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Community News

Commentary
Mercury News Coverage of Metcalf
November 7, 2002

David Grey
Professor Emeritus, San Jose State University

This opinion piece was submitted as either a Commentary or a Letter to the Editor on Oct. 21, 2002 to the editorial page staff of the San Jose Mercury News. After Commentary editor Jim Braly responded on Oct. 24 (often questioning and even discouraging it as a potential longer Commentary), it was revised and shortened and resubmitted as (only) a 280-or-so-word Letter to the Editor late on the evening of Oct. 24. Then on Oct. 31 Letters editor John Swartley called, in response to an e-mail inquiry that day, to say that the letter would be published. He said it would likely be shortened further to fit within the 250-word maximum limits for letters, and it was reduced about 50 words before finally being printed Nov. 5 under the Mercury's heading, "Don't forget Metcalf."

Opinions submitted to newspapers are run and not run for a variety of reasons and, if to be run, are edited to conform to such as length and style "requirements." Content, focus and emphasis obviously (and not so obviously) also can be affected. Other events, in this case such as the Elections, can affect acceptance or timing of publication.

Braly's reasonings why this original piece was an unlikely candidate for publication included length. (No more than 600 words for a "My View" type of column for Mercury News editorial pages. But like the 250-word limit for Letters to Editor, nowhere on the editorial pages of the paper are these maximums specified.)

Likely more significant than most of this original Oct. 21 opinion piece effort or its very shortened Nov. 5 Letter version were several of Braly's other reasonings, partly summarized from two e-mails to this writer. According to Braly:

For criticism of the Mercury News coverage, this ought to be and could be reduced to a 250-word Letter to the Editor. And sent off to John Swartley, Letters editor.

For Metcalf concerns and the possiblility of a published Commentary article (with different argumentation standards compared with a letter to editor), the necessity of the Metcalf power plant, however, had already been answered. That is, the plant's energy, if not needed now, will be with the state's population growth. Unless we are willing to risk blackouts. In essence, arguments against Metcalf had not been fully laid out in this piece. Then it was later also said that opinions stated (or suggested) about not needing Metcalf were wrong, unless one perhaps wanted to argue that limiting energy could serve as a state growth inhibitor.

After apparently rechecking previous news coverage and editorial columns and other opinions, Braly also expressed his view that the paper had covered the pros and cons of the Metcalf issues. So, then, according to Braly:

Anything going back over such as environmental concerns and concerns about putting the Metcalf plant at its present site should be a fairly short summary...because these opinions, or something along these lines, had already appeared in the Mercury News.

Regarding arguments for continuing to cover Metcalf, the reality of the media is that they move on to the next topics unless something new has happened...some resurrected to change matters. Everybody also has a different answer as to how much coverage to give a topic such as Metcalf.

A "news peg," or angle, was needed and probably helpful, such as the (as finally verified) October start of the pile-driving construction phase.

Most of the above comments from Braly, this writer acknowledges, were seen as intended in the spirit of trying to help or guide--as suggestions. Some was accepted so if several points and rationales also seemed defensively to go well beyond "constructive criticism" and at least some of the facts. In fact, while what is written usually must stand or fall on its own merits, it is also invited opinion...which especially in the Metcalf case is subject to very real opinion differences.

At least one editor at the Mercury News did not seem hesitant to express his own or/and also his paper's often- to even long-held Metcalf views and quickly to "dismiss" certain counterarguments based on three and one-half years of following the acknowledged complexities and subtleties of it all. Several fundamental points seemed to be downplayed to quickly ignored. Such as: the specific site, types of issues left in pending court cases and the Mercury's lack of consistent Bay Area-wide and thorough, balanced, updating coverage of many of these, yes, complex, debatable and still unresolved concerns. And all during times now of obvious significant and potentially significant changes.

Two weeks from submittals, rewrites to published letter

Original October 21, 2002 Commentary submitted to the Mercury News

Original October 24, 2002 "Letter to the Editor" submitted to the Mercury News

November 5, 2002 published "Letter to the Editor" by the Mercury News

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