Get your facts right
A recent Dominion Post story blaming the cycleway for a dairy closing was long on opinions and short on facts
I was sad to read the story in the Dominion Post a couple of weeks ago about another Island Bay dairy set to close amid claims of cycleway parking issues. I don't want to speculate on the specific reasons why this particular dairy might be closing because I honestly don't know what combination of factors led the owners to make this difficult decision. However, I do want to talk about the reporting of it and the many questions it raises.
The Mersey St dairy is set to close amid claims of a lack of parking. Photo credit: GoogleMaps
In the original print and online story the Dom Post attributes just about all of the blame to the cycleway. Admittedly, that seems to be because that's what the owners think. The owners, the owners of the dairy across the road and the President of the Island Bay Residents Association Vicki Greco are all quoted expressing pretty much the same view that the cycleway, and the associated impact on parking, have made things difficult for businesses. The story attempts to provide some context by including comments from a retail strategist about how dairies are now a marginal business and that around the country dairies are becoming less relevant.
There's one very important piece of context that the Dom Post left out, however: the parking in front of this dairy on The Parade is due to be reinstated. This isn't recent information either. The reinstatement of parking outside dairies was part of the Mayor's compromise solution that was approved 13-1 by Wellington City councillors in September 2017. Collette Devlin, the reporter who co-wrote this latest story, wrote at the time that Wellington Mayor Justin Lester proposes new solution for Island Bay cycleway, but without mentioning dairies. The information was also included in the council's April 2018 update on The Parade redesign which Collette Devlin also wrote about but again, without mentioning dairies.
The parking immediately outside the Mersey St dairy is due to be reinstated. Photo credit: WCC
To not mention that the parking is being reinstated seems like a pretty significant omission to make from a story that is about parking outside dairies and makes the story quite mis-leading. One of the dairy owners is actually quoted as saying "no-one was listening to dairy owners' concerns" which obviously isn't true. The reporter has either twice failed to note the information that parking outside dairies is being reinstated, or worse, knew the parking was being reinstated and decided not to mention that in the story.
It's certainly true that the parking hasn't been reinstated yet, and may have had an impact on business in the meantime. However, it's ironic that it's the Island Bay Residents Association who are currently threatening court action to stop The Parade redesign from happening, even threatening to take out an injunction if the council starts work. The residents association must be extremely confident of an all-or-nothing "paint it back" victory if they are prepared to delay the dairies getting their parking back.
The owners of the Mersey St dairy have made it very clear what their feelings about the cycleway are. Photo credit: Fairfax
There are other concerns with the story. The specific context for this dairy is that it is one of five along a 1 km stretch of The Parade from Medway St to Reef St. That's a lot of competition. It also faces competition from the Empire Cinema (which re-opened in 2015) and Island Bay New World (who expanded the size of their carpark in 2016). The owners of this dairy have also made their feelings about the cycleway very clear and very public, more so than any other dairy on The Parade. Has this inadvertently affected custom from the more progressive side of Island Bay? None of this was explored in the story.
This dairy is also an earthquake-prone building and was yellow-stickered in 2014. What impact on business has this had? In fact, 19 businesses along The Parade are in yellow-stickered buildings, including 4 out 5 dairies and the majority of the Island Bay Village Heritage Area. The potential impact of that on Island Bay seems like a pretty big story, in and of itself. Again, none of this was explored.
In the video accompanying the story two business owners from the Island Bay Village shops are interviewed. Both of them express concerns about the removal of car parks in the shopping village, which is not going to happen. Retaining the angle-parking there is actually a key element of the Mayor's compromise solution, which in reality is Option D from Tonkin & Taylor's original recommendations with a few tweaks. The detail of the agreed solution has been known for the past year and the reporter absolutely should know about this. Why was this not pointed out, either in the video itself or in the story? It brings to mind that quote doing the rounds on social media recently regarding journalism: “If someone says it’s raining and another person says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out of the f**king window and find out which is true.”
The agreed solution for The Parade includes retaining all the angle parking at the shops. Why do some businesses not seem to know this?
Photo credit: WCC
It actually beggars belief that business owners could on the one hand make so much fuss about the perceived impact on the cycleway on their business but on the other hand still be ignorant of the details of what's actually been agreed. It also seems a little hypocritical for any business owner to be complaining about the safety of the cycleway while operating out of a yellow-stickered building, which both of the business owners interviewed in the video are doing. There are plenty of businesses around town in earthquake-prone buildings, of course, but it's interesting how people can have quite different views about what is or isn't 'safe'. If you're going to express an opinion on that publicly maybe you should get your own house (or business) in order first?
Most of the businesses in the Island Bay shopping village are in earthquake prone buildings. Photo credit: https://epbr.building.govt.nz/
On 27 August, five days after the story was originally published, I emailed Eric Janssen, the Chief News Director (Wellington) for stuff.co.nz including dompost.co.nz and The Dominion Post. I told him I thought the article was mis-leading and asked him to consider the above points. Over the next 10 days there was a bit of email to and fro that also included Warwick Rasmussen, the Wellington News Director. I won't go into all the detail of the emails but during that time the Dom Post moved from a largely defensive position to one where on Wednesday 5 September they finally added to the online version of the story the information that the parks outside the dairy are being reinstated. A minor victory, and a little bit late, but something at least. Eric also offered me the chance to write a Letter to the Editor, which I declined due to the length of time that already elapsed and my feeling that the Dom Post should really take ownership of correcting its mistakes, not outsource it to others.
More importantly, I asked Eric to please make sure all staff writing about the cycleway in the future are aware of the basic facts including the detail of the upgrade agreed by council, which he agreed to do. I sincerely hope they do up their game because an article as mis-leading as this one only contributes to a negative perception of the cycleway overall and the whole issue continues to roll on in a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy of doom and gloom. It's bad enough that there are still residents of Island Bay who are ignorant about what's actually planned for The Parade, let alone professional journalists (who many residents rely on to get their information, of course).
In an effort to retrieve something more constructive from the wreckage of this story I also suggested that the Dom Post could consider following up on some of the many questions that it raises:
At the end of the day the Island Bay cycleway is either an important issue or it isn't. If it's important enough to be to complaining about the impact on your business, or raising money from the community to go to court, or writing stories in the local newspaper about, then surely it's not asking too much to expect everybody to put a little bit of effort into being properly informed. Just get your facts right please.
If you haven't checked out the full detail of the planned upgrade yet, please do: The Parade redesign