Saturday, January 28, 2017

SF Chronicle's high-minded rhetoric

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In the wake of the Oakland warehouse fire, Chronicle Editor Audrey Cooper explained how that publication was covering the story:

We are going through reports and interviews, methodically separating truth and context from innuendo and rumor. Our editors agree that we need to share more of this process with you. It’s what makes The Chronicle a unique media organization and one deserving of your vocal and financial support. So here’s a promise from me: I won’t be a stranger to these pages, and we will have regular discussions about how we cover the news — what we are doing, how we do it and, most importantly, why.

Thanks for sharing, Audrey. 

Speaking of "reports" and how you cover the news, why didn't the Chronicle cover that UC study on the city's flawed method of counting cycling accidents? Both the New York Times and its readers thought cycling safety was of interest---the story got almost 500 comments---even though the study was about San Francisco, not New York City.

The study found that serious cycling injury accidents in San Francisco between 2000 and 2009 were under-counted by more than 1,300. 

From the study's abstract (Since the study is behind a paywall, I transcribed it for readers after Dr. Dicker sent me a copy):

...Previous studies have suggested that police reports miss a substantial portion of bicycle crashes not involving motor vehicles. No study to date has explored the health and economic impact of cyclist-only (CO) injuries for adults in the United States...We reviewed hospital and police records for 2,504 patients treated for bicycle-related injuries at San Francisco General Hospital. We compared incidence, injury severity, admission rate, and cost of injury for CO and auto-versus-bicycle (AVB) injuries treated at SFGH...Of all bicycle-related injuries at SFGH, 41.5% were CO injuries and 58.5% were AVB injuries. Those with CO injuries were more than four times as likely to be required of hospital admission compared with those with AVB injuries...From 2000 to 2009, 54.5% of bicycle injuries treated at SFGH were not associated with a police report, revealing that bicycle crashes and injuries are underrecognized in San Francisco.(emphasis added)

(See The Myth of cycling collisions on "cyclist-only" accidents.)

Why didn't the Chronicle do a single story on a subject that's of great concern to city cyclists and, supposedly, to City Hall? One can only speculate, unless Cooper wants to share that information with us.

My interpretation: The study undermined City Hall's credibility in general, and the Chronicle likes to support all major city political initiatives, especially the fashionable anti-car and pro-bike traffic policy. Why was the study about the actual safety of cycling in the city ignored when for more than ten years the city has been pushing bicycles on us, even on the city's children?

The study showed that riding a bike is a lot more dangerous than City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition have been telling us. Admitting that reality would undermine the irresponsible push to get more people on bikes, which is now an important---and, not coincidentally, inexpensive---part of the city's approach on dealing with chronic traffic congestion.

Another bike story the Chronicle didn't cover: the last Bicycle Count report that showed an actual decrease in the number of cyclists commuting in San Francisco (Where's the story?).

The Trump Administration is already causing a renewed interest in the works of George Orwell, who created the idea of a Memory Hole

Any mechanism for the alteration or disappearance of inconvenient or embarrassing documents, photographs, transcripts, or other records, such as from a website or other archive, particularly as part of an attempt to give the impression that something never happened.

The Chronicle's approach updates this definition, since they don't have to alter or dump a story they never wrote in the first place. For the Chronicle both these stories are non-events that never happened.

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