There is a lively debate about urban neighborhoods on the Nashville City Paper website today, as there should be whenever the City Paper gets something so obviously wrong as it has in today's frontpage headline screaming, "Developments cause trouble in Salemtown." I have criticized the City Paper in the past for disconnects that mislead the reader to unsupported conclusions. In the previous case the subject was the Nashville Sounds; this morning the case is my own neighborhood.
Earlier today I spoke with City Paper business/news editor William Williams, who--before I had a chance to lodge my complaint about today's City-Paper-Salemtown sensationalism--apologized for the headline and the negative view painted of Salemtown. Williams told me that the City Paper should not have run the headline, which was not supported by the facts in the story. He conceded that the headline and the picture were a one-two punch below the belt given the content in the story.
I also spoke with City Paper reporter Bill Harless and emphasized to him that, if he's going to write the story with the picture of vandalism that he ought to give a little more context to the vandalized property, which would have softened the sensationalism of a single snapshot in time. For instance, the picture and the story might lead readers to think that the developers of Garfield Place put up a sign that was immediately vandalized. But developers of Garfield Place put their sign up over 8 months ago and it was only hit by gang graffiti in January. That's a pretty important piece of information to leave out of the picture. You cannot tell me that that omission would not affect people's decisions to live in Salemtown.
The frontpage of the Nashville City Paper this morning is an exact textbook example of how NOT to report on gang activities in Nashville. It sensationalized the actual story and it discourages further neighborhood development; worst case scenerio: it might even validate vandals targeting developers. I understand that the City Paper may run something in a future edition to try to offset the mistakes in this one. Let's hope that too much damage has not already been done. If there is irreparable damage from this story, you can just write a new screaming headline: "Nashville City Paper Takes Salemtown Down!"
2/22/2006 3:45 p.m. Update: The webmaster at the City Paper has replaced the misleading headline with a new, diametrically opposing one: "Salemtown leaders: Gang activity not driven by new development," but how can we undo the damage of unchangeable hard copy floating around out there?