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SOUND OFF: It's all about a headline

Reader: I am prompted to write with a concern about the headline for Rich Lowry’s editorial in the April 28 Californian. I think that titling it “Biden’s climate summit folly” was an inappropriate summary of Mr. Lowry’s arguments. I think that Rich Lowry too often makes unfair and value-laden criticisms of people and viewpoints that he disagrees with. In contrast, I think his April 28 piece was a fair presentation of some of the facts of the politics of addressing climate change. Lowry did not use the word “folly” anywhere in his piece.

My view is that increased carbon dioxide and methane emissions in recent history have contributed to warming of the earth. That said, what is often missed in the debate is how to respond. It seems there is a simplistic view that if the U.S. reduces carbon emissions we will somehow reverse climate change worldwide in a short period of time. The reality is carbon dioxide and methane concentrations in the atmosphere will continue to increase, even if we slash emissions. Cutting emissions means slowing the rate they accumulate in the atmosphere. It does not mean that the concentration will start decreasing.

As a recent NPR piece (“Carbon emissions could plummet. The atmosphere will lag behind," April 15) explained, even with drastic cuts in carbon emissions, it would be several generations before we see an effect on the climate. All this to say that Mr. Lowry’s critique of Biden’s response to climate change and the geopolitical issues surrounding it was fair. My concern is that the value-laden language of “Biden’s climate summit folly” sounds dismissive of the real issues around this important issue. I am concerned that associating “folly” with our president’s name does nothing for the debate of the real issue of climate change.

OK, now that I’ve complained, I will say that I am very thankful for The Bakersfield Californian, and the effort your paper makes to keep us informed. I think you do a pretty good job of presenting a diversity of viewpoints. I recognize that we are a better people if we listen carefully to those we disagree with. I will also commend you, Ms. Peterson, for the remarkable self-control and grace you show in your “Sound Off” column. While I sometimes miss Robert Price’s occasionally snarkier tone, you are a paragon of grace and restraint in responding to your riled-up correspondents.

Thank you and your staff for what you do to keep us informed. Keep up the good work!

— Best regards, Steve Sanford

Peterson: First off, Steve, thank you for your kind words about our work to keep readers informed and efforts to present diverse viewpoints.

Let me tackle your question about the headline on Lowry's column. King Features Syndicate, which distributes Lowry's column, sent it with this headline: "Biden's climate folly." I don't know if Lowry writes his own headlines, or his editors do. But either way, they came up with that headline, not us, so they believed it reflected the content of the column. I would agree it was "value-laden," as you said; opinion columns tend to reflect the writer's values.

We did change the headline slightly to fit the space on the page, making it say "Biden's climate summit folly."

Readers will wonder: Can you do that? Yes, we can and do. News services and syndicates generally offer a headline on their news stories and opinion columns. We often publish what is provided, but just as often we need to adjust the words slightly to fit the space in print. Is something a one-deck headline, and we need to make it into two? Or do we need to shorten the headline? Or do we need to add attribution?

Also, for our own local stories, a good headline online might not fit the space in print. You'll often see one headline at Bakersfield.com, written for search engine optimization (to help readers find what they're looking for), and a different headline that fits a print layout. Here's an easy example: Online we might include "Bakersfield" in a headline so someone outside the area finds a given story. But "Bakersfield" might not need to be in the print headline if it's obvious we're talking about Bakersfield.

As far as the topic of climate change, I'm not an expert, so I will leave that reporting — and column writing — to others.

•••

Reader: Thank you for the articles and tributes for Gerry Haslam. Please give Jan all due credit. She has given so much to us, as well as to Gerry and their family.

I made a point to meet Gerry at a book reading at the Rohnert Park Library. Like so many of us, I was immediately attracted to him as a wonderful human being. Later I participated in several Lifelong Learning classes Gerry taught at Sonoma State University. I have been in their Penngrove home. My brother Larry moved from Salinas Union High School, where our classmates included Okies, Mexicans and Filipinos, to East Bakersfield at age 15 to live with our dad. Close in age to Gerry, Larry has attended Gerry's annual gatherings of the Bakersfield chums. Larry and I and an Okie friend have attended several of the Okie Days in October at Weedpatch Camp in Arvin, while Gerry and Jan were there at the Authors Table.

Gerry will always be with us in spirit. Rest in peace, Gerry. And we are always with you, Jan.

— Stephen Kent Jones, Rohnert Park

Reader: I am writing in response to Gerald Haslam's passing.

Thanks to Robert Price for his fantastic viewpoint story ("Robert Price: Gerald Haslam's valley was a place of renewal and comfort") of Sunday April 18.

It could be said Mr. Haslam was the friend I never met, in person that is. We did email a couple of times. I mailed him a gift from Oildale - our Oildale Good Citizens, Good Homes, and Good Schools sign. I know it was something he could be proud of. Though we grew up at different times we are so similar in the way we remember and embrace our little town. We are both cut from the same cloth. Hardscrabble community as Gerald calls it.

He was known to come back home and inspect his old blue-collar neighborhood. I think he could not believe or could not accept the town he once knew could have fallen so deep down in despair, so disappointing to see homeless sleeping on the streets, trash and more trash scattered like no one cares. Graffiti on buildings. Buildings empty boarded up business moved on and out. Very depressing.

Our Oildale Centennial celebration in January 2009 was held at the Rathburn Library to reminisce with old pictures and stories of a better time. Mr. Haslam came to town and spoke of his growing up here and going to the River Theater and the 99-Drive-In. Yes, Oildale did have a beautiful movie theater on North Chester, now a dilapidated shell. Though oil pumps still pump and the town is as roughneck and hardscrabble as ever before, it is sad to see Oildale has slipped down so far with drugs and pot shops that have overtaken the community.

Mr. Haslam and I both have a respect and fondness for our little city no matter what, as we are both Oildale born and raised. Me from Beardsley and North High where I have lived for 59 years. We wish, hope and pray for better improvements and brighter outlook for the future. Mr. Haslam was a great writer and a wonderful person someone we could look up to. A person we could inspire to be like. A few years ago there was talk about a Wall of Fame, for Oildale. Mr. Gerald Haslam deserves to be on that wall. He is a perfect of example of a GOOD CITIZEN from OILDALE.

— Fred and Linda Enyeart, Oildale

Peterson: As the tributes to Gerald Haslam continue to come in, all I can say is I wish I had met the man! And yes, I believe he would definitely belong on an Oildale Wall of Fame.

Executive Editor Christine Peterson answers your questions and takes your complaints about The Californian’s news coverage in this weekly feedback forum. Questions may be edited for space and clarity. To offer your input by phone, call 661-395-7649 and leave your comments in a voicemail message or email us at soundoff@bakersfield.com. Please include your name and phone number.