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Not Buyouts, Bias

Posted 8/27/2008

City Paper's Aug. 20 feature, "Press Release," is a generally well-written and thoughtful article regarding the reduction in Sun newsroom staff and the potential result of that decision: a poorer-quality product.

Many of the current challenges at The Sun are germane to all American newspapers, but it seems to be true that The Sun has additional problems exclusive to it. John Barry did a fairly good job citing these problems but neglected to mention one clear problem that is easily reversible and if addressed could have a meaningful and positive impact on the Sun's revenues: hard, overt, left-wing bias in the editorial and news divisions of The Sun.

It is not uncommon for a major newspaper in an American city to lean to the left on its opinion/editorial page and to report on the news from a generally "big government panacea" perspective. However, The Sun has taken this approach to such an untenable and extreme level that many in the region simply no longer consider The Sun to be a reliable source of local and national news. To many of us, The Sun lives in an unhinged world that does not exist. It's OK for City Paper to report from a radical liberal perspective since it doesn't purport to be an objective news source.

Many of us read several daily newspapers, the majority of which are slightly left or left-leaning, such as the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. We read these newspapers to stay informed and because it is an enjoyable way to start the day. In fact, the only "conservative" newspaper I read daily is The Wall Street Journal. The reason I read the Journal, however, is not to acquire my dose of John Birch talking points, but because its coverage of the economy is far superior to all others. I wonder how many liberals can honestly say that the majority of their daily news sources are right of center? But I digress.

I've often wondered why the Sun's investors would allow the newspaper to be written from such an out of touch perspective that it alienates a significant portion of its potential market. In this "one-paper town," many of us are craving for a local daily newspaper committed to a degree of objectivity. Actually, a newspaper that reports that everything in America (other than Michael Phelps) isn't bad, every liberal idea isn't always good, every conservative or libertarian idea isn't always inherently evil, and all public servants with an "R" after their name aren't all trust-fund baby criminals who wake up every morning imagining ways to make the poor poorer would be a nice start.

Ellis Daniel

Editor Lee Gardner responds: To many readers, City Paper may seem like a "radical liberal" paper; to others we may appear not radical enough. Likewise, what constitutes "objectivity" these days seems to have become a matter of opinion, but I assure you and all of our readers that we work very hard to be fair, no matter what we're covering or how individual staffers may feel about it personally.

Going In-Sanitary

Kudos to City Paper for staying on top of the city's miserable performance on sewer overflows ("Leaky Accounting," Mobtown Beat, Aug. 20). I am not certain the stench and frustration of those caught in recurrent problems can be overstated.

One example is the overtaxed and failing sewer line where we live on Deepdene Road in Roland Park, a long (and smelly) saga.

Starting in 1999, when Roland Park Country School announced its 40,000-square-foot middle school expansion, we wrote letters to the city (and The Sun) saying the six-inch-wide terra-cotta neighborhood sewer line (which would not pass code today) was in danger of being overtaxed. We received written assurances from the head of the departments of public works and planning that the sewer line was adequate. In November 2005 it backed up into our house--the third backup and overflow in three years--and caused extensive damage, for which the city paid a claim.

The neighborhood contends that a major contributor to the problem is that Roland Park Country School has one sewer exit for its entire complex, which comes downhill and taps into the Deepdene Road line at a manhole on the front of our property. The school is now amid a second, huge expansion of gym and athletic facilities, to include a pool and rowing tank.

This year, twice in March, on the 1st and the 25th, the line backed up and erupted again. The stench following both events was substantial, and there was for a long time residual fecal matter and sanitary paper on the lawns of my house and those of my neighbors. The city sent a crew to unclog the line in both cases (although response in the second instance took over 12 hours) but did little to clean up the mess and/or post the site of the sewer contamination to warn the general public--as we have been told they are required to do by representatives of the Maryland Department of the Environment and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. One representative of these organizations who visited our site said the city probably chronically underreports the outflow of the spills.

Following the March events, the city hired a private contractor who came to our house and neighboring homes and dug up our front lawns and replaced the aging terra-cotta line with PVC pipes.

Now our issues have been overshadowed by the announcement that Keswick Multi-Care has purchased the Baltimore Country Club lot for an expansion that is well over 400,000 square feet. One of the many issues here is the outflow from this huge development on an already overtaxed sewer line along Falls Road.

