More and more, the Salem Statesman Journal is becoming a caricature of a genuine community newspaper.
Journalistic integrity and competence is sinking day by day, while frothy, shallow content expands in our local Gannett Corporation USA Today clone.
Today's irritation is the deleting of all of the comments on Sunday's opinion piece by Dick Hughes, "Public Project Genetics: Failure Starts at Birth."
I'm pretty sure there were five comments on the piece when I went to bed last night. This morning they were all gone, replaced by two new ones.
One deleted comment was Susann Kaltwasser's, which was critical of how Salem's Mayor, City Manager, and other public officials ignore public input (she didn't mention them by name, or even title, but I know Susann and what bothers her).
Another was a comment I left after Susann posted hers.
I focused on the hypocrisy of the Statesman Journal calling for more early-on citizen involvement in major infrastructure projects, when the newspaper has done a very crappy job of informing Salemians about what's going on with planning for a new vastly overpriced police facility and billion dollar unneeded Third Bridge.
Three others, I recall, also were along the same lines. The last comment left on the opinion piece was especially well-written, detailed, passionate, and persuasive. I can't recall the woman's name who left it.
Trusting that the Statesman Journal wouldn't delete cogent comments on an opinion piece, especially one that called for more citizen involvement in, and discussion of, civic affairs, I failed to copy the comments yesterday.
I should have, because I planned to share them in a blog post today. Instead, I'm mostly reducing to writing about how the Statesman Journal deleted reader comments critical of Third Bridge and police facility planning by local officials.
Both of these projects have been endorsed by the Statesman Journal editorial board, which basically is Dick Hughes. Yes, the same guy who wrote the opinion piece and is notoriously sensitive to reader comments critical of him.
Either the comments were intentionally deleted, or the increasingly-evident cluelessness of Statesman Journal staff is responsible for an "accidental" deletion. (The number of typos in the newspaper keeps on increasing. I guess no one proofreads stories anymore.)
Below are the comments Susann and I left, which were captured and posted by Salem Community Vision. Hopefully I'll be able to find a copy of the comment left by the woman whose name I can't remember.
(You're gray-haired, small'ish, and I believe sat at at the table with me at the evening Third Bridge funding workshop a while ago.)
[Update: Ah, the woman was Bobbie Cade. She was able to resurrect her deleted comment and repost it today. I'll share it below, after the comments from Susann and I that also were deleted.]
[Even more of an update: Someone sent me a copy of all five comments. So now they all have been resurrected below.]
Comment by Susann Kaltwasser:
Dick, your observations about why projects fail are so dead on target. Not just for the river crossings, but for so many other projects that need to be done. What has become of the leaders that we have that they do not understand this most basic fact? You want support, it has to come from hard work at the grassroots level. You do not call long-time community leaders into your office and say, my-way-or-the-highway, and expect to win hearts and minds.
Consensus building is not getting all your cronies to chime in on your tired old tunes. It is working with day-to-day people at their level, listening and taking their ideas to heart. We have people sitting in the seats of power who could be changing people's lives for the good, if they could only open up their minds to the truth that they alone have all the answers. The public is not stupid. They see. They hear. They know when it is worth their while to support what is right. Our leaders need to learn this truth. Until they do, well....so it goes....
Comment by me, Brian Hines:
Dick Hughes, tell me this:
As the Statesman Journal editorial page editor, did you meet with opponents of the Third Bridge ( NO 3rd Bridge) before editorializing in favor of this billion dollar project?
Has the Statesman Journal done any indepth analytic reporting on this project, comparing the claims of proponents with facts (traffic projections, cost of alternatives such as improving the current bridges) brought out by No 3rd Bridge?
Did your newspaper send a reporter to the most recent, and arguably most important, meeting of the Salem River Crossing Oversight Team, where decisions about paying for this billion dollar boondoggle were postponed to some indefinite future, while the Team pressed ahead regardless?
Though this is obvious, I'll also ask whether the Statesman Journal informed citizens about the Oversight Team meeting that the paper didn't write a story about?
So isn't the Statesman Journal a big part of the problem you are complaining about? If citizens aren't involved in Salem's biggest public works project, aren't you and other newspaper executives a major reason for this?"
Comment by Bobbie Cade:
Mr. Hughes, you are right:
The public should have been involved from the bridge’s inception. We should have been listened to rather than the Salem River Crossing team trying to persuade us.
Projects succeed when the public buys into them, which only happens when people believe they have been heard. We opponents are not as small a group as you think - ask Mr. Simmons of CH2M Hill, and while I’m not an engineer either, some of us are educated and know of what we speak.
Why has the public not been polled about the possible methods of paying for the bridge? Is it because raising funds through property taxes and DMV registration fees is a non-starter because those two sources must be voted on by people who will rarely or never use the bridge?
The truth is, Salem doesn’t need a third traffic bridge across the Willamette River – some want it, but it’s not needed. You must be aware of recent national studies showing vehicular use is down, and studies confirm that is true of our existing bridges.
And, many in the younger generations ‘get it’, CO2 and Methane must be decreased. They bike, walk and take public transportation. And they have the added benefit of it being less of an impact on their budgets, and healthier when they bike and walk.
It is especially important to all of us to eliminate causes/contributors to Climate Change, as well as to pay attention to the timing of such events as earthquakes. Oregon and Washington sit on/near earthquake plates, one of which is the Cascadia Plate. Scientists as well as environmental engineers at Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) tell us the next big one is due, and it is expected to be very big – possibly a 9.5.
