Tuesday, December 20, 2016

SJ's new Home - Exile from Downtown or New Opportunity?

You probably saw the news that the paper had signed a lease for new digs in a remodeled building on the rise overlooking the crazy intersection of Commercial, Vista, and Liberty Road.

New home of the Statesman Journal
at Vista and Commercial
They'll be moving from downtown to this cluster on "middle commercial." The forms here are suburban with big boxes, strip malls, and the big stroad. There's some legacy development from before that, but nothing left from the streetcar era. It's not very walkable.

There is in fact a key segment of missing sidewalk adjacent to their building on Commercial. And when the semi-couplet of Vista/Fairview were "improved" several years ago, the City striped no bike lanes. Biking and continuing south on Commercial through this area is challenging.

Proposed southbound continuation on Commercial at Liberty
Commercial-Vista Corridor Study
(the SJ's new home, pre-remodel, on left in distance)
So this is going to be an interesting transition. Reporters will be more distant from City Hall and from the Capitol, so will there be even less coverage of city and state politics? With development picking up downtown, it is also a move away from an important center of economic and cultural activity.

USGS Quads for 1915 (left) and 1939 (right)
Triangle Drive was the original alignment
But there is also perhaps more of an opportunity to think about transportation and land use, the way people move around in the city and the way we deploy development. The new location might point to ways to think more critically about important Salem matters. If reporters start to feel more isolated there than they felt downtown, that might be good to write about the municipal policy and planning and history that helped to create that isolation. And even if they don't feel isolated, there's still a chance to really situate themselves in the new location and its place in City development. Will they walk along Commercial for lunch and coffee?

They could do all this, but that also might take some extra effort. It's not probably very likely.

On what passes for a masthead these days, the advertising team - "media leadership" they call themselves, as if the primary act of journalistic leadership is generating revenue, not saying what is true and important - is privileged above the "newsroom leadership" and "reporters," and it's reasonable to wonder how much advertising dollars will in direct and indirect ways shape coverage. This is the sad state of journalism these days.

During the snowstorm, it seemed like the media had become an organ for the auto industry. (The new site is near some car dealers, it is interesting to note!)

There was so much autoism in the incidental pieces online. Here are two video clips. It seemed like everything was about driving!

via Twitter

via Twitter
Why not more on walking, biking, and especially on transit? Remember this from 2013?

There was one exception, fortunately. But the non-auto travel was rather buried, even though it was framed up, however humorously, as a real solution.

bike commute for the win!
We need a city paper and its journalism, and if moving is necessary to keep the lights on, it's hard to begrudge that. But if moving from out of downtown leads to further erosion above and beyond the structural tides that are already remaking journalism, then this new site will be a regretted move.

It doesn't seem possible to have any kind of settled judgement on the move right now. But for reporters there's an opportunity to think more about city form and city function here that maybe the downtown location hid a little. There is opportunity here!

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