Monday, January 18, 2010

Wrestling A Pig Named Echo

To the editor:

As a longtime subscriber to The Leavenworth Echo and part-time resident of Plain, I appreciate the weekly news and information I receive about Leavenworth and the Upper Wenatchee Valley. For that, as well as the public service announcements provided for local non-profits and businesses to publicize their endeavors, I am grateful.

In the past, I have occasionally commented in your op-ed pages, but lately I have been reticent because of the obvious right-wing bias in your editorials, and in letters to the editor from readers like Bill Cowles. Don’t take this personally, but to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, you never want to wrestle with a pig because you’ll get dirty and the pig likes it.

Having said that, and despite having to weather the neo-conservative rhetoric for the news and information I seek, I believe it is fully within your rights as publisher to express whatever viewpoint you see fit. Providing a regular forum for prolific letter writers is also within your rights and privileges as publisher. Believe it or not, we have people like Bill Cowles in Eugene, too; only there are more of ‘em.

However, my issue is this: in the January 13, 2010 issue of The Echo, Mark Lindstrom of Lake Wenatchee provides a thoughtful response to an editorial in a previous issue of the paper and is lambasted in a “publisher’s response” immediately following his letter.

I have commented on this approach in these pages before, and my opinion has not changed: the practice is inherently biased and unfair, and is an anomaly in American newspapers. Perhaps you didn’t know that, and I should give you the benefit of the doubt, as your background is apparently in accounting and not journalism.

I am concerned about the future viability of The Echo in this age of “The Death of the Great American Newspaper.” I know you have lost readership and advertisers over the years, not just because of your ultra-conservative bias, but also because of your propensity to comment on letters to the editor.

Be careful with your ”bully pulpit,” Bill. You might just be writing yourself right out of business. I’d hate to lose The Echo as my “best source for Upper Valley news.”

John Mitchell

The Editor of The Leavenworth Echo responds:

"John, thanks for your letter, and the warning. FYI, Echo circulation has remained stable over the nine years I have owned the paper despite continuing declines in our local daily (The Wenatchee World). Ad revenues are down this year for the first time in ten years by three percent, almost entirely related to real estate."

"But more significantly, you should have noticed my previous practice (of commenting on letters to the editor) has been curtailed substantially. Thanks for your subscription."


My response to his response:


Thanks for your response, and the information you provided concerning circulation and advertising revenues for The Echo. You would certainly have a better handle on those subjects than I; my information is strictly anecdotal (i.e. hearsay).

Good to hear you have substantially curtailed your previous practice of commenting on letters, and that The Echo is healthy. You should take the next step and eliminate the practice completely. The proper place to editorialize is in your editorials.


His response to my response:


"I actually appreciate your input though we would probably disagree on some issues. I realize that my 'responses' are not traditional and that normally editors would use their opinion column for addressing difference of opinion."

"What is clear is that the industry and its traditions have been radically altered by the Internet, talk radio and cable television. The trick here is to try and find a new way to make newspapers interesting and relevant. That is particularly difficult when we only publish weekly."

"So I don't disagree that my approach has been revolutionary. The real question is: what do we need to do to continue to survive and maintain the interest of our audience? I came up with the immediate response idea while watching Bill O'Reilly. Not that he is necessarily a perfect representative of what is the right thing to do, but since I came up with that 'innovation,' my editorial pages have become much more lively."

"Yes, my initial approach was much too confrontational. I have attempted to modify that tone, but probably have some work to do on that score. The problem is that our society is is increasingly becoming one that wants instant feedback. So I am trying to negotiate that changing tide."

"Innovation is usually painful and often fraught with mistakes. I don't know that it is as simple as you suggest. I have no problem with writing my opinion column. What is hard is getting others to contribute their opinions."


"P.S. It is interesting that when I stop responding, letters drop off. When I 'push the envelope,' I get buried with letters."

My response to his response:


Thanks for the note.

I agree that the newspaper industry is changing due to the Internet, talk radio and cable television, although I'm not sure if that is necessarily a good thing.

The contentious nature of the Internet and talk radio (i.e. "hate radio) has -- in my humble opinion -- led to a general loss of civility and decorum in public debate and contributed to increasing intolerance at all levels of society, from Washington, D.C. to Plain, Washington. Even legitimate newspapers are joining the fray by posting their articles online. The articles themselves are fine; it's the anonymous comments posted at the end of the articles that are contributing to this growing intolerance, along with talk radio and cable television programs like that of Mr. O'Reilly.

Having said that, my hat's off to you for providing such an open forum on your editorial page for letters to the editor, though I sometimes wonder how much someone like Bill Cowles is contributing to the collective knowledge base as much as he's just stirring the pot of intolerance.

Your ultimate challenge will be to find new ways to be relevant -- and yes, maintain the interest of your audience -- while keeping your respectability intact.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Home For The Hollandaise

The holidays began with a bang on Thursday, December 3 as the University of Oregon Ducks met the Oregon State University Beavers in the 113th Civil War -- the "War for the Roses" -- to determine which team would represent the Pac-10 Conference in the Rose Bowl.

After a tightly contested game through four quarters, the Ducks prevailed in the end, 37-33, precipitating pandemonium in Autzen Stadium as the UO secured its first Rose Bowl berth since 1994. Son Jory (above, left), friend Randy Enders and I were among the nearly 60,000 fans who witnessed the most meaningful and significant football game ever in the State of Oregon.

An interesting sidebar this season was the wildly popular video created by three students in the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication that went viral on YouTube. Check out for the whole nine yards of "I Love My Ducks (I Smell Roses)."

Once we knew that the Ducks were in the Rose Bowl, it was time to secure our tickets, so I put in our bid. After hearing from the UO Athletic Department that we had indeed qualified for four tickets, we learned that the alumni travel packages had sold out. We spent about two weeks agonizing about how we were going to make it down to Pasadena.

Ultimately, we sold our tickets for a tidy sum and enjoyed a nice quiet holiday season at home with our Golden Retriever, Carmen (below). It's been a busy year with numerous travels, so it was good to rest up in preparation for another year of far-flung adventures in 2010. We had a low-key gift exchange at home, dabbled with cooking up a few recipes and even went out for breakfast for Eggs Benedict with -- you guessed it -- hollandaise sauce.

Although the Ducks lost a tough contest with the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl by a score of 26-17, Rebecca, Jory and I witnessed a number of great victories this season, including wins over Cal, Washington, USC and Oregon State. The team returns 18 of its 22 starters on both sides of the ball, so the future looks bright.

Needless to say, we still love our Ducks! Tip of the hat to my buddy Jeff Foreman for the headline.