Posted by: bkivey | 9 June 2011

Looking For News In All The Wrong Places

It’s always been my understanding that the primary responsibility of  journalism was to cover stories that were in the public interest. This usually means that the issue at hand must have some impact, or potential impact, on the public, no matter how tangential that impact might be. And because most people don’t gather at the village well anymore, the daily paper is likely to include pieces that more properly fall under the heading of ‘gossip’.

The 2 June issue of the local paper of record featured a story on the front page about a new nonprofit arts group in the area. The gist of the story is that the group is trying to raise millions of dollars to renovate a building they’re renting and then raise more money to buy the building. What is raising eyebrows in the rarefied atmosphere of the art world is not the questionable practice of renovating a building before purchase, but the apparent unwillingness of the group to open their books to enquiring minds. This has caused much consternation in the nonprofit community.

In the course of the story several things become clear:

  • The nonprofit is a private group.
  • The building owner is a private citizen.
  • The solicited donors are likewise private citizens.
  • There is no public money involved in any aspect of the operation.

So where’s the public interest? The reporter tries desperately to put some public spin on the story:

The risk to the public? YU could spend millions renovating a building only to see it withdrawn, robbing the public of any benefit.

One assumes that the ‘public benefit’ is the opportunity to attend art showings in the space. No such opportunity exists now, so could not one argue equally well that the property owner is denying the public the ‘benefit’ of using the building? If donors want to give money to a nonprofit that has a questionable business plan, I don’t see that it’s anyone else’s business.

 Brian Ferriso, executive director of the Portland Art Museum, states that:

“The whole concept is that you don’t pay taxes and are being underwritten by the people — the donors,”

Donors are not the same as ‘the people’. The former give money voluntarily, the latter have it forcibly taken. Mr. Ferriso appears to be trying to make a public connection where none exists.

It’s apparent from the story that the nonprofit under scrutiny is skirting or violating some regulations, but none of their actions present a danger to the public. In the worst-case scenario, some people lose some money. But all of the principals are consenting adults doing legal business with private property. The reporter and most of the folks quoted in the story come across like petulant children being told they can’t stick their noses in someone else’s business.

Avoiding the Tax Man

In the course of the story the reporter mentions that:

Laurel Knapp bought it in 2008 for $3.5 million through a company called Alter LLC, then resold it to herself under her maiden name, Walsh, the same day for $2 million. Reasons are unclear.

I can think of 1.5 million very good reasons. If she can show a ‘loss’ of $1.5 million, that’s a hell of a tax write off.

Poster Child for Gun Ownership

From today’s edition of the Daily Mail, comes the story of a woman in Oakland, CA, who confronted a burglar in her home and shot him with . . . a cell phone. On finding a stranger carting her stuff out of the house, the woman videoed him with her phone. The man then allegedly raped her. When the police arrived, she turned the video over to aid in the investigation.

I gotta say, if I found someone in my home stealing my stuff, I wouldn’t be using my phone. Not right away. If I confront someone engaged in criminal activity in my home and they take a single step toward me, I can, legally, give them an immediate and acute case of lead poisoning. Then I’d use my phone. Would I shoot someone? I don’t know, I’ve never had to. But if you’re a burglar, do you really want to find out?


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