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Salmon editorial needed space to travel.

"Save the columbia salmon" was encouraged by The Seattle Times editorial page editor Mindy Cameron as a way to rethink the editorial format and take on a pressing Pacific Northwest issue.

Times editorial writers have opined for generations about the political, economic, environmental, and cultural aspects of salmon. We love salmon in the Northwest, preferably grilled. Our project came at a time of growing realization that the government had spent $3 billion to save wild salmon runs with scant results.

Everyone had ideas, lots of competing studies had been written, and others were in the works. "Save the Columbia Salmon" tried to lay out the overall picture and present a series of recommendations, most of which pleased no one.

Environmental groups want dams removed, especially four dams on the Snake River, which feeds into the Columbia River. Taking out dams is a popular position. Our editorial was skeptical of the benefits, and believed that complex economic and political relationships made it an impossible goal. Why waste the time? We thought there were more productive battles to fight.

What the Times recommended, among other things, was dropping the water level behind one major Columbia River dam to enhance fish habitat along an 80-mile stretch of river. This promises the best results for salmon recovery. Agribusiness, barge, and hydropower interests oppose this approach.

Ross Anderson and I were not interested in facile condemnation of the dams that changed the face of the Pacific Northwest. The equation for fish survival and decline was much too complicated, and it involved failures to build dams as designed, farming and logging practices, climate, ocean conditions, harvest, predators, hatcheries, and all the usual indignities suffered by nature at the hands of a growing population.

So how to say all that even in a blown-out editorial format? A key to conveying the information was Times news graphic artists. Their work was coordinated by associate editorial page editor James Vesely and editorial copy editor Ken Rosenthal.

Graphic artists Chris Soprych and Chuck Eichten showed readers how dams work and what changes The Times recommended. They used locator maps and charts to enforce editorial points and make a daunting load of copy approachable.

The result was spread across two-and-a-half broadsheet pages, topped by an editor's note explaining that, like the salmon, "the editorial needed space to travel the distance." The editorial won the 1997 Opinion/Editorial Gold Award in the category of best theme page. The contest was sponsored by the Association of Opinion Page Editors and Penn State University's college of communications.

Will "Save the Columbia Salmon" help save any fish? It's too soon to say, but elements of the debate are slowly turning toward our thoughts on dam drawdowns and how to pay for fish recovery.

Ross and I did the reporting and toured remote dams on frigid winter days. That does not count for much without the germ of an idea and the commitment to get the opinion in the newspaper. That's where the editor is key.

NCEW member Lance W. Dickie is an editorial writer for The Seattle Times.
COPYRIGHT 1998 National Conference of Editorial Writers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:editorial comment on a Pacific Northwest endangered species
Author:Dickie, Lance W.
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Jun 22, 1998
Words:513
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