Monday, June 30, 2014

Local news media prompts more questions instead of hunting down answers

The hemorrhaging of strong writing continues in the traditional news media.

On the one hand, the Nashville Scene reports that the Tennessean just lost their best investigative journalist, which is sad since the Tennessean rarely bothers investigating much of anything any more. Tough questions are left to be asked by outsiders.

On the other hand, the Tennessean's business section has an intern running down stories and writing copy. Part of that copy regarding the AOL founder's recent visit to Nashville's Entrepreneur Center was "mistaken":

The startup locations Case toured — Bow Truss Building, Marathon Village and the Trolley Barns — were historical buildings left in disrepair for years and just recently renovated by the newly founded Nashville Entrepreneur Center.

To get government funding to renovate these buildings, the Nashville Entrepreneur Center raised funding from private sources and then asked the city to match this funding instead of asking for city funds first.

"(That made it) an easy yes for the mayor," Burcham said, "because there was no risk involved."

To their credit, the Center quickly responded when I tweeted about the intern's mischaracterization of the history of Nashville's historical buildings:

The Tennessean's business section editor came to the defense of his intern saying that the center did raise a lot of funds, which is not the same thing as getting millions in federal aid, a new office above the 2010 flood stage from Metro's own powerful real estate broker (MDHA) and a lot of help from the Mayor's Office. Government seems to have had as much to do with the renovations (not excusing them for their decades of inexcusable neglect of the trolley barns) as did the Entrepreneur Center itself. It seems like a seasoned reporter might have recognized that, and been less likely to leap to the conclusion that EC did it all (as well as Marathon Village renovations!)

Beyond the inaccuracies in the story, other questions prey:
  • The original print media stories reported connections between the Entrepreneur Center getting grant money and the purpose of the grants being to support Tennessee flood recovery. The EC moved from its 105 Broadway offices (which flooded and which continue to be occupied by other tenants) to the trolley barns (which did not flood). I don't understand why a government grant dedicated to flood recovery would allow EC to move rather than to repair its Broadway location. The Tennessean editor responded to me yesterday that the EDA did not require flood damage to get the grant. So, why did the original reports link the grant and flood damage as if the latter were a rationale? And why were other businesses allowed to take up space in the Broadway offices that flooded after EC left rather than Metro condemning the property as flood plain?
  • In the 2011 coverage of the grant award, the partnering organizations that joined EC in the trolley barn promised that in return for government funding, they would create 300 new jobs in 3 years in Nashville. It is 2014, and I can find no independent source proving that they have created 300 jobs. Did they? If they did, how many of those jobs stayed in Nashville? How many left before the 3 year timeline was used up? I followed up this morning with both the Tennessean business editor and the Nashville Business Journal asking whether EC partners followed through with promised job creation. Neither have responded. It seems to me that independent proof that the jobs were created is vital to taxpayers believing that public funds were appropriately spent on private enterprise. EC received a staggering amount of public financing. Have they paid us back for our investment in them?

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