You Want To Know What’s Happening? Ask Mike
when sirens are blazing or there’s a huge backup on a local road, I immediately become overwhelmed with concern. I want to know what happened. Did someone I care about get hurt? Maybe as a result of being a parent, the adrenaline kicks in and makes me need to know what’s happening so that I can be prepared to protect, should there be a threat of danger. Historically, it’s been the “johnny-on-the-spot” reporter that would deliver the news of current events as they unfolded. To learn about what’s occurring, you could tune in to your local television or radio station or read about it the next day in the paper. However, recently, our relationship with news has been changed. After too much rhetoric on the elections, racial tensions, COVID-19, etc., the public has started to see holes in all forms of media. The term fake news is common now; yet the public still needs to stay informed. We are curious creatures, we still want to know the who, what, where, and why. In our local area, the quickest way to learn any of that is simply by going to eastcountytoday.net.
Eastcountytoday.net was started in 2012 by Mike Burkholder. Mike grew up in Fremont but moved to Brentwood in 2010 because of its affordability, and he had family in the area. He tried to endure his commute to San Ramon but became tired of it quickly. In 2012, there was a rash of fires happening in the area. He always wondered why he wasn’t hearing about them through the local news channels. Seeing a need for public reporting that was timely and available, he launched his website and Facebook page. He tuned into the scanners available at the time and would start to show up to cover the incidents. After developing a rapport with the firefighters, the local police agencies wanted their incidents shared too. Soon, Mike was working full time engaging first responders, gathering photos, and educating residents on important and sometimes tragic occurrences that were impacting lives across East Contra Costa County. Says Mike, “I guess there was no way around becoming involved with politics. There was so much crime happening in Antioch during that time, the former police chief Allan Cantando asked if I would use my forum to shine a light on their struggles due to understaffing. Due to the City Council voting for budget cuts, the total of officers serving the city was insufficient. He wanted me to share the truth with the public, not push an agenda. There were other situations though, that got me riled up. Looking back, I think I became a little too vocal. I have learned from that. During that time though, whenever sirens were blazing, everyone became accustomed to going to eastcountytoday.net to learn why.”
“Historically, it’s been the “johnny-on-the-spot” reporter that would deliver the news of current events as they unfolded.”
In 2015, Antioch and Brentwood decided to turn off the scanners. There’s a media access line, but Mike had to adjust and utilize the fostered relationships he’s maintained throughout the years to gain information as it’s happening. His phone is always going off. The steady stream of activity in the area has him hopping throughout the community. Says Mike, “My whole intent is to keep the public informed. I put the information out there and let them decide what to do with it. Because I have a public open forum on the Facebook page, sometimes the comments cross the line. I don’t know what else I can do to limit controversial comments. I can’t control 74K other people’s thoughts, nor do I want to. We are all supposed to be adults. It’s disturbing when readers associate public opinions with my own. Everyone can make up their minds regarding the comments—accept them, dispute them, or disagree, that’s their right. But don’t pin the multitude of different viewpoints on me as if they are mine and I agree with them, because I might not.”
Mike admits there have been some hard lessons learned along the way. He has endured many death threats and been called every name in the book. Even worse, his livelihood was threatened during the heat of the elections. A group aimed their anger toward Mike and called for the public to boycott him and all his advertisers, as well as anyone who supported his web presence. Mike shares, “What felt like the worst thing that could happen to me, actually turned into the best thing that could have occurred. I make no excuses for supporting first responders, but some disagree with that stance. I had to endure being called a racist. I had to watch all the advertisers on my page became targets for some very nasty comments. It taught me a lot. I had to reconvene and examine if I was doing the right thing. I came out of it more confident than ever, that I was a method for change. If I can spark debate and bring attention to important issues, then I am serving my community. I lost one of my biggest advertisers but gained even more because they noticed my plight and didn’t like what I had been subjected to.
My advertisers also gained more support for their businesses. That very negative time turned into a positive, as our community became aligned and supportive in righting an injustice. The cancel-culture approach backfired.”
In 2021, Mike started his podcast with co-host, Ken Turnage. The show titled as the acronym for Wednesday -Thursday - Friday (WTF California), started as a joke. Things had gotten so extreme; the show was a way to air opinions on everything from hot topics like crime and politics to sports and entertainment. It is news interlaced with opinion. The hosts are religious about linking to every article they reference. The talk show format is a constructive way to get their frustrations out and vent a little, and Mike is having fun with it. The positive feedback he’s gathered helps keep things light throughout his sometimes challenging days.
eastcountytoday in #Antioch... @antiochpdca & @contracostacountyfire on scene of a 2 alarma fire at @plannedparenthood #police #firefighters
“SOON, MIKE WAS WORKING FULL TIME ENGAGING FIRST RESPONDERS, GATHERING PHOTOS, AND EDUCATING RESIDENTS ON IMPORTANT AND SOMETIMES TRAGIC OCCURRENCES THAT WERE IMPACTING LIVES ACROSS EAST CONTRA COSTA COUNTY.”
After all his soul searching, Mike now treads just a little more softly. He puts a lot of thought into how negative connotations might affect others. All comments on the website are now under his control as they must first be approved before published. He believes it makes for a better experience. He still battles internally with too much censorship. It’s a fine line. What is clearer to him daily, is that more time needs to be dedicated to highlighting the good in the community. Giving shout-outs to local businesses and their owners is top of mind for Mike as he goes into his tenth year in business. He intends to keep them in the game and strong as they struggle through any tough times, as he is sure there are better days on the horizon.
Mike shares, “You know, I didn’t get a paycheck for the first nine months of being in business. Black Bear Diner and Lumpy’s were my first advertisers. I’m a one-man operation, but this is my only form of income. Starting the new ECT club membership has allowed me to cover the expenses necessary to keep this thing going. It’s geared toward the folks who want the current information as it’s happening, but no comments. It’s all breaking news. Right now, I have 74K followers on Facebook and 25K on Instagram. There are only 200 in the club, but I plan on capping it at about 3K to keep it manageable.”
Now a firm believer in “do your own thing and you will get the support you need to succeed,” Mike is keeping his fingers crossed that news stays accessible to the people. He is convinced that the masses need information from all sides and all sources so that they may draw well-rounded conclusions. The only thing stopping him is the possibility of a tighter flow of information from authorities. As of this moment, Mike feels fortunate to still have his phone buzzing with tips throughout the day. The desire to share and inform our community is the force that keeps this local real-world journalist humming. If you want to know what’s happening in East County at any given moment, just ask Mike. There’s a good chance you’ll run into him in Downtown Brentwood on any given day. Or for immediate results, go to his website: eastcountytoday.net.
Photos By German Siu