Do The Union letter writers reflect most of us? (Boardwalk is latest example)

1497634_10152091351482948_1071391418_nI continue to be astounded by the letters that get published in The Union newspaper, without context or fact checking.

And I continue to wonder about The Union’s readership demographics, since it presumably reflects the letter writers. A disproportionate number sound kooky and extreme, while the voter demographics show “most of us are in the middle.”

The Boardwalk in Nevada City is the latest ruckus. Like clockwork, a heated letter opposed to the Boardwalk appears in the newspaper ahead of a Wednesday Council meeting.

It is written by Jean Gerard, who makes all sorts of unsubstantiated claims to suit her opinion that the Boardwalk “needs to go.” There were also personal attacks that the paper just ran anyway (in this case “Reinette Senum shills.”)

A local named Jean Gerard has also written articles for the local tea party website. One, titled The Crown & the Constitution, is a real winner.

My favorite line: “The United States of America is a Corporation. The Corporation is controlled by the Crown Temple. The financial system is ruled by Rothschild and the judicial system is ruled by the pope.”

In another “Other Voices,” Jean Gerard writes: “Saying yes to Prop 37 is saying yes to GMOs, yes to the USDA Strategic Plan Goal 3 which promotes GMOs, and yes to Codex. Vote ‘no.'”

Worse, The Union publishes the opinions without context or a counterpoint. It happens again and again. The First Amendment doesn’t give newspapers the right to show poor judgment.

For The Union, the problems also seems to be a shrinking pool of letter writers. The Op-Ed page needs to be more proactive, that’s for sure.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

37 thoughts on “Do The Union letter writers reflect most of us? (Boardwalk is latest example)”

  1. I guess Mr. Gerard didn’t visit commercial st pre-boardwalk every one of his complaints have been used for years long before the boardwalk was put in place. It is kind of funny because it is almost liked a canned letter with inserting different groups depending on the issue a handful of “good ol boys” find threatening to their vision of what Nevada City should be. Homeless, boardwalk, trimmers, or loiterers. Hmmm I am seeing a pattern here, can we say gentrification or yuppification?

    Being a resident of nc and raising two kids we have never once felt threatened or uncomfortable on commercial st and really like the boardwalk. Our youngest if in town would be at the city council meeting tomorrow night in favor of the boardwalk but she is studying at SFSU.

  2. Tis not the only problem impacting bottom line. After three, including email to new editor and two to circulation email address, about not getting physical paper, I am going on third WEEK without one. As I have said many times, I subscribe because I believe in the importance of a well published newspaper but I am about to give up, again.

  3. What the Boardwalk opponents aren’t talking about is what has taken place on Commercial St in just ONE YEAR.

    And it is this that I am saying is what matters the most: a space for community building:

    1. Is there any truth to the assertion that Nevada City could lose it’s “historical landmark” status as a result of the boardwalk? (would parking meters come under the same heading?) I can’t ever remember seeing an old picture of downtown Nevada City with parking for cars. Horses maybe.

  4. Jeff it appears that anyone who doesn’t walk in lock step with you gets name called “hard right.” Don’t you realize the people you label are merely expressing their personal opinion just as you do. Thank God for our intelligent Bill of Rights you obviously enjoy to express yourself.

    1. Hi Bonnie,
      The district supervisor who represents us, Nate Beason, is a GOPer but not “hard right.” But your daughter, Sue, who ran against him, is. Hope that clears things up.

  5. I think we have to be careful with things like the boardwalk in Nevada City. Just look at downtown Ashland OR, the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, downtown Boise, ID, on a warm summer weekend night, WAY too much fun going on in those area where cars are either banned or traffic is restricted with large areas outside of restaurants and bars and expanded seating. Do we really want people hanging out socializing, drinking, maybe laughing too loud, listening to music and having fun? Is that what we want, things that attract young people to move to the area? I just don’t know……..

  6. We actually need to break the dynamic that people think streets are for cars. Streets in downtowns are merely a conduit for mobility–people moving through walking, bicycling, driving, meandering, daydreaming, connecting–we are not slaves to our cars and we can never allow ourselves to be defined that way.

  7. I fully support the boardwalk, and that means I listen to the points of its critics and try to find solutions so that it can be a success.

    One point that Jean made is that the boardwalk attracts drug abusers. Many have said this, and I don’t doubt it, but I suspect removing the boardwalk would only serve to disperse this problem throughout the city. Would increased law enforcement as Jim Wickham suggested address Nevada City’s public drug abuse problem better?

