By Miriam Raftery
December 28, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) – Thanks to technology, we can track exactly how many people click open each story on our site. This year’s results are surprising and bemusing, revealing a lot about our readers.
Some results were predictable; you showed strong interest in big energy projects and local politics. But we’re baffled as to how an article on a drum therapy class in El Cajon attracted 36,000 reads worldwide, or why a political sex scandal drew far more readers than coverage of the presidential election. We learned that our readers care about wildlife, hiking, and our environment. Many of you want to preserve social safety nets and civil liberties. Plus a whole lot of you wanted to find the best holiday party in East County!
Here are this year’s most read stories—and some lessons that we've learned:
(Note: We’ve excluded emergency alerts, traffic reports, weather stories, columns and community event previews--including our own “feasting and merry making” holiday party invitation, which had over 26,000 views!)
1. Sex scandal – Over 52,000 of you read our story on a hitchhiker who recanted accusations that she was kidnapped and raped by Lemon Grove resident and former Tea Party official Michael Kobulnicky. She fessed up to consensual sex, a story confirmed by Kobulnicky’s lawyer. Criminal charges were dropped. But what does having sex rough enough to convince police officers that an assault had occurred just days before his planned wedding say about Kobulnicky’s family values? DOUBTS CAST ON SAN DIEGO TEA PARTY SPOKESMAN FACING RAPE CHARGE
2. You’ve got rhythm – Our story on a drumming class in El Cajon uniting refugee women and others as a means of stress reduction got over 36,000 reads. We can only guess that links to this story likely got posted at other websites, driving traffic to this piece on a relatively obscure topic from far and wide. SHIFAA RHYTHMS: REFUGEE WOMEN FIND HEALING AND UNITY THROUGH DRUMMING IN EL CAJON
3. Courage counts – Our profile of California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ successful efforts to win a multi-state settlement against big banks on behalf of foreclosure victims drew readership nationwide. While other states’ AGs were willing to settle for a pittance, Harris walked out and refused to sign the deal—ultimately negotiating a ten-fold increase in the settlement and preserving her right to file criminal prosecutions against lenders. THE WOMAN WHO STOOD ALONE AGAINST THE “THIEVING BANKS”
4. Inconvenient truths about wind energy – Wind power has been pushed forward as a viable renewable energy form. But little press has been given to the dangers posed by turbines that collapse or throw off blades. Our rural readers seeking to learn more about wind projects proposed across our region have been avidly reading our investigations into wind energy, including this story on safety issues. THE DARK SIDE OF “GREEN”: WIND TURBINE ACCIDENTS, INJURIES AND FATALITIES RAISE SERIOUS SAFETY CONCERNS
5. A pesky problem: Our fifth most widely read story focused on residents of Jacumba and Escondido plagued by eye gnat infestations . Citizens banded together and lobbied Supervisors to declare the pests as disease-causing vectors and require organic farms to protect the public health. This is an example of hyper-local news coverage that our readers appreciate. SUPERVISORS SHOW SUPPORT FOR EYE GNAT ORDINANCE
6. Covert operations: A story on the supposed death of a local man who claimed to have been dispatched to Syria led to revelations that the death was likely a hoax. That investigation also led to intriguing information on U.S.special forces in Syria, drawing international readership. This story illustrates a point raised by the Society of Professional Journalism, which emphasizes the importance of “re-reporting” when new facts surface to reveal the truth. SOLDIER’S FACEBOOK POST RAISES QUESTIONS ABOUT U.S. SPECIAL FORCES IN SYRIA
7. Our readers support community news and alerts: We are heartened to see that the seventh most widely ready story this year advised readers that you can donate a portion of your normal purchases to East County Magazine by shopping and dining, as well as each time you surf the Internet. SHOP, DINE, & GOODSHOP/GOODDINING WILL DONATE TO EAST COUNTY MAGAZINE & VIEJAS WILDFIRE ALERTS
8. You’re informed voters: Our nonpartisan voter guide included coverage of local, state and national political races as well as ballot initiatives. Apparently our readers want to know more about candidates and issues, since our voter guide emerged as our eight most widely ready story of the year. EAST COUNTY MAGAZINE’S VOTER GUIDE
