Reader: I read with interest the printing of the Declaration of Independence in your July 4 paper. At the bottom of the document that we Americans so cherish are the signatures of the 56 men who signed it. Men who were putting their own lives in peril by virtue of their signatures as they were committing themselves to an act of treason against their King and mother country. That took real guts in standing for your beliefs.

I’ve noticed recently that, in some of the letters that appear in both the Sound Off column and in the paper's online comments section, people are now allowed to express their views without identifying themselves. Some of these comments are direct attacks against previous writers.

While I have no problem with informed dissent — it's one of the tenets that makes a democracy work - I do object to unsigned letters or people using monikers to identify themselves, as they can and do become unsigned poison pen letters and they are detrimental to an orderly society. Because false monikers are used, and in light of the events that occurred during the last election, one could come to the conclusion that these false monikers are nothing more than the work of Russian trolls and that in itself contributes to the decline of a free press.

— J.R. (Randy) Fendrick

Price: In saluting those 56 exceptional men, Randy, you've highlighted perhaps the greatest example of intellectual courage, moral courage and plain old courage-courage we Americans can point to as a national legacy.

But it doesn't fully apply here.

I've touched on this before, but it's worth repeating. Letter-to-the-editor writers must sign submissions with their true and full names. When editors receive letters signed "anonymous" or "please don't use my name" they slam-dunk them straight into the round file with all the fast-twitch muscle reflex of a Uruguayan goaltender knocking down a Danish penalty kick. I know, I know, I just used two sports metaphors in one sentence.

Online story commenting is different. If a media company chooses to allow comments — and many don't — it accepts that reader-commenters will be somewhat unmonitored. Which is a dubious position, clearly. Obviously, some monitoring is necessary beyond our automated bad-language filter. Editors see all comments and swoop in if things get out of hand. But to a great extent, it's the Wild West.

However, online commenting is not permitted on letters to the editor or Community Voices submissions, so I don't know how any can contain "direct attacks against previous writers." Barring unlikely technical glitches, online readers cannot comment on them one way or another.

Sound Off submissions are different. While we always prefer that readers' questions and complaints be signed, we'll accept unsigned letters, voice mail messages and emails because of the nature of Sound Off, a feedback forum that allows readers to complain about, compliment or question the way we cover the news. If they're valid complaints about our fairness or accuracy — and those issues must be addressed — it doesn't matter much who's raising them.

But in any case, we don't allow reader-commenters to disparage other reader-commenters. They can question their views and ideas but not their intelligence or grooming habits. 

In our print and web editions we typically don't even allow letter writers to mention other letter writers by name. We want to encourage letter writers, not scare them away. Community Voices articles are different because 600- to 700-word commentaries suggest a somewhat higher level of sophistication.

You'll see readers mention previous complainers in Sound Off from time to time, but never (hopefully) in a personally insulting way. Me they can insult. And do.


Reader: I find it interesting that when articles about our poor air quality appear in The Californian, a picture of oilfield equipment pops up. Case in point, page 3 of TBC's June 27 print edition.

How about something in the farming industry? The dairy industry? The oil companies and their subcontractors have spent many millions of dollars over the last decade to meet tough state compliance standards. I would venture to guess more than any other industry.

Being surrounded by mountains on three sides keeping pollution trapped is bad enough but other industries must share some responsibility also.

— Denney Evans, Bakersfield

Price: We should not be illustrating every story about poor air quality with photos depicting the oil industry.

I started to write that we'd strive to do better. Then it occurred to me that I should peruse our digital archive and see just how often we've illustrated air pollution stories with oilfield photos. There's no easy, foolproof way to check that, but I tried.

I entered the search terms "air," "quality" and "ozone" in our PDF database of past published pages and guess what? The vast majority were photos of smoggy horizons. A few shots of street or highway traffic, a couple of home fireplaces, a couple of agricultural burning scenes — and one previous use of an oilfield photo. That picture accompanied "Oil gas permit lawsuit could have a big impact," published June 18, 2017 — a completely appropriate pairing, seems to me.

Yes, I was surprised, too. 

Maybe I did a poor job of choosing search terms. I tried again: I searched for the word "pollution" in our database of images. If any photo captions contained that word, I'd find them. I got a couple hundred hits — exactly two of which were photos associated with the oil industry.  One was the photo you referenced, Denney, published last month. The other was a photo of the Big West Refinery dated Nov. 2, 2007.

Again, my search strategy was surely not perfect. We may have published other stories and other photos over the years that linked the oil industry to air quality, but for whatever reason they didn't turn up in my searches. But I'm inclined to say this is not the problem you apparently believe it is. If you have specific examples I missed, though, please share with me.

You are correct that the oil industry has worked hard to clean up its act and that the horseshoe-shaped ring of contiguous mountain ranges near Kern County's southwestern border trap pollutants, but the oil industry is undeniably a contributor to localized ozone and particulate pollution.


Reader: Most articles appearing in the Opinion section of the paper are written by liberal writers, and if you don't believe me, every article appearing on July 2 criticized President Trump. Don't tell me that you don't get enough conservative articles to put in the paper as you have said before, because that's just an excuse, especially since Kern votes Republican. Censorship of conservative articles might as well be fake news. Wouldn't you agree?

Let's see if this one is worthy enough to put in your paper!

— Dennis Tope

Price: I can only guess you've got a bet going with somebody up there in Tehachapi that you can get essentially the same complaint about our censorship of conservative voices published again in Sound Off on the very same day we publish your 31st (conservative) letter to the editor since October 2016. 

For the 31st time, Dennis, we publish what we receive. Don't like what you see? Write a letter. Not you, Dennis, I'm talking to everyone else.


Reader: As a longtime resident of Bakersfield now residing in Ventura and soon returning home, I have witnessed a transportation route similar to Bakersfield's 24th Street widening project here in Ventura ("It's not 'Go play on the freeway, kids,' but it's close," Robert Price, July 1). I am surprised a death has not occurred on this Ventura street. If the city of Bakersfield builds this crosswalk across six-lane 24th, a tragedy most likely will occur.

Telephone Road in Ventura is a six-lane, posted 45 mph street. It's near the Government Center, and a school crossing cuts across it. During the school week, crossing guards have an impossible time helping children cross safely, as vehicles routinely hit speeds of 50-65 mph or more.

I have personally observed children stranded in the median because cars will not stop at the flashing crosswalk lights. Two weeks ago, a mother and her child were crossing and as I came to a stop at the crosswalk, a vehicle passed on my right at 60-plus mph, ignoring the crosswalk lights. Fortunately, the small family was just entering my side of the road.

Please continue writing on this subject until the city of Bakersfield finds an alternative solution to this potential pedestrian death trap on what will essentially be a freeway.

— Marshal Farr

Price: I received many responses to that column and every reader agreed: A crosswalk over six-lane 24th Street isn't going to cut it.

Some suggested a pedestrian tunnel beneath the street. I don't know about the funding or logistics of such an undertaking, but it's worth consideration. A pedestrian bridge that spans the road could be sufficiently pleasing from an aesthetic perspective, as far as I'm concerned, but not everyone will agree. The important thing is that the city not add to our already troubling tally of pedestrian carnage.

 

The Californian's Robert Price answers your questions and takes your complaints about our news coverage in this weekly feedback forum. Questions may be edited for space and clarity. To offer your input by phone, call 395-7649 and leave your comments in a voicemail message or email us at soundoff@bakersfield.com. Include your name and phone number; they won’t be published.

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