A note to the readers on objectivity and Coastsider


Posted by on Fri, October 13, 2006

A couple of readers have accused Coastsider of bias.  Most recently, Don Bacon has raised the issue in a long piece (2,800 words!) on the Review’s TalkAbout forum.  I’m not going to directly answer Mr. Bacon on a point-by-point basis. I don’t have the time to write it and you don’t have the time to read it. You’re welcome to read his piece and draw your own conclusions about where he’s coming from.  But I want to restate what I’m trying to do here.

I’ve been working in the news business for about 20 years. There are no more dedicated navel-gazers than journalists, and objectivity is one aspect of the journalistic navel that gets more than its share of contemplation.

One thing I know is that it’s impossible for a single individual to be objective.  Two years ago, I wrote, "Coastsider isn’t always objective, but it does have principles". My commitment to our readers has always been to be thorough, accurate, fair, and transparent.

Coastsider is a personal site. It’s about what Barry’s interested in, supplemented by contributions from our readers.  I don’t always have time to write about the things I really care about, often because I don’t have time to do the research required to write authoritatively or add something new to the debate.  The park in Half Moon Bay is a good example. Another is the proposed stoplight at Terrace. Most of our readers get that. The first question I usually get is, "How do you find the time to do Coastsider?" A few get annoyed that I haven’t taken up their pet crusade, but are unwilling to do the legwork themselves.

But Coastsider is designed to be a forum for discussion of Coastside issues, and not a platform for me.  Everyone has the right to reply to any story in comments. Anyone can start a topic in Town Hall. Anyone can submit a story to Coastsider itself.  I’ve published major opinion pieces and plenty of comments from both sides of the divide. My only rule is that we carry on this conversation in a civil manner. To that end, I’ve edited, deleted, or bounced submissions from both sides.

Today, I had to revoke the Town Hall posting privileges of one of our members, mainly for being disruptive and insulting.  I hated doing it, but my priority is to make sure that the community has a friendly place to discuss the issues.

I try to avoid a lot of introspective writing on Coastsider.  I think we all lose if we’re spending more time discussing the discussion than the issues that matter in the community. However, I think it’s important that everyone understand what we’re up to here.

I would not have noticed the diatribe on the Review’s web site, but someone emailed it to me.  It was quite exhausting to read, which I suspect was part of the author’s objective.  Why did I read it?  Morbid curiousity, kind of like looking at a train wreck.

Without deconstructing the whole missive (what would be the point?), I just have to say that claiming that Coastsider.com is less objective or more biased than the Review is just laughable.

I see that Coastsider.com’s editor and publisher admitted nearly 2 years ago that “Coastsider is not entirely objective.”  I’m still waiting for the Review’s publisher to admit that about the Review.

Those who attack Coastsider.com and love the Review feel that way specifically because the Review is totally oriented towards their pave-the-coast overdevelopment philosophy.

Comment 2
Sat, October 14, 2006 11:00am
Ken King
All my comments

Thanks for giving the link to Mr. Bacon’s screed, Barry, although that seems to belie your plan to censor the voices of your critics.

I’d recommend to Bacon and friends an immersion in postmodernism’s conjecture (and evidence) that objectivity is impossible to achieve—it remains, at best, an archetype, a flickering shadow on the wall.

Humility is a desirable virtue in the face of this problem, but that’s exactly what is lacking in the tactics and approach of those wanting to reengineer Coastsider’s practices in order to further their own goals.

Readers who may not know that Mssrs Bacon, Muteff, Ginna, Dunham, Gossett, Bordi, Gardner and others offer an alternative to Coastsider can go to coastsidecommunityfirst.org (Bacon resigned from CCF after helping start it). They offer a different view of community than does Coastsider, but, surprisingly given their objections, it isn’t a more “objective.” Perhaps they should do further work on it to see if they can compete for Coastsider’s readership.

The reason I don’t think they’d ever be successful is that they’re no match for Barry Parr’s genuine and discernable humility. Barry (no blushing, please) doesn’t pretend to have all of the answers, which most of us find refreshing.

Comment 3
Sat, October 14, 2006 9:40pm
Ray Olson
All my comments

Though I think I know where you stand on some issues I think you have been very objective. I think sometimes folks want to read into something on first read of an article or post. And, if they are very passionate of their own views sometimes that might look for something to take offense. The same thing goes for those folks that have been critical of the articles in the Review as well.

Hey, Barry, thanks for mentioning “transparency”—what a great concept for communicating and living—Martha


Need to clarify Mr. King’s post.