    In any case let’s get creative about solving the problems instead of simply demeaning Jean Gerard.

  8. Greg,

    We are solving the problem, as a community. Jean’s commentary serves to divide, not unite, and is inaccurate, and she should be called out on it. It is politically motivated, not an attempt to solve a problem. BTW, Reinette’s column is in this morning’s The Union, right under the masthead, no less. The two met on the Boardwalk and worked it out. Call it “Boardwalk magic.” I ran into Brian Hamilton on the way up the street, and we had a nice chat.

    1. That’s great if Jean and Reinette had a meeting of the minds.

      Wouldn’t it be better if the atmosphere on this blog was respectful enough that Jean might have written in and there was a meeting of the minds here?

      A free society is a place where it’s safe to be unpopular. -Adlai Stevenson, governor, ambassador (1900-1965)

      1. Greg,
        Jean and Reinette did not meet. The Union and Reinette met. You and I differ whether “one person’s opinion is as good as another’s.” Jean’s was all about politics and divisiveness, not problem solving. I would have asked for some revisions or thrown it into “file 13.” You can quote me on that.

      2. Jeff,

        I never said anything like “one’s person’s opinion is as good as another’s.”

        I am saying that it is important to listen to and show each other respect in order to solve problems, and that one person’s perceived failing in this regard does not make her fair game.

      3. Greg,
        People earn respect; it is not granted. If she were to frame the issue more respectfully, more people would be willing to listen. That’s why good newspapers have editors who offer to help readers frame the issues in their opinion pieces.

      4. I think we disagree, then. Respect should not be granted or earned, it should be given freely. Any other philosophy creates division and polarity.

        “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”
        ― Albert Einstein

      5. Greg,
        If you think Jean’s rant deserves respect for the principles you cite, then yes we disagree.

      6. respect is a vague term…

        I respect the fact writing like that is a reflection on deep personal issues that are clearly bottled up screaming to get out – not to say that mockingly – a shrink could have a field day with any of us – but it sure makes you wonder what went on with the childhood or upbringing or culture of an author who would pen something like that, and, it makes you wonder what can be done to help bring that person back to reality and ease their pain.

        I respect the fact that it further serves to marginalize the type of politics and thinking that would prompt someone to write that. Every piece like that probably deepens the resolve of a few already-deeply-resolved far-right folks, so, no great harm there – and it also probably convinces a few fence-sitter near-far-right folks that they don’t actually want to be associated with that type of thing any more. It probably opens a few minds, and further seals a few minds that were already tightly sealed anyway.

        I respect the fact that each time something like that is written it provides new opportunity to find good talking points to address as counterpoint or to address preemptively and take the wind out of their sails before it can build up. Though, often it’s a pretty difficult search.

        But – do I respect her choice or her behavior for writing that, or the Union’s choice to print non-constructive divisive drum-beating, in hopes of getting a few more web clicks or selling a few more papers? Heck no. Give respect, get respect.

      7. Again, it isn’t a valid argument to distort what I said and then argue against that.

        Again, I am speaking of treating people with respect while disagreeing with their ideas.

        Disagree with Jean, but try and do it respectfully.

      8. Greg, I understand and respectfully disagree. It’s pretty civil here. Treating someone with disrespect is not an option to be taken lightly.

      9. Greg,
        Jean wrote about “Reinette Senum shills.” Those are her “ideas.” This is how she talks to people in a column she sat down and wrote for a newspaper. And the newspaper published it. This is not respectful. Respect begets respect.

      10. I am saying that there is never an excuse to be disrespectful. Being disrespectful also detracts from the value of any point we are trying to make. We all do it , more or less, but that doesn’t make it OK.

      11. Greg,
        You are siding with a disrespectful person to make a point about respectfulness. But we get your point.

  9. The Union has been a divisive influence in the community here for a long time — including during your time there, Jeff. The Letters to the Editor section is a major reason I don’t have a Union subscription.

    1. Rob,
      I agree. I was astounded at some of the commentary that was submitted. My idea was to return the toxic letters and Other Voices for revisions. Most of the people raised “holy hell” at that. Many of them didn’t know how to express an opinion without a personal attack. You’d get to know them all by name. I also lobbied against the letter-writing campaigns that go on during the election season (most are planted by “political operatives,” rather than sincere letters of support). And I was a big proponent of the “point, counterpoint” approach. To be sure, it wasn’t perfect. But the momentum at the paper was to just run what people write in the name of “free speech.” The old timers in the community supported that perspective too. The community has changed a lot in the meantime, and shipping the toxic publisher out of town is one reason for it. His “good old boy” cronies have to figure it out on their own now. The internet provides “competition” for voices too. Facebook has removed the “bottleneck” of communications of The Union and KNCO.

