Reckless Endangerment of the Developing Mind

The Mercury is a “Alternative” weekly publication distributed in Portland, Oregon. It is published by Rob Crocker and edited by Steve Humphrey. The paper has strong ties to The Stranger in Seattle, Washington through Tim Keck.

The very first content following the Letters to the Editor and Index is a column called One Day At A Time. This column mostly reports on celebrity gaffes but sometimes tries to be more. Last week the author (Ann Romano) decided to write about the death of a young man Bonnaroo. She tries to frame the incident as some kind of joke, saying:

“…But as it is in our national security to protect celebrity tour busses from prosecution, the Tennessee Department of Safety immediately cleared the tour bus driver of any wrongdoing. The irony? The young Ohioan was wearing a Bonnaroo admission armband when he was killed. He had apparently hopped the fence to escape the festival. He’d obviously come to his senses, rejected the jam bands/hippies, and was trying to run away. And they ran him down like a dog.” Read the Full entry under Friday June 16th.

I was at this festival reporting on the event for my Dave Site, and was grieved to see such palpable ignorance in black and white. I wrote the editor the following:

“Dear editor:

I usually treat your One Day At A Time column with humor, but was really unimpressed with the Friday, June 16th entry about the kid killed at Bonnaroo.

If anyone from your staff with influence over the publishing of this piece had attended the festival, I would hope they would realize that making light of Joshua Overall being killed by a tour bus is in really poor taste.Further, if the author of that column had taken time to learn about the festival, they would realize that it is not a bunch of jam bands and hippies.

I would suggest your columnist stick to covering celebrity gossip rather than simultaneously trashing a really great music festival and having a laugh at some kid dieing on a freeway.

Regards,

Rob Banagale”

My letter was shortened for space, but published in Volume 7, No. 5, the June 29-July 5th issue of The Mercury. Sometimes the paper reacts to critical letters with a great deal of sarcasm, and basically makes fun of the person. Fortunately, they simply published my letter with the title: “Death: Not Funny”. They have an online version available here. I have a few comments about the whole thing.

  1. The Mercury never contacted me to make sure I had actually written what was sent to them. When I wrote the Portland Tribune, they called me and asked me to confirm my address and that I had written the letter. This lack of checking tells me that the publication does not membership principles listed in the bylaws of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies which state that “A member newspaper shall exhibit sufficient public service through journalism and editorial distinction and excellence to merit designation as a positive editorial alternative to mainstream journalism.”
  2. The fact that the kid out at Bonnaroo was killed is a very sad thing, but the magazine missed my other main point. Bonnaroo is not some eccentric hippie festival. It is a hugely important annual event that now showcases the leading edge of music. In fact staffers from The Mercury staff picked artists publicized by Big Hassle, (who handles all publicity related to Bonnaroo), as having the best albums of 2005. This year Bonnaroo had Radiohead as a headliner and tons of artists (My Morning Jacket, Dresdon Dolls, etc.) a rag like The Mercury drools over. It seemed like the One Day At A Time author who described “jam band/hippies” in attendance knew nothing about the festival.The magazine wants so very badly to sound like it is edgy and on the hip side of things musically, but to insult Bonnaroo at this point is a virtual stamp of journalistic incompetence.

I am glad they printed my letter. However a publication with a circulation of 42,500, (64% of whome are between the ages of 18 and 34), should take greater responsibility in how they frame information and news. If you’re going to have a column about celebrity gossip, great. But don’t let this person comment on music or politics, they just aren’t equipped for it and they’re doing a disservice for the developing minds of young people.

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