Meanwhile, it is the neighbors along Deepdene Road whose homes and properties--much less personal health--have been damaged. And it is the Jones Fall watershed and the Chesapeake Bay into which the raw sewage has been, and almost certainly will be, overflowing.

Stanley Heuisler

Sage Advice From an Outraged Kottonmouth Kings Fan

This letter is in response to the many opinionated and insensitive comments written by music editor Michael Byrne. I am sick of having to read his snide negativity he feels he has to inject into his reporting.

I admit it was a while ago that I first encountered the sight of Byrne showing his journalistic ass in the Short List. I'll also admit that I was tickled just a touch that he felt the need to big-up two-bit novelty acts such as Shonen Knife and Suzanne Vega. But that all changed when he wrote that Papa Roach was trying to justify its existence (The Short List, Nov. 21, 2007). Now he's chosen to target Puddle of Mudd and Kottonmouth Kings with his insolent quips (Aug. 20). Why? Papa Roach, Puddle of Mudd and Kottonmouth Kings are three bands that aren't just rock 'n' roll, they rock, dammit! Ask anyone (like myself) who has been to their live shows, and they'll tell you. Here are three bands that have worked extremely hard at their craft. They have toured constantly and tirelessly and delivered their sonic assault with the accuracy that only skilled professional musicians are capable of.

I realize that everybody may not like their music, but for a journalist to spit venom upon them without provocation is puerile. Couldn't he have simply reported that they were performing in the area? Why would that have been so difficult?

I sincerely hope that Mr. Byrne grows up and gets his act together. Many different people read what he has to say, and pointless negative comments about bands, musicians, and performers will only alienate readers. With that in mind, I think Mr. Byrne could benefit from sage advice: If you can't say anything good, just stick to the facts, please! Thank you!

Brian J. Bruckner

Pete Seeger ≠ "Cheesy"

I read "Full Circle" (Feedback, Aug. 13), a review of the Aug. 8 concert at McDaniel College with Pete Seeger, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, and Guy Davis. When reading any review, you expect the reviewer to be knowledgeable of the source material. A serious review of a concert, film, play, or book is impossible if the reviewer is unacquainted with the material. I, for example, would not critique an opera.

It was obvious the reviewer of the Westminster concert was over his head. The first hint was his use of a pejorative expression, "old man" to describe a living legend. Then there was the description of the audience: "it seemed that the aging hippies who filled at least 90 percent of the seats had simply come to commune with him." Besides this being an agist comment, I suspect it is also inaccurate. It would be my guess that most of the people at the concert were socially conscious people, and not "hippies." This is an important distinction, as hippies were more likely to drop out and not get involved in the great social movements.

Years ago when Seeger performed at Shriver Hall, he joined us at the anti-apartheid shanty that was built to highlight the university's investments in South Africa. He has been supporting progressive causes for more than 50 years. In return, those who go to his concerts are usually people with conscience who are involved in seeking social justice.

Then the reviewer makes this statement: "they're cheesy songs, after all." He was referring to the likes of "This Little Light of Mine" and "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream." It is pretty obvious the reviewer has limited experience, if any, in joining a picket line or a sit-in. Only someone who is not out in the streets demanding justice would describe "This Little Light of Mine" as "cheesy."

These are possibly the most dangerous times this country has ever faced, and we need all to speak out against the warmongering, the imperialism, the injustices faced by the poor and the minorities, the shredding of the Constitution, and the destruction of the economy and environment. So when the likes of Pete Seeger comes to perform in our area, it behooves City Paper to assign the review to someone who has some experience in the struggle.

Max Obuszewski

Corrections: Our story on recent cutbacks at The Sun unfortunately contained a number of errors. Sun newsroom staffers Sandy Banisky and June Arney did leave the paper, but they did not take Tribune Co.-offered buyouts. The paper's Carroll County bureau closed in October 2007, not December 2007. And due to an editing error, the story reported that a space on the sixth floor of the Sun building had once housed presses, which it did not. City Paper regrets the errors.

Editor's note: For your last chance to vote in this year's Best of Baltimore reader's poll, click here. Voting ends Aug. 31.

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