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Monday, March 2, 2009

The Post-Dispatch and Metro

From Miscellaneous Items

The above story from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is a great slap in the face to the St. Louis County voters who rejected a sales tax increase that would have bolstered a financially ailing Metro agency back in November 2008. But where was this story in November 2008, before the vote? Sure, the details of the extent of Metro's cuts were not known at the time, but this is no excuse. Most St. Louisans knew these cuts would adversely affect many people within the region--urban dwellers dependent on transit, the elderly, disabled, etc. I just wish this story were printed pre-vote.

We need proactive--not reactive--government, citizens, and, yes, media.


Hathaway said...

I'm not sure how much more "proactive" the Post-Dispatch could have been. In addition to its voters guide and the editorial page's endorsement of the tax, transportation reporter Ken Leiser did a fantastic job covering Metro's financial crisis, the reasons for it and the immediate impact of a no vote.

Here are a few high-profile stories that ran in the weeks before the vote.

- 10/30/2008, metro front story headlined: Next MetroLink stop: Maybe West Port/Regional leaders choose destination for extension if voters approve tax hike.
...Metro has warned that it will have to cut bus, light-rail and paratransit service for the disabled next year if it fails to receive new funding. "If it fails, the result will not be very pretty," St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said at the East-West meeting...

- 10/26/2008, front page story headlined: Can Metro weather a ‘perfect storm’?
... They warn that Metro, which runs the St. Louis area's largest bus and rail service, faces one of the worst budget crises in its history.
Without a new source of money, its leaders say, Metro would have to idle many buses, end nighttime MetroLink service and halt light-rail expansion...

- 9/2/2008, front page story headlined: Metro's plan to cut routes could leave many LOST IN THE GAP
... Under the agency's worst-case scenario, bus service would be ended outside of Interstate 270, MetroLink service would end at 8 p.m., and the Call-A-Ride paratransit system would be cut back...

- 8/1/2008, metro front story headlined: As metrolink Turns 15... Looming funding woes trouble agency/'The stakes are high,' Metro CEO tells area leaders at forum.
...Today, the Metro transit agency that runs the 46-mile light-rail network faces another hurdle. Present and projected operating deficits threaten to reduce the number of daily trains, and shrink the bus system that in many instances feeds it...

Full disclosure: I'm a reporter at the P-D, though I didn't have anything to do with Prop M.

Matt M. said...

Hathaway -

Thank you for your comments. I was aware of these stories and even the Post-Dispatch endorsement for Prop M.

However, it is this type of story that I have highlighted above that I feel might have been more effective in conveying the severity of the situation. The article packed a great emotional wallop. I am not the type who demands my media sterilized and devoid of advocacy, and so I appreciated the story I have highlighted in this post.

All that said, I really don't find the P-D to be as much an advocate for the City of St. Louis as it should be. Surely you could point me to positive articles about urban redevelopment, but overall the takeaway from a casual read is that this paper is oriented towards the more numerous readers in the suburbs.

There has been very limited coverage of the Blairmont controversy on the North Side; not enough on the vibrant Cherokee Strip on the South Side (though I was happy to see the P-D acknowledge Mississippi Mud House the other day!); and editorials rarely address the civic indifference or antipathy that characterizes the region's attitude toward the central city.

I look back to the P-D specials of the 1960s that I have seen various bloggers surface and wish we could go back to the days when newspapers were unabashed civic championers. The P-D ran features about how to reposition St. Louis as a "city of progress". With the waning of the city's influence in the expanding metropolitan region, the paper has followed suit.

Understand that I come from an extreme pro-urban background and that my views are shaped by this stated bias.

Thanks for your comments!

Hathaway said...

Newspapers certainly were bigger civic boosters in old-timey days, and the Post-Dispatch was no exception. But I'm not sure that always was such a good thing, though.

Sometimes being a civic booster means supporting things like interstate construction, urban renewal projects, new taxes, or public support for stadia that other reasonable people of good might think are very bad ideas. Boosters don't always agree, and that's why I think newspapers ought to play it straight and not try to influence a civic debate.

Take the Old Post Office development and Century Building demo, the BJC lease of Forest Park, McRee Town/Botanical Heights, Arch grounds re-do, or just about any other big city development story of the last five years. There usually are two or more sides, each believing they alone represent what's best for the city. I don't think it's good journalism -- or good business, for that matter -- for the Post-Dispatch to wade into those disputes and champion one side or the other.

Regarding the old complaint that there isn't enough positive news, that ignores the fact that "good news" (like city residents not be shot, their houses not burning down, city employers not firing people, public officials not being lazy or corrupt, etc.) ought to go without saying. Only the cynics think such things are so out of the ordinary in an American city that they make for news, and I don't count myself among the cynics.

Matt M. said...

You make some good points--ones that didn't escape me as I typed what I did. That modern notion of progress was, as we saw, pretty damaging to the city and what would reign a 21st century verson in? I get that.

But what about simply covering city happenings disproportionately? That alone would be an act of civic reinvestment into the city.

What I mean is: I pick up the paper and see a story about, say, the San Luis controversy on the front page or near it. Or a retrospective on the redevelopment of a neighborhood.

I don't mean to drive wedges between the city and the suburbs. In my cognitive map, places like Clayton, Shrewsbury, Jennings, even Webster Groves are part of "urbanized St. Louis". I would just enjoy seeing the P-D be a champion for a city that is competitive with its peers.

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