Cleveland Uber Alles

Untimely Dispatches from the Neighborhood of the Unrepresented & Inarticulate; Anecdotes that Pedal and Coast Through the Boot-Print of 20th Century American Urbanism

Saturday, January 28, 2006

He Said, She Said Journalism Short Changes the Debate on New Convention Center It's a common enough lament that national reporters who strive to be "fair and balanced" do a disservice to the truth when they serve as stenographers for both sides of an argument, juxtaposing what one side says against the other, without providing any context to either side's remarks. The problem, of course, is that these reporters don't bother to fact-check their sources or to provide their readers with, well, real reporting, which involves asking follow up questions and placing each side's answers into a bigger picture. Instead, the reporters merely provide a forum for both sides and allow misleading assertions to stand uninterrogated, until eventually these assertions, in all their falsehood, gain traction as accepted fact and appear in story after story the the background narrative on the problem being covered. With this kind of reporting, the side that repeats its untruth most often and with the most volume wins, and all of the context that the opposition would attempt to provide to debunk this untruth is merely, well, so much effete hair-splitting. For a primer on the perils of this kind of reporting on a local level, check out this Plain Dealer article on the dearth of bookings at the Cleveland Convention Center. While the article does allude to several reasons against building a new center to make up for this lack of bookings, including an oft cited Brookings Institute study that advises cities against such development, it also repeats without follow up or context some misleading claims from those in favor of the convention center:

"At least a dozen groups considered Cleveland for meetings in 2005-09 but cited the center as their main reason for going elsewhere. The potential business represented nearly 44,000 hotel room nights and an economic impact of $36 million, according to the visitors bureau. "Many more groups never consider Cleveland because they don't like the center, Brewer said." "A PricewaterhouseCoopers report completed last year for the Convention Facilities Authority predicts that the number of conventions and trade shows could decline by 50 percent by 2008 if the city doesn't build a more competitive center."
OK, here are just a few questions that Sarah Hollander, the Plain Dealer reporter, might have asked, but (apparently) didn't: 1) How reliable is the visitors bureau's tracking of "reasons for rejecting the center?" Do they have a formal method of measuring this in place or is their account of the "at least a dozen groups" who opted out of hosting their conventions in Cleveland purely anecdotal? And if these groups cite the condition of the center as their main reason for not choosing Cleveland as their convention site, then what is it about the center that doesn't meet their needs? Is it simply a lack of electrical outlets? a lack of net access? etc.--i.e. are these "defects" ones that must be overcome with a new center or ones that might be dealt with rather cheaply, through renovation? 2) What exactly does the loss of $36 million in convention revenues over four years (2005-09) represent to the local economy? $9 million a year sounds like a reasonably large amount of money in terms of how the article puts it, but when one considers that the city's new red light cameras are bringing in a minimum of $230,000 per month (or at this rate roughly $2.76 million per year) directly into the the city coffers, it doesn't seem to be that much of a revenue loss, and certainly not enough, perhaps, to justify going to the tax payers to provide Forest City with another lucrative Cleveland project. 3) Who commissioned the PriceWaterhouseCoopers report? And how much of the drop off in convention business that it cites is the result of factors that have nothing to do with the quality of Cleveland's facilities, including big gains for other markets like Vegas and Orlando (which are taking away business from the likes of Great Lakes city Chicago) and a decline overall in businesses' desire to participate in such get-togethers? Had the reporter asked these questions (and hopefully she and other reporters will in the future), maybe our decision makers, like Mayor Frank Jackson, who supports a new center, would have the information they need to see that a new convention center will be yet another band-aid applied to the wrong area of our wounded economy.

6 Comments:

At 1:46 PM, Anonymous Cleburger said...

Kossuth, go forth from the Garden of Cleveland and multiply. Our city needs leadership that thinks along your lines. Rid us of the Sim City "build it and they will come" mentality. While a new convention center would be nice, we need jobs and Fortune 500 corporate residents to attract move business to this city. The Sim City Boosters would have it that a half-billion dollar convention center, casino and aquarium will save us. These are also the people who commissioned the Waterfront Line ridership survey and extrapolated it's business into a game-day crowd. Who are they trying to fool?

 
At 1:50 PM, Anonymous Cleburger said...

