Grading the Media

press_sf_carolann_500x375Last week marked an interesting time for me.  I missed my first Beach Report Card press conference in 19 years to complete a leadership fellowship with the Aspen Institute. As the 20th approached, I felt a combination of anxiety and anticipation. I wanted to be at the press conference in Santa Monica, but I couldn’t be in two places at once.  I also wanted to see how well Heal the Bay staff would do without me serving as the lead spokesperson on California’s beach water quality issues.

The end result?

Heal the Bay staff came through in the clutch.  Again. The press conference was well attended and staff dealt masterfully with a wide variety of coordination and policy issues.  My anxiety was for naught.

The media provided excellent statewide coverage on the press conference, but unfortunately, focused on the Beach Bummer list more than the other major stories.  We included an annual Honor Roll list for those 67 beaches that never exceeded state recreational water contact standards.

We added the honor roll to bring attention to the fact that the vast majority of beaches in California have excellent water quality during dry weather. Some 67 of these beaches had extraordinary water quality.  The coverage of the honor roll seemed spotty at best.  Even our attempts to praise the city of Santa Monica for its rapid completion of the Pier stormdrain and diversion project got lost in many of the L.A. press stories, which focused on ongoing problems. Good news often gets lost in a story that includes significant bad news elements.

Heal the Bay also focused on the devastating effects of the state budget debacle.  We already were upset that state funding for beach monitoring had been cut and San Diego County. We also pointed out that Ventura County greatly reduced its monitoring efforts.  Last week’s election results further confounded efforts to get the state to pay for routine beach monitoring quickly through existing bond funds or maybe even through a tiny fraction of federal water quality infrastructure stimulus dollars.

Not a very enticing story, so the media coverage on this aspect of the Beach Report Card was pretty light.  Meanwhile, millions flocked to the beach this Memorial Day weekend to launch the start of the summer, yet a monitoring solution still isn’t in place.

Despite all of the devastating cuts to health care and education that California may face in the near future, beach monitoring is not a luxury that we can afford to lose.  The cost of the program is very small (the state provides less than a million dollars a year for the program), yet the impact is enormous.

The monitoring results protect public health and provide millions of surfers and swimmers with the peace of mind that a day at the beach won’t make them sick.  This is a small investment in California’s $43 billion coastal tourism economy at a time when we need it most.

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