Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Asking the Right Questions of the Right People

We think of a good journalist as being someone who reports the facts. But almost anyone can do that. It's simply a matter of, for example, seeing a car hit a fire hydrant on Main St., and reporting a car hit a fire hydrant on Main St.  But there is something else essential to good reporting - knowing which questions to ask, and who to ask. We don't see much of that in Moncton.

When the decision was announced to build an 84 million dollar hockey arena in Moncton, reporters asked the wrong question of the wrong person. The result was a wasted front page on the Moncton T&T that left nobody any the wiser.

The T&T reporter asked the owner of the Moncton hockey team if this was a good idea for Moncton. Why on earth would he ask the owner? Is he an expert on town planning? If so, shouldn't the report have mentioned his credentials?

The team owner replied it would be good for the city and would revive downtown. Of course he did. He's getting the use of a brand new 84 million dollar stadium, all paid for by the rest of us. But it's a safe bet he has no idea what effect it will have on Moncton, ir whether the benefits will justify the huge cost.

Moncton is being rushed into steep debt, and one that means taking money away from other city needs. It's rather like buying  an expensive car that has no record because its the first one of its make to come off the line - and we plunge ourselves into years of debt for it without even kicking the tires.

So here are some hints for anyone who wants to be a reporter, and needs to know how to ask the right questions of the right people.
1. Ask the mayor what benefits the city will gain from an $84 million dollar stadium.
2. Ask the mayor for the reports by experts in urban planning who recommended this stadium. (And check out exactly who these experts are if, indeed, there are any such repoprts at all.)
3. Ask the mayor for the full list of projects the council considered as needs for the city. Ask for the reports of urban planners on their opinions of the list.
4. Ask the mayor for estimates of the full cost of maintaining the arena.
5. Ask the mayor whether Moncton will bear the full cost of maintenance.
6. Ask the maor who it is that owns the land which will have to be purchased for the site.
7. If a councillor opposed it, ask that councillor why.
8. Then ask the owner of the hockey team something he should know something about such as:
    a) the owner belongs to a family and economic class with close ties to Atlantic Institute for Marketing Studies. This is a "think tank" dedicated to the ideas that taxes and government owndership are bad. Why are taxes and public ownership suddently desirable in this case?
    b) If the arena is going to be such a big money earner, why doesn't the hockey team owner pay for it himself, and keep all those big profits?

Warning - if you follow this advice, don't expect the story ever to appear in most New Brunswick news media.

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