Archive for July 2016
The Springwater Corridor is a public space that until earlier this year, was a walking and bike path most of the residents who know the area enjoyed. But after Portland Mayor Charlie Hales declared a housing emergency last year, and relaxed the city’s restriction on homeless camping this year, the corridor has become a pop-up community of the homeless. For months, residents of the camps and the nearby homes have been trying to find a way to live together. But tensions have risen and the city is promising to remove all homeless people from the camp in the wake of complaints by homeowners of theft and trash by and from its residents.
That was the context with which I watched an excellent report tonight on a “community meeting” by KOIN 6’s Jennifer Dowling. Earlier, members of a group called the Portland Tenants Union were meeting with the homeless and some homeowners trying to broker a dialing down of the tensions. Meanwhile, some of the homeless have defiantly said that when the city comes through on August 1st, they will refuse to leave the corridor.
Although several residents of both communities spoke with Ms. Dowling, a PTU representative asked that KOIN not come close to the meeting to videotape it because, he said, those participating deserved to be able to speak honestly without them and their comments being broadcast to the world. Ms. Dowling asked if his group was doing to the media what the community/city sought to do to the homeless; essentially exclude them from a public space.
What fascinated me was that Ms. Dowling and her crew seemed to not videotape the meeting and, in fact, did keep a distance of what looked like about 100 feet. Normally, the press claims the right to be wherever it wants to be in a public space. This PTU representative had no legal authority to restrict the movements of KOIN. That Ms. Dowling chose not to tape the meeting was at least as interesting to me as the circumstances which brought about the meeting itself. It has made me wonder how often the media self-imposes restrictions for any number of reasons, including a sense of ethics, fair play, privacy, practicality, logistics, etc.
To be clear, these types of decisions are made by reporters, producers, news crews, sound people and videographers all the time. But this the first time I’ve noticed it taking place on tape. Is there something going on within news organizations or academic journals examining a different relationship with the public? Does this represent a change in how news interacts with communities?
Or was this just a freebie?
UPDATE: Just learned that the city is moving it’s sweep back to September 1st. I’ll be there then.
UPDATE: On August 2, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales repealed the urban camping edict he had issued earlier in the year which was the trigger for much of the conflict over the Springwater Corridor and other areas where the homeless set up living spaces. The city said it will provide 72 hours notice to any such camp to give its residents time to leave before they are in violation of the law. Portland Police Bureau spokesperson Officer Pete Simpson said enforcing that change will be a “low priority” because there are just too many locations to police.
As I listened to the Friday News Roundtable, which is hosted every week by OPB, one of the panelists said how “disappointed” they were that Republican nominee Donald Trump did not pick a more explosive and contentious vice-presidential running mate.
I thought to myself, “So, to be clear, you are disappointed that a potentially destructive candidate did not pick a more equally destructive running mate because that will make for a more boring story for you to report.”
This is another one of the long list of problems I believe permeate the news biz.
I loved the mid 2000’s TV show “Scrubs” because of its biting commentary on medicine, hospitals, doctors and culture. One episode I remember was an argument between long time staff nurse Laverne and Chief of Interns, Perry Cox. Laverne was asking about the tendency of surgeons to always choose exploratory surgery over other options and Cox said, “When was the last time you ever met a cutter who didn’t want to cut? Laverne! You have been here 40 years now, have you ever heard such a thing?”
Likewise, news people apparently don’t prefer a news story that is interesting but without the poisonous consequences over one filled with prurient and insane interest that also results in horrible consequences. Part of the reason, I think, is because the more messy, complex, bigoted, disgusting story is guaranteed to have plenty of news babies; each of which can then be teased out ad nauseum and in gruesome detail.
They might say they don’t choose the stories they must report, and I expect that’s right. One problem with the media is it is a competition. Whoever can claim to be the fastest to report is seen as the best, the “news authority”. That brings ad dollars. And the worse, the better. But there are a list of other “reasons” that I’m sure would be a counterpoint to each of the four points in the code of ethics for the Society of Professional Journalists.
But here’s the bigger problem. Societies run by demagogues or plagued by fanned fires don’t suffer free media for long. And I harken back to a Saturday Night Live bit for some support. When Sarah Palin had appeared on the October 22, 2008 airing of SNL, with her Tina Fey doppelganger, there was a segment with Ms. Palin seated comfortably in an easy chair facing and talking to the camera directly. And she essentially said that once she and John McCain become president, there would be some changes in how a TV show like Saturday Night Live could parody cultural figures.
I couldn’t tell if she was kidding or not. After all, SNL is a program of humorous satire. But there was no hint of humor, and her veiled threat of censorship sounded less like satire and more like a warning. If Trump becomes president and if he had, instead of choosing Mike Pense, chosen Newt Gingrich or Chris Christie or even Sarah Palin, I wonder how long the sometimes, nose-high Fourth estate would continue feel invulnerable. He has already threatened the media and the constitutional basis of a free press. A story that delights for its messiness, but raised to a sufficient temperature, can cook up some really nasty policy consequences.
So when I hear news people lament over how they wish a political story was more spectacularly shit-filled, or how they futz that a personal collapse is less compelling because the sufferer isn’t doing more to blow themselves up in front of cameras or microphones, I wonder if the American people (whoever that really is) might have a point when surveys show large swaths on both sides of the political spectrum say they don’t entirely trust the media.
Despite all of the horror, it might be a good time to remember this simple and beautiful and elegant last verse from Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”
I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
I’m not an overly religious man. But every now and then, I just want to “turn it over” for a minute.