A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Portland Press Herald makes a strong case for its own bankruptcy in Transit Study reporting

Tonight's transit study public forum was a great success, with consultant Jason Schreiber's presentation of the study's draft recommendations inspiring most people in attendance (including some committed skeptics).

But what's this? I get home to find that the local paper, the Portland Press Herald, has published a news update: "Portlanders Sound Off On Transit Plan."

The "article" consists exclusively on man-on-the-street interviews with random people. Man-on-the-street interviews are an old contrivance of paleo-journalism, and reporter Kelley Bouchard provides a fine example of why the practice deserves to die in this piece.

Basically, Bouchard, the author, has gone out "on the street" and shared her own limited understanding of the Study's complex and nuanced recommendations with random people, most of whom seem completely unfamiliar with the Study, and records their knee-jerk, off-the-cuff reactions as "news." A sampling (these are the first two paragraphs):

"Joshua Douglas doesn't like the idea of paying to park on the street near his Munjoy Hill apartment.

"'I have trouble parking my car as it is,' said Douglas, who manages Bull Moose Music in Portland's Old Port. 'If I had to pay for it, that would be terrible. Unreasonable, really.'"
Of course, what Bouchard obviously didn't explain to Douglas was the fact that auctioned on-street parking permits would make parking much, much easier for him, since he'd be guaranteed a parking spot near his house every night. Nor did she mention the fact that other elements of the study would provide generous transit service improvements and incentives for walking and biking for people, like Douglas, who live or work near downtown.

So here are the upshots of this man-on-the-street article:
  1. The man on the street looks like a fool for misunderstanding the topic at hand.
  2. The reporter looks like a fool for misrepresenting the topic at hand.
  3. The reporter then wastes three hours collecting, compiling, and publishing these foolish reactions, at which point
  4. Complete lack of context and nuance in the reporting of the topic at hand leads to more knee-jerk, foolish reactions from the public, which in turn,
  5. Undermines public support of good public policy.
  6. Strengthens support among informed citizens for putting certain old-media institutions out of their misery.

Relax, Press Herald. The old-media institution I'm referring to is these man-on-the-street articles. I know you guys have better ways to spend your time, and that you can do better. This topic - in these times - deserves your best.

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