Benicia Herald’s biased coverage of Planning Commission hearing

By Roger Straw, Editor, The Benicia Independent, October 1, 2015

Our local print newspaper, the Benicia Herald, has undergone some dramatic changes following the loss of many key staff in early September.  Many readers have been extremely disappointed in the quality of reporting, content, layout and journalistic style.

On the front page of the October 1 edition, headline news above the fold presented a blatantly biased article, “Crowds jam City Hall to give comment on Valero’s Crude by Rail Project.”

  • Quotes:   The article quoted FOUR speakers in favor of crude by rail, and ZERO speakers against crude by rail.  The four quoted were:
    • Dan Broadwater, Business Manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 180
    • Don Cuffel, Manager of the Environmental Department of Valero
    • Joe Bateman, Valero Fire Chief, and
    • Chris Howe, Director of Health, Safety, Environment and Government Affairs, Valero
  • Local support – 16 speakers favored oil trains and the environmental report, while 31 speakers, mostly from Benicia, opposed.  The Herald’s brief report on opposing speakers began with, “Project opponents came from various Bay Area cities and discussed their concerns….”  Somehow (go figure) Valero management’s public accusation at the Hearing that local efforts are the doing of outside organizations appears as the opening line in the Herald’s coverage of opposition speakers.  Of the 31 speakers who opposed the project that night, only 4 were from out of town.  Three of the 16 persons who spoke in favor of the project were top Valero officials, and most of the others were current or past employees.
  • Column inches – news stories are measured by column inches.  This article gave 14.5 inches to pro-oil-train speakers (including quotes) and only 4.5 inches to anti-oil-train speakers.
  • Lack of a byline – there was no attribution as to who wrote the lead news article in the October 1 Benicia Herald.  The large photo was labeled “Courtesy photo.”  If someone OTHER THAN the Herald supplied the photo, is it possible that someone OTHER THAN the Herald attended the meeting and supplied the text?  We are left to wonder who wrote the article, and whether the slant was calculated or simply innocently biased.

Needless to say, I will not be posting this article on the Benicia Independent.  The Benicia Herald’s online presence has gone into hibernation since the staff turnover on September 13, so no link can be provided to this story.  If I find time, I may upload it to some obscure corner for you to verify my observations.

Roger Straw, Editor
The Benicia Independent

NOTE: A blog like The Benicia Independent is permitted and expected to present a strongly held perspective on select issues of the day.  A local print newspaper, on the other hand, has a journalistic responsibility to reserve such editorial judgment to its occasional editorials.  News should be news, and although pure objectivity is hard to come by, a local newspaper should make every effort in that regard.

 

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