Kings arena issue turns news coverage into PR

“Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”

That was President Bush patting FEMA chief Michael Brown on the back while disaster was unfolding in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina.

Bush’s cavalier remark, so divorced from reality, came to mind yesterday when I read a column by the Bee’s executive editor, Joyce Terhaar. She extolled the newspaper’s coverage of the Kings arena saga and its 40 or so front-page stories on the issue this year. She praised a variety of reporters, columnists and editors by name for “working to give Sacramentans context about city spending plans, the impact on downtown and many other issues.”

The Bee’s been doing a heck of a job, Terhaar essentially said, perhaps feeling the need to reassure a skeptical public that the city’s only daily newspaper has been providing fair, balanced and accurate coverage on an issue that could be crucial to Sacramento’s well-being for decades to come.

Ironically, the paper’s editorial board yesterday was bemoaning the unknown impact that spending $258 million of city money for an arena would have on three civic assets: the Community Center Theater, the B Street Theatre and the Crocker Art Museum. The three are in need of close to $70 million from the city. City manager John Shirey acknowledges a lack of funds to do everything.

“Before City Council members sign off on investing at least $258 million into an arena deal, they should have a full understanding of what that would mean for those community facilities. They don’t have that now.”

Once again, the paper is a day late and a dollar short. Why hasn’t the Bee’s news staff been exploring this question and writing a series of front-page stories about it?  These are three important cultural institutions in town. Stories on this subject could have been written months ago. The newspaper could have taken the initiative to ask council members hard questions. A city that is already $2 billion in debt has to make hard choices on what will be funded and what won’t.

Instead of fulfilling its journalistic responsibility to be watchdog for the public interest, the Bee has played the role of arena cheerleader. The editorial board hopped aboard the arena express, columnists went all lovey-dovey for billionaire “whales,” and reporters focused on daily process stories and press releases.

No one stepped back and followed the money trail. Who demanded an arena at Downtown Plaza instead of the railyard or Natomas? Who stands to gain from that decision? What developers own nearby property? Why is city land being given away and to whom?

Why has there been no serious analysis of the claims that an arena would generate thousands of jobs and millions in economic growth? Or the danger of privatizing public parking or taking out huge loans against presumed future revenue? Or why the public has been denied a vote by crafty politicians?

The Bee hasn’t been eager to ask hard questions or pursue the dark side of publicly funded sports arenas. Instead of hard-nosed journalism, the paper has played a PR role.

In that regard, it’s done a heck of a job.

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8 Responses to Kings arena issue turns news coverage into PR

  1. Phelps Hobart says:

    The Arena project is not in the best interest of Metro Sacramento.

    Will the air be cleaner? No! Carbon credits will likely have to be purchased along with all the other expenses.

    It is a massive transfer of wealth from the city to a few who are wealthy already. If it made economic sense there would be no need for the city’s contribution.

    Dollars for entertainment, sports or otherwise, at the proposed arena leave the community. Sure some get recirculated but the bulk leave town.

    In short it is a rip-off of the city’s citizens that makes an ordinary bank robbery look like stealing chump-change.

  2. Greg says:

    I think the arena plan is a BAD idea. Sacramento has so many great things to offer, we don’t need to pay for an arena. If you want to save Natomas after the Kings leave, why don’t we spend public money and move the Zoo up to Natomas behind Inderkum high school? There’s 200 acres zoned for a park that would make a great regional zoo. The parking, traffic and streets are there for an arena, so it would be good use of the area. Then, the congested Land Park Zoo area could be developed. With $333 Million in city money (the true figure is not $258 Million, we’ve been lied to by our city leader), the city could do a lot in our downtown. A lot more could be done than make the rich even richer.

  3. Biff says:

    So the city should fund unprofitable theatres and museums but not an arena? Is going to a museum or a play more of a benefit than a sporting event or concert or circus? The city has limited assets. Is that news to you?

  4. John says:

    The author is operating under the economic fallacy that more events in an area will harm the competition, as if there is only one pie with 8 slices. However, anyone in an area with tons of restaurants knows that being isolated is not better, rather when you create Restaurant District, people naturally just go there as their default to meet and have meals.

    The same scenario will emerge in Downtown Sac; A thriving downtown Sac Live with an Arena for professional men’s and women’s basketball, will dramatically increase the number of people coming to Downtown, thus dramatically increasing the size of the pie as they spend more and more time and money. The net result gives every venue and every vendor more opportunities to thrive.

    • Paul Clegg says:

      John, You might look at the mess Kansas City is in thanks to the Sprint Center, which was supposed to revitalize the surrounding area but didn’t. The same would happen in Sacto.

    • Jason says:

      3 Downtown projects for $70 million or one project for $255 million? The former gives us “more bang for our bucks.”

  5. Jason says:

    In addition, the Bee ultimately reported that JMA Ventures, the new owner of Downtown Plaza, has some really good ideas what to do with that property, especially for those of us who live in downtown. They want to add a grocery store, a pharmacy, more restaurants, and to better integrate the mall into the surrounding street grid- as it looks like a fortress on L Street. And in addition to lionizing the whales, they have managed to question the political ambitions of arena opponents but no such questions came up when Ryan Lillis tweeted that Senator Steinberg was taking the redeye to New York to meet with the NBA or the Mayor’s variety of trips aimed at “promoting Sacramento.” Of course, it’s also the Bee’s constant repeating of the myth that the Maloofs pulled out of last year’s arena deal- when in fact, the city presented a deal when one didn’t really exist. Then the subsequent Maloof bashing- which suddenly got toned down as everyone recognized that they were needed to sign off on a sale to the “whales.” Don’t forget how the Bee reminded us David Stern loves Sacramento and is trying to avoid a bidding war while they forgot that Mr. Stern’s primary focus is to enrich his owners through driving up franchise valuations and by squeezing every last public dollar he could find. In reality, the Bee is a day late and $255 million short.

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