In last week's City Paper, we pointed out another example of the Department of Public Works' (DPW) habit of sending out bad-news press releases late on Friday afternoons, when any news coverage is likely to be lost amid the weekend shuffle and feel old by the time people are paying attention again on Monday. In this case, the release announcing a 19,000-gallon sewage leak came at 4:39 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 16, hours after it said the leak was stopped.
It wasn't the first time the practice has earned our ire. In last year's Best of Baltimore issue, we awarded "Best Friday Afternoon News Dump" to DPW's two consecutive late-Friday press releases last August. The first came in at 3:57 p.m. one Friday, sharing news of a 3-million-gallon spill of sewer-contaminated runoff, and the second, received at 4:38 p.m. the following Friday, revised that figure to "more than nine million gallons"—a devastating spill, as we reported: "In one hour on Tuesday, that one plant spilled three-quarters as much sewage into the Patapsco as the whole city spilled everywhere in 2013."
On Monday, DPW officials Jeff Raymond and Kurt Kocher called City Paper to say we had been treating them unfairly. "We're not sitting on news, we're not waiting until 4:30 on a Friday," says Raymond. "We're a 24/7 operation."
To prove his point, Raymond forwarded the email he received from the field with the details on the Jan. 16 spill: It was indeed timed 4:14 p.m., and the release was sent out 25 minutes later. He also forwarded an email from Kocher, including the time stamps for all of DPW's overflow press releases from 2014:
Friday 1/16/15 4:38 PM
Friday 8/22/14 4:37 PM
Friday 8/15/14 3:55 PM
Tuesday 8/12/14 5:36 PM
Wednesday 7/30/14 10:38 AM
Thursday 5/15/14 3:13 PM
Saturday 5/3/14 1:25 PM
Wednesday 3/26/14 8:12 PM
So it looks like DPW's last three late-Friday press releases might have been something of a coincidental anomaly. In any case, it seems that City Paper's running commentary has at least scared Raymond and Kocher against the late-Friday news dump. Raymond recalls that when the when the report came in from the field at 4:15 p.m. on Jan. 16, Kocher was reluctant to send out the release. "He said, 'I'm not doing it, City Paper's going to be all over us,'" he says, adding, "We got smacked around by Van for delaying information," probably referring to CP reporter Van Smith's story "Raising a Stink." "We really can't win!"