It's been strange in recent weeks to watch the public debate on the downtown Spokane redevelopment project, especially the mainstream media's lack of coverage on the topic. Most strange has been the fact that the Coeur d'Alene Press has run two front page stories on the project while the Spokesman-Review has left much of its coverage to the back pages of the regional section. What gives?
If you believe the rhetoric presented by backers of the project (who are led by the Review's owners), this is the biggest issue to face the city since Expo '74 - a turning point with major consequences. But if you watch the media coverage you'd think the Showcase of Homes was bigger news. Certainly, the Review is in a tough position because covering your owners is a touchy subject. But the Review is undeniably the leading news source in the region, and not by covering this issue as heavily as it deserves, misinformation is allowed to persist and undermine the public perception of the project and process - possibly damaging the mall's public acceptance. In fact, by not covering it more, it can appear as if there is something to hide.
"As media companies become huge conglomerates, it's hardly uncommon for business reporters to cover stories in which their bosses have a major stake, " says Howard Kurtz, media critic for the Washington Post.
This can create a tug-of-war between what the editorial staff wants to write and what the ownership wants to see in print, Kurtz says. That, however, has never been the case at the Review, says Managing Editor Chris Peck.
"In all my years, I've never had a story killed that we wanted to run, nor have we ever had a story dictated to us. "
Kurtz says it's always a tough balancing act, the downside of which is that a newspaper can lose credibility with its readers, which is what keeps a newspaper in business.
"The ethical thing to do is cover the hell out of [the story], " he says.
Peck says his paper's coverage has matched the extent of the opposition to the project, which he gauges at minimal.
But the aspects of the project raise issues the Review seems to take interest in when others are involved (Northtown?). There's the warning contained in the Review-commissioned Peirce Report that cities shouldn't grow too fast without proper reflection, and consider this quote from a staff editorial in the 6/17/95 edition of the Review: "...land-use planning doesn't exist if it's a set of greases railroad tracks. "
For the good of the community the Cowles family professes to care so much about, the city's news leader should tackle this story in a more meaningful manner so that issues will be better understood and confusion and ill feelings can be minimized.