Community Columns

Modesto reflected by its mirror in a distorted and negative way

All cities have mirrors through which its residents can view themselves. One of our many local prominent mirrors is The Modesto Bee, which daily relates our local comings, goings and doings. Sometimes overlooked is the reality that others also use our local mirrors -- including TV reports and information found on the Internet.

And therein lies a problem.

My job is to recruit physicians to Modesto and the surrounding area. Despite some problems, we have been reasonably successful in doing so, attracting 20 to 30 a year. It's not always easy. My position requires me to look into a mirror of my own to learn what visiting candidates see. It's not always pretty.

First, a disclaimer: 44 years ago, when I had the choice of most anyplace to practice, my wife and I chose Modesto. And we have had no regrets. No need to recount the pleasantries of valley life. We all know the drill -- so close to San Francisco, Tahoe, Yosemite; great weather, affordable housing, etc. It is all wonderfully compressed in "10 minutes from nowhere and an hour from everywhere." Actually, with our new Gallo Center for the Arts, maybe 10 minutes from a lot -- and we sell this to the max.

But the fact remains, to many outsiders we do not live in paradise, nor are we the center of the universe. Those I have contacted often Google us before they decide to visit. They rarely say, "I just looked you up on the Internet, and I think we will pass on a visit." Usually, there's a brief delay, then a call that says, "I've talked it over with my wife and we're more interested in (anyplace else)."

Crime, poverty level, gangs, some school statistics, etc., are there for all to see -- and those statistics do not speak well of our city. Then there are the prominent, high-profile crimes that reverberate nationally, for which Modesto has become world-famous.

One only can hope their newsworthiness continues to diminish. Lost to the casual observer is the fact that the great majority of Modestans live safe, comfortable and relatively satisfactory lives in an ideal location.

In the past several weeks, five candidates have visited and, though specifics escape me, The Bee's headlines each morning of their interviews read something like "Murder in Turlock," "Modesto No. 1 in car theft again," "Shooting in Modesto," "Stanislaus receives poor health rating" and "Anger grows in murder case."

Didn't anything good happen those days? Didn't the almonds bloom somewhere in there?

Far be it from me to ask any journalist to deny reality, speak any untruth or in any way divert them from their journalistic duty. But I do have a couple of suggestions.

First, unless there are new developments, high-profile local crimes, having been fully reported and discussed, should be allowed to quietly fade away.

Second, on some slow-news evening, when editors are all gathered around searching for tomorrow's headline, and someone suggests,

"Can't we find a holdup or something?" could someone in the back row please ask, "Didn't we just do that yesterday?"

Allen, a semiretired Modesto physician, has served as a visiting editor on The Bee's editorial board. E-mail him at