      1. I am always amazed that people who claim to be ‘constitutionalists’ (or for that matter any other commenters) don’t understand the First Amendment. The Union, Sierra Foothills Report, hell even Rebane’s Ruminations, are private entities, and have the right to frame the comments made in letters or blog posts any way they want. If they think they are inaccurate or defamatory they can kick them back to the author.

        I wrote an editorial for the San Francisco Chronicle a few months ago about the Rim Fire and forest policy and the editor worked directly with me to frame the comments in a way that was relevant to their readers. I did not find that an imposition; it was their right.

        The First Amendment does not protect an individual member of the public from the editorial discretion of a private entity, it protects the individual or private entity from the editorial intervention of the government.

        The Union’s propensity to run hearsay, personal attacks, and unsubstantiated rumor in letters to the editor under the guise of free speech divides the community and perpetuates politics as a death sport in the western county.

        The thing that really amazes me is that they don’t realize yet that that is actually bad business. It alienates the public against the local newspaper and diminishes its capacity to speak with authority or act as a place to reach consensus on any issue, other than when the local pumpkin festival is going to occur, and even that they seem to regularly get wrong.

        Some day public approbation against vitriol is going to lead to higher standards, both for journalism and on-line; I can’t wait for that day to come.

  10. Well said. Until my experience at The Union, I had never heard of running whatever crap was submitted without vetting. What you describe with The Chronicle is not uncommon. The practice of flooding the paper with letters orchestrated by “small-town political operatives” seemed more undemocratic than democratic. As I said I was astounded but I was more or less told to “pound sand.” There’s often an incredible arrogance around here about “best practices,” especially to an outsider. When I worked at Time magazine, the process for running letters was lengthy. All letters were fact checked by correspondents.

    1. That is correct Steve. Most people don’t realize the Constitution limits the powers of our government. That is why the amount of apathy towards the violations of the 4th amendment since 9/11 has astounded me. The list of violating the Bill of Rights is very long on just about every amendment except possibly the 3rd protecting us from being forced to house of military personal.

  11. The Union may oppose the Boardwalk, but I noticed last night that a newsvending box of theirs sits prominently at the bottom end of the boardwalk, and when I went to photograph the Boardwalk, sans people last night, a copy was laying right out on the table in front of me. I rearranged that for one shot so it would be obvious. You want people to have a good spot buy and read your papers? Don’t mess with success. https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.239094129604145.1073741856.189043794609179&type=1

  12. Jeff,

    Given the viscousness of politics surrounding the controversy on Commercial Street, how big would you say the stakes are?

      1. It’s a tempest in a teapot.
        I have no serious issues with the gathering spot except for the cig butts being hosed down into deer creek. I voiced that concern and now you report they are being swept up. Good.
        I avoid Commercial St. when possible because some folks do flout the rules and smoke, which is nasty smelling. I personally don’t find it restful to sit next to auto traffic and the fumes assault my olfactory senses, but I recognize everyone is not so sensitive and accept it as a matter of the good of the many outweighing the good of the one.
        Besides, there are other places to sit and enjoy the city.
        I sometimes have to try and drive my little car through there when Broad Street is blocked with traffic, and find it pinched. But that’s not a big deal, although public safety is a possible concern.
        The matter of open drug use, heck there are bars on both sides of the street and everyone agrees that alcohol is a drug. We would all rather encounter a stoner than a drunk, right?
        Look, I don’t golf, but I’m glad golfers have a place to play.
        I don’t bowl anymore, but we need bowling alleys for friends and families to recreate together.
        I am not a Christian, but what would the town look like without the churches?
        Eventually, Commercial will be completely closed to traffic and that will be nicer for those who like to hang out there. Maybe the whole town will be a walking city someday like it was when the Nisenan enjoyed life there.
        But the rancor and the drama are hyperbolic, unnecessary and self-serving to all who need a fight to “win”. People are forgetting that there is always a better way of solving a problem and a nicer way to voice concerns. This thing has divided a community in the most unpleasant ways, which suits some folks just fine. That’s the overall lasting effect of a few benches and planters and that’s too bad.

        Oh and Mr. Carrington, I totally feel for you and you didn’t deserve what this has done to your business but, take it from a Maidu, maybe you ought to consider moving.

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