Andrew J. Fletcher

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.

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  4. Andrew 12.23.2012 at 17:19

    Thanks to David Forbes of Moun­tain Xpress for post­ing this arti­cle on mountainx.com. You can find it here: http://www.mountainx.com/article/47479/Local-musician-Andrew-Fletcher-weighs-in-on-Lexington-controversy/

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