Group Think in Eugene

Here’s a quandary for our news media’s editors to consider: What constitutes a group?

Affiliation with a group gives an individual extra stature, but what if the group is an invention? If your poker club agrees the train tracks through downtown should be buried, can you be a group? If you called yourselves Citizens for Quiet Nights, would AmTrak have to listen to you?

Case in point: Residents for Responsible Rapid Transit. That sounds like a group we’d all like to join. When do they meet? Who are their officers? What is their budget? No such group actually exists, at least as far as Oregon’s Secretary of State is concerned. Without such public filings, how do we know who they are or what they really stand for?

Might it be two neighbors from the residential stretch of West 11th Avenue, who worry that a westbound EmX line will bisect their neighborhood? We don’t know.

What we are told is that they are “residents for responsible rapid transit (3RT).” No filings with the state, no offices, not even a Web site. Only a name, chosen by themselves. Couldn’t they just as easily be NIMBYs Opposed To Nodal Opportunities Working (N.O.T.N.O.W.)?

The Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce, since 1902, has served its 1400 members with a full staff and a budget of over $1.2 million.

Yet the two “groups” are often given equal stature in the news media.

Group definition helps you then distinguish between a spokesperson and an outspoken person. Both have value. Presumably, the latter, speaking only for themselves, can be less careful and more inventive. As individuals, they can be wrong more often. When they are right, they are often first.

Jerry Allen for decades has been “the voice of the Ducks,” so he’s necessarily careful. Retired Register-Guard columnist Don Bishoff, by contrast, was always the voice of Don Bishoff.

The latter is the role I’ve been able to play here on this page these last two years. I’ve enjoyed it.