Happy New Year! It’s a holiday season tradition…here, for the 19th year, is my list of overhyped and underreported local stories of the year. We’ll start here with the local stories, and add national and international later this week. My thanks as usual to my colleague Maria Tomchick, with whom I’ll be reviewing these stories on our “Eat the Airwaves!” segment of KEXP’s Mind Over Matters (this Saturday at 8:30 AM Pacific Time).
As usual, there’s no shortage of candidates.
2014’s Most Over-Hyped Local Stories
One Word: Seahawks. Yeah, Seattle hasn’t had a sports championship roughly since they discovered gold in the Yukon, and it’s a big deal. That’s a sports and cultural story – instead, Paul Allen’s football toy has dominated local news headlines and especially newscasts all year.
Boeing, Microsoft, and Amazon are not local companies: For them, the Puget Sound is another push pin on a world map. Each company is a global empire that’s been outsourcing jobs for years. Stories that assume we should root for these companies’ success because they’re “ours” are laughably provincial.
Plus, as usual, car crashes, fires, violent crimes, big (or not) weather “events,” heartwarming stories of photogenic kids overcoming adversity, and every other staple of Chuckle-Buddy News. Every time you watch local TV news it lowers your IQ.
2014’s Most Underreported Local Stories:
Real estate prospects masquerading as transportation initiatives continue to dominate local budget priorities. Almost all of Seattle’s discretionary transportation money goes to a streetcar folly that simply moves existing transit riders into a new mode, at much higher costs per mile. Just like the Mercer Mess and the downtown tunnel, it’s all about increasing property values.
Speaking of the downtown tunnel, it was only at year’s end, as Murray’s Fault opened up under Pioneer Square, that the general public (and local media) began to understand what anyone paying attention knew at the start of the year: that the downtown tunnel project is in deep, deep trouble.
Meanwhile, existing transportation infrastructure is a mess: Bus ridership is at record levels, but Metro in 2014 narrowly avoided draconian cuts. While the city builds streetcars, there’s a ten-year backlog of repairs to city roads. Some bridges, like the Magnolia Bridge damaged in the Nisqually earthquake fourteen years ago, are in real danger of collapsing. Local leaders’ disinterest in addressing critically needed infrastructure investment was a complete non-story.
Seattle rent increases were the highest in the country. Again. 2014 was the fifth consecutive year that Seattle had the highest increases among the 50 largest US cities, with much of this money going to out of town property owners. These sky-high rents are the result of intentional public policies (density!) that use an environmental vaneer to mask a faith in free market principles that would make Ayn Rand blush. Except, of course, that public money heavily subsidizes all this expensive new property development, which is far outpacing the city’s infrastructure in transportation, schools, sewage, and much more.
Meanwhile, working class residents are forced to flee to the suburbs in search of somewhat less insanely expensive housing, which has both created more sprawl and intentionally remade Seattle into a wealthier, whiter, less diverse city.
Local homeless population explodes: One side effect of tearing down existing affordable housing stock to build all those shiny new buildings is that the number of people sleeping on friends’ couches, in cars, and in tent cities has gone up dramatically. The annual One Night Count was up 14 percent in 2014, which likely undercounts the homeless by quite a bit. Welcome to the New Gilded Age.
Seattle Public Schools leadership is as bad as ever, with another superintendent driven off by senior staff and the school board, and a relentless campaign to teach to meaningless tests and defund programs and alternative schools that don’t conform to standardization. The feds are now investigating Seattle for its disproportionate discipline rates of both African-American and Native American students.
State and local governments sabotaged pot legalization: While Colorado had its system up and running early this year, our state’s Liquor Control Board, dominated by drug warriors, issued just 21 retail permits for the entire state (vastly less than demand) and repeatedly delayed even those permits. Local governments tried at every turn to block implementation as well. And to think that without Costco’s liquor privatization initiative, the state would have had a ready-made network of retail stores instead.
Premera Blue Cross killed the state’s “All Payer Claims” database, which would’ve let every person in Washington state compare prices and effectiveness ratings for different procedures performed by doctors and hospitals in the state.
State Republicans are just as unhinged as their national counterparts, doing exactly what their colleagues in Congress did: manufacturing a crisis to force passage of a terrible budget, and blocking almost everything else. Including, for the second year in a row, adequate education funding (in defiance of a state Supreme Court order) and any transportation budget at all.
And, on that cheerful note, get out and make your own news in 2015. If this compilation suggests anything, it’s that we can’t rely on corporate media to push for change, or even to tell us when change is desperately needed. We’ll have to do both ourselves.