Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on January 13th, 2017 at 2:27 pm
Right now in the “Drafts” folder of this blog’s backend there are 303 unpublished stories. One of them is titled, “The Friday Profile: Allan Classen, the ‘fearless’ voice of northwest Portland.”
And right now on newsstands throughout northwest Portland is the January issue of the NW Examiner, the paper that has Classen’s name atop the masthead. And on page three of that issue is the monthly “Editor’s Turn” column where he takes issue with BikePortland for not publishing that story.
There are a few things Classen got right in his column; but unfortunately everyone who reads it is now mostly misinformed. That’s because it’s based on assumptions about our editorial motives which are simply wrong.
“I was supposed to be a gas-guzzling bike hater. A reasonable, sympathetic voice wouldn’t get BikePortland readers juiced up or reinforce their enmity.”
— Allan Classen, Editor & Publisher NW Examiner
Here’s what Classen got right: Back in April at the end of our Northwest Portland Week, we told him and our readers that we would publish the profile. Our initial plan was to make it the final story of the week — as a perfect bookend to our focused coverage of that part of town. But in the news business — especially at a small community news operation with just 1.5 employees (at the time) — things don’t always go as planned. Our reporter who did the interview got busy with other stories and the profile of Classen was scuttled. We had every intention of eventually publishing it, but our reporter has since moved on. Now it’s never going to see the light of day. That’s a bummer for sure; but in the grand scheme of things it didn’t seem like a huge deal.
Classen is also right that we didn’t keep in touch with him about the story’s status. He left us a phone message on December 13th and I only called him back this morning — after reading his column in the paper.
So that’s the story. We told Classen we would publish a profile about him and we never did. And then we displayed poor manners by not keeping in touch with him about it. Given that’s all that happened, it’s unfortunate he decided to publish an entire column based on nothing but speculations of sinister motives.
Here’s an excerpt:
I’m wondering if it was something I said. If so, it would not be the first time I have gotten crosswise with the editorial board of the city’s primary cycling website. My 2010 column in the NW Examiner likened the zealotry of local bicyclists to religion. It didn’t go over well in one particular camp. BikePortland’s editor and about 200 readers took issue with that piece. Most were harsh and personal. Many presumed to know my hidden motives, my views on other subjects and details of my lifestyle.
During that interview last summer, I sensed that the reporter was taken aback when I said cyclists need to be separated from motor vehicle traffic whenever possible as a matter of safety. I also told him a reduction in auto use is necessary and inevitable. When I was through outlining my positions, he conceded that I was in general agreement with him and most in the biking community.
I surmise that from his perspective (or that of his boss), this interview had gone off the rails. I was supposed to be a gas-guzzling bike hater.
A reasonable, sympathetic voice wouldn’t get BikePortland readers juiced up or reinforce their enmity.
The handling of this nonstory says something to me about a topic that has our country roiling — identity politics. This mindset contends that individuals are defined by immutable traits or primal allegiances, and that these affiliations drive their personal, social and political lives. Fact and evidence can’t be trusted unless they come from one’s own identity group, in which case they are unassailable truth.
I am obviously no fan of identity politics, which I consider a tribal approach that should have been left in an earlier era of history. Some of my most enriching experiences have been about breaking down familiar assumptions and seeing reality from a different perspective. Even better is finding common ground with someone previously considered an adversary.
As he did so many times, Abraham Lincoln said it best: “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
BikePortland could have taken my pro-cycling statements as a victory. They could have reported that even someone who had ridiculed them in the past supports their cause and principles.
But that would have required them to concede that someone they had typecast as “other” didn’t fit the mold, a possibility apparently too disconcerting to release.
My little set-to with the bicycling community is of little consequence, but perhaps it’s instructive regarding our nation’s current political climate. If our domestic enemies can never be trusted or listened to, how can we self-govern? How are we even a nation?
For generations, the Hatfields and McCoys found evidence to distrust each other and carry on their vendettas. History will never settle which clan was in the right, but we still remember how insanely wrong both were in insisting that all villainy was in the other camp.
For anyone that reads this in the NW Examiner and who’s not familiar with BikePortland, I can assure you that I would never withhold publication of something just because it doesn’t “get BikePortland readers juiced up.” That’s not what we’re about at all, and our record over the years proves it. Also worth noting is that I never even saw a draft of this piece (nor was I told much about it at all) so the idea that I decided to not publish it because of what Classen said is not even possible.
And while I certainly have my beefs with Classen’s past treatment of bike-related stories over the years (especially Forest Park) — that only made me want to publish a profile about him even more. I am always eager to challenge readers’ assumptions about people in our community.
I realize this might seem like the airing of a personal feud between Classen and myself, but I feel it’s important to set the record straight so people who read his column can get the facts.
And about that phone call between Classen and I this morning? We listened to each other’s perspectives and expressed our feelings about the situation. I apologized for not getting the story done.
I also gave him my number and encouraged him to call me the next time he writes a bike-related story. And I promised to call him back immediately.