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December 26th, 2012 WW Staff | News Stories
 

The Top 10 Stories of 2012

The news you read the most on wweek.com.

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Face facts, readers: You wanted to read about lurid four-star hotel sex and awkward death, Bart Simpson and Doctor Who—not to mention a winningly surly football coach and an election-year smear campaign alleging interspecies carnality involving the city’s favorite elephant.

We have the proof right here.

What follows are the top 10 stories from wweek.com in 2012, based on number of page views. 

Sure, we might have left it to some graybeard editor to intone about the most important journalistic contributions of the year. But why do that when you’ve already picked them with a click of your mouse or a tap on your touch screen?

The fact is, your tastes weren’t just for the offbeat and unpleasant. 

You made stories that took seriously our elections process, the fate of journalism in our city, and the fabric of public discourse among your top choices as well.

Our 2012 list includes stories that appeared in print and others that were offered online only. For this list, we combined top stories on the same topic—several articles about troubles at The Oregonian, for example, finished high in the rankings.

We also combined results from our general and primary election endorsement issues, which finished No. 1 and No. 2 of everything we put on wweek.com this year. Notably, one story from 2011 continues to get huge numbers: David Cay Johnston’s article 9 Things the Rich Don’t Want You to Know About Taxes. We didn’t include it in this year’s list, but if we had, it would have finished in the top five.

So here’s a look back—with updates—at your favorite stories of 2012.


#1 WW’S POLITICAL ENDORSEMENTS

More than 160,000 readers clicked to see whom and what WW endorsed in more than 50 races and ballot-measure campaigns during the spring and fall elections. We’d like to think it was because our readers are especially engaged in civic life, or that our incisive logic and persuasive writing were responsible. Maybe Portlanders are just weird.

But Portland did see the most hotly contested mayor’s race in 20 years, with Eileen Brady, Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith each inspiring devoted followings. (We endorsed Hales in both races.)

Many of our endorsements provoked controversy. We irked some readers by endorsing a GOP newcomer, Dr. Knute Buehler, in the secretary of state’s race over Democrat incumbent Kate Brown. (She crushed him.) Others were outraged that we dared inveigh against a hybrid city arts tax. (It passed easily.)

But the calls that have generated the most passionate response were our decisions to endorse Republican incumbents in four metro-area House races: Matt Wand of Troutdale, Shawn Lindsay and Katie Eyre of Hillsboro, and Julie Parrish of West Linn. (All but Parrish lost.) 

Many readers criticized us for endorsing Republicans at all, given these were close races and control of the House was at stake. Others noted that WW failed to point out where these GOP candidates stood on the issue of abortion.

“While we certainly do not expect Willamette Week to impose a litmus test on reproductive health in its endorsement process,” Laura Terrill Patten of Planned Parenthood Associates wrote in an email, “we were disappointed that the editorial board did not clarify where these candidates stand on an issue that matters to a vast majority of its readers.”

—NIGEL JAQUISS


ILLUSTRATION: Amy Martin

#2 THE HEATHMAN's FIFTY SHADES OF GREY

In May, wweek.com reported the Heathman Hotel was offering special guest packages based on E.L. James’ mommy porn novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, which features steamy scenes at the Portland landmark.

Packages included a $40 “Inner Goddess” deal that featured a bottle of Pouilly-Fumé wine and a gray necktie (used as a sex restraint in the book), and a $2,700 “Charlie Tango” weekend that included a helicopter ride for six and custom dinner.

We skimmed the book to find out what happens in the Heathman. In brief: flirting, vomiting, eating oysters, taking a helicopter to an apartment to get spanked. The post went viral.

Since then, says Chris Erickson, the Heathman’s general manager, two couples have bought the “Charlie Tango” package. “I was a little bit surprised,” he says. “We were doing it a little bit tongue-in-cheek.” More than 150 guests have purchased the $40 wine-and-tie combo. 

