Quick Takes

November 7th, 2011 · No Comments · Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

An inward groan was my reaction to the opinion column headline, “’Bama’s Immigration Law Backfires in Fields” in the Albuquerque Journal (Oct. 26). Now accustomed to articles and headlines blaming President Obama for all sorts of things, it appeared at first glance this was another attack – and abbreviating the name as ‘Bama just seemed ridiculous. (A shout-out to those Irish roots, perhaps?)

Turns out, I was wrong and the headline writer actually was abbreviating Alabama, which seems equally ridiculous. (And I should have known, being familiar with Alabama’s draconian immigration law). Still, the headline points up how things like an unnecessary abbreviation can create confusion, however temporary, and Lord knows readers have enough to sort out when trying to stay abreast of the news. And in this case, the abbreviation was unnecessary, as a count of the letters in the headline reveals Alabama would have fit the slot if spelled out.

That’s just one of the little things that have jumped out at this reader in recent weeks. Here are some more quick takes on recent items seen in the Albuquerque Journal:

Story Placement Gets No Respect

The A3 story (Nov. 2) on the tripling of overdose deaths from legal painkillers in the “Just Say No” U.S.– from 4,000 deaths in 1999 to 15,000 in 2008 — seemed more worthy of Page One than the placement it got inside, especially after Journal reporter Olivier Uyttebrouck contributed local-angle quotes on New Mexico statistics to the Associated Press story. This punched up AP reportage of a national report’s data to highlight that New Mexico had the highest rate of overdose deaths from all drugs – more than twice the national toll per capita. From the print version of the story:

New Mexico’s death rate from all drugs was 27 per 100,000 for the period 1999-2008 – more than twice the national rate of 11.9.

“New Mexico has had a big problem with heroin overdose deaths for a long time,” (N.M. deputy epidemiologist Mike) Landen said. “Superimposed on that are the prescription drug overdose deaths, so we have more of a problem.”

Other New Mexico quotes and information that appeared in the A3 story are not on the Journal’s Web version, which is the straight AP version, not yet localized. Even so, New Mexico jumps out at the reader in the national version because it’s at the top of the AP break-out list that ranks states with the highest overdose rates.

In judging whether a story that looks A1-worthy is getting short-shrift, one has to look at what stories made it to A1, and the stories that day do seem worthy: “Did APD Cop Use Excessive Force?,” the filing of a racketeering lawsuit by the former state teachers’ pension chairman, the Greek financial crisis and an Albuquerque man’s $100,000 cloned dog. The fifth story was an UpFront column – unusual in itself in that it was written by a reporter from a “sister” paper of the Journal, the Valencia County News-Bulletin, and not a Journal staffer. Still, UpFront (almost) always goes on the front page, so it would have been a stretch to sub the drug overdose story on A1.

What the Journal could have done, and didn’t, was give the overdose story better play by indexing it on A1. (Playing it on A3 was close, but nonetheless gave such a strong story the appearance of being an afterthought.)

On the other hand, just the day before (Nov. 1) an A-section-worthy national story about 15 deaths of American patients due to “unprecedented drug shortages” was buried back on C3, probably due to a shortage of space on more prominent pages. The story got good play where it landed – top of the page with a picture and cutline. But more importantly, Journal editors took the time to alert readers to it with an index box, not on A1, but on A2. The box had its own headline – “A Life or Death Situation” – and a full paragraph about the problem, while highlighting the Obama administration’s order for the Food and Drug Administration to step in.

Former Foes, Now Friendly

Running stories by reporters from other papers (as in the above UpFront column) is a fairly new development for the Journal, and evidence of the paper’s need to stretch its own limited staff by using reports from others. For several years now, the paper has used reportage from those “sister” publications, which, operating under T.H. Lang’s Number Nine Media, Inc. include the Valencia County News-Bulletin in Belen, the Mountain View Telegraph in Moriarty and El Defensor Chieftain in Socorro.

But the paper in recent years has also started using news stories from non-sister New Mexico publications as well. For example, the investigation into the death of Larry Link, owner of Steins Railroad Ghost Town in Hidalgo County, is being left to the Las Cruces Sun-News. (The Sun-News gets credit in the print edition, but credit defaults to “Journal Staff” online.)

The use of these papers makes perfect sense and ideally results in more thorough coverage. I mention it only because it used to be a Journal no-no to even mention another paper, as I learned when I once did so in an editorial. I don’t even remember what the story was about, but still remember the incident, where I had given credit (as was due) to a Las Cruces paper for bringing a subject to light, and editors removed all reference to the “competition” from the piece. So, there has been progress in that regard.