9. Arts project stirs controversy: An ECM editorial took to task an arts group that published a book purporting to show the “soul” of East County. The book had not a single image of East County’s mountains, deserts or rural areas, but did include photos of graffiti, a trailer park, and a used condom. Our contention that the work was lopsided drew the ire of some in the arts community, but also sparked strong words in our defense from East County readers offended by this “artistic” work. EDITORIAL: FAR EAST PROJECT PRESENTS SKEWED VIEW OF EAST COUNTY
10. School board candidates forum: This year, East County Magazine hosted our first candidates’ forum. We chose the Grossmont Union High School District board race, since with 12 high schools the district impacts many East County readers—and since the board majority was embroiled in controversy amid revelations of a grand jury investigation into possible misallocation of bond monies designated for an Alpine high school. Our coverage of the debate, including videos, was our tenth most widely read item. In a close race, incumbent Gary Woods lost his seat to challenger Jim Stieringer, who has pledged to support a high school for Alpine. ECM HOSTS CANDIDATES FORUM FOR GROSSMONT UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD TONIGHT and A LEARNING EXPERIENCE: CANDIDATES CLASS AT GUHSD FORUM
11. Eagles at risk: A biologist with Save the Eagles International warned of sharp declines in golden eagle populations due to birds killed by wind turbine blades. East County residents love our eagles, as we’ve consistently seen through the years with high readership on all stories regarding threats to these magnificent birds of prey. GOLDEN EAGLES FACE EXTINCTION IN U.S. AS NUMBERS PLUMMET, NEW STUDIES REVEAL We also had high readers on our story revealing that federal regulators have issued permits allowing killing of endangered eagles by wind farm developers—a fact that does not bode well for our region’s 47 nesting pairs of golden eagles given an onslaught of wind projects proposed. FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO ISSUE “TAKE” PERMITS FOR EAGLE KILLS BY WIND ENERGY COMPANIES
12. Threats to bighorn sheep: When the federal government delisted an Ocotillo wind energy site as critical bighorn sheep habitat, our photographers shot pictures of endangered sheep on the site and sent photos to the Secretary of the Interior. But instead of saving them, he issued take permits allowing lambs and ewes to be killed, shocking our readers locally and nationally. SILENCE OF THE LAMBS: U.S. GOVERNMENT AUTHORIZES KILLING OF ENDANGERED BIGHORNS IN PATH OF WIND PROJECT
13. Fighting human trafficking: Among our top stories was a piece focused on local efforts to stop human trafficking in our communities. You not only read our story, but also helped pass a statewide ballot initiative to strengthen penalties for criminals engaged in human trafficking. STOLEN INNOCENCE: HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN SAN DIEGO COUNTY
14. Flaws in fast-tracking of big energy projects: Ocotillo is a proverbial canary in the coal mine, as one of the first industrial-scale energy projects approved on public lands under a new federal fast-tracking process. Our report revealed the difficulty for citizens to combat such projects, no matter how compelling the arguments are against them. BROKEN PROMISES: OCOTILLO WIND PROJECT WINS APPROVAL DESPITE OUTCRY FROM TRIBES, RESIDENTS AND ENVIRONMENTALISTS
15. Native Americans’ anguish: Why did President Obama fail to answer letters from local tribal leaders who pleaded with him to save sacred sites? Our editorial staff believes it’s important to include critical coverage of all political parties and leaders when they fail to listen to the people they are supposed to represent. WIND STORM : TRIBES IMPLORE PRESIDENT OBAMA TO STOP OCOTILLO EXPRESS WIND PROJECT, SAVE CULTURAL RESOURCE SITES
16. Food + cowboys proved an irresistible combination: Announcement of a new restaurant featuring a celebrity chef offering cowboy cuisine with some upscale twists proved popular with our readers. GINGHAM RESTAURANT TO OPEN IN LA MESA: TV "TOP CHEF" FINALIST TO COOK UP FARE IN "URBAN COWBOY DINER"
17. Seeking social justice: Thousands of you read our profile of a local woman fighting to free a young teen victim of gang rape and human trafficking who was convicted of murdering her pimp. SARA'S STORY: EAST COUNTY ACTIVIST LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN TO FREE SARA KRUZAN
