Saturday, January 16, 2010

Citizen-Times Keeps Airport Kerfuffle Going

Reporter Mike McWilliams picked up the torch on the Citizen-Times' continuing coverage of officials traveling at public expense on Saturday, January 16, with "Protesters greet Asheville airport board member Susan Fisher."

"About 18 protesters met Fisher at the airport terminal Friday afternoon," he writes.  He quotes Fisher that "board members met with 'someone who may bring more business to the airport,' along with other officials who could help boost business and funding for the airport." 

McWilliams artfully puts a phrase of Fisher's remarks in  direct quotes(emphasis added) "someone who may bring more business." Yes, readers, he seemd to be saying, Fisher really was that vague.

Did McWilliams have the opportunity to ask Fisher to be more specific?

The story was rapidly gaining comments Saturday morning.  I watched them more than double, from 20 to almost 50, in about an hour.  Readers love this stuff.

Most comments were about the sins of politicians, interspersed with name-calling about the sins of people who make comments. 

One comment, however, tagged the Citizen-Times for its handling of the story: "Another 'report' by the A-CT about this one expense taken out of context of the whole budget of the Asheville Regional Airport. Again, no report on how much time a board member spends fulfilling his or her duties, what those duties are, and how much each board member is paid for his or her services. . . The Citizen Times is creating news, which is really the same as creating entertainment."

The Citizen-Times also announced on Saturday that it will try its stories-in-print-only sales-boosting strategy again with "Print exclusive on taxpayer-funded travel coming Sunday."  The teaser promised to show us how "economic development officials in Western North Carolina are spending tax dollars on travel."

The Citizen is not quite taking what I called the "Ashvegas Challenge" to investigate travel spending by the public boards that Jason Sanford, a.k.a. Ashvegas, mentioned in one of his useful watchdogging posts.   Looking only at "economic development officials" seems peculiar.  How can those people shill for new businesses here if they don't travel?

So there's still room for Sandford and Mountain Xpress to take the Ashvegas Challenge.  Will they?

I don't buy the Sunday Citizen-Times much anymore, but since I've been following this story, I'll probably pick one up.  Even if it's just one that another reader leaves behind at a coffee shop.

Meanwhile, also on Saturday in the Citizen-Times, the estimable Dale Neal had a good business story, "Asheville raises climate profile at weather trade show." He tells us that economic developers, civic and business leaders are going to the Atlanta meeting of the American Meteorological Society to highlight "the city’s growing reputation [and try] to add to the city’s existing 500 jobs in climate research, services and support."

Previous efforts have paid off, he reports, "helping Asheville land the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites . . . which will bring some $32 million over five years and add perhaps as many as 100 scientific jobs to the area."

See, some travel by public officials pays off. 

The story reads like another teaser for the series starting Sunday.  But the Citizen-Times didn't link it to that, so Neal's story, and the added context to the airport board kerfuffle, might get lost.

More to the point of the kerfuffle, there was a kicker at the end of the story, quoting a local businessman headed to the Atlanta meeting: "“Everyone is going on their own nickel to make sure we can support the community,” he said.

No comments on the story from outraged readers.

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