Tuesday, May 22, 2007

On the Fed Courthouse: A Clarification, a Non-Retraction, a Scratch of the Head, and a New Policy.

Earlier today John Higgins from the ABJ sent an email taking up my challenge regarding my research on the Beacon's coverage of the tussle between the city and the Feds about a parking deck proposed for next to the Federal Building housing the Federal courts in Akron. He sent headlines to four stories, two from May that I had read and two from March about the proposed parking deck. The March stories contained more detail about the proposed deck, including a bit about how the proposal grew in scope as the discussion progressed.

The March stories didn't discuss any controversy because, as far as I can tell, the controversy came to light when the feds issued their open letter. One story, entitled "Developer will lease city land for building" is safely behind the Beacon's paywall. The other, "Akron plans $12 million parking deck," was reproduced on the Downtown Akron Partnership website. That story recounts the need for more parking downtown, and especially there by the First Energy Building.

I thanked John for the information, pointed out a couple things I'll get to in a minute and asked a question that I haven't yet gotten an answer to. I also promised to do something about the post. In the meantime, life happened, I decided to write a couple original posts first and my ABJ-defending Anonymouse returned to box my ears in his cazhul writtin accent good ol' boy style. *sigh* Priorities.

Anonymous includes an excerpt of a May 1 story that talks about the expansion of the project, but again the story came before the controversy erupted.

So here's the thing. I recognize that I'm going to screw up, having little time and less in the way of resources. When I screw up I freely admit it and prostrate myself as entertainingly as possible. This time I just don't think I screwed up.

What made a difference to me in the NYT coverage was reading that the project started small, then evolved into something progressively larger with each iteration until it encroached on whatever space buffer the feds think they need. That is a different story than the city deciding in a trice to plop a huge parking deck next to a Federal building. In the latter scenario, the administration looks arrogant and autocratic which, by sheer coincidence, matches the narrative about the present administration. In the former scenario, the Feds look like they stood by as the project evolved, then all of a sudden went Henny Penny about it.

So I don't withdraw my argument that the stories about the controversy should have included a narrative about how the project got bigger as it evolved. Now I'm wondering why the Beacon didn't include that information in the stories about the controversy. That's the question I sent Higgens to which I haven't gotten a reply.

Generally when I make remarks like the one in the original story about information not covered by the ABJ, it's more out of exasperation at what the cutbacks have done to news gathering there than a blogger's "The MSM Sux!" sort of critique. In this case, however, they had reported the information before, but only people following stories about the deck prior to the controversy would know about how the project evolved. That, to me, was a mistake on the paper's part. Happily, the Times rolled up to clarify everything. For those of us who read it.

Notwithstanding all that, I was thinking about my post in light of Connie Schultz's suggestions to bloggers. The ABJ reporters do a pretty good job of getting back in touch. When I have a question about coverage or decisions made, I'm going to try to write in first to get a comment before firing the guns. If I had it to do over again in the present case, I'd post the story about the NYT covering the controversy, send an email asking about the information contained in the story, and save my opinion about the ABJ's coverage for a later post once I got either a reply or waited sufficient time to call it a non-reply.

Hard as it is to add another layer to an already taxing hobby, that's what I endeavor to do from here on out.