Budget crunch, sales tax slump: Thank you, Mainstream Media

The city is officially having a budget crisis. How do I know? Dallas’ Only Daily Newspaper and the area’s TV stations have finally decided to cover the story. The Morning News has run four stores since the end of last week, including the news – a shocker – that sales tax collections were in trouble. The various TV stations chipped in with video about library cuts, health clinic closings, senior service reductions, and police and fire shortfalls.

In other words, the same news we’ve been following here for more than a year.

I don’t write this to be snide. After all, better late than never, and I welcome any help in fixing the problem. Rather, it’s to point out how the Mainstream Media, or MSM , works and how difficult it is, even in this cyber age, to get anyone at City Hall to pay attention to those of us who don’t have a big building and a printing press or TV facilities backing us up. More, after the jump.

Let’s get the news – which is really, really bad — out of the way first. The city collected just $14.9 million in sales tax in May, which was 16.7 percent under budget. It was the least collected this year, and the least the city has collected in May since 2005. For year, we’re 10.3 percent behind the budget; the handy clip and save sales tax chart is here. (You can check out the numbers from the state comptroller’s office. The months listed on the comptroller web site are, for accounting purposes, two months ahead. That means the July figure on the site is for May, the June figure is for April, and so forth.)

Understand two things about the MSM and City Hall. First, the latter would prefer not to be covered at all, save for ribbon cuttings and stories about how wonderful Dallas is. So it makes very little sense for City Hall to share news that isn’t ribbon cuttings and stories about how wonderful Dallas is. Case in point? The city service cuts on July 6, part of the budget furlough process, and which was a footnote on a news release about July 4 holiday closings. Unless you were bound and determined, it was all but impossible to find out about the furlough closings on the city Web site.

Second, the MSM, and this has only been magnified during the recession, doesn’t have the resources to cover every story. So newspapers and TV stations have to pick their spots, and they decided that the budget wasn’t worth covering until this month. We can argue about why they didn’t think it was important, but that’s a class in Modern News Media that is a bit much for the Advocate blog. Though I will note that when the mayor and the city manager keep saying that everything is under control or it’s not their fault, it’s easy to believe them when you have other stories to cover.

It’s also why I hope the MSM figures out a way to make money in the Internet Age. Because unless they give a story their seal of approval, it’s not considered a story by the people who run the city. I can type until my fingers bleed and update the sales tax chart every month, but that doesn’t get enough attention downtown. I’m just a crank with a keyboard — and that I’ve actually been doing this professionally longer than most of the people in the MSM in Dallas or at City Hall is irrelevant because I don’t have a building and a printing press. Even the Observer, which has done a decent job with the budget story, is seen as little more than the free weekly with the sex ads.

But when The News or the TV stations show up, the mayor and the city manager pay attention. They offer explanations and promise to fix the problem. Which is why, if the bosses downtown are going to mostly ignore me, I wish the MSM had been paying more attention over the past 15 months. Perhaps, if The News had done a serious budget story in August, when the council was debating this disaster with their eyes closed, we wouldn’t be seeing stories about library, seniors, health clinic, and police and fire cuts.


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  • michael

    When Belo has an agenda other than reporting the news, and that agenda is threatened by reality ie. budget deficit, corps of engineers, sink holes under bridge piers, they have a conflict. It is a conflict of their own choosing and perhaps if they stuck to their primary purpose of reporting the news, their business would be in better shape.

    I guess real estate deals are more lucrative than selling newspapers or ad space on WFAA.