’s water crisis, explained: Despite the atmospheric rivers and devastating floods, the state isn’t flush with water. CalMatters has a detailed look at how California might increase its water supply, and a dashboard tracking the state’s water situation.

Now we have a version of the water explainer especially made for libraries and community groups, as part of the CalMatters for Learning initiative, which already has segments on state government and wage theft. And you can submit questions in English, or Spanish.


1 Newsom wraps up ‘democracy’ road trip

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to students from New College of Florida about his recent week-long trip across the South, during Newsom's stop on Wednesday at the Betty J. Johnson North Sarasota Public Library in Sarasota. Photo by Mike Lang, Reuters
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to students from the New College of Florida at the Betty J. Johnson North Sarasota Public Library in Sarasota, Fla. on April 5, 2023. Photo by Mike Lang, Reuters

On Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom visited students and community members at a public library near the New College of Florida in Sarasota, Fla., signaling the end of his five-day tour firing up like-minded officials and organizations in southern red states.

“I’m crawling out of my skin for you,” Newsom said at the event, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “I want you to know you’re not alone. You matter.”

The school attracted national attention earlier this year, when Newsom’s conservative foil, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, replaced many of the college’s board members, in a public effort to transform the liberal arts college into a conservative Christian school. 

The fact that Florida bookended Newsom’s tour is deliberate. On Saturday he attended a Democratic Governors Association event in the state before heading off to Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama. To circle back to DeSantis’ backyard sends a pointed message that Newsom’s “Campaign for Democracy” aims to push back against the Florida governor and unofficial challenger to former President Donald Trump for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024. (Newsom’s prediction: “Trump’s going to thump him, DeSantis has no chance.”)

Newsom, who says he has no plans yet to run for president himself, announced this cross-country campaign (and newly established political action committee) on Thursday to oppose Republican politicians deemed “authoritarian threats.”

Not surprisingly, the Republican governors of the states Newsom visited voiced their own objection to his policies.

  • Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, in a comment to Magnolia Tribune: “I am glad to welcome Governor Newsom to our state. I disagree strongly with his extreme COVID lockdowns, his insistence on letting boys play girl sports, his advocacy for abortion all the way up until birth, his enthusiasm for gun control and his love of high income taxes, among other things.”
  • Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, in a comment to Yellowhammer News: “Governor Newsom certainly won’t be the first to flee California for Alabama — hope he enjoys his stay!”

2 Is a four-day work week possible?

Employees at Pinterest work at their desks in San Francisco on Nov. 13, 2014. Photo by Jeff Chiu, AP Photo
Employees at Pinterest work at their desks in San Francisco on Nov. 13, 2014. Photo by Jeff Chiu, AP Photo

Today could have been our “Friday,” but alas, it’s not and most of us still have to work.

While the idea of a four-day week — and a three-day weekend, every week — seems like everyone’s utopian ideal, the issue is pretty contentious, as CalMatters’ economic reporter Grace Gedye explains.

Still, a couple California lawmakers, with vastly different approaches, have proposed bills that would put a four-day week on the table for more workers.

One bill, from Cupertino Democratic Assemblymember Evan Low, aims to establish a pilot program that would provide grants to companies that want to try a 32-hour work week without cutting pay and report their findings to the state. It’s a shift from the bill he introduced in March 2022. It would have mandated the policy for large companies, but was opposed by employer groups and quickly died.

Another bill would allow workers to request alternate 40-hour work weeks (four 10-hour days, say). Introduced by state Sen. Roger Niello, a Republican from Sacramento, business groups like the idea because, they say, it is a simpler way of offering alternative schedules. But labor unions say it “would erode the fundamental right to an eight-hour day.”

Grace found that even the research doesn’t always agree on whether a shortened week would be beneficial.

Some trials of a four-day workweek reported positive results. Productivity levels remained the same or even improved at the majority of workplaces in an Iceland trial. In a recent U.K. trial, employees reported a better work-life balance and — most importantly for companies — revenue remained steady on average.

But it isn’t for everybody. One company reported that the schedule made work days more intense, leaving workers exhausted. Another ended its experiment when employee satisfaction went down. In response, it gave workers an extra day off per month instead.

3 Rural hospitals struggle to stay open

The main entrance of Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital in Hollister on March 30, 2023. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local
The main entrance of Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital in Hollister on March 30, 2023. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

Some hospitals, especially rural hospitals serving low-income populations or Medi-Cal patients, could be on the brink of collapse. And as CalMatters’ health reporter Ana B. Ibarra explains, the December 2022 closure of Madera Community Hospital may just be the beginning.

How bad is it? Of the hospitals going public about their financial struggles:

Ana reports that to save hospitals from shutting down or slashing services, state lawmakers have several pieces of legislation in the works:

With California’s estimated $22.5 billion to $25 billion budget deficit looming, the California Hospital Association is asking for $1.5 billion. Health economists agree that while the aid should be targeted, hospitals nevertheless need the cash.

  • Chris Whaley, a health economist with the RAND Corp. think tank: “When businesses go out of business, even if it is no fault of their own, we accept that as part of capitalism, but in health care, if a hospital goes out of business that usually means a vulnerable patient population has lost access to care.”

CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Jim Newton: Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass and Gov. Gavin Newsom agree that clearing encampments is key, but making homelessness invisible fails to solve the root problems.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

Biden EPA announces $391 million to improve CA drinking water // McClatchy

Do Democrats care if a candidate is progressive? Hints from CA U.S. Senate race // Politico 

Far-right county throws out voting machines with nothing to replace them // The Guardian

Mass shootings leave California, U.S. mayors on edge // Politico

S.F. tech community outraged over exec Bob Lee’s stabbing death // San Francisco Chronicle

Hidden expulsions? Schools kick students out via transfers // Hechinger Report

California schools face ‘deep trouble’ as flooding danger looms // EdSource

Will CA help thousands of foster youth struggling with housing? Capital & Main

California parole chief resigns to lead LA’s juvenile halls // The Sacramento Bee

Lawsuits target ‘extortionate’ phone calls in California jails // Los Angeles Times

Newsom wants additional film tax credits to keep production local // LAist

Inside Black San Francisco’s struggle over the soul of the Fillmore // The San Francisco Standard

L.A. Board of Supervisors pulls motion to decrease jail population // Los Angeles Times

How did San Jose police union not know of alleged drug smuggling? // San Jose Spotlight

See you tomorrow


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