Kossuth, go forth from the Garden of Cleveland and multiply. Our city needs leadership that thinks along your lines. Rid us of the Sim City "build it and they will come" mentality. While a new convention center would be nice, we need jobs and Fortune 500 corporate residents to attract move business to this city. The Sim City Boosters would have it that a half-billion dollar convention center, casino and aquarium will save us. These are also the people who commissioned the Waterfront Line ridership survey and extrapolated it's business into a game-day crowd. Who are they trying to fool?

 
At 12:29 PM, Blogger Frank A. Mills said...

Another question: How many groups do not choose Cleveland because there is nothing to do downtown, especially shopping. Just recently a national magazie for travel professionals (COURIER, if I remember correctly) stated that one of top considerations for choosing sites/destinations was the amount of non-convention/tour activities, e.g., shopping, night life, exceptional restaurants, museums available downtown, especially in the evening hours.

 
At 10:35 PM, Anonymous HajiRock said...

An interesting topic to illustrate your premise on media "reporting". Having worked for several years in a business which provides support for conventions across the country, I believe it is not only the state of our convention center which affects the decision making process of potential event planners. While it is important to have an updated, technology/event facility, I have found that it what the city itself offers in the way of entertainment and attractions that colors many a decision. Florida and Vegas get more conventions because there are more things to do other than attend key note speeches and stuffy awards dinners (where most people receive awards simply for showing up to work). Cleveland, I am sad to say does not offer much in the way of diversions. The Rock Hall's attendance has been in steady decline since it's opening (hell we don't even get the induction ceremonies for OUR Hall of Fame). The weather is sketchy at best, our sport teams are fair to middling, and there is no real convenient form of mass public transportation. Convention attendees and planners want something to do; blow off some steam and raise a little hell. Perhaps our the proponents of gambling should combine their efforts with the convention powers that be to offer visitors a chance to lose their egg nests and their kid's education funds.

 
At 10:36 PM, Anonymous HajiRock said...

An interesting topic to illustrate your premise on media "reporting". Having worked for several years in a business which provides support for conventions across the country, I believe it is not only the state of our convention center which affects the decision making process of potential event planners. While it is important to have an updated, technology/event facility, I have found that it what the city itself offers in the way of entertainment and attractions that colors many a decision. Florida and Vegas get more conventions because there are more things to do other than attend key note speeches and stuffy awards dinners (where most people receive awards simply for showing up to work). Cleveland, I am sad to say does not offer much in the way of diversions. The Rock Hall's attendance has been in steady decline since it's opening (hell we don't even get the induction ceremonies for OUR Hall of Fame). The weather is sketchy at best, our sport teams are fair to middling, and there is no real convenient form of mass public transportation. Convention attendees and planners want something to do; blow off some steam and raise a little hell. Perhaps our the proponents of gambling should combine their efforts with the convention powers that be to offer visitors a chance to lose their egg nests and their kid's education funds.

 
At 5:34 PM, Anonymous BurgerBaron_nyc said...

Ha, great post, and thoughtful blog overall. Keep up the good work.

We're hearing some of these same arguments in New York right now as a result of the proposed expansion of the Javits Center.

It's amazing how persistent this line of thinking is: "Unless we keep up with cities X, Y, and Z, we'll lose all our convention business to them, and the world may end." It seems I heard this for years in Chicago, we're getting it here, and obviously so are you in Cleveland.

There seem to be two dubious assumptions behind the "need" for ever-expanding convention space: 1) that the "business" of convention-hosting, like any other business, must constantly grow in order to be healthy; and 2) that building convention centers is desirable or profitable from a quality-of-life perpective.

If followed to its absurd but logical conclusion, the desire to gain an ever-greater share of trade shows could lead to all cities, in an attempt to court and then dominate the fickle beauty known as the "convention business," building and then (in an ironic twist!!) eventually being devoured by these rapidly metastasizing, windowless behemoths.

Ultimately, these mega-structures would become independent, self-contained corporate city-states with their own militias, fighting actual wars with competing convention centers over who deserves the honor of hosting the HVAC Engineers' annual meeting.

Finally, in a post-apocalyptic finale reminiscent of "Soylent Green"-meets-Hurricane Katrina: with all available land occupied by hostile, warring convention centers, the citizenry is last seen huddling among blue tarps and styrofoam takeout clamshells, praying eagerly for the relative comfort of Armageddon . . . and, fade. The End.

Well, okay, I got a little carried away. But the convention center, like its cousin the professional sports stadium, rarely adds to the overall urban quality of life in a city. Instead, it's normally a homely, windswept, under-utilized carbuncle clinging to the city's edge.

(Notable exceptions, however: Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, and Jacobs Field.)

 

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