Whatever your opinion is of Orange County’s grand jury, you’ve got to hand it to the panel for its recent headlines:

“Financing the Great Park: Now You See it, Now You Don’t”

“Lobbying: The Shadow Government”

“A Short Ride on The Bus: OCTA’s Mission Imperiled” (Check out Tracy Wood’s post on this report.)

These are a far cry from some of the past snoozers, such as: “Problems With The OCTA Mobile Communications System” and “Reversing Juvenile Recidivism.”

I had the occasion this week to talk with John Cole, a member of the most recent grand jury, and gained some fascinating insights about the dynamics of the panel as well as a sense of where the headlines came from.

“One of our members was a retired newspaper editor, so some of those ideas may have come from him,” Cole said.

The group’s collective psychology might have also had something to do with it. Cole said last year’s grand jury was stacked with “type A personalities” — a strong-headed group that included a former hospital administrator, a former city recreation director and an education professor.

“Some of it was just the fact that it was the personalities we had,” Cole said. “The headlines came from a very creative group with a great sense of humor.”

So, I asked, were the headlines written to grab a little more media attention?

Cole said no one in the group made it an explicit goal, but he acknowledged it was probably the unconscious motivation. These reports, after all, were important to the public good, and the grand jury wanted people to read them, he said.

“We were always looking to figure out ways for the public to pay attention,” Cole said. But, he added, “it’s not about look at me — I can assure you that”

Cole also said the final headlines were actually tame compared with the headline ideas the group’s members were tossing around. There was no way the group could have used any of them, Cole joked, “without going to jail.”

“We came up with some hilarious headlines and oh — there were some dandies,” Cole said. “There were some real dandies.”


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