Non news headlines in local daily

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• In News Media,

Non news dominated the Sunday Herald. I mean news spun out of thin air by Sam Taylor and the editors of the Herald. There are tens - hundreds - of important news stories the Herald is completely ignoring while it spins the story of ” Bonner tax effort: Doing the math”. Nothing is happening here, gentle reader. Nothing. This is a nice article for posting on a blog - or a bottom of page three short update article.

It gets fun fast. Sam’s uses a comment on his online blog as part of the news. Hmm - Sam posts a blog and a comment to that post becomes part of his news reporting. That is creating news from nothing. Of course this article is speculative and divisive and stimulates online comments at the Herald. And thus more online comments for possible use in a future story. All fun and gets lots of online traffic. But it is not news.

The initiative drive is not even related to any current issue. The petition attempts to limit a possible future event that is not being contemplated at this time. Nothing wrong with the initiative - if enough people are concerned. But for the Herald and Sam to whip this into a front page Sunday headline story is absurd. This from a Herald that has ignored or buried many past initiatives and petitions that dealt with current issues.

Why? Why does the Herald do this? One scenario is the Herald has no budget for reporting. They have few reporters left and no money to support any in depth reporting. A story about Bonner’s petition is cheap to report - especially when they quote their own Herald blogs - and can be used to whip up emotions with readers. How dare the county plan to tax us an extra hundred dollars on our homes. Well, the county is not planning to do that, but that does not matter to the Herald. This is an easy to write long lead article with a big headline. And it goes nowhere. Doesn’t say it has enough signatures - although the article is helping signatures by portraying the effort as noble.

Nothing wrong with Bonner’s quixotic effort. He is mining the conservative base and probably serving some political goal he has. Probably setting the agenda for conservative candidates for city and county council seats. There are eight up for election this year. He is trying to create an issue. And collect names and addresses for political mailings this fall.

I wrote this piece on Sunday and then hesitated to post it. I’ve been critical of the Herald for 20 years and this seemed like maybe it was just more useless complaining. But for two days I kept thinking of how empty that article was - and how the Herald is not covering local news for us. The emperor has no clothes, so to speak, and no one is saying that. So I am. The Herald editors seem to have lost track of what is news. They are reverting more and more to shallow and superficial articles that require little actual investigative reporting and are not even hard news. This article - the top headline article in the most read issue of the week, Sunday - is almost a set piece example of our local daily newspaper not providing news to us citizens and voters.

About John Servais

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Tip Johnson

May 13, 2009

John, you know I never look at Sam’s blog unless you alert me that something’s there and it piques my curiosity - or incredulity.

I just want to say, I’m not looking today. I’ve had it with Sam.  He’s arrogant and annoying. It wouldn’t be so bad if he’d been around the block a time or two, but Sam’s splattering, behind-the-ear wetness is like getting too close to my dog when she first gets out of the water.

For one, if they are using Bonner’s name in the headline for a story about an initiative, the story’s about Bonner, not the initiative.  Second, for the Herald to print a front page headline story about any initiative abrogates a long Herald history of burying any citizen direct legislation.  Something must either be “up”, or something is coming down the Herald chain of command.  Even when the City has illegally ignored legitimately qualified measures, the Herald has dropped the ball, burying or completely dropping coverage.

Finally, I like Brett, but the initiative is fluff.  You nail that, but too subtlety. Brett is hard at work, into something way too deep for Sam.  He’s collecting signatures and getting an up-to-date, issue-oriented list of contacts that he can use to later organize political action on any issue of his choosing.  I love petitions and have used them as such many, many times. Sam’s just a bit myopic on strategy.

I say, if the Herald manages to retain any political (Jeez, I thought Sam was heading off to graduate school soon) reporters, we should all pitch in and buy them some eyeglasses and a shovel. 

Dig it?


g.h. kirsch

May 13, 2009

Like it or not, it will be an issue in county races this summer. 

Like it or not, this is an issue that, rightly or wrongly, resonates with voters.

Yes, perhaps Mr. Bonner is exploiting that resonance, and maybe even employing the petition drive to organize a political effort.

Wow!  So what’s new?

To his credit Sam Taylor’s article does offer an insight to those who would consider it.

“Instead of the dollar figures [for a tax increase], Bonner generally cites the percentage increases that could take place based on the taxing capacities.”

If that doesn’t deflate Mr. Bonner’s hyperbole, it’s not Taylor’s fault, it’s the limitations of the reader.

