It is rare indeed when a reporter from a newspaper with an international reputation steps into a small-town business and announces he’s there to do a story about its operations. But what is written can be disappointing, even regretful to the business that is the subject for the story.
It happened to Modern Auto Co. of Washington, one of the oldest automobile dealerships in this area. The reporter was Eli Saslow of The Washington (D.C.) Post. The story ran recently under headlines of “View From Washington, Mo.” and in larger type, “On the Showroom Floor, Trying to Create a Recovery.” It was in A section and undoubtedly read by hundreds of thousands of people.
Journalists are like any other professional people. They often criticize their own. In this instance, the overall story told a tale of how tough it can be selling vehicles in this economy. However, in this journalistic endeavor, the reporter seemed to come to Washington, Mo., with a preconceived notion or two — that everything was doom and gloom. His observations were out of focus overall and he was plain incorrect on some of his written conclusions.
The story is acceptable in detailing the daily life of a car salesman and in what the dealership is doing to promote sales.
Where the story wanders into not-factual land is when the reporter wrote that in Washington “manufacturing plants continue to close and only a handful of tourists have bought into the region’s rebranding as a wine-tasting destination.”
We are only aware of one manufacturing plant that is closing. That is Harman, scheduled to close its doors in June. There was no mention of a new aerospace company that is in the process of opening in a new plant in the Heidmann Industrial Park. He made no mention that some of our industrial plants are working two shifts, even on some Saturdays. The reporter failed to look at The Missourian’s classified page where in some issues there are 70 help wanted ads. To us that means business for some industries and businesses is very good.
The reporter should have visited the wine country surrounding Washington where on a good-weather weekend thousands of people visit wineries — most of them from St. Louis. Even on good-weather weekdays, one-day tourists wander around our riverfront and visit shops along Front Street and Main Street. Often, he would see tourist buses parked while the passengers visit the downtown section.
“Handful of tourists?” It would take an army of hands to hold the tourists who flock into this area on weekends. They “bought” into the wine region’s “rebranding” many years ago and never let hold of it.
Most journalists do a good job of reporting and are factual. This one didn’t do the necessary legwork to learn what is going on in this area, which is feeling the economic downturn but we’re not hurting as much as the people in many metro areas and in many rural sections across the country. As far as the economic climate is, almost all businesses will tell you profit margins are down and intense competition is among the reasons why. Overhead is up or the same, and revenue is down.
The late publisher and editor James L. Miller, Sr., probably would not have read The Washington Post story. “Too long,” he would have said.
Yes, it was too long and too many words by a writer who came to town with his mind made up as to conditions in this river town.