Columbian Editor Lou Brancaccio chats with readers

Read full transcript of live Friday event

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Editor of The Columbian, Lou Brancaccio, joined Columbian.com readers to discuss important local issues and questions that involved the general mechanics of The Columbian newsroom.

Join us next Friday, March 16 at noon where nonprofit organizations such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters and Second Step Housing will join us at www.columbian.com/chat to discuss community events, and volunteer opportunities.

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Join The Columbian Friday, March 16 at noon at www.columbian.com... as we highlight a few local nonprofit organizations in our community. Big Brothers Big Sisters and Second Step Housing will join us to discuss volunteer opportunities and local events to participate in.

Brancaccio live chat transcript, Friday Mar. 9, 2012:

Setareh Alizadeh: Welcome everyone to today’s live chat! Editor of The Columbian Lou Brancaccio will be joining us in a few short minutes. Send in your questions and comments and be the first to chat with Lou!

Comment From Lou Brancaccio: Looking forward to it. Two things folks should know. I’m left handed and a terrible speller.

Setareh Alizadeh : Keep sending in your questions and comments folks, we will begin in 5 minutes.

Comment From Lew Waters: Good morning, Lou and Setareh. Looking forward to a good chat...I hope you type better than I do, Lou ;-)

Comment From David Madore: Good morning Lou and Setareh.

Lou Brancaccio: Good morning Lew and David. Thanks for stopping by. I’ve often chatted with these two before. Good people.

Setareh Alizadeh: Good morning David, glad you could join us today...Good morning Lew, in a minute I will post your questions

Comment From Lew Water: 1st question, Given recent revelations concerning CRC, the Oregon Supreme Court saying it really was about manipulating Vancouver into accepting light rail and after years of planning that the bridge is too low for river traffic, what is your view of those “Hounds of Whinerville” who have been stating these and other concerns for so long?

Lou Brancaccio: Lew I fully support those who disagree with us on our stands. The CRC is a complicated project. Our reporting, in my view, has been fair and revealing. Our editorial stand still supports the bridge.

Comment From Lew Waters : 2nd question: How is it that often, Oregon media breaks Vancouver and Clark County news first?

Lou Brancaccio: I would respectfully disagree that Oregon media “often” beats us on stories. I’ve heard this on occasion. Simply not true. Do we get beat on stories here? Yes. Does it happen often? No.

Comment From Craig Sayre: Lou, I’d like to take a look into how the newsroom is run. How are stories selected, and how are they assigned? I envisioned a Lou Grant type of operation where you snarl a copy boys and reporters - handing out assignments right and left, but in a conversation with Andrea Damewood, I found that you’re not all that involved in the selection of stories to cover. What do you do and how do you run the newsroom?

Comment From David Madore: Lou, the C is doing better. But I hate to see you getting scooped by Willamette Week so often.

Lou Brancaccio: Good question Craig. I suspect that 90 percent of stories, maybe more, come from the reporters. You should also remember that there are editors (not me) that those reporters, report to. It’s interesting because I suspect I “hand out” more story ideas than most editors in my position. So I would consider myself very much an “inside” editor, someone who runs the newsroom, not an “outside” editor, someone who spends his time out in the community shaking hands. Having said that I was just at a community event this morning. Shaking hands.

Lou Brancaccio: Well there’s that “often” word again. Here’s a bet I’ll make with you David (although you’re not a betting man). I’d bet we break 20-30-40 times the stories WW has about Vancouver and Clark County. Just sayin’.... And that should be “you are.” I told you about my spelling!

Comment From David Madore: Our community is hungry to learn about the CRC Light Rail Tolling Project, especially more about the vote.

Comment From David Madore: Lou, I have seen how you empower your team that is prolific. You give them a lot of freedom.

Lou Brancaccio: I do give the team a lot of freedom. We have great reporters here! And we have a stack of stories we’ve done on the CRC. We’re all hungry for stories but we feed the beast pretty well.

Comment From Ed Madden: Good morning all!

Lou Brancaccio: Hello Ed!