My advice to candidates would be to understand this issue and not blow it off as fluff.


Tip Johnson

May 13, 2009

Wow! Citing percentage instead of dollar increases should “deflate Mr. Bonner’s hyperbole”?  Hmmm.  The state’s “1 percent property tax limit” law also cites percentages, not dollars, and taxes continue to inflate, not deflate. The legislature continues to have plenty of hot air, showing no signs of deflation. Brett is probably safe on this one.

A letter from Brett, including the text of his measure is available here.

You can see how the Department of Revenue interprets the “1 percent property tax limit” here.

And a DOR explanation of “banked capacity” is here.

New tax base, banked capacity and voter approved levies create exceptions to the (oops, wish I had a real dollar amount but…) 1 percent limit.  In hard times, new base is slowed, approvals are difficult and, since the passage of I-747, banked capacity is far less than when the limit was (oops again) 6 percent.

Bonner’s measure reads much like the intent of what voters already approved, so I’m really not sure where the “hyperbole” is. But I do know “fluff” when I see it, Greg!


g.h. kirsch

May 13, 2009

The hyperbole is the difference between the dramatic appearance of the potential tax increases, as expressed as percentages of current taxes, and the rather inconsequential impact of those increases, if levied.

The reason this shouldn’t be blown off as fluff is, unfortunately, too many voters/taxpayers are so easily confused that they won’t discount the significance.

Like a friend likes to frequently remind, “The figures don’t lie, but the liars sure know how to use figures.”


Larry Horowitz

May 13, 2009

While Bonner?s mini-initiative serves to raise our awareness of taxes as an important election issue, its impact pales in comparison with the utter failure of Whatcom County and Bellingham to adopt fair and reasonable fees to cover the costs of growth.

Currently, existing residents (aka ?taxpayers?) subsidize that vast majority of costs associated with providing services for developers and newcomers.  These costs involve the expansion of infrastructure for transportation, schools, fire protection, parks & recreation, police facilities, libraries, jails, and general government facilities.

The GMA authorizes cities and counties to collect impact fees for the first four items (transportation, schools, fire protection and parks & rec).  In Bellingham, it is estimated that these impact fees collect only 25% - 35% of the actual costs needed to accommodate new residents.  That represents a subsidy of up to 75%.  For the remaining items (police facilities, libraries, jails and general govt facilities), existing residents subsidize 100% of these costs.  In Whatcom County, the situation is even more dire.

Because transportation and fire protection facility costs are not broken out separately on tax statements, it?s not possible to determine the exact portion of our taxes that represent a growth subsidy for developers and new residents.  However, the Greenways levy, which represents a taxpayer subsidy for new parks and recreation facilities to accommodate growth, is listed separately, as is the School Bond for new school facilities and the School Capital Program.

Based on my tax statements, over the last four years these three ?growth subsidies? have increased by 104%, while all other taxes have increased only 32%.  While these three ?growth subsidies? accounted for 12% of my total tax bill four years ago, they now account for 18%.  Considering the other growth subsidies that we cannot account for, it?s clear the impact is substantial.

Isn?t it time to call on our elected officials, including every person running for election to City and County Council, to address this situation and adopt fair and reasonable impact fees? 

Perhaps Bonner will take this on as another mini-initiative.


John Servais

May 14, 2009

The Bellingham Herald just got a 40% tax break from our state legislature and the governor.  But the Herald has not reported that to its readers.  Even while it fans the heat of tax increases.  Even while it means the rest of us will have to make up for the tax exemption of the Herald and other newspapes in Washington state.

Some might think protecting news reporting is important.  But the tax does not apply to news reporting - only to the printing of newspapers.  TV, Radio, magazines and, of course, the Internet are not included.  Your tax dollars are now subsidizing the Bellingham Herald’s losing operations. 

You can check out House Bill 2122 for the details.  The gov signed this Monday, May 12. 

News?  You bet it is.  Not in the interests of the Herald to report this?  Apparently so.


John Servais

May 21, 2009

Error correction.  The Herald did report the tax break in the May 13 issue and on Feb 20 their editorial spoke against the proposed tax break.  This corrects my comment just above of May 14.  I appreciate an editor at the Herald notifying me of the error. 

Indeed, a reading of the editorial shows they strongly opposed the tax break.  A little more looking and it appears that the Seattle Times was the real pusher for this tax break for newspapers.

As I am all too ready to criticize the Herald, I should be much more careful to have the facts right.  My apologies to the Herald.