Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Northwest Arkansas Slimes

We know that the Northwest Arkansas Times, once a proud and independent local beacon of journalistic integrity, is now owned by WECHO Media, Inc., the corporate conglomerate that owns the Arkansas Democrat, 19 other mediocre newspapers, and 13 cable systems in five states. We know that the paper is a card-carrying member of the Chamber of Cowbirds and the Fayetteville Economic Development Council, both of whom want to sell the current high school campus and are lusting for profits from sprawl. We know that Managing Editor Greg Harton has testified in favor of building a new high school out west and has repeatedly advanced that position in his opinion column.

What was not quite so obvious until today is how the Northwest Arkansas Times has abandoned any pretense of objective news coverage and handed over the news section and their reporters to slant the public debate in the service of their masters. On Page Eight of a nine-page news section was a small notice that "Fayetteville High School Select Committee 2 is scheduled to review potential locations for a new high school at a meeting later this month....[Chairman] Hudson anticipates they will be presented with up to nine sites, which should include the 101 acres owned by the district at Deane Solomon and West Salem Road." That's one way to approach the decision and one way to frame the news report of what's happening.

On Page One Above the Fold are two "news" stories that combine to support the forces that want to build a new high school out west and cash in on that scheme. Marsh Melnichak dutifully devotes more than 1,200 words to gleefully describing all the new strip mall businesses booming three miles west of I-540 and throws in that the city has already approved an additional 1,500 residences in just two developments in the netherburbs. Marsha's byline is on the story, but there is no direct indication of who assigned her to write it. I don't think she would have stooped to such pimping on her own initiative, and it is sad that she felt compelled to do so under any circumstances.

A companion story of 1,426 words by Brett Bennett at least makes note that area residents mention the tremendous infrastructure improvements that would be required to accommodate a new high school at Deane Solomon and Salem Road. He then goes on to imply that building a new multi-million dollar high school could be a real boon to developers of the stalled Springwoods and Belclaire subdivisions that are suffering from vacant lots, stagnant sales, and falling prices. Springwoods is the former Wilson Spring Park sold by Mayor Coody to developer friend Collins Haynes; Belclaire is one of Brandon Barber's troubled projects.

The news nugget here is that Bennett talked with developer Tracy Hoskins, who sold the land to the school district and stands to make big money on property he still owns in the area. He says it would be a "nightmare" to improve and expand the current high school, and the land he unloaded on the school district three years ago for $52,000 an acre would be a much better site. It also would be nice if taxpayers would foot the bill for infrastructure and new construction out near Wheeler to increase his property values. That would be better than the millions in TIF corporate welfare he just received from the City of Johnson.

Fair and balanced. We distort; you comply.

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