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MACHO MADNESS Shining The Light
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I've written a number of articles since starting my career here at the paper that some have thought have been somewhat critical of the local city government. Issues involving Oakdale's Museum Commission have attracted Letters to the Editor, and other subjects, among them the recent article I co-wrote with another reporter about the suspension of an Oakdale police sergeant, seem to have struck a nerve with some in the community.

Other articles I have written about this subject since then have done nothing to quell the issue; in fact, the city and the sergeant are both in court, awaiting the resolution of the sergeant's lawsuit against the city.

While I enjoy reporting all the positive news that that is generated by the city's actions, I - and my editor - feel it is important to provide the citizens of Oakdale with all the information I learn from the city. While it might not all be puppies and sunshine, it is actually the news that some may construe as negative that is actually considered important to many readers.

Especially news that impacts the city's finances. Like many small communities including Riverbank and Escalon, Oakdale has a city council and an active watchdog community that is fiscally conservative; they want to know where their taxes are going. In Oakdale, they are particularly concerned about city funds that are spent to settle lawsuits.

I spoke with a friend of mine not long ago who used to supervise the investigative unit I was in when I was a police detective. My friend, Cliff -actually, he was more of a mentor - retired a couple of years before I did, and went to work for a United Nations project in Bosnia training their national police force; quite an adventure, as he describes it.

We were discussing the old days, as friends often do, and we laughed about the paradox of my becoming a reporter. I brought up a specific journalist who worked for one of the local daily newspapers in the city where we used to be cops, and mentioned how he always seemed to know what steps we were taking in an investigation. He constantly, in our viewpoint, would impede our investigation by second guessing us. He would learn details of cases we were trying to keep quiet. He would re-interview people we had spoken with, and identify suspects before we were ready to obtain a warrant. He had built a web of contacts and informants that rivaled ours, and was basically a thorn in our side.

I mentioned how we used to curse his name, and pointed out the irony that he was someone I was now trying to emulate.

"We hated that guy," I reminded him.

I told Cliff, half joking, it was hard to look at myself in the mirror sometimes.

My friend laughed.

"He was trying to look in the places we were trying to keep dark," Cliff said.

He told me of some of his experiences in Bosnia, which he said was rife with official corruption. He told me of the importance of a free press in those fledgling democracies, how important individual reporters were in providing oversight on government officials.

"They were shining the light in the dark places, Craig. The places the government wanted to keep dark."

He told me how one particular reporter was so effective, he was set on fire.

Obviously, these problems do not exist in our area. And I certainly don't expect to be set on fire.

But talking with Cliff reinforced the guidance given to me by my editor about what it is we do here, even at a community newspaper.

I attend city council meetings, various commission meetings, and any other public forum the city is required by law to hold. And I keep my ear to the ground, listening for any controversy or debate amongst city personnel that could affect public finances in the form of a lawsuit or similar settlement.

And I'll report what I learn, warts and all.

I'll also report the good news; in fact, when I first started working for the paper, I think everyone - including myself - became a little confused with my role.

As a new reporter, learning my job as I went along, the good news was easy to locate. It was usually information the city was eager to share, and by diligently reporting it, I became, by default, just another cog of the city's public relations arm.

I was, in effect, their press officer.

But as I adapted to the learning curve of a journalist, I realized the city was not the employer signing my paychecks.

Don't get me wrong; having worked for city government for over 20 years in my prior career, I have no doubt Oakdale is a well-run city with a dedicated and efficient set of managers and elected officials.

And they have been nothing but cooperative, for the most part, with requests from the local press.

But my job, and responsibility, is to gather information for the people who read this newspaper.

Fortunately, I'm finding the same skill set necessary for a police detective is also essential for a reporter; interviewing people, following leads, developing informants; it's actually pretty remarkable, some of the similarities of the trade.

And if I uncover information that my editor and general manager agrees is newsworthy, I'll pursue it, regardless of the entity generating the information.

Or, as Cliff so timely reminded me, I'll shine the light...

Craig Macho is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at or by calling 847-3021.