In September, James herself was spotted at the hotel she made infamous. The Oregonian reported James played a few notes on the Heathman’s piano before being recognized. 

Gawkers now pop by the Heathman, including a group of women who took provocative photos of each other in elevator No. 3. The novel’s heroine, Anastasia Steele, and her dominating partner, billionaire Christian Grey, reportedly have a tryst in that lift. (Claustrophobia caused us to stop reading before that part.) 

Erickson declines to say exactly how racy the photo shoot became.

“They stopped on their own accord,” he says. “They had their fun, and all good things must come to an end.” 

—AARON MESH


#3 CLACKAMAS COUNTY BALLOT FRAUD

Across the country this year, Republican candidates alleged that ballot fraud threatened the integrity of the elections process. 

The Clackamas County clerk’s office might have helped prove their point—just not as they intended. 

Four days before the election, WW broke the news that a temporary Clackamas County elections worker was under criminal investigation for marking in bubbles for Republican candidates on ballots she was helping to process. 

Secretary of State Kate Brown, the state’s top elections official, said as many as six ballots were involved, but the elections worker, Deanna Swenson, told WW there were only two.

Subsequent criminal charges showed she was right. Swenson, 55, was indicted Dec. 4 on two charges each of altering a ballot and voting more than once, both Class C felonies, and official misconduct, a misdemeanor.

The context for the alleged crimes was a troubled elections division run by Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall—not to mention hotly contested commissioner races in Clackamas County, the most evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats of Oregon’s largest counties.

Meanwhile, Swenson’s defense contends her actions were not partisan or even intentional but the result of her state of mind and her medical condition.

Swenson told reporters after her indictment that she never intended to alter ballots and that her thinking that day had been affected by the prescription medication prednisone.

“We are in the process of getting her evaluated medically,” her attorney, Jason Short, says. “She was taking other medications, and there may have been some mental health issues. And she was pretty sick that day.” —NIGEL JAQUISS


#4 CHIP KELLY’S SECRET OFFENSE

Last week’s cover story about dissatisfaction with the University of Oregon’s football coach (“Chip Kelly’s Secret Offense,” WW, Dec. 19, 2012) has lit up the Web. The profile—which details boosters’ unhappiness with the social skills of Oregon’s winningest football coach ever—broke into the year’s top 10 stories in a matter of days. 

The story, which also examined Kelly’s coaching style and his possible bolt to the NFL, created considerable heat among UO fans and Duck haters alike.

“Chip Kelly is the best coach Oregon has ever had and possibly ever will have,” wrote one commenter. “So he doesn’t glad-hand the big boosters with even bigger egos? He doesn’t play nice with the media? Big deal.” 

Since the story’s publication, the Ducks’ hopes for a quick settlement with the National College Athletics Association over recruitment infractions have faltered. UO now faces NCAA sanctions this spring—by which time Kelly, if he takes a pro deal, may be long gone. —BRENT WALTH


#5 TRIBULATIONS AT THE OREGONIAN

Stories about Portland’s soon-not-to-be-daily daily newspaper ranked high in readership—especially stories about the death of editorial page editor Bob Caldwell in March. Interest intensified as The Oregonian misled readers about the circumstances of the veteran newsman’s death (a heart attack while with a prostitute, something the paper never acknowledged).

And the direction of the editorial page under publisher N. Christian Anderson III since then? Cowardice in the presidential race (no endorsement), and the ousting of veteran editorial cartoonist Jack Ohman, who was unrelenting in his mocking of Mitt Romney.

But the story of far more import is the looming fate of the paper itself.

In August, WW reported that the Oregonian’s owners, New Jersey-based Advance Publications Inc., will probably end the paper’s 150-plus years of daily publication. (“Stop the Presses,” WW, Aug. 8, 2012).

