Transitioning from lazy and uninformed to just plain stupid
Early on in my newspaper career — as a reporter for The Tigard Times — I was at a meeting of a group called CPO-4, a citizens organization consisting mostly of Metzger-area residents. One of many CPOs in Washington County, this group got big real fast because, when no one was looking, local officials allowed Washington Square mall to be built right next to the brand-new Highway 217.
The meeting I was there to cover was at the Metzger Elementary School gym, and the place was packed with local people who had heard there was now talk of a large office complex going in right next to the grade school. In fact, the talk had been going on for some time about plans by Lincoln Savings & Loan to erect what seemed back then to be a handful of skyscrapers in this otherwise sleepy residential area.
CPO-4 Co-president Terri Hopkins tried to calm what was becoming an angry mob by pointing out that her organization had been discussing this project for months already, in open, public meetings — and that these meetings had all been covered in great detail by The Tigard Times.
I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, considering that I had been the one coming to these meetings all along, knowing I had written exhaustive articles on every one, quoting the speakers and dutifully identifying each one.
And it was exactly that moment that an angry woman, seated in the row behind me, belted out, "Well, who the hell reads The Tigard Times?"
There was some laughter, of course, because even those of us who worked for the Times knew full well that most of the people in the community did not read their local paper. Even back then — 46 years ago, mind you — a high percentage of local residents seemed to think it was not their job, but someone else's, to make sure our citizens are informed enough to take part in our democratic form of government.
Still, Terri Hopkins made a valiant effort to explain that her group, as well as the local media, were all trying to keep people aware of what was going on.
It was right around that time that I remember hearing national television anchor David Brinkley describe land-use planning as something that's "as boring as it is important." He was right — it's incredibly boring, until somebody comes along with a plan that you don't like.
This is not something new, of course. As long ago as the 1950s and '60s, decisions to build Interstate 5, the Veterans Memorial Coliseum and Emanuel Hospital pretty much annihilated the Albina neighborhood, one of the few places in Portland where people of color were even allowed to live.
Oddly enough, Americans have not gotten any better at informing themselves. They've gotten worse. These days, with social media tailoring our individual news feeds to only tell us things we like to hear, we're far worse off. To make things worse (in my humble opinion), is the death or severe wounding of a majority of news providers, such as newspapers or magazines devoted to truth and facts.
We aren't really interested in facts anymore, are we? And our arrogant ignorance is not limited to land-use planning.
Look how well we're doing defeating the COVID-19 virus. Even though the scientific community and medical experts are literally unanimous in their recommendations for how to respond to the disease, only about half of us in the world's richest, best educated nation believe anything they say.
It used to be, we were just lazy. We wanted somebody to come to our homes and tell us what's happening — without paying anything or lifting a finger.
Now we wouldn't even be satisfied with that. We wouldn't believe what they tell us anyway.
Mikel Kelly is a retired newspaper writer and editor who lives in Portland, a community described by many (especially in far-off rural towns) as a ruined, worthless place. He doesn't believe that to be true.
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