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even witch hunts require evidence

Yesterday this article appeared over at BikePortland:

http://bikeportland.org/2010/03/03/shop-owner-responds-to-allegations-of-selling-stolen-bikes-parts/

The story came to light because someone has been leafleting eastside Portland with flyers claiming that the owner of a particular bike-based business is a cheat and a thief.

In the article, Jonathan Maus -- the editor of BikePortland -- comments on a number of allegations of dishonest dealings by The Recyclery, a bike shop in Portland that deals exclusively in used bikes and parts, and claims he's heard his share of complaints about the business.

While I, too have heard some murmurings about this shop's business practices, and considerably more about the difficult relationship between the owner and some of his employees (a few of whom went on to start their own bike business a year and a half ago), I worry about the tone of the article and the responses by so many BikePortland readers.

If you read the article you may see elements of a near witch-hunt; dozens of naysayers in the so-called "bike community" are basically calling for the owner's head on a plate. What I find disturbing, though, is that almost none of them are willing to dance in order to get it.

Not one specific case of a stolen bike (including make, model and serial number) has been listed in the comments section following this article, and all the while these readers are basically cheering each other on, whipping the angry frenzy higher.
The owner of the Recyclelry may be guilty of dishonesty. Or he may not be.
There is not yet enough solid, documentable evidence out in the open to make this determination.

This lack of evidence doesn't seem to bother the readers of BikePortland. It also doesn't seem to concern the editor, who decided to publish his article before researching and uncovering hard evidence. Perhaps the short attention span of today's online news readers requires faster turnaround of new articles. If so, then I think journalistic excellence suffers because reporters don't have time to research a story thoroughly enough before publishing it.

The problem with public opinion is that it can turn on a dime, and the resulting mob mentality around an especially juicy story can do serious damage to even the most honest of businesspeople.
Sometimes public opinion reflects an ability to make and understand informed arguments.
Unfortunately, public opinion also tends to reflect a very short attention span on the whole.
Today's tendency by too many online news outlets to publish articles before all the evidence is in only serves to reinforce this phenomenon, turning the media into the courtroom, judge and jury. That can't be a good thing.

I shudder at the tone of so many the comments following this article. I'd like to say heaven help the naysayers (if their allegations turn out to be false), but I have little sympathy for people who like to fan the flames of righteous indignation for little more than their own entertainment. Rather, heaven help other small businesses who buy and sell used goods. Regardless of the outcome in this case, one of those small businesses could become the next target when a fickle public grows tired of this one.

Comments

(Anonymous)

Reading the Article

Hi Beth,

I casually read the article yesterday and didn't really get the same impression of the tone of it. Neither side really (leaflet or owner) had any hard proof of anything but the owner's comments seemed credible to me.

Russel Haynes
Tigard, OR