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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

When a story gets Gragged

The Oregonian pretty much missed the story on last week's historic Portland City Council vote to deny permission for a super-sized condo tower in the Goose Hollow neighborhood. Commissioner Randy Leonard said the City Council dialogue and decision were "the most important discussion on development the council has held in decades." The Trib was all over it, and I'm told the Northwest Examiner was too. But the O reported the council action in a fairly anemic piece on page B2.

Why was that?

It's because the O had handed the story off to Randy Gragg, its resident "architecture critic" (or whatever he's supposed to be), and he had made his usual hash of it in the InPortland insert the week before. Once a story gets Gragged, the O goes into a stoned trance about it for quite some time before it enlists actual reporters to come back in and stitch together what really happened.

Gragg's piece on the Goose Hollow proposal is a classic illustration of his modus operandi. The basic premise is always that high-rise development throughout Portland is inevitable -- a force of nature, almost -- and it's always a given that it's a good thing. "Building big sculpts a new urban skyline" was the headline of the latest piece. There's no debate to be had about it, folks -- it's a done deal.

If there is any discussion of the legal issues surrounding a development, it's always buried far down in the story. In the case of the Goose Hollow tower, the key issue was the transfer of floor area ratios (FAR) from one part of town to another; Gragg saves that for way, way down there, and he spins it, as he always does, the developers' way. His readers rarely get to form an informed opinion about what's really at stake. The architects and developers always know best.

When there's controversy, Gragg never gives the neighbors any respect. He hardly ever names or quotes them, and he inevitably employs a condescending put-down in describing them. In the latest story, the Goose Hollow neighbors are "plucky" -- how cute. Most times, he's even more hostile than that.

Meanwhile, all his developer and architect chums are named prominently, and most of them are quoted reverently. If they stage a little demonstration of support for their money-making schemes, as they recently did at a City Council meeting, you can bet old Gragg will be there to shine a light on it. "'I like height,' founding principal Mark Edlen says." Yeah, Randy, no kidding; he likes money even better.

Recent condo transplants who come to Portland with big bucks and no common sense are always prominently featured as well. This time some poor soul who just paid upwards of half a million to live in an apartment in Portland is talking about how much nicer it is in the Pearl than in Miami. What that has to do with the appropriate height of the buildings is beyond me.

Then there are the comparisons to Seattle and San Francisco. Gragg never lets up with these. As if the only way Portland will "succeed" is by turning itself into one of those two very unlivable places. This time around, our buildings aren't as tall as theirs, and so I guess that means we should make ours taller. Next time, it will be some other trait for comparison. We'll never be good enough.

When a story gets Gragged, the developers and their beret-and-baseball-cap architect cronies are all happy. I'm sure Gragg gets a lot of free wine and cheese out of it from his pals. But as coverage of local politics, it stinks. The O was a lot better off when this fellow was at Harvard.

Comments (2)

I understand your disparaging tone with developers, politicos, bandits and the supercilious. More power to you.

But, I don't understand what poor Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec Monfa has to do with any of it.

Shame on you if you are simply using his image to illustrate a congenital defect to connote some character flaw that he did not have in the service of what you hoped would be comic derision and insult. Henri's ghost deserves an apology.

I was a journalist and a managing editor in my former life, and I am appalled at the quality of news stories these days...even those in so-called "reputable" papers, magazines and websites. Many of the stories are not even close to being "fair and balanced". (I apologize for using the Fox news line.) I'm not saying that biased journalism has not been around for a very long time, but when it comes to an important story, you would think that a harvard educated individual could apply some of those learned classes to his real life. It takes every ounce of self-control not to red pen the entire paper and send the edited/corrected version back to the O offices.

Posted by: laurelann at August 29, 2006 01:42 PM

The people at the O who want Portland to be a "real city" like Seattle or San Fransisco should start with their own newspaper.

Posted by: PDXile in Seattle at August 29, 2006 02:17 PM

WBob, you're right, Gragg only thinks he's a misunderstood artistic genius. Since the picture offends, I'll take it down.

Posted by: Jack Bog at August 29, 2006 02:38 PM

Whereas, when a story gets "Bogged", it becomes mired in the usual gloop of yawn-worthy, reactionary cliches until nobody...bothers....reading....any....more.....

Posted by: Matt Davis at August 29, 2006 03:30 PM

[Posted as indicated; restored later.]


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference When a story gets Gragged:

» You are all so stupid from Jack Bog's Blog
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