Booster journalism

"WE WANTED TO reconnect with our community.

"So we decided to reach out and touch someone.

"That's what The Herald newspaper did with its foray into civic journalism, the Waterfront Renaissance Project."

So wrote (Everett) Herald "Communities Editor" Steve Powell last Sunday under the headline, "The Public Gets Its Voice Back." Powell was touting the paper's months-long campaign to stir public "input" and enthusiasm for the development of hundreds of acres of industrial Puget Sound waterfront and largely undeveloped Snohomish River delta. The paper pulled out the stops with four full-page Sunday spreads, an open house, town meeting, promotional video, radio ads, group tours, and online and on-paper surveys. So dedicated is the Herald to reinventing rather than reporting Everett, it sacrificed traditional journalistic detachment to become what executive editor Stan Strick calls a community "facilitator."

Read "advocate." The Herald's video looks like a real estate infomercial, only gushier. "Four magnificent parcels of property are on the verge of redevelopment," Kate Reardon, the series' reporter, enthuses. "This is your land, your future. It's the chance to leave a legacy for you, your children, and your children's children."

The Herald's heralds don't seem to have imagined another alternative: restore some natural habitat rather than fill more wetlands in this, Puget Sound's second-biggest estuary and a nursery for endangered chinook, bull trout, and other critters. Habitat and fishery enhancement weren't among the survey alternatives—including aquarium, museum, zoo, condos, hotels, parks, playfields, golf, retail, light industry, and, for one site, open space.

The Herald did include 300 pro-habitat signatures submitted by the Citizens for the Preservation of Snohomish River Valley in its Sunday tally. And another Herald reporter did a story on the group and its objections early last month. But Citizens president Donald Shank says that was only after they got rebuffed by the civic journalists and squawked. That may suggest what "The public gets its voice back" really means.

MITZMAN MOVES. Eighteen years ago Barry Mitzman, The (Seattle) Weekly's business writer and former editor, feared newsprint was doomed and jumped to news/public affairs chief at KCTS 9 public television. There he launched the half-hour roundtable Seattle Week, took it to an hour-long location show, and got cut back and cancelled when budget reality hit. Meanwhile he launched the popular Serious Money (like a Wall Street Week, but more watchable), which he hosted for the final time Friday.

Now Mitzman is moving again. He's joined the local office of the political consultants-turned-corporate communicators Shepardson Stern Kaminsky, whose clients include GM, Ralph Lauren, Time Warner Cable, and, of course, Microsoft.

This move, and the simultaneous resignation of KCTS programming chief Kay Ingram in the wake of other management departures, may reignite the perennial gnashing over channel 9's finances, programming, and seeming shirking of local programming for fitfully successful efforts at national production. But station manager Burnhill Clark says Serious Money will return after summer break.

REVEREND JEFFREY REVISITED. Oddest description since someone called Dubya thoughtful was Florangela Davila, in the June 24 Seattle Times, painting the Rev. Robert Jeffrey as a one-note crusader for racial justice with a "croaky voice." Rabble-rouser and tilter at windmills Jeffrey may be, as in his futile Starbucks boycott. But he's as stirring an orator as this town has, and his booming tones have revived many a listless leftie rally. He campaigns widely against globalization, corporate power, and Republicrat money-sucking; he supported Nader and berths the local Green Party. But it often throws people when African Americans take on more than just "black" issues. Look at all the hell Martin Luther King Jr. caught for opposing the Vietnam War.

SUCKS AND STINKS. Aspiring baseball writer Knute Berger sends this dispatch from the front lines of Mariners road play and journalistic ethics. On June 22 the San Francisco Chronicle quoted the Oakland A's pitcher on losing to the Mariners: "'It stunk,' Tam said. 'We should have swept them.'" Fair enough—but the Oakland Tribune quoted Tam saying, "'It sucks. We should have swept them." Berger asked both papers what Tam really said. The Chronicle writer, he reports, "said she altered the quote, from 'sucks' to 'stink,' per Chronicle practice. When I asked her if they did this for other words, she said yes, they change 'pissed off' to 'ticked off' and often clean up the grammar of Latin players."

It's a rare reporter who doesn't clean up the odd quote, if only to remove the "you knows" and what have come to be called Bushisms. But inserting a whole other word with another tone with no brackets or other signs to tip the reader, kind of . . . stinks. And like all journalistic malpractice, it casts suspicion on the whole trade. I asked editors at Seattle's dailies how they'd handle such a quote. "Our policy is to either use it if we're going to use it or write around it," says P-I metro editor Rita Hibbard. "If it's central to the story, we'll use it. We would not change a word." Don Shelton, who heads the Times' sports copy desk, tells a similar tale: "We don't use profanity gratuitously, but we don't unilaterally change a quote. We would either not use it or print what they said."

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