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Government, Politics & Issues

Editor's Weekly: Looking for substance amidst the sizzle of news

Bill Greenblatt | UPI

Two squalls of controversy blew in to dominate the news early this week — a mega-media frenzy over Rachel Dolezal’s race and a mini-media frenzy over the Cardinals hacking investigation. Both made surprising disclosures and touched on serious issues.

Yet here at St. Louis Public Radio, where we try to focus on news that matters, we wondered how much any of this might matter in the long run. Sadly, the horrendous shooting that killed nine black churchgoers Wednesday in Charleston put things in sharp perspective.

Some St. Louisans were no doubt caught up in the debate about Dolezal, the white NAACP leader who identified as black. But our newsroom did not pursue local discussion of this national story. Like many controversies involving race, this one already contained plenty of heat; we saw little way to shed more light.

We did jump on the Cardinals news, first reported by The New York Times, that federal authorities are investigating whether front-office personnel hacked the Astros’ private computer network. St. Louis Public Radio’s Rachel Lippmann looked at what laws might have been broken, and Kelsey Proud asked fans for three-word reactions. "The Astros, really?" James Overholt tweeted in response.

The Cardinals matter a great deal to many St. Louisans. Whether the team cheated and who might have been responsible are important questions — for Major League Baseball and for our communal psyche. And yet, several less flashy issues that surfaced this week might ultimately matter more.

In Jefferson City, state school officials acknowledged what Normandy school district residents have been saying for months — that a credibility gap has hindered the state’s efforts to improve the district. State board member Mike Jones likened the problem to a natural disaster, Dale Singer reported, where people are eager to provide help but not the kind that those in need really want.

“If you can build trust, you’ll figure out the strategy. If you can’t build trust, the strategy will never be successful," Jones said. Whether officials succeed in Normandy has huge implications for whether Missouri can address statewide issues of school quality and inequality.

Also this week, Maria Altman and Brent Jones took another look at Paul McKee’s Northside Regeneration project. They reported that McKee has received state tax credits to help purchase property in the area the city now wants to offer as a new home for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. If the city buys the property, will the previous tax credits be deducted from the price, Maria asked?  A city spokesman said they would be taken into account but did not specify how.

Like schools, city redevelopment is a sprawling challenge. The NGA relocation and McKee’s project are the biggest possibilities for the city’s north side, but their prospects are cloudy. Maria has been keeping a close eye on progress, obstacles, options and financial arrangements — and on the impact all this will have on the region.

As news stories go, Dolezal and the Cardinals sizzle more than schools and redevelopment. But substance eventually trumps sizzle in real impact on people's lives. At St. Louis Public Radio, we aim to make these stakes clear in time for people to understand and respond to issues.

A full generation since the digital revolution began, it has transformed the way people get and share news. But it has not guaranteed that there will be more substantive news coverage to share. News organizations and citizens alike are still figuring out how to build a news ecosystem that will sustain a healthy democracy.

This week, St. Louis Public Radio chose to cover local news in ways that help St. Louisans understand the long-term issues we face. As the digital revolution continues, we’ll continue to bring news that matters to you.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.