A little payback

Responding to the editor of the local daily’s prodding

I can just picture David Little in his corner office of the Enterprise-Record, sitting under the fluorescent lights in the windowless warehouse his company sold last year to squeeze every penny out of its shriveling news operations, thinking to himself, “Gotcha, Melissa! Payback's a bitch.”

You know, because I called him Doug LaMalfa's fanboy in this space. I worked for Little for four years at the E-R, and he didn't take kindly to that characterization. He even unfriended me on Facebook for it.

In case you missed Little's most recent column, he took me to task (not by name) for printing a letter to the editor that may have been penned by someone under a pseudonym. Little went into great detail about how his thorough vetting of a string of letters led him to that conclusion. See, he'd received it, too, but had the good sense not to print it.

Little has a point. In hindsight, the letter he's referring to is sketchy. It came in during CN&R's recent switchover to a new email address, and though I do keep watch for letters with questionable origins, I erred on the side of its being valid. I'm looking into its authenticity, thanks to Little's prodding, along with that of a few others I printed that week.

I'm just surprised the E-R's editor named this newspaper in his column. He actually wrote “Chico News & Review.” Furthermore, he mentioned the name of this paper's former editor, Robert Speer. That's amazing, too, considering his aversion to doing so in recent years, like when he didn't assign anyone at the paper of record to write a single word about Speer, a 30-plus-year veteran of the local media landscape, on the occasion of his retirement in 2013.

Anyhow, the letters in question were in response to Speer's recent guest commentary on the health risks associated with portable buildings used at local schools. Speer didn't just make this stuff up, mind you. He referred to a study by the California Air Resources Board showing that most portable classrooms have levels of formaldehyde in excess of California's chronic-exposure limits. Speer pointed out that a retired teacher who worked for decades in a Chico Unified School District portable was battling bronchial cancer, and that several others who had worked in portables in Chico schools have cancer, too.

Little dismissed the issue as a “phantom” one, saying his education reporter hadn't heard anything about it. That may be because the E-R's newsroom has been gutted—down by at least seven positions since I bailed in 2007. Then again, the circulation has plummeted, too, from what I recall was around 30,000 in my day, to about 11,000, as of the first quarter of 2015.

Speaking of when I worked at the daily, Little used to say that he didn't bite back at the CN&R when its editors poked him because the E-R was the “big guy” in town. I always thought that odd considering the CN&R has long outcirculated the daily. Now that Little's paper is, well, really little, I guess he's changed his tune.