Setareh Alizadeh: Ed’s Question: In 2007 The Columbain ran a 3 part series called “Child Care Nightmear”. It informed the public and got lots of attention: http://www.earlychildhoodfocus.org/artman2/publish/quality/Gregoire_addresses_child_care_controversy.shtml Your reporters (Erin Middlewood & Stephanie Rice) won a Sigma Delta Chi Awards for excellence in journalism for Investigative Reporting from The Society of Professional Journalists. http://www.spj.org/sdxa07.asp I suggest a similar effort on labor unions. The vast majority of people really have no idea what “Labor” is and is not. I think a series comparing several different types of private sector unions with government unions would be very illuminating. Just a listing of the dues/fees paid and what that money is used for would provide factual information and speak for itself. Thanks in advance

Lou Brancaccio: Good idea Ed. I’ll pass that along. Labor unions are a good topic for discussion. Especially those in the governmental sector.

Comment From Lew Waters: Lou, the WW ran a story on the Oregon Supreme Court that light rail really was the driving force behind the bridge. The Columbian hasn’t commented on that. Why?

Lou Brancaccio: No particular reason Lew. When I see a story like that I’ll often go over to the reporter and ask her/him about it. Sometimes we’ll follow a story like that. Sometimes we’ll wait and include some of it in a larger story we have planned on the topic. But it’s not unusual for a reporter to have other good stories on the schedule.

Comment From Craig Sayre: Andrea had a great story on the bridge height problem and scooped all the rest of the media on the story, but why are the culprits allowed to get away with placing the blame on others? Nancy Boyd blamed everyone but herself - I didn’t see any editorial calling her to task for that. Did I miss it?

Lou Brancaccio: Opinion is opinion Craig. We might not agree with your view on the topic. But what you do get on The Columbian’s web site is to voice your opinion.

Lou Brancaccio: Was that in a longer question? Sorry. Well holding people accountable is my thing. So we do that a lot and as much as we can. But again, if you happen to believe one thing and you don’t hear anything from us, that isn’t necessarily a sign that we’re not holding folks accountable.

Comment From Lew Water: Lou, I think we all appreciate the chance to disagree with you on your website

Lou Brancaccio: And I appreciate you voicing your disagreement. Lew, by the way, is one of the better local bloggers around. You all should check him out.

Comment From Lew Waters: Thanks Lew, I appreciate your kind words

Comment From David Madore: Hey, it’s a work day and we’re having fun. But let’s cover some issues, like a county vote.

Comment From David Madore: Can we talk about the vote? I say, let the county vote! Don’t exclude citizens that will be impacted.

Lou Brancaccio: Was there a question in there David? ;-)

Comment From David Madore: The danger is that Tim Leavitt, Hansen and Smith may veto anything that does not surgically remove citizens that oppose the light rail tolling project.

Lou Brancaccio: The Columbian has called for an advisory vote on bridge as well.

Comment From David Madore: Are any members from Vancouver City Council logged in? Can they address this?

Comment From Lew Waters: Why not a binding county wide vote?

Lou Brancaccio: My view Lew on a binding vote is the bridge is bigger than just Clark County. So Clark County having a “binding” say doesn’t make sense to me.

Lou Brancaccio: And again, I think the community should weigh in.

(Hey, I hope there are more questions out there other than the CRC!) ;-)

Comment From David Madore: We do not speak for other areas. That should not be used as an excuse for our local reps to not let us speak at all.

Lou Brancaccio: Well David, that’s why The Columbian has been in favor of an advisory vote.

Comment From Craig Sayre: Lou your view makes even less sense. The majority of bridge and potential light rail users are from Clark County. Why shouldn’t we have a binding vote? Of course we should.

Comment From David Madore: That’s good. Yet, we need a real vote for LR O&M. Right?

Lou Brancaccio: We actually do have a government that is representative. So we do have folks who we elect to work for us.

Comment From Nick Lawson: Do you see the online version of The Columbian ever being more popular than the print? And nice shirt tie combo :)

Lou Brancaccio: And I respect your view Craig. And I won’t say that your view “makes even less sense.” I’ll simply say we agree to disagree.

LibbyClark: Nick and Lou, it depends on how you define popular. Our website actually has more readers than the print version - just not subscribers. Combined we serve more than 200,000 readers every week!

