Matthew Spina's 5/29/04 Critical Mass Article Posted Below.

Michael I. Niman's Response to Spina is Posted below Spina's Article

Critical Mass makes point without legalistic mess
News Staff Reporter

Copyright 2003 The Buffalo News 
Buffalo News (New York)

Critical Mass, which one participant calls "anarchy in the perfect sense," gathered at the steps of City Hall on Friday for its one-year-later ride. Then, with a few excited whoops and toots of their bicycle horns, the 80 riders were off, drawing gawks and taking up as much of Buffalo's side streets and main drags as they cared to.
Critical Mass has no organizer, no leader, no value system other than the belief that bikes do not block traffic - they are traffic. Critical Mass riders call their bikes "vehicles."

Last May 30, another monthly ride began in motley fashion, then turned ugly on Elmwood Avenue when a police cruiser tried to stop a few riders who were blocking cars. Critical Mass, which spread from San Francisco in 1992, operates on the principle of strength in numbers, so most of the Critical Mass procession stopped in a show of support.
More police arrived, a melee erupted, and nine people were arrested, accused of inciting a riot. Three were convicted of violations and fined - Craig J. Fredenthal, 23, a stagehand; Jonathan Piret, 21, a University at Buffalo student; and Michael I. Niman, 45, a Buffalo State College communications professor whose writings about Critical Mass are often featured in the tabloid Artvoice.

The event made more people aware of Critical Mass, but did little to make Buffalo a better place for bicycling, said Mike Rizzo, a bike messenger not associated with Critical Mass. After May 30, he started a bike advocacy group called Transportation Options of Buffalo.

A philosophical rift was evident in Friday's crowd. The T-shirt that Gregg Szymanski wore under his waist-length dreadlocks said "Critical Mass 2003, Never Forgive, Never Forget."

But Thomas handed out a flier called "Peace in the Streets." The riders went up Niagara Street, Connecticut Street and Richmond and Lexington avenues, slowing cars to a crawl. They crossed Elmwood and went north on Delaware Avenue, blocking traffic. Some riders drifted away from the pack near the University at Buffalo South Campus, others on the return through Delaware Park. Two Buffalo police cruisers encountered the procession, but the officers ignored it.



In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Such reprint is also protected by the "fair-use" clause of US copyright law, which allows for reprint within the context of media criticsm.


May 29, 2004

Matt Spina
Buffalo News Reporter


I don't get it. I offered you professional courtesies, sharing information about Critical Mass and pointing you in the direction of sources which you eventually interviewed. You returned the favor by slandering me and publishing false incendiary allegations about the subject of both of our stories this week -- the Critical Mass cyclists. First, for the record, I was never "fined," as you report, following last year's trial. The SEALED conviction (the only charge from May 30th that stuck) was for "failure to disperse," and there was no fine. Of course, as a journalist, you know it's your duty not to flee from news that you are documenting, and you are probably well aware that this is a common violation dealt out to journalists in the wake of 9-11 (though for the record -- it was established in court that I was arrested before the only recognized dispersal order). Your writing leads readers to believe that this charge was somehow related to the "inciting a riot" charge which you cite in your previous sentence. This is misleading. Was it your intention to mislead your readers?

Also, I'd like to know your source for alleging that last year's May 30th ride "began in motley fashion." To the contrary, I witnessed and reported on a ride that proceeded peaceably across the East Side and back to the West Side about 45 minutes later, when it was stopped by the police. Numerous photos taken along that route show the 120 riders smiling and enjoying their ride. Yours is the first allegation of "motley" behavior. You also report that at the same May 30th, 2003 ride, "a police cruiser tried to stop a few riders who were blocking cars." Where did you get this idea? Neither the police, nor the Critical Mass participants, ever alleged that such an incident took place. The two people who police (not their cruiser) successfully pulled over ("tried to stop" indicates that the "try" failed), were actually ticketed for "failure to yield to an emergency vehicle." They were found innocent of this charge in court after the ticketing officer committed perjury and claimed to be chasing them for over one mile, when in fact a series of photos which I took and which were introduced into evidence showed the two cyclists pulling over within 50 feet. Since you brought up tickets, shouldn't you have also mentioned that the people ticketed were acquitted? Is it common in The Buffalo News to mention prominently that someone was arrested, but fail to mention their acquittal, leaving the impression that they were convicted? Again, the term we use here is "slander."

You also screwed up your description of yesterday's Critical Mass ride. I did not witness riders "blocking traffic" on Delaware Avenue. The Mass was in the right lane, with a passing lane open. If you were reporting from atop a bicycle, instead of trying to trail the mass in your car, you would have seen this. It's my guess that media vehicles trailing and not passing the mass when there were open passing lanes would be a hindrance to traffic -- but you don't report "I was blocking traffic on Delaware Avenue." There were a few points, usually before turns, where the mass took both lanes of a multi-lane street. The Buffalo News' photographer, Derek Gee, took numerous photos along the route, yet your Editors chose to use one that showed the mass uncharacteristically riding in two lanes. Again, I have to ask why this decision was made? And I'd like to challenge you to make all of Gee's photos public.

There were also a number of petty inaccuracies. I can't see how riders "drifted away from the pack near the University at Buffalo South Campus" when the ride never got close to the UB campus. Such reporting makes it sound like the ride was composed primarily of students -- which is wasn't. And, if I was 45 years old when I was arrested last May, wouldn't it stand to reason that I wouldn't still be 45 this May? I know this sounds picky, but it is indicative of the sloppy disregard for facts that characterizes this article. Then there were technically correct, but oddly inserted lines such as your Grande Finale, where you write: "Two Buffalo police cruisers encountered the procession, but the officers ignored it." We all "encounter" police officers every day. It's not that they "ignore" us. They don't even notice us. That's because we're not committing crimes. And that's the case here. Two police officers drove by in the course of a 90 minute ride. This is to be expected. It's not news. To place such a line as your summation indicates that the mass was unlawful and police officers were restrained in ignoring it -- a slap against both the mass and the police. Again, this is misleading.

You wrote a 355 word article. And it's a simple enough story that you covered: Cyclists enjoy their ride as Buffalo's Critical Mass enters it's fifth year. It just baffles me how you could screw up such a short simple story so badly. I know you had limited time to research the facts for this story. And I know this meant that you couldn't read or view the Various articles and documentaries about Critical Mass. But, in the end, if you don't have time to properly research your story, you shouldn't write it. Or if your editor inserts a slant or cuts the story to the point of incoherency, you have an obligation to withhold your byline.


Michael I. Niman, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Journalism
Buffalo State College




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