The O would follow the New Orleans Times-Picayune, also owned by Advance, which now publishes three days a week. About one-third of the Times-Picayune staff lost jobs in the change. Employees at another Advance property, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, have been told to expect the same.

After our story, Oregonian executives began acknowledging to anxious staffers the paper was headed toward a nondaily future, relying even more on OregonLive.com. 

Meanwhile, the paper is waging an inexplicable, postage stamp-size media war in Forest Grove with the Pamplin Media Group’s Forest Grove News-Times. The Oregonian has launched its own weekly in the Washington County burg of 22,000.

One Pamplin executive, Portland Tribune president Mark Garber, called the O’s strategy “along the lines of fiddling while Rome burns.” —AARON MESH


ILLUSTRATION: Amy Martin

#6 RENT A PUP: HANNAH THE PET SOCIETY

Hannah the Pet Society opened in 2011 with a bold new business plan: to lease Portlanders their pets. For a sign-up fee and a flat monthly rate, Hannah “pet parents” get a dog, cat, rabbit or guinea pig—and all veterinary care, food, training and other needs met. 

The catch, as WW revealed in a November cover story, Hannah technically retains ownership of the animals, and pet parents must sign contracts locking in payments while yielding some control over the welfare of their pets (“Rent a Pup,” WW, Nov. 14, 2012).

The company’s enthusiasts—including its 9,500 Facebook fans—love that their pet-care costs are predictable and that the business found them great companions. But complaints rolled in, detailing excessive fees and opaque policy explanations.

WW reported that the Better Business Bureau gave Hannah an “F” rating based on two complaints, and the Oregon Department of Justice also received a complaint. Many animal rescue groups also said they won’t give Hannah animals to adopt out.

Since our story, the BBB and Justice Department say they’ve each received one additional complaint.

Hannah continues to grow. Founded by veterinarian Scott Campbell, who started the Banfield Pet Hospital chain in 1987 and then sold it in 2006 for millions, the company plans to expand nationwide from its original store at Clackamas Town Center.

Hannah plans a new health and education center in Tigard, following the opening of a veterinary and training facility near Mall 205 and another retail store in Washington Square mall.

“The overwhelming and near-universal Internet and in-person support from Hannah pet parents in response to various inaccuracies in media reports has been very gratifying,” Campbell writes in a follow-up email to WW, “and has validated our belief in this new way to provide quality pet care.” —ANDREA DAMEWOOD


ILLUSTRATION: Amy Martin

#7 WI-FI LAWSUIT STICKS SCHOOLS WITH THE BILL

In June, WW reported that a father’s lawsuit against the Portland Public Schools alleging Wi-Fi use by the district endangered his daughter had so far cost taxpayers $172,559 to defend. (“Wireless Waste,” WW, June 20, 2012).

In the suit, David Mark Morrison claimed Wi-Fi signals were “genotoxic, carcinogenic, neurotoxic and otherwise…harmful” to his daughter. 

Morrison, a rare-books dealer, subscribes to pseudoscientific claims that Wi-Fi and related technologies cause everything from brain cancer to infertility to digestive complaints.

U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman dismissed the case in July. Morrison’s attorney, Shawn E. Abrell, did not return a voice-mail message left by WW at his Camas, Wash., office. (A receptionist says Abrell doesn’t have a cell phone.)

The district’s final legal costs: $204,045.

“In round numbers,” says school district spokesman Matt Shelby, “it’s about two classroom teachers for a school year.” —ANDREA DAMEWOOD


#8 KPOJ-AM ENDS PROGRESSIVE TALK

When we broke the story about Clear Channel Communications ending progressive talk radio on KPOJ-AM 620, the webosphere went nuts. Many listeners suspected a partisan assassination carried out by Clear Channel part-owner Bain Capital. 

But as WW later reported (“Who Killed KPOJ?” WW, Nov. 28, 2012), Clear Channel is up to its transmitters in debt and saw KPOJ’s low ratings as too big a drag (it ranked 22nd out of about 50 area stations).