Comment From Kim Kendall: I would like to say our government is broken. Lou your paper can be invaluable to sifting through all the hype by presenting the back story, but it takes staff that are actually policy wonks.

Lou Brancaccio: Thanks for the thought Kim. We do many stories about the government that we might believe is off kilter. Anyone who reads my column knows I am not making a ton of friends in the government sector. I respect them. But we all try to hold them accountable.

Comment From Lew Waters: Given that the paper is showing more balance in national columns, featuring columns by those like Leonard Pitts and Thomas Sowell, do you foresee a time when that balance will be sought locally by balancing out John Laird’s editorials? If no, please explain. (And no, I am not volunteering)

Lou Brancaccio: Ha! Lew, don’t you think John balances himself out?

Comment From Lew Waters: Uh, no

Setareh Alizadeh: David Hentz’s Question: Do u think J White’s committee will recommend a $40 yrly car tab to maintain light without a public vote?

Lou Brancaccio: Not sure what Hentz would recommend.

Comment From David Hentz: We are gutting basic city services, Vancouver does not have a B&O tax, 37 other WA cities do, we lose $10 mln a yr in Rev, why no B&O tax?

Lou Brancaccio: There are those who like a B&O tax and those who don’t.

Comment From William Swettman: I agree with Lew about balance. We really haven’t the local balance since Elizabeth left. Maybe some guest editorials.

Comment From Nick Lawson: Has the Columbian made any earth friendly moves towards the future?

Lou Brancaccio: There’s less hot air out of this office Nick....Well columnists are a moving target. So we’ll see in the future.

Comment From Kim Kendall: Yes Lou

LibbyClark: Ha, hot air! Well, we also just cut down the width of the paper so that will save many trees.

Lou Brancaccio: Hey Nick, we do what we can for the environment. I guess you could say by our print circulation going down and our web site coming up, that’s environmental! ... And I think our ink is “friendly.”

Comment From Nick Lawson: Lol very true

Comment From David Arnett: There was a discussion earlier about getting ‘scooped.’ I imagine that has to be balanced against a sense of being ‘used.’ ...used by someone to get attention on a pet issue. I’ll be careful about naming any in particular, but the Limbaugh coarse language flap come to mind. Are there stories you reject or delay based on concern about being used?

Comment From Jim Moeller: Hey Lou! Thanks for the opportunity to chat on your page! BTW, how does the editorial board work? Who makes the decision on what opinions to have as a paper? It would seem Mr. Campbell would have the biggest vote!

Lou Brancaccio: Sorry. I missed that question Jim. Here we go. In the end it’s a collective decision by the editorial board on what stands we take. Anyone on the board can express a view. Then the board votes. Over the years I can tell you I’ve ended up on the short end of that stick plenty.

Comment From Debbie Peterson: The CRC’s light rail/bridge project is the biggest game in town. Not including sales tax, it will pull out $818,000,000.00 per year in tolls from Clark County Commuters. That staggering figure alone, should trigger a county-wide binding vote. Anything less, as absolutely a misuse of elected official powers. Given the fact that Clark County will be responsible for over $1B of this project’s costs, why isn’t the Columbian, every day pushing for a county-wide vote?

Lou Brancaccio: Well Debbie, we don’t do anything “every day.” We’ve probably done more on the CRC than any other topic. Period. Still, I appreciate that’s not enough for some. But we have lots to cover. Not just the CRC.

Comment From William Swettman: I know that the paper has made an effort to balance the national columns and cartoons but I do see a bias in story selection and where they are placed (ie Front Page). I know that someone has to decide but my view is that it could be more balanced. The Limbaugh coverage for example.

Comment From Craig Sayre: Luckily for the Campbells they get two votes

Lou Brancaccio: Well Craig, not sure what to read into your comment but both Scott and Jody Campbell are on our editorial board.

Comment From David Madore: Lou, you can put that on your homepage survey. Let the people vote there as a start...If Jim Moeller is logged in, perhaps he can explain why the legislature removed the amendment yesterday that kept the 205 bridge from being tolled.

