Dec. 15, 2023

By Natalya Dreszer

Santa Cruz Local aims to understand Santa Cruz County in all of its complexity. We listen to residents’ needs and help people become informed and civically engaged.

Our vision is that when we are all watching and engaged in our local government, our needs are addressed, democracy works better and our community is stronger.

Santa Cruz Local provides critical information by: 

  • Creating bilingual in-depth, nonpartisan local election guides that explain how candidates stand on issues important to residents. The guides also detail ballot measures and how to participate in the election. 
  • Explaining big decisions in local government.
  • Outlining upcoming decisions in local government and how to get involved.
  • Providing audio news in Spanish centered on the needs of Pajaro Valley residents.

We are committed to earning your trust and producing local news that’s valuable to you. 

We recently conducted our third annual Santa Cruz Local impact survey. We shared the survey with our email newsletter readers and heard from 173 respondents from Dec. 4-12. 

Some of the big questions that we asked: 

  • Does our reporting help residents feel more informed and engaged with Santa Cruz County’s biggest issues?
  • How can we better earn residents’ trust?
  • How well are we meeting our mission of holding power to account?

This survey builds on our similar surveys in 2022 and 2021.

Civic engagement

Have you ever attended a city council meeting or other public meeting because of reading or listening to Santa Cruz Local?
45 of 169 respondents, or 26%, said yes.

Several respondents said they attended local government meetings because Santa Cruz Local’s Sunday newsletter had details of upcoming meeting agendas and ways to participate. One respondent said that Noticias Watsonville’s Spanish-language Whatsapp channel helped them join local meetings. 

Has a Santa Cruz Local news story ever inspired you to write to a local elected leader or other public official?
48 of 169 respondents, or 28%, said yes.

Many said that our reporting helped them feel more informed and motivated to speak or write to local leaders about local issues. Examples of issues included homelessness, housing, West Cliff Drive repairs and the railroad corridor.

“I was always sitting on the fence about going but never took the time to find out more (about) how to go about it, where to go and when the meetings are. Reading Santa Cruz Local made it so easy for me (especially with Zoom now) and knowing when the topics I am most interested in were on the agenda I was able to free my time up to attend.” —Ursula Lamberson 

“Coverage led me to look deeper and think more thoroughly about issues. I’m not reluctant to share my point of view with our electeds, appointeds and staff!” —Doug Engfer

“Detailed information about the city council meeting agenda, as well as the time and date information, right there in the newsletter, makes it easy to select the meeting that is most of interest to me and to make a plan to attend.” —Lena Dreszer

Has Santa Cruz Local’s reporting helped you understand what drives Santa Cruz County’s biggest issues?
152 of 169 respondents, or 90%, said yes. 

Many of you named issues that Santa Cruz Local helped you better understand:

  • Homelessness.
  • Housing development.
  • Transportation and “crumbling roads.”
  • West Cliff Drive repairs and plan.
  • Water.

Has Santa Cruz Local’s reporting helped you feel more equipped to make change in Santa Cruz County?
94 of 169 respondents, or 56%, said yes. 

Most respondents wrote that Santa Cruz Local helped them feel more informed and thus more equipped to engage.

Has Santa Cruz Local’s reporting inspired you to vote in a local election?
92 of 169 respondents, or 54%, said yes. 

Most said that they usually vote, and Santa Cruz Local’s election guides help them feel more informed and motivated to vote.

“It has inspired me to consider to become a U.S. citizen.” —Ursula Lamberson

“Your coverage of the issues in the last election was so clear and unbiased that our whole family rolled up our sleeves and understood every candidate and measure in detail before we voted.” —Al Ramadan

Has listening to or reading Santa Cruz Local’s reporting inspired you to participate in public service such as run for elected office or apply to serve on a local commission?
10 of 169 respondents, or 6%, said yes. 

One person wrote that he was inspired to join the Santa Cruz County Civil Grand Jury. A few people said they are already involved in public service and Santa Cruz Local helps them stay engaged.


What words and qualities would you use to describe Santa Cruz Local?

Words that were used more frequently to describe Santa Cruz Local appear larger in this word cloud. Our goal is for residents to describe our work along these themes: balance, honesty, depth, reader agency, professionalism, simplicity and relevance. 

How would your life be different if Santa Cruz Local suddenly didn’t exist
About 130 residents responded to this question. Most said they would feel “less informed” and less aware. Some said they would feel less connected. About 10 said their life would not be different. 

“I would know so much less about local politics and issues. You are the best current reporting on our local issues. Thank you.” —Lorna Grundeman

“I would be less informed, more anxious and less active. You are restoring my faith in civic engagement.” —Christy Chin

“I’d be feeling overwhelmed and at the effect of louder, more strident voices. Santa Cruz Local gives me hope for my community’s well-being. Disconnection is a real heartbreaker.” —Margaret McCulley Casper

“I would definitely feel like I had less of a sense of what was going on in the County, and that would be upsetting.” —Katayun Salehi

“I would miss the in-depth reporting I have come to trust.” —Janet Reed

“I would not be as well informed on major issues. I might feel more negative about my community, due to not understanding deeper issues.” —Laura Caldwell 

What are Santa Cruz Local’s blind spots as a newsroom?
We received about 60 responses to this question. We heard a desire for more:

  • Powerful images and visual journalism.
  • Coverage of communities outside the City of Santa Cruz.
  • Quantity of stories. 
  • Environmental coverage.
  • History and context in our stories.
  • Deep coverage of housing, for example, investigations on the high cost of rent.
  • Transparency about Santa Cruz Local’s business model and our “inner workings.”
  • Coverage of women’s issues.
  • Coverage of immigration issues.
  • Education reporting.
  • Focus on people, rather than issues.
  • Reporting on the power and influence (or lack thereof) of city council members, city department heads, developers and businesses.
  • Stories about drugs and needle exchange programs.

How much do you trust Santa Cruz Local reporting on a scale of 1 to 10? (1 means I don’t trust Santa Cruz Local reporting, 10 means Santa Cruz Local is a trusted news source.)
143 of 169 respondents, or 85%, scored Santa Cruz Local an 8, 9 or 10.

What can Santa Cruz Local do to better earn your trust? (We asked this of anyone who didn’t score us a “10” for a trusted news source.)
About 45 people responded.

Several said they were generally skeptical of all news sources. Some said we are a relatively new source and need to get better “established” with more resources and staffing. 

We heard a desire for more:

  • Context, including more space for residents to explain why they push against controversial issues.
  • Explanations on why we choose to cover certain stories.
  • Coverage of marginalized communities.

How well is Santa Cruz Local meeting its mission of holding power to account?
Most of the 109 readers who responded said Santa Cruz Local was doing “well” or “good.” Some said they didn’t know or it was tough to tell. Several said we did better than other local media outlets.

A few people wrote that we could improve by providing more analysis and a clear voice on the deep issues and problems of our community. 

One reader wrote that we need to “name names” and not compromise for the sake of maintaining community relationships. Another reader wrote that we should not only hold officials accountable, but the wider community too. 

A third reader wrote that we should hold county leaders accountable for the slow pace of CZU Fire recovery.

Next steps

We want to hear more from you! Does this report resonate with you? We are open to feedback, questions, and ideas. Contact us at [email protected].