So Buried as to Be Missing

When a magnitude 3.8 earthquake was recorded about 19 miles south of Los Alamos last month, the Los Alamos Monitor led with the story, and so I wondered how it would play in the Journal, figuring it would probably get a couple of graphs in the Around New Mexico section. It didn’t.

What it did get was a few graphs in Journal North with the headline “Light Earthquake Strikes Near Los Alamos Lab” (the Oct. 17 quake was about nine miles north of Santa Fe).  And it did run in the Albuquerque Journal – albeit most likely accidentally. It appeared Oct. 25 in “Earthweek: A Diary of the Planet,” a weekly syndicated summary of wildlife, wild weather and other environmental news that is one of the most interesting features in the paper, running each week in the Schools section. An earthquake symbol appeared near Santa Fe on the accompanying world map, and Santa Fe, New Mexico received mention in the list of earthquakes worldwide for the week.

RGF Still Finding Fault

And finally, the Rio Grande Foundation showed up in an unlikely place last month, this time in D’Val Westphal’s Road Warrior column (Oct. 24), this time because the conservative think tank was finding fault with the multi-use Gail Ryba Memorial Bridge, which allows bicyclists as well as cars to cross the Rio Grande at I-40.

As Westphal reports, RGF Director Paul Gessing had conducted yet another research study:

In a recent news release, his group says it “wanted to see how many people are using the bridge and how many of those people are actually commuting to work.”

So it stationed employees on the bridge during morning rush hour. “In 36 minutes of continuous video, a total of 13 bicyclists and seven pedestrians use the bridge, none of them seemed to be dressed for the office or seemed to be carrying work-related items. Regardless of their purpose in making the trip across the river, that is less than one person biking across the bridge every other minute.” (sic)

Reading that last paragraph, it’s hard to resist the urge to edit the first sentence for correctness in verb usage and structure and move on to the substance of his “research”. (In fact, I can’t move on without pointing out that the second sentence in that graph should read “fewer than one person.” “Less than one person” could be construed to imply that these bicyclists are lesser persons, but I unnecessarily digress.)

Westphal lets Gessing’s press release speak for itself in continuing:

It goes on to say “with all of the fiscal pressures facing the federal government, it would seem that this money could have been saved and used to reduce the gaping budget deficit, but this ‘stimulus’-funded project has been built and instead provides little in the way of mobility increases for Albuquerque residents.”

Westphal then lets Mark Motsko of the city of Albuquerque’s Department of Municipal Development counter with comments about the fact that the bridge increases public safety for both cars and cyclists and by noting that it “allows bicyclists and pedestrians to access both sides of the river without having to cross it on major arterial roads like Bridge Boulevard, Montaño (Road) or Central Avenue.”

He adds that:

“While Mr. Gessing raises an important question about the current federal debt crisis, he seems to have forgotten, or perhaps is obfuscating: in 2009 the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, mandated municipalities spend federal funds on ‘shovel-ready’ projects such as the Gail Ryba Memorial Bridge, not pay down federal debt obligations.

“Due to the low bids received for the construction of the bridge, DMD was able to extend the ARRA funds to resurface the entire Bosque Trail from Alameda Boulevard to Bridge Boulevard (for $1.5 million). The trail is one of the most popular amenities in the city, used by tens of thousands of people a year.”

The Rio Grande Foundation is weighing in to tell us that the Gail Ryba Memorial Bridge – already built with stimulus funds and up and running since fall 2010 – was a bad idea. And that safety, accessibility and simple quality of life apparently hold little or no value in RGF equations.

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  • Harvey Schwartz

    According to Mr. Gessing, “…none of them seemed to be dressed for the office or seemed to be carrying work-related items.”

    Apparently Mr. Gessing is not familiar with the esoterica of bicycle riding. Serious bicycle riders, including those who may be commuting to work, likely will wear togs suitable for bicycle riding & not their business suits or whatever their workplace requires. So as to avoid serious sweatiness, work clothes are carried in a backpack or in panniers or some other pack on the bike, or even likely stashed at their workplace on an earlier commute.

    Also, Mr. Gessing does not define the time of the video – if it coincided with auto rush hour, then quite possibly commuting cyclists had gone past the camera spot much earlier since bicycle commuting often takes longer & riders leave for work earlier.

    These are all mistakes typical of people who know nothing of bicycle commuting. No mention is made by Mr. Gessing regarding consultation with bicyclists either prior nor after his video making, so at best I can sum up his efforts as “wingnut”.

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