Friday, May 29, 2009

Eyesore for an Eyesore on Council Crest

Only a team of bean-counters, engineers and bureaucrats could pull off the project that is taking shape in the middle of magnificent Council Crest Park.

I wrote about this tower project when it was first proposed. It is turning out as ugly as I had imagined.

What’s happening is that one Erector-set ugly monstrosity (on the right) is being replaced with a virtual twin (on the left). A construction crane is in the middle.

All this in the name of emergency communication, which shouldn’t justify ugly.

A great opportunity was lost at Council Crest. A graceful, arching tower would have been a landmark admired from miles around.

What we have is an eyesore — a symbol of a city lacking vision.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Newspapers: Turning off the lights

We are about to find out what newspapers are worth.

Beyond their monetary worth as measured by plummeting stock prices of newspaper chains, we are starting to see other evidence of value dribble in as the papers spiral downward.

Two examples:

Today I met with some local Hillsdale business folks who are struggling to market our small commercial center in these hard times. They took a survey of fellow business owners asking about the community, “What brings us together and excites us?”

Nowhere on the list of responses was our community newspaper.

And yet the focus of the marketing effort is designing a full-page ad to be put in — you guessed it — the community newspaper.

I pointed out the irony: without the newspaper, the ad would be worthless. They heard me, but I’m not sure they got the full import of what I was saying.

It's as if I had said, “You know, without air, we’ll all die.” So what else is new?

Well, wait until there are no newspapers and you try to place your ad.

Second example. Up in Longview at The Daily News, the cost-cutting publisher decided to save money by laying off Cathy Zimmerman..

Cathy had been at The Daily News nearly 25 years and just happened to be one of best feature writers and columnists in the Northwest. She has the awards and reader following to prove it.

Oh, and she edited an award-winning features section.

Now her voice has been silenced.

There’s more to the story — most of it about the clueless, disengaged publisher, who was foisted on the paper by corporate owner, Lee newspapers, based in nearby Davenport, Iowa.

The publisher is so isolated from readers, journalism and common courtesy that she didn’t even give Cathy the chance to write a farewell column. Moreover, the paper has written not one word about Cathy’s departure. The editorial page has published not a single letter of protest — and there have been dozens submitted as readers have learned why Cathy's work has vanished from the pages.

Oh, and no one in the newsroom is to mention Cathy’s departure. It’s as if it, and her career, never happened.

As word has spread, some folks — perhaps hundreds — have called in to cancel subscriptions. So much for cost savings. And the cancellations, which prompted an emergency meeting of the circulation department, are another unreported story.

Sadly, these reader revolts don’t usually last. Nor are they well organized. This one needs a list of demands, including the firing of the publisher (a real cost savings) and control from Longview, not Des Moines.

Experience with reader boycotts has shown that, with time, most readers come back. In today's climate there will be newspapers readers until inevitable end. The morbid few will stick around just to witness history in the making — or is it unmaking?

The publisher, no doubt, will remain to turn off the lights.

Will Longviw and surrounding Cowlitz County suffer?

How will anyone know? Will anyone care to know? How will we know whether they care?

Maybe someone will write the answers on the Internet. Maybe.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

A winery's great, grapeless vintage

So here we are in the Columbia River Gorge touring wineries.

My camera holstered on my belt, I have sweeping panoramas before me. The great river, the mountains, the rim rock, the waterfalls.

Rustic barns, piles of wine casks, parades of staked vines meandering across rolling, verdant fields.

Gnarled and stately oaks washed in spring sunlight.

All begging to be photographed.

And what draws my eye? Where do I point my lens?

Convertibles parked in the winery parking lot, of course.

A group of middle-aged guys from Ellensburg are caravanning through the wine country. Proud of their gleaming, top-down steeds.

They call themselves “The Topless Club.”

“Of course,” says a woman friend with a boys-will-be-boys sneer.

So here’s a Triumph TR2 (vintage 1955). The cutaway door puts you a reach away from the pavement.

Over there is a Karmann Ghia VW of the same era. It’s painted a green so dark that at first glance it appears black.

Great old cars. A winery’s best vintage.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

What mouse?

Media literacy teachers have promulgated various lists of “principles.” The lists always overlap to some extent, and without fail they include some variation on “no two people see the same image (or message) in exactly the same way.”

That seems as obvious as it is profound. We all bring our own unique associations and experiences to what we see. Accordingly, it is important to check perceptions, which is why after seeing a film we often ask, “Did you like it? What did you think of it?”

Recently I’ve wanted to add another dimension to the principle.

Each of us as individuals never sees the same image or message the same way twice. That’s because individually we change over time and location.

How would you perceive a glass of water if you were swimming in a fresh water lake? How would you perceive the very same image if you were in the middle of the desert?

How do you view a picture of Mickey Mouse as child? How do you see the same picture as an adult?

So in addition to checking perceptions with others, we need to check them internally, with ourselves. We need to repeatedly revisit what we have seen and what we think we know.

There’s much more to the principle beyond how each viewer perceives an image or a message.

The maker of the image or message must ponder the work from an unknowable multitude of perspectives of individuals in the audience. And not just how the audience members might perceive it today or tomorrow but in the unending (and unknowable) future.

And not just here but elsewhere, in radically different climates and cultures.

Attention Disney: As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya in the mid-Sixties, I occasionally showed Mickey Mouse cartoons to my students. Afterwards I'd check perceptions of the famous mouse. To which many in the audience looked perplexed and responded, "What mouse?" Ever see a mouse wearing shoes, pants, gloves?

It’s a wonder we can communicate at all.

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