Friday, December 4, 2009

Feed-your-head Friday

The universe is quite likely weirder than we can imagine.

Holiday travel kept me away last week, so I've got a bonus for this week. National Geographic presents a piece in its latest issue to help us understand and teach about the carbon problem and why it's really important to get ahead of it. Check it out.

Editorial: DVDs free to use, not for the taking

This is exactly the sort of thing a careful reader might expect to see when editors get lazy. The unnamed Courier editor's Barcalounger has turned in yet another cut-and-paste version of yesterday's page-one story. But this time it ought to be particularly embarrassing, because he's failed to think through the basis for the story, uncritically passing on nonsense from a press release that seems designed to unfairly manipulate him and the public.

I like Toni Kaus and she seems to be doing well with a tough job as head of the library. This is the first indication I've seen that she or her staff may be doing anything less than above board. But the story of 1,500 stolen DVDs smells of week-old fish.

The library wants a new security system to mesh with those at other libraries in its network and reduce the workload on its staff and volunteers, and this will cost a lot of money. But to justify this expense, it points to people picking way too many things up and neglecting to check them out. This indicates to me that the library has been pretty well failing to provide adequate security against theft of public property. One might think that security would have been an important design factor in the recent total renovation of the library, but we must infer that it wasn't considered or isn't working. That's a fail worthy of note by a local paper. The editor misses it completely.

The library uses the value of the stolen DVDs to help justify the expense, valuing its donated, secondhand, hard-used discs at $25 each. Actual replacement cost for discs in better shape might run to six or seven bucks tops, more like four or five in my experience. Average that high with labor involved, factor in donations of a third of them, and replacing 1,500 DVDs might cost around $7K. Not cheap, but not any $37K. That's ridiculous price-inflation to justify the $93K price tag on the RFID system and imply that it will amortize in a fifth of the time. It may be in a good cause, but it's underhanded all the same, and a local newspaper editor ought to be asking why, if this is such a good thing for the library, the staff needs to use such tactics in pitching it.

We also see nothing but acceptance that the new system will be airtight -- it won't be, there will still be shrinkage, and we ought to know the relative projection -- and we don't hear how many DVDs wear out and have to be replaced anyway, another useful data point in gauging the importance of the security system relative to other spending priorities.

An important part of a news editor's job is critical thinking and skepticism about what people in authority say, particularly where it involves public policy and the public purse. On seeing this ham-handed move by the library, the editors could have asked pointed questions, or simply dropped the smelly elements from what is otherwise a perfectly good story. Instead the readers (and advertisers) get simple-minded stenography. Our city deserves better.