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Monday, June 16, 2014

Local newspaper moves to old building with a leaky roof

PHOTO: Google map of where the local newspaper Gazette-Times offices moved to 1835 N.W. Circle Blvd. Corvallis Oregon in June 2014. See "Here's how to reach the Gazette-Times this week while we move," posted Jun. 4, 2014 and Staff, "G-T moves to Circle Boulevard offices," posted Jun. 9, 2014.

A current topic of research and discussion in engineering journals addresses the decaying of America's aging infrastructure by proposing how existing public policies to ensure public safety should be updated in the 21st Century. The need for doing this has risen because during the post-World War II building boom in America building codes and enforcement policies were properly focused largely on new construction, which has proven to be an efficient and effective way to reduce the possibility for injury or death, due to fires, electrocutions, building collapses, by slowly over time making the majority of structures in America meet modern building standards.

However, as new construction has slowed down and the average age of buildings in America has increased, the issue of poor maintenance has become a bigger concern because the only incentive for structure owners to prevent injuries is their fear of losing a liability lawsuit or of being shunned by the community or marketplace.

The motivation for structure owners to reduce their personal liability has diminished because more and more real estate is owned by anonymous limited liability corporations and real estate investment trusts (known as a REIT) that can go bankrupt and legally shift liability risks to insurance companies and the public.

The experience of my local newspaper editor dealing with local landlords because his corporate owner asked him to move into smaller offices, prompted me to write the following letter to the editor:

The Gazette-Times' offices are moving into the same commercial building complex where a restaurant owner had to hang plastic sheets from the ceiling to catch water drips from a leaky roof his landlord either refused to or was unable to fix.

Skillful property managers profit from delaying building maintenance.

I worry that public policies for building inspections might allow structural damage, such as corrosion or dry rot, to be missed in America's aging infrastructure, which could lead to a building collapse and the loss of life.

Thomas Kraemer, Corvallis

Editor's note: The roof is undergoing repair at the new Gazette-Times office at 1835 N.W. Circle Blvd.

(Quoted fromThomas Kraemer, "Letter: Building inspection policies should raise safety concerns," posted Jun. 12, 2014)

It is rare for an editor's comment to be appended to a letter as above, but in this case it confirmed my speculation that roof repairs were needed, which had not been mentioned in the newspaper before I submitted my letter, perhaps because the newspaper did not want to pick a public fight with their new landlord.

I was also pleasantly surprised when I received a rare and personal email from the editor, especially given he was busy in the middle of moving, thanking me for my letter submission and giving me his description of the bad experiences the G-T had dealing with local landlords -- I am sure he didn't want to say anything libelous or slanderous because I double-checked my letter for any libel before I submitted it!

I also found it interesting that one of the newspaper articles said the number of employees at the newspaper shrunk from 100 in 1970 to about 25 in 2014 -- given this fact and the number of pages printed today and the percentage of advertising, one could calculate a good estimate of the revenue and profits of this real newspaper today -- it looks to me like the old-fashioned newspaper is nowhere near going out of business in the Internet Age as many pundits have predicted. Most of the staff reductions are easily explained by productivity improvements, if you don't believe email has taken it all away. (See Steve Lundeberg,"Sex, race and other topics from the inbox," Gazette-Times, Sunday, Jun. 15, 2014 the Albany editor humorously describes how the productivity improvements in the Internet Age for producing newspapers has been cancelled out by the "few hundred emails to deal with every day." and Mike McInally, "Think Too Much: A tip of the hat to an old friend," Gazette-Times, Sunday, Jun. 15, 2014)