I have no connection to Coast Community First other than being on their mailing list.  Have never been to a meeting.  Have met a few of the folks involved and can say that they are some of the nicest, most genuine people around.  I also think they have a great approach.  Educate with great transparency.  You know who is behind the movement and they make their points very directly.

I represent something that Mr. King fears greatly - independent political thought on the Coastside.

Comment 7
Wed, October 18, 2006 10:38am
Hal Bogner
All my comments

Mr. Ginna,

I wish I could share your appreciation for the CCF folks, but what I’ve seen in writing is very different from what you describe.

And I consider myself a fan of independent political thought here.  I’ve involved myself in several different venues, with people and groups too-frequently characterized as being at odds with each other.

And from having gotten to know Mr. King a bit, I doubt he has the fear you ascribe to him, too.

I’ll close with a little of my experience with CCF:

The Ailanto presentations seemed to clearly refute a number of their assertions about their “Foothill Bl.” idea - and I am naturally skeptical about what “developers” claim. 

Likewise, my recent correspondence with CCF president Charlie Gardner - stemming from a post I made to the Midcoast-list a few days ago - is not consistent with what you describe as their approach.  Charlie has invited me to publish the correspondence on that list, but I have been waiting a few days for a reply to my last email to him on the subject.  So far, I’ve found him misleading or disengenuous on the subject, and several times he has disappeared from discussions here on Coastsider.com when I’ve raised issues about the “new Cunha” project.

Do you read Midcoast-L, or have any concerns about the lack of open bidding for designing the new middle school?


Hal M. Bogner
Half Moon Bay

I have read Coastsider from it’s very start, Barry’s ethics follow that of the BBC, unbiased, transparant, intelligent and fair.

People who post here know the rules, if you break them, you loose your right to post, simple.

Keep up the great work Barry.

Comment 9
Sun, October 29, 2006 7:06pm
Don Bacon
All my comments

“I’ve been working in the news business for about 20 years.”—Barry Parr

“The learning curve has sometimes been steep, Parr acknowledges.  A high school journalism class was his only formal experience.”
—San Francisco Chronicle, from “Citizen Journalism Takes Root Online,” June 6, 2005

Comment 10
Sun, October 29, 2006 10:16pm
Barry Parr
All my comments

A bad choice of words by the reporter. Note that it’s not a quote. It should read “A high school journalism class was his only formal training.”

I’ve working in the news business on and off for 20 years, starting at the Los Angeles Times in 1983,  followed by The Mercury News and CNET’s News.com. There are also four or five years of magazine publishing—Architectural Digest, Motor Trend, Dr. Dobbs Journal and many others—in there as well.

I received no formal training, because I was typically a business person working in the editorial chain of command.  Most of my bosses, peers, and friends were reporters and editors. And I’m not saying that qualifies me to practice journalism, simply to make the observations about the news business that followed the statement “I’ve been working in the news business for about 20 years.”

Formal training is not a prerequisite to be a journalist. You can learn how to write a news story in about 30 minutes. In the golden age of newspapering, before WWII, most reporters were hired out of the local tavern. This has always struck me as a felicitous practice.

Comment 11
Sun, October 29, 2006 10:20pm
Barry Parr
All my comments

Kevin mentions the BBC as a possible model. I think the Economist is an interesting example as well. It has a pretty consistently center-right point of view, but its journalism is exemplary.

Comment 12
Mon, October 30, 2006 9:33am
Ken King
All my comments

Don’t agree with you about the Economist, Barry. The magazine is an anthology of articles culled from the daily British paper of the same name, and all of those articles are written from a smug, neoliberal viewpoint, which happens to be the domiant paradigm in economics today. The writing style is sprightly and flip, but also iritatingly allknowing because of the stance of its writers, who assume readers must agree with them on what’s good policy, i.e. “good economics.”

Because they don’t challenge their own assumptions, it quickly becomes boring to read. I subscribed to it for a few years in the 90s, but got so that I knew what the writers would say before they said it, which told me it was time to move on by then. I’d dropped the New Republic for a similar reason in the 70s. In that case I shared its writers’ biases, but found I wasn’t learning anything except a depressing welter of facts.

I guess my point would be that if one already has an established worldview, they ought to read afield and not become stuck in some hall of mirrors. I look at Coastsider frequently to see what’s up locally, not to have my views reinforced, although the blogging aspect allows for this when there’s time to jump in. It is a real community service, Barry. I’m glad you give as much time you do to it. Muchos gracias otra vez!