Viral comments and the bridge

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian Editor



Well, that was special.


Last week’s column sorta, kinda went viral with the number of comments posted on our website.

My column tends to get a pretty good number of comments. It probably has to do with a bunch of things:

• Subject matter.

• It feels like home for some folks, where they can meet those with whom they agree and disagree.

• Folks generally like to beat up the media, and since I often write about the media … hey, it’s a match made in heaven.

• I listen and respond to many of the comments, so folks might feel less like they are just talking with no one listening.

• I also try to closely moderate the posts. What’s that mean? If I feel someone is tracking mud into our house, I kick them out. Now, I’m a pretty tolerant person, have a pretty thick skin, but I do try to keep the comments constructive.

As mentioned, the number of comments went through the roof last week. Why was that?

Well, I give most of the credit to David Madore. He’s a very successful businessman, though locally he’s mostly known as that “no-tolls guy” on the new proposed Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River.

He ended up commenting on my column, initially to take issue with something I said about him.

But the conversation — based on questions being asked by other commenters — ended up engaging our readers on both the bridge and his business, U.S. Digital.

And I loved it, and so did those who stopped by to chat.

If I had a wish list for our website, it would include more people such as David stopping by to engage our readers. Often, elected officials aren’t interested in stopping by because they feel like they’d get beaten up by the commenters, so they stay away.

Hey, I feel your pain! Even David had a few shots sent his way, but he simply stayed the course and, in the end, likely had several people in his corner. Thanks, David!

The bridge

Some of the comments last week had to do with the bridge. You know, that bridge.

Essentially, it had to do with whether proposed tolls could help pay for light rail.

A little background:

Some folks in this community have been insisting on a vote on this new bridge, especially the light rail part of it. And many officials have essentially said: “Hey, folks will have to vote on a sales tax increase to maintain light rail, and if it fails, there won’t be any light rail, and if there’s no light rail there most likely will be no bridge.”

But not so fast. We wrote a story this week that said there are other ways to pay for light rail maintenance.

This might have come as a surprise to many readers. But is that really new information? Not so much.

I went back and looked at an interview I did with bridge project co-director Don Wagner in May 2009. Then-reporter Jeff Mize wrote the story. Here’s what that story said:

“Even if voters were to reject a tax increase to help pay for light rail operations, Wagner said there are other options to help pay for the light rail bill — ‘None of which I’m supporting,’ he added — including using excess revenue from bridge tolls.”

I say all of this because I know there are folks out there who believe that somehow we aren’t reporting news about this bridge that would go against those who want this bridge built.

But it just ain’t so.

I’m not saying we’ve done every story on every angle of this thing, but we’ve done plenty. And as we get more ideas for stories, we’ll continue to do them.

Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor. Reach him at 360-735-4505 or