Friday, June 17, 2005

Latest City Paper Curve Ball: Downtown Soundstown Not As Close To Autopsy As Readers Last Told?

If there's one thing the Nashville City Paper (NCP) does well in its reports on the negotiations on the Nashville Sounds Downtown stadium proposal it is its use of enigmatic allusions. I couldn't pick up the rotation of their spin on May 26th, when they were talking about the deal being on its death bed due to tax increment financing (TIF) issues. And now their latest pitch has got me back on my heels in the box once again.

Consider the following statement in today's edition by reporter Craig Boerner:
A sticking point in negotiations over the ballpark was tax increment financing. Points of disagreement have centered around the city's contribution of the former Thermal site and whether $20 million in tax increment financing needed to make the deal work includes that land value. Expanding the scope of the project helps make the numbers work.
I highlighted the cryptic words for emphasis. In Boerner's previous Sounds installment, TIF had put the proposal on its death bed. Today, he (assuming it's Boerner rather than his editor) is talking about the "sticking point" in the past tense, as if the impasse itself passed away. And his comment that the tripling of the value of the project now makes the numbers work, turns my perception of the health of the deal around. But the turning does not make me understand more; it only makes me dizzy.

If Boerner wrote other articles--providing greater detail and insight--between today and May 26, I could not find them. Yet, greater detail and insight are exactly what I need to understand that the once-dead deal is dead no longer. In fact, I needed more details in the May 26th article to understand why exactly the deal was due for autopsy in the first place. There is something grievously missing between the two reports and in the reports themselves.

Allow me be more to the point: today's report seems to assume undivulged and unattributed information of a miraculous resuscitation, just as Boerner's May 26th article seems to assume undivulged and unattributed information on an impending demise. What makes the NCP coverage of negotiations enigmatic is that it seems to assume that lunkhead readers like me can read "death bed" between the lines of TIF and can read "recovery" in the report that the scope of the project has expanded. Hence, Boerner and his editors do not seem to feel the need to let the reader in on the details of either how the proposal ended up on life support or how it dramatically turned around to become fit once again. Worst of all, no one at NCP is taking or attributing responsibility (including citing sources) for the rumors passed off as journalism.

But what about the previous word I received from a source that Boerner knows more about the deal than he is letting on? In light of today's story, either that source was unreliable or Boerner does not know as much about the negotiations as I was lead to believe. If the latter is the case, then readers cannot really trust Boerner's report that the deal is turned around. If the former is the case, then we are still left with two disparate and unconnected stories with a huge gap between death and life. So, after reading the NCP, I don't know what to believe about negotiations.

That's an interesting journalistic practice: to write stories to confuse rather than to inform the reader. It's a fascinating game the NCP seems to be playing on its readers.

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