Opinion Columns & Blogs

From the Editor: Listening to Modesto is essential to how we cover it

Gilbert Machado, a homeless Modesto man, participated in The Modesto Bee’s community listening session in May. He is a frequent reader of The Bee.
Gilbert Machado, a homeless Modesto man, participated in The Modesto Bee’s community listening session in May. He is a frequent reader of The Bee. The Modesto Bee

In my previous position here running modbee.com, The Bee’s digital side, I generally was the first filter on a lot of comments as well as off-hour phone calls. Anything outside my purview, especially as they related to reporters or news decisions, I’d send to a higher authority.

Now, I am that authority. My new role as editor has offered me more meaningful opportunities to listen to those who care about the work we do, work we believe is essential to the community.

Some comments stand out more than others, and it was one a month ago that made me especially proud of the work we do.

Reporter Garth Stapley spent months investigating and reporting on two former youth pastors in town who were accused of sexual improprieties with teenage girls and women. They were separate incidents, involving separate pastors, that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s.

“Thank you for your pursuit of this sexual predator,” a reader wrote. “My daughter and others have come forward and forced his Arizona churches to follow your lead. This man preyed on our teens in his care. Your reporting will help many of them face those early traumas and put them in perspective, now they know they were not alone. … Thank you and keep tackling such hard and painful stories.”

This message, and others like it, is a reminder of the importance of local journalism and the impact it can have on a community and its residents.

If we can shed light on the latest activities at Tenth Street Place – the downtown government building where decisions are made about how to spend your city and county tax dollars – or tell our readers about that siren they heard, or touch your hearts with great storytelling, then we’ve, in part, succeeded.

But we can always do it better. To do this consistently and in more meaningful ways, we need to know more about you, our residents and readers.

On Thursday, June 7, from 1-3 p.m., a few editors and reporters will be at Deva Cafe at 1202 J St. in downtown Modesto to listen to you. We want to hear about your life and what you find most important as a resident of Modesto and Stanislaus County.

It will be the continuation of a listening tour that began last month.

Two weeks ago, a handful of Bee editors and reporters – along with fellows from the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford – canvassed Modesto. We asked people to tell us about their family, how long they’ve lived here, their likes – and dislikes – about Modesto and what really moves them about the city and region they call home.

Among those I interviewed were two twentysomethings.

One was a soccer referee with a degree from a local business college. He loved the area, was tightly connected to his community of friends and saw a real future here. He hoped one day to start his own business – and he was pretty sure he could do it in Stanislaus County.

Another had recently graduated from UC Merced with an engineering degree. He loved growing up in Hughson, found the diversity of our community a benefit and hoped one day Stanislaus County would be home to more tech companies so he wouldn’t have to leave the area to find work. Now, he’s applying for tech jobs in the Bay Area and Southern California because there are so few here.

We spoke to a retired teacher who fears the area is becoming too expensive for her children. We heard from a single dad whose biggest hope is for his 16-year-old son to be a success. We also listened to a clean-cut homeless man trying to turn his life around.

All had their own stories, their own hopes and their own concerns. The listening exercise yielded some insight and a few common threads into the residents who make up this community.

I love feedback – positive or negative – from readers and residents about The Bee’s digital and print journalism. It’s wonderful to hear what our reporters and editors are doing right and important to hear what we’re doing wrong.

Most critical, though, is discovering what issues are important in your lives. If we understand these, we can form the questions that will deliver answers most important to you. The only way to learn is to listen.

So, we’d love for you to stop by on June 7 at Deva for coffee and cookies so we can learn more about you. After all, the best stories, our best reporting, come from listening and learning from you.

We hope to see you there.

Brian Clark is editor of The Modesto Bee and www.modbee.com. Reach him at bclark@modbee.com or 209 578-2362.