2016-09-02 / Letters

Reader not satisfied

I am responding to recent articles in the Sentry, most recently “South Portland passes first look at pesticide ban,“ by Wm. Duke Harrington, dated Aug. 19.

My experience with the Sentry continues to evolve. Initially, it seemed to lack adequate coverage of important issues.

But from continued reading, it appeared more adept in covering the community of South Portland. Moreover, it seemed to meet my own need for community and an effective portal for the much-needed conversation critical to supporting civic and civil relationships.

Over the years, more thoughtful reading of the Sentry’s coverage has led me back to my initial impression. Is it realistic to expect from a news service with limited resources a balanced and thorough consideration of the issues?

I think so. There are many local media, including radio, that provide high quality venues for information sharing.

The Sentry’s performance in that area has been inconsistent at best.

The Sentry must pay its bills and this is possible only through paid advertising and subscriptions. But it’s also apparent that non-ad content is primarily supportive of its economic resources and does not address the truth of the larger complexities and dynamics of South Portland. This is understandable in a way, but clearly it is not balanced and thorough.

That is tremendously unfortunate – and risky. At a time when many of us would agree that there is too much conflict within the city, the Sentry seems intent on fanning the flames of conflict with amplification of a particular side of the community tensions. For example, see the recent extremely skewed article by Mr. Harrington, or the once-monthly columns by Mr. Don Russell with “My Side of the Bridge.”

With regard to specifics about the article that lead to my judgment of “skewed,” please consider:

 Mr. Harrington includes significant quotes from the lawn care and other pesticide supportive-businesses, which essentially amount to industry talking points.

 Dismissive, critical or absent references are notable regarding the significant work of ordinance supportive community members and city staff.

 He also includes confusing, inaccurate and unnecessary references to the tar sands issue of the past. This includes the choice to ignore the fact that the time out nature of the moratorium, along with the inclusive and transparent realities of the Draft Ordinance Committee, allowed for an opportunity to study all sides of the issue. This opportunity – in the face of years of industry misinformation about the topic (and despite significant objective data about the issue) – was disregarded by the fossil fuel industry, in spite of invitations to participate.

 An additional tar sands reference is faulty: the only “higher authority” responsible for the planned two 70-foot smokestacks (“volatile combustion chambers”) was the city’s own building codes, which should have never allowed for their approval . . . a process for which the Portland- Montreal Pipeline Co. had ultimate responsibility, given that law requires due diligence on their part to ensure that their proposal (which they subsequently denied) “met code” – which it did not.

There is much more – but I defer to the anticipated many who I’m sure will speak to the numerous other flaws in the reporting. My intent with this letter has a different focus:

Does the Sentry have the right to provide whatever voice it views as appropriate? Absolutely. This is fundamental to the concept of a free press and free speech.

However, the Sentry has a strong presence and impact in South Portland. Therefore, does it not also have a responsibility to provide balanced coverage of community issues?

I would encourage self-reflection for all of us, including the management of the Sentry. Given the realities of our time, can we really afford to continue to argue, endlessly and pointlessly? Or is it time to commit to and insist on genuine conversation and action in support of the greater good?

We can hold different opinions as to how that might be defined but we must agree to have respectful dialogue in the context of balance, fairness, decency and tolerance.

In any dispute that our community and its individuals confront – tar sands, pesticides, city streets, the budget, etc. – there is an opportunity for respectful dialogue. But of the issues that the Sentry seems to support, it favors the economic over the balanced.

To get where we need to be as a community, we need genuine negotiation and compromise. But it’s going to take all of us, working together, regardless of our personal dislikes.

Presently, we’re having a conversation about these issues, but it has yet to become a respectful and balanced dialogue of balanced and civic negotiation.

I am committed to such a thoughtful process – and know that there are many in the impressive city of South Portland who are as well.

Here’s hoping that the Sentry can support such a conversation.

Bob Klotz South Portland

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