Comment From Jim Moeller: Also, sometimes I’m disappointed why a certain story (local usually) never makes it into your paper. What’s the criteria for being “news” and who determines that?

Lou Brancaccio: Thanks William but we do the best we can. It’s not a science in picking front page stories. We simply put what we feel are the best stories out there... We do lots of survey questions. I’m trying to remember if we had one on a vote on the CRC.

Lou Brancaccio: Jim some stories don’t make it into the paper simply because we don’t have enough feet on the ground. There are a gazillion things going on out there. We can’t get to them all....Part two of your question Jim. “Criteria” is a moving target when it comes to picking stories. Some of it is on merit alone. But some of it also is on what it is stacked up against. I make some of those decisions. Other editors do as well.

Comment From Kim Kendall: I would like to request local be allowed to submit local commentary on any subject with the stipulation it is rooted in fact.

Lou Brancaccio: Kim thanks for the suggestion. As we move more into the web you will see more opportunities to do just that. Today you can go to our forums and voice local commentary.

Comment From Lew Waters: Lou, do you think blogs fill in somewhat on those gazillion things you can’t get to?

LibbyClark: Kim, you can also create a blog on our site. Anyone who would like to post to Columbian.com can, as long as it follows our community guidelines. http://www.columbian.com/weblogs/

Lou Brancaccio: Good question Lew. They could. And some do. Most blogs are political in nature. So they have a point of view. You, as noted, have a good one. Others can be sort of like a clown show. But, hey, just like everything else, you get a bunch of different stuff out in the world.

Comment From David Arnett: How do you think new Journalists today are different from those of a few decades ago? How do their skills and perspectives differ? What skills do you wish they had that they seem to lack?

Lou Brancaccio: Great question David. Today, journalists are more skilled than in the past. Not only do they have to have all the ‘old school” toughness, they have to understand all the modern stuff. We all tweet and Facebook and Linked in. Many of us shoot photos and video. We gots it all goin’ on!

Comment From David Madore: Yes, absolutely Lew. You deserve much thanks for top notch work.

Setareh Alizadeh: It looks like time is winding down and we will not be able to all of the questions that have been asked. Lou is there anywhere they can send these questions and comments to after the live chat is over?

Lou Brancaccio: Well as always I hold a sort of Town Hall meeting with my column on my Saturday column. Come on by! And you can always e-mail me as well.

Comment From Lew Waters: Carol does a great job too, David

Comment From Micah Rice: This Editors Poll concerning tolling on the CRC ran in mid-January. http://www.columbian.com/polls/2012/jan/would-there-be-any-circumstances-any-where-you-wou/

Lou Brancaccio: Thanks Micah. That’s our news editor there.

Comment From Nick Lawson: Great chat to day Lou and Setareh! Thank you

Lou Brancaccio: And if we get cut off. Thanks everyone! Great discussion! ...Hey who wants to keep going for a few more minutes?

Comment From Lew Waters: Yes, thank you for the chat, Lou and Setareh

Comment From David Madore: I have to sign off. Thanks for the chat.

Lou Brancaccio: Thanks David!

Setareh Alizadeh: We will keep the chat going to address any questions that have not been addressed so far.

Comment From Craig Sayre: I appreciate you taking the time to do the chat Lou. Thank you too to The Columbian for providing the chat site.

Lou Brancaccio: Thanks Craig. Good stuff from you today!

Comment From Lew Waters: Considering that a business like the newspaper must consume an enormous amount of energy, running presses, computers, delivery trucks and such, what steps has the Columbian taken to conserve energy

Lou Brancaccio: What you didn’t like my earlier “less hot air from me” answer? We’re in an old building so I really don’t know what steps we have done. When we had the new building built (we lost that to Chapter 11 and it’s now City Hall) we had all that good stuff going on.

Comment From Craig Sayre: Lou, I asked a question about Joe Tanner but it didn’t appear. I’m glad that he’s running for Commissioner and was wondering if The Columbian will be doing a background story or something on him (it may be tricky to do that without appearing to take sides I suppose).

Lou Brancaccio: Well we try to stay pretty even during election time. So anyone who is running for office will get about the same stuff. Having said that you can’t ignore that those in office now are still public officials and stories will be done on what they’re doing.