18. Health hazards: Stories on health issues impacting East County consistently draw many readers. Topping that list this year is a story on negative health impacts of infrasound produced by wind turbines. SURVEY FINDS HIGH RATE OF WIND TURBINE SYNDROME FROM NEWER TURBINE MODELS
19. Threats to Social Security and Medicare: Nearly 4,500 readers opened our story on local workers rallying to ask Congress to protect these programs for retirees. WORKERS RALLY TO PROTECT THE SAFETY NET FOR RETIREES
20. Wind health impacts covered up by industry: Our investigation found the wind industry providing deceptive data to mask health impacts so serious that some residents are fleeing their homes and at least one community has sought emergency aid to relocate those who are suffering. With similar projects built or planned locally, this story provides important information for residents and local decision-makers. WIND SPIN: BLOWING HOLES IN INDUSTRY’S DENIAL OF HEALTH IMPACTS
21. Internet outage sparks national attention: Who would have thought that a local theft could take down Internet service across America? We drew readership nationwide with this breaking news story. BROADBANDS GO DOWN ACROSS NATION DUE TO CABLE THEFT IN ALPINE
22. Tea Party and Occupy members find common ground: Libertarians and liberals, along with some conservative Republicans, joined together to stand up for civil liberties, staging a protest against a local Congressman over his vote to restrict our constitutional rights. CONSERVATIVE AND LIBERAL GROUPS CALL FOR REP.HUNTER’s RESIGNATION OVER “INDEFINITE DETENTION OF CITIZENS” VOTE
23. Debate ducking and dodging: Congressman Duncan Hunter refused to debate his Democratic opponent for the general election and dodged all debates with his primary opponents, save for one in a conservative-friendly Tea Party sponsored venue. Frustrated opponents staged a debate against an empty chair symbolizing the Congressman’s absence. His debate ducking didn't hurt his campaign, however, since Rep. Hunter won reelection handily. 4 CANDIDATES—AND AN EMPTY CHAIR—TAKE STAGE AT 50TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT DEBATE IN RAMONA
24. Loss of your public lands: Our award-winning photojournalism coverage examining the cumulative impacts of wildfires, wind farms, Sunrise Powerlink and other factors restricting public enjoyment of public lands in East County was among our most widely read stories in 2012. THIS LAND WAS YOUR LAND: EAST COUNTY SUFFERS LOSS OF OUR PUBLIC PROPERTIES
25. Shopping for home décor: Our most widely read new business announcement this year, after a restaurant opening, was this story on a new place to shop for items for your homes. HOMEGOODS OPENING NEW STORE IN EL CAJON ON MAY 20
26. Travel tips for Mexico: The most-read feature in our new Weekend Getaways section was this guide to the attractions in Baja California. WHAT IS BAJA? DISCOVERING ATTRACTIONS SOUTH OF THE BORDER
27. State Parks whistleblower: Readers statewide read our interview with a former Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Superintendent who alleged a cover-up to suppress negative impacts from a wind farm proposed on adjacent federal land. WIND STORM: WHISTLEBLOWER ALLEGES GAG ORDER KEPT STATE PARK EMPLOYEES FROM REVEALING HARM
28. Property values at risk: Rural residents found cause for concern when a major study revealed massive losses in home values near wind farms, as ECM reported. PROPERTY VALUE LOSSES NEAR WIND TURBINES GREATER THAN PREVIOUSLY THOUGHT, APPRAISERS SAY
29. Winds of change: Ignoring a room packed with concerned citizens raising serious concerns, planners in Imperial Valley voted to surround homes in Ocotillo with 500-foot-tall wind turbines on previously protected federal lands. Though just over our county line, this project has vast regional impacts. WIND STORM: PLANNERS APPROVE OCOTILLO WIND, IGNORE SERIOUS HEALTH AND SAFETY ISSUES, ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS, COMMUNITY AND TRIBAL CONCERNS
30. How many big energy projects are too many for one small rural town? This was the question posed in our story on Jacumba, where multiple large wind and solar “farms” covering thousands of acres are proposed. JACUMBA: A TOWN SURROUNDED
31 . Fuels from heaven vs. hell: Heartland Foundation hosted a “Forging a Sustainable Future” conference at San Diego State University through its United Green Division, with speakers addressing multiple sides of energy issues. Robert F. Kennedy Junior gave an impassioned speech about the horrific impacts of coal-mining on communities in Appalachia, presenting his arguments in favor of wind and desert solar alternatives. KENNEDY CALLS FOR SHIFT FROM “FUEL FROM HELL” TO “PATRIOTIC FUELS FROM HEAVEN” AT FORGING A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE CONFERENCE