Ex-KPOJ morning talk host Carl Wolfson plans to launch a Web-based radio show Jan. 21 after raising his Kickstarter goal of $40,000. 

Meanwhile, the latest Arbitron report shows ratings at the “new” 620 AM, with its Fox Sports Radio format, have fallen since the change. —AARON MESH


#9 THE SIMPSONS HOMETOWN INSPIRATION

In the grand scheme of things, revealing secrets about a cartoon’s family fictional town shouldn’t have caught anyone’s attention—except we’re talking about The Simpsons, the greatest TV comedy of the last 20-plus years (up through 1998, anyway).

The true inspiration for the Simpsons’ hometown of Springfield has been the subject of speculation among casual and hardcore fans since the show started.

So when Simpsons creator and ex-Portlander Matt Groening let it be known to Smithsonian magazine that the world’s most famous animated burg is named after (though not necessarily based on) Springfield, Ore., it was, in pop-cultural terms, a pretty big deal.

Given that Groening grew up here, this announcement should have triggered a resounding duh! Why let Snowball II out of the bag now? Maybe this worn-out series is like an elderly matriarch in her death throes, airing family secrets before going gently into that good night.—MATT SINGER


#10 TARDIS ROOM: FISH AND SPACESHIPS

A short and simple bar review on wweek.com went wild on the Web in February. Perhaps being called the TARDIS Room and getting linked to the official Doctor Who Facebook page helped do the trick. 

Owner Mick Shillingford created the bar—themed after the long-running BBC TV series Doctor Who—out of a quick remodel of his Fish & Chip Shop at 1218 N Killingsworth St.

Since the review and Web attention, Shillingford has added more memorabilia, including TARDIS lamps and Christmas tree lights. He’s also added a game room with a pinball machine and table where people can play Magic the Gathering. 

Shillingford says almost any press about the TARDIS Room receives colossal attention on the Internet. Similar reviews by other publications have generated mountains of Web hits, he says. “It’s been pretty crazy since then,” he adds. “We just got busier and busier.”

The bar’s global popularity on the Internet outpaces patronage of the physical bar, but Doctor Who fans are often spotted posing outside the bar’s restroom, fashioned to look like the TARDIS, the blue police box that conceals Doctor Who’s time machine. 

And Shillingford says a Colorado couple once made a detour to Portland on the way to Seattle just so they could see it. —AARON SPENCER


ILLUSTRATION: Amy Martin

SPECIAL RECOGNITION: MAYORAL MADNESS

We launched this silly competition in March because we were getting bored with the mayor’s race. We picked 64 Portland citizens and landmarks we thought would make more entertaining mayors—such as Storm Large, Carrie Brownstein and the giant Paul Bunyan in Kenton—than the actual candidates. We then pitted them against each other in an NCAA Tournament-style bracket.

Readers had fun—Mayoral Madness finished just out of the top 10.

But who knew the candidates would actually take it seriously?

The University of Portland launched a social-media campaign for soccer star Micaela Capelle. So did the Oregon Zoo on behalf of Packy the Elephant, who won enough rounds to go up against blogger Jack Bogdanski. 

That’s when things turned dark.

Bogdanski, the prolific and cranky hand behind bojack.org, went negative, accusing the 50-year-old Oregon Zoo pachyderm of campaigning with public money and having sex with a rhinoceros.

After winning, a somewhat penitent Bogdanski began advocating on Packy’s behalf, urging the zoo to release its elephants to sanctuaries. (One bojack.org blog post title: “Packy’s 50 years—of hell.”)

Leverage star Timothy Hutton won it all with a Twitter campaign aided by celebrity friends, beating Portland divorce lawyer Jody Stahancyk in the finals.

“He told me he was going to invite me out for dinner, and he didn’t,” Stahancyk laughingly says of Hutton. “So he turned out to be like every other politician.”  

 
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