Comment From David Arnett: Do you allow tours?

Lou Brancaccio: Pretty sure we still do them. I believe our circulation department handles them. But please check with our circulation department.

Comment From William Swettman: A comment that I made didn’t seem to send. I’ll repeat. I agree with David. You guys do a good job. I don’t agree with all but all in all I really like the paper. I appreciate the outreach and the time that it takes for you to do it.

Lou Brancaccio: Hey thanks William. Truth is we’re not in this business for folks to agree with us. We’re here to do the best job we can with the resources we have. If folks agree with us that’s great. But we know because of the nature of the beast we will have folks disagree with us. It’s the life we live.

Comment From Debbie Peterson: Lou, I guess it comes down to philosophy/mission. If the Columbian’s mission is to just print stories - well, the paper is doing that. If it truly wants to impact peoples’ lives with truth/facts so that they can make choices based on dependable information - the Columbian is falling short. And so, when we are talking about close to $1B being pulled out of our Clark County economy, per year, from the CRC’s Light rail/bridge project - that is beyond significant. If the Columbian truly were a champion of the folks, here in Clark County, the paper would be championing a binding county-wide vote.

Lou Brancaccio: Well Debbie, again, we will agree to disagree. Why couldn’t someone out there say the opposite of what you’re saying. And those people ARE out there. They could say if we are “truly a champion of the folks” we’d do everything in our power to get the bridge built. Simply because you say it doesn’t make it so. Having said that, I realize lots of folks don’t like this project. And we’ve reported it.

Comment From Craig Sayre: $1 billion per year out of the local economy? That can’t be correct. The total cost of the light rail component is less than $1B total.

Comment From Richard L. Grady: Speaking of Blogs and things on them, what do /does your Editorial Board think about Ways For Your Paper Organization to Survive the Change from print to The Web Cloud

Lou Brancaccio: Richard, that’s the $64 gazillion question. We have been pushing for ways to move more into the Web Cloud (the Internet) and we are spending a lot of time in doing that. We see the future.

Comment From David Hentz: Lou, when are you going to do more contests with the prize being lunch with the Editor?

Comment From Craig Sayre : Wow! You really stepped in it that time Lou! I consider myself to be a “champion of the folks”. The folks that pay taxes and tolls that is. Why can’t someone who sees the train wreck coming and shouts a warning be considered a “champion of the folks”?

Lou Brancaccio: Hey Craig I looked at my shoes. They look pretty clean. :-) I think lots of people are “champion of the folks.” I think I’m a champion of the common guy. Do you read my column regularly? Do you see how I take government spending to task?. Do you read on how I believe government workers get more than private workers? What’s your view on user fees? Don’t you think some “folks” might like the idea that if you use it you should pay for it, rather than taxing all of us? My point is there are lots of champions out there. Not any single person or cause.

LibbyClark: This question comes via Jaime Herrera Beutler via email (she couldn’t make the live chat today but wanted to comment): Lou, I have a comment. I appreciate the Columbian’s coverage of what happened after the Clark County Bank closed. Real people, and their businesses and livelihoods, were affected. The federal government’s role in this is something I’m deeply invested in as well. The Columbian’s stories on this help me do my job. Please keep those up.

Comment From David Hentz: Warren Buffett says newspapers are giving away their product away for free on the web. He said, this needs to stop. The WSJ does not give its product away. Why does The Columbian?

Lou Brancaccio: David Hentz. Stay tuned!!!!!

Comment From Lew Waters: Thanks again, Lou. Enjoyed the chat

Comment From David Hentz: Thanks folks. The chat was much appreciated.

Comment From William Swettman: Thanks Again

Lou Brancaccio: Hey thanks again all. And thanks for sticking around for the extra time. I had a great time!

Setareh Alizadeh: Thank you Lou for joining us today, and a special thanks to all of our readers and participants in the live chat.

Setareh Alizadeh: For all of our readers! Next Friday at noon we will have non profits such as Big Brother Big Sister and Second Step Housing joining us to talk about volunteer opportunities and community involvement...Thank you again Lou! Until next time, have a great weekend everybody!