32. County wind ordinance: Our readers are closely watching controversies over a proposed County wind ordinance that would open wide backcountry areas for industrial wind turbines. County planners voiced concerns in, but later recommended approval of a modified ordinance that Supervisors are expected to take up in January. Several stories on this were among our most widely read, topped by this one: COUNTY PLANNERS DEAL BLOW TO WIND INDUSTRY
33. Competition for SDG&E: ECM was the first media outlet to publish mayoral candidate Bob Filner’s vision for offering San Diegans an alternative to San Diego Gas & Electric Company—an energy cooperative purchasing power from rooftop solar. That’s music to the ears of many East County residents angered over SDG&E’s treatment of fire victims and ratepayers, as well as those who opposed Sunrise Powerlink and other large-scale energy projects. TAKING SAN DIEGO OFF-GRID: FILNER SHARES PLANS FOR REGIONAL ENERGY INDEPENDENCE AND ULTIMATELY, UTILITY SERVICE OWNED BY THE PEOPLE
34. Remembering those we lost: Posted just days ago, our story memorializing those who died in 2012 is already among our most read stories of the year. PASSAGES: FINAL FAREWELLS BID TO THESE EAST COUNTY RESIDENTS IN 2012
35. Hoping for a rescue: Our readers closely followed the intensive search for a hiker missing in the mud caves at Anza-Borrego. Sadly, this story ended in tragedy, when the family hired a private detective who found the missing man wedged in a crevasse very near where he was last seen. SEARCH ON FOR LOST HIKER MISSING SINCE SUNDAY AT CAVES IN ANZA-BORREGO
36. Pain product recall: Many of you clicked to read a story about warnings issued by Mexican authorities and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration over dangers posed by a supplement marketing for arthritis pain and other conditions. FDA ISSUES ALERT ON REUMOFAN PLUS
37. Global news on climate change: ECM is committed to bringing you news on this important issue based on the latest scientific consensus, not hype from political pundits or those paid by oil companies. This important story on an issue impacting our entire planet made our top 50 list. WORLD METEOROLOGICAL ORGANIZATION CONFIRMS CLIMATE CHANGE ACCELERATED IN PAST 10 YEARS; 2011 WAS 11TH WARMEST ON RECORD
38. Wildfire warnings: Our live coverage of wildfires is among our most popular features. Many fire stories had extensive reads, topped by this story on the Shockey Fire that devastated the Tierra del Sol community in Boulevard: SHOCKEY FIRE TOPS 1,000 ACRES: FOUR HOMES BURNED
39. Nuclear fallout: A nuclear meltdown at San Onofre could trigger a 50-mile evacuation zone similar to Fukushima, Japan—a range that would include much of East County. Stories on safety issues at the troubled San Onofre nuclear facility drew many reads, led by this disturbing story: SABOTAGE SUSPECTED AT SAN ONOFRE NUCLEAR POWER PLANT
40. Sharing tribal grief: Our readers felt the pain suffered by Native Americans from across our region, who gathered in the desert to mourn the loss of sacred sites where their ancestors’ cremated remains have lain buried, undisturbed for thousands of years until a wind energy project devastated the area. EIGHT TRIBAL NATIONS MOURN LOSSES AT OCOTILLO WIND SITE
41. Hot politics in Lakeside: What happens when a popular fire chief runs for the fire board that gave him the axe? Our readers’ inquiring minds were eager to learn more. CANDIDATES' VALUES CLASH IN LAKESIDE FIRE DISTRICT RACE
42. Hello kitty: Many of you clicked open to read more about mountain lions sighted near schools or other public places, including this widely read piece on a rare sighting in a Santee residential area: MOUNTAIN LION SPOTTED IN SANTEE NEIGHBORHOOD
43 . Desert solar controversy: Our readers are eager to soak up news on solar energy, and while nearly all seem to support rooftop solar, many have serious concerns about environmental impacts of large-scale desert solar. ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS FILE FORMAL PROTESTS OVER FEDERAL PLAN TO EXPEDITE DESERT SOLAR PROJECTS IN 6 WESTERN STATES
44. A disturbing “Pattern”: Readers locally and nationally voiced surprise to learn that a wind developer active in our regions has its roots in the oil and banking industries, with founders and leaders mired in controversies and scandals, including fines paid for defrauding public pensions following a criminal investigation in New York: WHO IS PATTERN ENERGY?
