Monday, May 24, 2004

Google Can Be Your Friend

Down below, in talking about Carol Chumney and Carol Coletta running for City Mayor, I mentioned a Commercial Appeal guest editorial that Coletta did wherein she was identified merely as a downtown resident. No mention was made of her professional and personal stake in downtown activism. It's a shabby tactic for the paper to pull.

Well, they did it again last week. J. Ritchie Smith wrote this editorial last Tuesday wherein he was only identified as "the founder of a Memphis landscape architecture and urban design practice." He was writing to undercut assertions by folks like Friend For Our Riverfront that making the Promenade space mostly open was a good idea.

Well, I've learned never to take these kinds of Commercial Appeal guest writers at face value, especially when the writer is taking a position that acts to reinforce the previously expressed editorial opinion of the paper; in this case, cutting down the other plans to leave the RDC plan standing. There's always something else going on, and sure enough, when I Googled J. Ritchie Smith's name I came a cropper.

The average reader would simply assume he's one of many landscape architects working in the city, someone who has an informed opinion and was offered a forum for it. Nothing suspicious.

Ah, but better informed readers, and those who did their research, will find that he was the chief landscape architect at Martyr's Park and for the enormously contentious Riverwalk! He's deeply invested in Downtown redevelopment! Smith even mentions the Riverwalk and other development without mentioning his own involvement and previous work with the RDC.

I don't mind that Mr. Smith wrote something for the paper. It's good to have someone who is knowledgeable and able to provide experienced insight share their thoughts. But I an angry that someone who stands to profit handsomely from, and is intimately involved in, downtown redevelopment is not clearly identified as such! It is at least dishonest and creates an appearance of hidden partisanship that is unappealing in a daily newspaper.

It also doesn't help with credibility that once again, we get another pro-RDC plan column. If memory serves, there have only been two editorials in explication of plans other than the RDC one: James Williams' column about the 1987 plan (which is no longer to be found in the online CA; scroll to page three on the link) and a "pro/con" two-fer package run a month or so ago. There have been several times that many articles and columns in favor of the RDC approach.

The Commercial Appeal opines the "appearance" of this RDC plan being "shoved down the people's throat," but they sure do seem to be doing their all to stoke that image. There was no reason for Mr. Smith's intimate relationship not to be fully disclosed. There was ample white space surrounding his words to fit it into. That the paper chose to keep this information from their readers can only cause suspicion and concern.

By the way, in researching this, I learned that the original budget for the Riverwalk was $1.1 million. By the time it was completed, cost had more than doubled to $2.42 million! Something to think about as the City and the RDC insist that their plan for the Promenade won't cost us a dime....

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