You may have noticed that we’re expanding both the scope and the ambition of our news coverage.
We’re telling more stories from more places, with greater depth and nuance, in an ongoing attempt to help you understand daily life and in particular this tumultuous period in the Pacific Northwest.
But sometimes, we mess up. When that happens, you deserve an apology and an explanation. In this case, a recent story on the protests surrounding a North Portland property known as the Red House failed to meet our standards.
The Dec. 11, 2020, story headlined “Family at center of ‘Red House’ protests owns second Portland home” detailed some of the financial history of the family at the center of the dispute and noted, as the headline illustrates, that while the Kinney family was facing eviction, they also owned another property in Portland.
The story, by Jonathan Levinson and Sergio Olmos, is factually correct. But the article and the headline were problematic because we failed to explain something vital: Why OPB reporters and editors considered this detail relevant enough to note in a news story.
And, just as importantly, we failed to contextualize this story within the broader history of cultural and institutional racism in the city.
Readers of the piece have noted these lapses in calls and emails to OPB and in social media posts addressed to its authors. The article also set off a series of conversations within OPB’s own newsroom led by a staff diversity, equity and inclusion committee. This public letter is one of the products of those discussions.
Levinson explained the thinking that led to the story and our conclusion that it was flawed in a Dec. 15 appearance on OPB’s “Think Out Loud”:
In press releases, the Kinney family said the developer was kicking them to the street during a pandemic, during wildfires, in the middle of winter. Basically the perception was that this family was going to be entirely homeless. On that framing, the Kinneys had many people come to their aid, city streets were blockaded by force, and they raised over $300,000 from the community. So we found out that this narrative wasn’t entirely accurate. The family has a trust that consists of a home valued at more than $600,000, and they own it free and clear. So the Kinneys absolutely have reason to say Portland’s historic treatment of Black families has been terrible. It has been. But it just wasn’t accurate to tell supporters the family would be living on the street if the Red House wasn’t saved. Part of our jobs as journalists is to tell a complete story, even if the facts are uncomfortable.
This vital context was neither clear nor explicit enough in the Dec. 11 package. It should have been. The headline lacked the requisite nuance, and the story itself should have included more detail about the long history of racist policies in Portland and its real estate industry. We included this important background in other work on the Red House controversy but failed to build it into this story.
Those omissions were the direct result of editors and reporters working too quickly and, ultimately, our failure as the heads of our news team and content department to ensure that a complicated and sensitive story received the careful attention required.
For that, on behalf of everyone at OPB, we apologize and pledge to learn from this mistake. The editors at OPB are working to build a more comprehensive system for vetting especially sensitive stories to prevent ourselves from making this type of error again.
Do you have questions or concerns about OPB’s news coverage? Email us.