We have wonderful technology now, that can forecast this earthquake, and yet, I was told that it would be cost prohibitive to build the new bridge to withstand a 9.5 earthquake, so it will collapse in the next big earthquake along with the existing bridges.
By the way, I was told that the railroad bridge will collapse too, because as strong as it is, it is not built to withstand a 9.5. That was to be the ‘road’ that was used for emergency vehicles in the event the other bridges collapsed. The prediction includes that the big one will happen in our lifetime. Why would anyone consider a project that is expected to fail? And why consider building this particular bridge in this particular location – an earthquake liquefaction zone?
Other questions, Mr. Hughes, that come to mind:
Why is there no discussion about the new construction at Wallace and Glen Creek which has not alleviated the real problem? Traffic is still tied up on most feeder streets, verifying the real problem is feeder street and ramp congestion, not the bridges. I have to ask you, Mr. Hughes, how it is you think Salem’s Marion and Center street bridges would not be good candidates to rebuild/retrofit?
Why are we not using our limited resources on improving the ramps to and from the existing bridges, or on adding a lane to each existing bridge while retrofitting them to withstand the earthquake?
Why didn’t our elected leaders get together with CEO’s of downtown government agencies and impress upon them the importance of mandatory shifts in work hours?
Why don’t we hear discussion about making one lane on each bridge go in the opposite direction during rush hour, as Seattle does?
Why are the SRC team members not on the same page, as of the last meeting several days ago, about whether it’s to be a local or regional bridge?
Why do some want to by-pass Salem, bringing hardship to small businesses? Frankly, downtown businesses may benefit from those who pass through it, stopping at a store to pick up something – I know I’ve done that many times.
Why not toll cars which use the bridge now? Is it because there is evidence that bridge traffic will decrease so significantly that a third bridge cannot be sold as necessary? Or is it that the cost to a family in West Salem would be upwards of $3000 a year, an extreme cost burden, which would be likely to bring about a decrease in West Salem property values?
Why don’t we discuss the drop in gasoline prices? Is it because we know it is temporary? We know that newer cars get better mileage, so raising gasoline taxes would not generate the anticipated funds as the better mileage will bring drivers to the pumps less often.
Why is there no discussion of adding more buses? Why is there very little discussion on light rail?
Why tempt fate? The chosen location for the bridge demands it is a longer, and therefore more costly, bridge than would be needed if built elsewhere, just because the location is in an earthquake liquefaction zone.
Did you know we’ll have to limit or stop the amount of meat we eat, because raising meat is the biggest contributor of Methane to the atmosphere, to cut down CO2 and Methane emissions? Changing our lifestyles could be the best thing that comes out of a thorough, thoughtful discussion on the third bridge.
By the way, not all members of the SRC team are bridge experts, so those particular members don’t know all the questions to ask of the experts on their team. I mention this in case you didn’t know – not as criticism of those on the team who are not bridge experts. I’d not expect them all to be. I do expect all of them to do more than just listen to us – I expect them to hear us.
Comment by No 3rd Bridge:
"For a project to ultimately succeed, the various elements of the public must be involved from the inception. The public must be listened to, rather than the experts trying to “educate” — i.e., persuade — the public."
You are absolutely right. The Salem River Crossing project formed a "stakeholder" task force in 2006. They met for six years with expensive consultants and at their last meeting could not reach a consensus on building a 3rd Bridge. Most of the ordinary citizens and neighborhood representatives on the task force voted for "no build."
That should have been the end of the Salem River Crossing project. But no. Special interests like the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, the home builders and the realtors would not let the project die, and with it their ability to cash in. They twisted the arms of the elected officials whom they bankroll to keep the project going.
That was in 2012. Now it's almost 2015 and the same forces are at work behind the scenes to force this zombie of a project to continue at a cost of millions of discretionary transportation dollars that could be used to build useful transportation infrastructure, not to fund stacks of paper that are destined to collect dust on a shelf.
When is the Statesman Journal going to launch an in-depth investigative report to expose the folly of the Salem River Crossing project and the terrible waste of tax dollars?
Comment by Lee Moore:
The traffic congestion in vicinity of the bridges, here in Salem, is not the bridges themselves, but traffic patterns after crossing the bridge. lf it were the bridges, then traffic would flow freely after crossing the river. There are several strategies how to alleviate this, but these are not being considered.
Several other areas in town are just as congested, such as Center/17th St vicinity, Lancaster Dr, & south Commercial St. There is no outcry to alleviate it in these areas. Why is that?
As far as "Columbia River Crossing" project, if State of Washington will not partner on it, then it should remain off the table.
[Update: after emailing the digital editor at the Statesman Journal, Dann Miller, with a complaint about the missing comments, I got this response. Which made no sense to me. My reply follows.]
Brian, I wanted to let you know that we have not deleted any comments from this item on StatesmanJournal.com. This does not mean that the author of the comment didn’t go back in and delete it. We cannot control this and would have no record if that is the case.
As I am sure you know, when a comment is deleted by a site, it still shows when the Moderator View is turned on. I went back into that story, looked at the comments using Moderator View and there no deleted comments attached to that story.
I appreciate you reaching out for clarification regarding what you thought occurred. However, evidence shows that no one on our staff deleted any comments associated with this editorial.
Dann, that can’t be true. I didn’t delete my comment. I’m quite sure Susann didn’t either. How likely is it that all five of the people who left critical comments would choose to delete their comments? They were there late last night; they were gone this morning. Geez, give me a break. I’m not so gullible as to believe your explanation.
My comment can be seen on my Facebook feed. It was posted there after being successfully published on your web site. Then it disappeared from your web site. I didn’t delete it. So fire up your brain and give me a plausible explanation.