The self-fulfilling story

I found myself irritated by today’s story in the New York Times that asks whether putting money from the bailout toward broadband would be a waste. The question was its own answer. So was the placement of the story atop page one. The reporter creates generic groups of experts to say what the he wants to say (I know the trick; I used to be a reporter): “But experts warn…. Other critics say…. Other supporters said…”

I wish that every time he did that, the words “experts,” “critics,” and “supporters” were hyperlinked to a page that listed three of each.

It’s an obvious case of a story with an agenda: ‘I’m going to set out to poke a hole in this.’ But the agenda is unstated because reporters don’t state opinions, of course, they find others (or create generic spokesmen) for their opinions.

Compare and contrast that with Andrew Ross Sorkin’s good column suggesting that watchdogs should get bonuses. It, too, has an agenda, but because it’s a column, it’s more forthright about it – and that forthrightness give it more credibility. Yes, it’s labeled as a column. But the essential goal of both pieces of type is to make a suggestion. One is just more honest about it.

My other problem with the broadband story is that it thinks as short-term as Wall Street and politicians. It assumes that every dollar in the stimulus should work immediately. I think, on the other hand, that there is no magic bullet and that building real value and real jobs in new industries long-term is the only real answer. Enough with short-term thinking already.

Instead of a faux-definitive story on page one of the New York Times, how much better this topic could be handled as a debate. Just as the article is insufficient for complex stories, so is it inadequate for complex debates.