45. El Cajon Council race: Our coverage of candidates vying for seats on the El Cajon City Council drew broad readership. We expected to see the most reads on stories profiling winners and front-runners. But in fact, our most widely read story on this race focused on a newcomer from the Chaldean community, Christopher Shamoon: EL CAJON COUNCIL CANDIDATE CHRIS SHAMOON WANTS TO MAKE JOBS, EDUCATION AND HEALTHY COMMUNITIES HIS PRIORITIES
46. Bogus bird claims: The wind industry has pushed through projects with claims that new avian radar can reduce bird kills at wind farms. There’s just one problem: not a shred of evidence has been provided to demonstrate that these systems actually work, as an ECM investigation revealed. USING RADAR TO CONTROL WIND TURBINES AND REDUCE BIRD KILLS: DOES IT WORK?
47. Governor vows to “crush” opposition: Our coverage of Governor Brown’s visit to East County for Sunrise Powerlink’s completion drew national attention, as well as outrage over his vow to “crush” those opposed to large-scale renewable power projects. His statement offended many local residents, including those protesting outside. We had broad readership of our story as well as our editorial taking the Governor to task: SDG&E CELEBRATES OPENING OF SUBSTATION NEAR ALPINE AND COMPLETION OF SUNRISE POWERLINK ; and EDITORIAL: THE PEOPLE OUR GOVERNOR WANTS TO CRUSH.
48. Drunk driving arrests: Our readers avidly lapped up information on both planned checkpoints as well as arrests made for driving under the influence, topped by this story: DUI CHECKPOINT ON JAMACHA YIELDS 5 ARRESTS AND 8 CITIATIONS
49. Farm-fresh foods: Stories on where to buy fresh produce, farming and the growing urban agriculture trend all attracted many readers, particularly our guide to where you can find community supported agriculture (CSA) farms that can deliver harvest-fresh foods directly to your homes: FARM-FRESH FOODS DELIVERED STRAIGHT TO YOU
50. Councilwoman convicted: El Cajon Councilwoman Jillian Hanson-Cox’s arrest and admission to embezzling millions of dollars from an employer shocked those who knew her. The scandal grew amid revelations that she not only spent purloined funds on celebrities for the Mother Goose Parade, but also on a lavish personal lifestyle and trips for city employees. Here are several of our top-read stories on this issue: EL CAJON COUNCIL MEMBER JILLIAN HANSON-COX RESIGNS AMID FEDERAL PROBE; and FORMER EL CAJON COUNCIL MEMBER JILLIAN HANSON-COX PLEADS GUILTY TO FEDERAL CHARGES; and HANSON-COX USED EMBEZZLED FUNDS FOR CAMPAIGN EXPENSES, LAVISH TRIPS FOR CITY EMPLOYEES
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Many other stories also received thousands of reads, including some important topics:
72. AN ILL-WIND BLOWS IN OCOTILLO: HANGING THE TOWN OUT TO DRY (editorial by Desert Protective Council’s Terry Weiner)
145. PROP 32, YES OR NO?