Defining Pro-Business News Print
News/Features - Local News
Wednesday, 28 February 2007 02:33

Reader issue #622 Welcome to the first official Reader "Business Issue." While we are keenly aware of our own 13-year record of covering business issues important to the community, it's no secret that the Reader is often (especially among our Davenport-based critics and competitors) dismissed as "anti-business" or "anti-growth" "againsters."

So if our coverage is "anti-business," what would "pro-business" coverage look like?

The Reader is well-known as the exhaustive and authoritative guide to all "things going on" in the Quad Cities region. Ask most folks why they pick us up, and the majority will say, "If I want to find something to do or learn what's new in the area, I get the Reader." We're happy to provide that valuable service for our more than 40,000 readers. It's a big part of why the Reader isn't recycled 20 minutes after being picked up, and is also why our advertisers that help make this publication possible get consistent results from our loyal readers. Thus, the labels "entertainment rag" or "arts paper" or "events guide" are easy to accept when there is a need to pigeonhole the Reader's weekly content. And believe me: Among the dozens of Quad Cities media outlets vying for dwindling audience share and precious ad dollars, there is a definite need on their part to pigeonhole the Reader.

The Reader has developed and published hundreds of stories related to the business community with the same passion that it has for the arts and culture community. In fact, from 1993 to 2003 cover stories have had a business or economy theme 18 percent of the time, with arts- and culture-themed cover stories coming in second place at 16 percent. Government- and politics-themed stories were third with 13 percent.

Our business and economy coverage has included predatory lending; city economic-development controversies such as 53rd and Eastern; the Moline public library; casino expansion plans; downtown development; suburban, rural, and urban housing developments; mass transit; utilities; telecommunications; workforce attraction and retention; historic tax credits; business organizations such as DavenportOne, the Illinois Quad City Chamber of Commerce, and the Quad City Development Group; public television; energy; and the environment.

So, if you have been following the Reader's business coverage over the past 13 years, you know our 1,000-word-plus articles all have a point of view informed by reporting that strives to give the reader a thorough and thoughtful discovery of each topic's pros and cons and - whenever possible - a voice to both fans and critics. And readers certainly aren't looking to the Reader for the ubiquitous "business profile" or "feature story" that was so obviously published because of the display ad from the same company on the same or adjacent page.

We refer to this style of "journalism" as "advertorial," while others refer to it as "good news"-style reporting. So, what's wrong with this "good news" approach to reporting? Everything, if you claim to provide anything close to journalism or news. Everything, if there is a desire to elevate our community above mediocrity and near-zero population growth. The "good news" model buffers a perception but does not necessarily support a reality. When the Reader raises questions and discusses shortcomings, it is with an intent to improve our community and exploring alternatives.

Recently a friend of mine commented that this community's narrow focus on big companies for hundreds of jobs to fuel growth is misguided. I refer to this as the "silver bullet" syndrome. Get enough big wins under your belt and the rest will follow. Never mind what communities have to forsake in order to get that factory or call center. Just get the jobs; any growth is good growth.

If being skeptical of this model is "anti-business," then we need more "anti-business" minds running things around here. But back to my friend's solution to the "silver bullet" malaise: "The Quad Cities' cost of living and access to resources makes it a great place to fail," he said. "This should be the easiest place in the Midwest to open and run a small business, one that serves not only the region, but the world. It should be an entrepreneur's oasis." This approach has a lot of merit. With smaller startups, existing infrastructures are re-purposed and natural resources are conserved. Chicago, Minneapolis, and Kansas City are too expensive; the Quad Cities is a perfect alternative for entrepreneurs.

Granted, any strategy for growth needs to have a balanced mix of prospects, big and small. Unfortunately a top-heavy focus on big-ticket job creation too often relies on dwindling and precious public and natural resources and attracts employers interested in maximizing profits at someone else's expense rather than by raising the bar through innovation. But this approach requires a long view rather than the short-sighted view that has to-date defined what this community considers growth.

If you are new to the Reader because this is our "Business Issue," we thank you for including the Reader as part of your media diet this week. We hope you continue to find useful information in these pages every week, however you define "pro-business." Read the Reader's editorial coverage of community issues for four weeks, and I am confident you will find the Reader a valuable resource for more reasons than you thought possible.

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