Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

The Springwater Corridor and self-imposed limits by KOIN news.

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Springwater Corridor

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.

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