A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Local Media Coverage Wasn't Any Better Fifty Years Ago

Fifty years ago this week, the Matawan Aberdeen Board of Education voted to begin circulating a brochure advocating the expenditure of $2.545 million to build a new high school in the district. Voters would be going to the polls on 1 December 1959 to approve acquisition of the site, erection of the building, and the transfer of about $45,000 of previously authorized funds, so MARSD decided to float an ad campaign of sorts. They also made a press release, which was carried locally as front page news.

According to page 14 of the 19 November 1959 issue of the Matawan Journal, BOE President Harold J Dolan blasted the opposition for starting a whisper campaign that the new high school would cause taxes to double. He assured residents that the board's auditors in Perth Amboy had determined that the average $1,500 tax assessment would only go up about $50.

Less than two weeks before the election, the local press not only took the side of school board officials in explaining away public concerns about potential tax increases, they heavily influenced the readership by giving front page coverage to the architect's design plans. Pay particular attention to how the Journal reiterated the government's view of the minimal tax consequences of the construction right below the image of the plans. Nowhere in the article did the paper offer a credible alternative point of view, instead casting opponents as errant gossips and rumormongers. As for any independent analysis, there was none.

It was a heavy growth period in the Matawan-Aberdeen area, so a new school was definitely needed at that time. But the idea that tax payers would experience only a 3% increase in their taxes by the purchase of a large property and construction of a new multimillion dollar building was probably worth questioning. Taxes have certainly more than doubled and probably did much sooner than those auditors in Perth Amboy would have dared to guess.

As for media coverage, things really haven't changed at all in fifty years. I mistakenly accepted the common belief that local press coverage was suffering today because of their loss of market share due to competition from the Internet. It seems they've always been providing biased and deceptive reporting. Today's Asbury Park Press and Independent continue this pattern of reporting press releases as news coverage and failing to adequately provide alternate viewpoints. Their slogan might as well be: We call 'em as they see 'em. I strongly suspect there was no competition from the Internet in those days, so what was their excuse for bad journalistic practice back then?


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