Hard Hitting Support for Local News

November 8, 2023

Astgik Khatchatryan | Orange Coast Magazine

Manuel N. Gómez is producer and cofounder of the nonprofit multimedia company behind “OC World,” the only public affairs broadcast based in Orange County.

If you’ve tuned into local PBS affiliate station KLCS on Monday evenings, you’ve likely come across “OC World.” The program, which began airing in late 2021, is the brainchild of Scott Hays, known for producing “Inside OC” with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Rick Reiff, and Manuel N. Gómez, who served as vice chancellor of student affairs at UC Irvine from 1995 to 2010.

“I worked in higher education for 40 years,” Gómez says. “After I retired, I was cruising along being free, and along comes Scott Hays with this idea in 2019.” Hays wanted to develop a new, innovative public affairs TV program. The pair established a nonprofit organization and received funding from friends and colleagues.

“What motivated me was the fact that Orange County may be the biggest news desert in the nation,” Gómez says. “We have 3 million people here, and we’re the sixth

largest county in the nation. But in terms of our media landscape, we live in the shadow of the massive media market in Los Angeles. People don’t realize the value of local news and how it binds communities together until it’s not there. Corporate media and social media are often about what sells better, and it’s very polarizing.”

Gómez’s hope for “OC World” was that it would share compelling stories and provide viewers with news on critical issues they should be informed about, allowing them to learn more about their communities and make better-informed decisions. Although the 2020 pandemic closures delayed production, the team pivoted to creating three 30-minute documentaries that year: on California’s vanishing beaches, the impact of COVID-19 on California farmworkers, and Alzheimer’s disease. All three ended up winning awards from various local institutions.

Since the program’s official launch in 2021, it has regularly reached 15.5 million viewers on KLCS and hundreds of thousands of viewers across its social media channels. “OC World” has covered local angles on topics ranging from police brutality and domestic violence to abortion legislation and the O.C. Power Authority. “I want our programs to be able to strengthen the bonds of community rather than to divide and weaken them as so much of our polarized corporate news tends to do. We have a mantra that we respect all of our guests, and at the same time we have to be responsible to our viewers.”

“I’m not a journalist, but through 40 years as an educator, I’ve had a fierce commitment to the First Amendment and our democracy. And that’s my motivation, to try to continue to provide the highest level of journalism that we can for Orange County viewers. One of the things we do is that we go really in depth. We don’t do one-minute interviews. Our program is half an hour long. So we do deep dives. We allow individuals to tell their side of the story while still questioning them. The regular local newspapers are being gobbled up. We think that this nonprofit local model may be the way forward.”

“If we’re unable to get the truth, the facts, shared widely, then we really are in a difficult moment in our democracy.”

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