Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Gallegos Wins Casino Preview Coverage Comparison

There is a tradition of "journalism reviews" in this country, from the granddaddy of them all, the Columbia Journalism Review to the city-based journalism reviews that used to exist (and may still) in Chicago, St. Louis, and elsewhere. So far as I know we've never had one in Iowa (but I could easily be wrong about that). (At one time The Gazette had an ombudsman whose responses to readers complaints/comments, along with his own insights, were actually published in the paper. I don't know when that stopped, but it doesn't seem to be there anymore.)

Anyhow, as you may have noticed, this blog -- as others throughout the state -- attempts a little of that from time to time.

And so it is this morning that we compare the coverage of the Riverside casino's sneak preview yesterday (August 29) in this morning's Gazette and Press-Citizen. One of the things we look for is balance -- the cons as well as the pros -- when stories deal with businesses and potential advertisers.

This is a particularly important and sensitive issue with regard to the Riverside casino, given that gambling, with all its negative social side effects, is involved, and that there is a potential risk of possible conflict between the advertising department's desire to pick up what could be a very lucrative new account from this near-$100-million business and the professional commitment of journalists to balanced coverage of the gambling story.

(See, Nicholas Johnson, "Mr. Editor, tear down this wall!" August 8, 2006 (a reference to the Society for Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics, and the old practice of maintaining an Iron Curtain of separation between the news and advertising departments in newspapers, in an analysis of a promotional story, carried by The Gazette as news, regarding a new "Vanilla Frosty" at Wendy's).)

The headline gives the tone of The Gazette's "Iowa Today" page one story and picture regarding yesterday's sneak preview opening of the Riverside casino: "Casino Wows Visitors."

The lead continued in that tone:

"The $140 million Riverside Casino & Golf Resort opened its doors for a public tour Tuesday, and visitors were wowed.

‘‘'It’s fabulous. I’m prepared already,’ said Norma Hartley, 73, of Lone Tree, pulling out a wad of cash from her pants pocket.
. . .

"Special features abound. A fountain above the main bar lights up and shoots water in time with music.
. . .

"Jason Kirk, 31, of Ainsworth . . . said he wasn’t aware of a comparable venue in Iowa. 'We’re not too much of gamblers, but I think because we’re close to the area, we could come here when we wanted to get away without the kids and spend $20 and see what happens,' Kirk said."
. . .

And, as for the uncompleted portions of the facility (spa, pool, pro shop, many hotel rooms) two days before formal opening, not to worry the story suggests in quoting the owner: "'We have some tweaking to do, but it will get done,' Kehl said."

Gregg Hennigan, "Casino wows visitors; Riverside facility opens Thursday night," The Gazette, August 30, 2006.

Personal judgments vary, I'm sure, but the Press-Citizen's coverage struck me as much more straight down the line, good solid journalism. Obviously, any story about the casino brings attention to it (reminding one of the old saw, "I don't care what they write about me, just so long as they spell my name right"). But this one stuck about as close to the facts as a story could, illustrated by its headline: "Residents Get Casino Sneak Preview."

The story describes the tour and what was on display. But the concluding lines give a sense of the balance throughout:

"'I expected it to be nice and it is,' Kathleen Salemink of West Branch said.

"She and her husband, Willard, said they may come back to the resort to eat.

"'We'll see if they've got food that's any good," Willard Salemink said. "We don't gamble, so that's out. We got better things to do with our money than give it away."

Rachel Gallegos, "Residents Get Casino Sneak Preview; Riverside Casino & Golf Resort Opens at 9 p.m. Thursday," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 30, 2006.

No comments: