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Thursday, September 12, 2013

We Cover Homelessness Issues. They Say It Like It's a Bad Thing

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Thu, Sep 12, 2013 at 12:29 PM

The Portland Tribune has reported something of interest in the recent saga over Right 2 Dream Too's relocation from Old Town. Something a bit close to home.

Jim Redden, in his "Sources Say" column, quotes from what he says is an August email, sent from Commissioner Amanda Fritz to Right 2 Dream Too and others, that discusses a bit of media strategy:

“I believe both you and I desire to talk to Street Roots and the Mercury first, when the time comes, to appreciate their attention and concern on houselessness issues.”

Redden offers this up as as a suggestion Fritz was shopping for favorable media coverage, at a time when other reporters were looking into the story. He also notes, sorely, "for the record," that his paper was the first to publish a story on the effort, back in October 2011.

"Government transparency and equal access don’t appear to be high on her list, according to sources involved in the negotiations," he says. "Favorable press, on the other hand, rates way up there."

Okay. Fine. Here's the thing. He's right about one thing. The Mercury was the first and, for a time, only outlet with quotes and details from Fritz confirming what was then a tentative relocation offer. I'm sure other reporters noticed, especially when, from what I've read, Fritz was still declining to comment. I also quoted from internal emails from Right 2 Dream Too. I always figured both of those things spoke for themselves.

But, on the other hand, the negotiations and Fritz's role in them weren't exactly closely guarded state secrets.

Her office 'fessed up to plans to help way back in June, when I thought to ask. Other potential sites had been mentioned. Olive branches to city hall, despite a lawsuit filed by the site, had been reported. And not every source who knew a few details about the deal was, in media jargon, "close to the negotiations." Remember, Fritz had several meetings on this in her office in late July and early August. People talk. And sometimes even to reporters.

Moreover, city hall routinely plays (always temporary) favorites with the media all the time—sending statements to one reporter or another before all the others, or leaking things that wouldn't otherwise be public, setting off a media feeding frenzy in the leak's aftermath. Often times, it's because a reporter happened to start asking first or because it involves a development on a beat a reporter has been working closely. Redden should know this very well.

I've not seen the email Redden is citing. But I can't fault Fritz's reason for her willingness to talk to the Mercury and Street Roots. It's a pretty good one. She wrote down that she and Right 2 Dream Too wanted to talk to us first because of the issues we cover and for the way we've covered them.

Street Roots does it better and smarter than anybody. But we've been on the beat for years—long before Right 2 Dream Too was a glimmer in Michael Wright's and Ibrahim Mubarak's eyes. That's not changing.

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