My Thoughts on Lexington Avenue

Photo by Derek Olson.
Lex­ing­ton Ave. and Col­lege St. Pho­to by Derek Olson, via asheville-nc-photography.com

This is a Let­ter to the Edi­tor style post in response to two arti­cles in the Moun­tain Xpress. The first was pub­lished in the print edi­tion Decem­ber 5: No easy answers: Lex­ing­ton Avenue’s uncer­tain future by David Forbes. The sec­ond was pub­lished online Decem­ber 12: Mer­chants protest Dec. 5 Lex­ing­ton Avenue sto­ry by Caitlin Byrd.

I used to work in the pro­duc­tion depart­ment for a dai­ly, inde­pen­dent­ly owned and pub­lished news­pa­per. We fre­quent­ly heard the kinds of con­cerns expressed in Ms. Byard’s arti­cle and we had to tread care­ful­ly. I lis­tened care­ful­ly to the in-house edi­to­r­i­al dis­cus­sions about what to do when adver­tis­ers expressed con­cerns about pub­lic­i­ty they per­ceived as neg­a­tive.

First and fore­most, a news­pa­per has to be hon­est to its read­ers, oth­er­wise read­ers will feel cheat­ed and look else­where, which ulti­mate­ly hurts the newspaper’s bot­tom line and dimin­ish­es the sense of com­mu­ni­ty that a qual­i­ty news­pa­per pro­vides. A read­er who is less like­ly to trust the edi­to­r­i­al con­tent is also less like­ly to trust the adver­tise­ments in such a news­pa­per. For an extreme exam­ple: Ask your­self how much you trust the adver­tise­ments in the tabloids in the check­out line. About as much as their exposé sto­ry of ‘Bat Boy’? A news­pa­per with integri­ty is a bet­ter place for con­sumers to make choic­es about where to spend their dol­lars. Pulling adver­tis­ing because of a ‘neg­a­tive’ sto­ry hurts the adver­tis­er and the con­sumer more than than the news­pa­per.

Can an arti­cle on increased crime lead to less crime in the future? Because of the respect that the XPress has in our com­mu­ni­ty and it’s con­tin­ued abil­i­ty to start con­struc­tive dia­log (such as this one), I think so. A neg­a­tive sto­ry can increase and main­tain the integri­ty of a news­pa­per, lead­ing to pos­i­tive change for the entire com­mu­ni­ty. The Xpress has that legit­i­ma­cy because it doesn’t look the oth­er way when con­front­ed with an ugli­er face of real­i­ty than we would all like to see. I put a high val­ue on that.

The Decem­ber 5 arti­cle says that crime rates are rel­a­tive­ly sta­ble. If that’s the case, the arti­cle los­es a lot of punch. Let’s look at a sce­nario. In response to a hand­ful of high pro­file crimes and anec­do­tal evi­dence (blood on the street, fights, name­less tran­sients) a few busi­ness own­ers cry wolf. Police add more resources and offi­cers, get more arrests and write more cita­tions which shows up as an increase in report­ed crime. If law enforce­ment works, this should occur right before the actu­al lev­el of crim­i­nal activ­i­ty goes down due to the added law enforce­ment. I think we’re in the mid­dle of that sce­nario right now, before we see the ben­e­fits. Anoth­er thing to con­sid­er when eval­u­at­ing law enforce­ment com­ments about ris­ing crime rates — their jobs depend on the pop­u­lace main­tain­ing a cer­tain lev­el of fear. I’ve nev­er known a police offi­cer to say “everything’s great, you’re all safe as pos­si­ble, you can low­er our fund­ing now.”

A prob­lem to be over­come with this sort of ‘trend inves­ti­ga­tion’ jour­nal­ism is how to weigh the pos­i­tive devel­op­ments that have come recent­ly to the neigh­bor­hood, and how to get an apples-to-apples com­par­i­son with the neg­a­tives. Safe­ty and fun is dif­fi­cult to mea­sure, while crime rates are read­i­ly acces­si­ble (see CrimeReports.com). Anoth­er ques­tion to ask might be: Has the crime risen in pro­por­tion to the rev­enue growth of down­town busi­ness? That could be instruc­tive. I sus­pect that the dol­lar-spent-per-crime rate has gone down. Mr. Forbes could per­haps look into this aspect of it.

My call to Xpress adver­tis­ers and read­ers is sim­ple. Look at the big­ger pic­ture and think about where we’d like to be in a year or two or five. Seem­ing­ly ‘neg­a­tive’ pub­lic­i­ty can be like paving a road — in exchange for traf­fic prob­lems now, we get less prob­lems in the future. I know that doesn’t help a small busi­ness-own­er who’s try­ing to make pay­roll this week in the off­sea­son. But take a deep breath — you’ll be alright. I work, drink, eat, walk, shop and hang­out on Lex­ing­ton Avenue near­ly every day. Warts and all, it’s my favorite part of town. And I think it’s chang­ing for the bet­ter.

5 Comments

  1. We have a push­cart down­town at night and we oper­ate it as a fam­i­ly busi­ness with our three kids almost always with us. We would like to see more police pres­ence there. We have times that we have had very dan­ger­ous moments.. While we are not fear based some­times the peo­ple in down­town at night can get out of con­trol. There have been more police on the week­ends in Pack Square then there were last year and we are glad for that. Thanks for this arti­cle:)

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