Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

July 7, 2000

THE NEW YORK-OWNED Portland Oregonian newspaper likes to tell us that "In the past two years, only The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal have had more Pulitzer finalists than The Oregonian's four." Typically, the Onian (pronounced as "onion") usually leaves something out of its reports. It would have made the bragging more explicit if the word "Prize" had been inserted after the name "Pulitzer," just in case all readers aren't familiar with what a "Pulitzer" is.

What the Newhouse family's money-making Onian was trying to say was that it has had four news and feature stories considered for prizes in the final rounds of judging in the journalism classification of Pulitzer Prizes in the past two years. Newspaper and literary prizes, awarded annually, are named for New York and St. Louis newspaper owner Joseph Pulitzer, whose career ran from the 19th century into the 20th. His family left a small fortune to Columbia University in New York City to administer the Pulitzer Prize competition.

Unfortunately, the judges of the journalistic "Pullet Surprises" see only the entries sent in by the Onian and other newspapers. The judges do not get to see the day-to-day mediocrity of the monopoly Onian's news coverage. Of course, too many of the judges are mediocrities themselves, so they probably wouldn't discern mediocre news coverage when they see it - either in their own papers or in others.

IT IS NOT UNCOMMON for one or more of Portland's commercial television stations to broadcast an important local news story days before the reporters and editors of the Newhouse chain's Onian get around to printing it.

It is not unusual for the Onian to print two identical stories on the same event in one issue. On occasion the morning Newhouse does doubles of three or four stories in the same day's paper. And, recently, two Associated Press stories on the same out-of-state news event were printed on the same page. Isn't anyone up there editing? Too often the Onian will say something in a headline or in the cutlines under a photo that is not explained in the accompanying story. Sometimes a person's last name will pop up near the end of a story without the first name and identification ever having been previously printed in the story.

OTHER INSTANCES of Oregonian Lite include the paper's failure to fully identify the subject of a news story at the outset. For example, in reporting on a city hearing into a southeast Portland neighborhood's complaints about the Sunnyside Methodist Church's meals for the homeless program, the Onian started the story on the front page but it was not until the jump page that the church's full name appeared - in about the story's 13th paragraph.

Still other examples of the Newhouse paper's sins of omission: In a news story mentioning "a 124-year-old courthouse" in Portland, the Onian didn't say whether it was a county or federal edifice and didn't bother to list an address. What the reporter was referring to has a name - Pioneer Courthouse, which is a federal facility at 555 SW Yamhill in the heart of downtown Portland. And, in a news article dealing with U.S. Bankruptcy Court at 1001 SW Fifth Ave., Portland, the Onian simply called it "bankruptcy court," leaving it up to readers to wonder if it's a state or federal court. In its sports coverage, the Onian has been known to not print a story on the Monday night pro football game until Wednesday.

FOR GEOGRAPHICALLY-CHALLENGED readers, the Onian often does not provide a location on stories with datelines from obscure communities within the state and in other states or countries. A sentence saying that a particular crossroads community is southeast of Eugene, northeast of Bend, east of Klamath Falls, or is 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia would be helpful. Well-edited papers published in other cities insert such information, which saves a curious reader from having to look up the town of East Gravel Switch in the household atlas.

The non-union morning Newhouse displays bias and lack of knowledge in its coverage and commentary on organized labor.

The paper has been known to simply refer to "the union" in a news story, without identifying it by name, such as Carpenters, Office Employees or Teamsters, so the reader doesn't know which union is involved in a dispute with a particular employer. The paper also doesn't seem to understand the term "local union" and instead calls the Portland local of a particular international union its "Portland chapter."

THE NON-UNION PAPER'S lack of knowledge about the protection afforded union members by a union contract rears its head most noticeably in self-righteous commentaries by columnists and editorial writers regarding disciplinary actions by the Portland Police Bureau and the mayor's office against police officers accused of wrongdoing.

FOR THE RECORD, critics of the Newhouse-owned Oregonian newspaper have called it "the Onian" or "the Onion" for at least 50 years. The reason for the similarity of the newspaper to an onion is because after you peel away its various layers there is nothing left.


THERE ARE ENOUGH ERRORS in local and network television news graphics to indicate that dictionaries either are non-existent in the newsrooms or are laden with dust. One of the most amusing errors has been seen and heard on Portland's KATU-TV - Channel 2. But instead of a dictionary it would require only a telephone book to straighten it out. On at least two occasions, KATU-TV's newsroom graphics re-named a downtown church. At the same time the anchor - in at least one case last year a woman and in an instance last month a man - looked straight at the church's grievously misspelled name and perpetuated the error by uttering the wrong name.

The church in question is one of the city's oldest - the First Congregational Church at 1126 SW Park in Portland's Park Blocks. For reasons known only in the ecumenically-challenged K-2 news department on Northeast Sandy Boulevard the on-screen graphics misspelled that venerable church's name as First Congressional Church. How do you go from Congregational to Congressional?

PORTLAND TV NEWS people sometimes display a shaky knowledge of geography. A recent example was aired by KOIN-TV - Channel 6 when an anchor reported on a news event he said took place in Kansas City, Michigan. Even a person whose sense of geography derives only from big league baseball and professional football knows that the Kansas City teams in both sports play their home games in the state of Missouri -pronounced by the residents there as Mizzura.

Another Channel 6 anchor excitedly reported late one night that an airliner had made an emergency landing while the TV screen showed the plane skidding along a runway. But, alas, she zipped on to the next story without reporting the name of the airline or the names of the city and country where the airport was situated.

"THE ORIGINAL MURDERS" was the term used by one Portland TV anchor in reporting on a development in the prosecution of two suspects. I kept expecting to hear her report about more murders in the case - in addition to "the original" ones. But she rushed on to her next headline sans further explanation.

NEWSPAPERS AND TV have trouble correctly identifying the occupation of the highly-skilled workers who erect steel skeletons of high-rise buildings. Some call them steelworkers. However, it is the United Steelworkers who work in the remaining U.S. mills where the beams for those high-rise skeletons are manufactured. The skilled craftsmen who erect the beams are, in Portland, members of Iron Workers Local 29.


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