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When all is said and done, ‘Snarky’ Planet Money got it right

July 14th, 2011

Adam Davidson, an NPR reporter on “Planet Money,” has received a pile of criticism for his look into the economic development industry, in which he finally concluded, “They are not creating jobs. They are just moving jobs around.”
From there, everyone became defensive and lost perspective as the story received a rebuttal by International Economic Development Council president Jeffrey A. Finkle and pointed criticism by NPR.
“This American Life” senior producer Julie Snyder and Davidson attended a meeting of the International Economic Developers Council in San Diego and came away saying, “Now we have this race to bottom: Who can cut back government services the most? Who can eliminate the most regulation?”
In his rebuttal, Finkle said, “I feel even more hurt by the piece as I rolled out the red carpet for you guys. It is as if I held a dinner party, invited you as guests, told everyone how important you were and then had you insult all of my guests.”
Ira Glass, the show’s host and one of its editors, lamented that the tone in the report had gotten out of hand and “that the tone was a bit snarky.”
But was the report accurate?
It is not the job of a reporter to make people feel warm and fuzzy; it is to report accurately with insight and perspective.
In this case, Davidson and Snyder lost their audience with a “snarky” tone, but when you dig beneath the surface, they had a point.
It did a great job discussing the “numbers” gaming aspects, short-term focus, and special interests of economic development organizations.
One urban planner commented that over years in the business, she is “frankly weary of boosterism.”
Many ED organizations out there are doing a fine job and in some forms in a tough economy, but the planner pointed out the she has experienced, “first hand the spin and lack of substance to many of the claims made in the field. I have been astonished at reports to the community claiming this or that ‘win.’ ”
My thought is there was a point made in the story, even if it was lost in the hurt feelings of those involved.
But the overwhelming point, which no one rebutted, was the conclusion of the report where Davidson noted, “education is the key and we are cutting off our legs by de-funding it from K to college.”
Sound like any place you know?

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018

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