Sunday, December 19, 2004

Two Stories: Council to Vote on LUS Bonds

I blogged the Council's online announcement of next Tuesday's bond issue a bit earlier. Now both the Advertiser and the Advocate have come out with articles giving roughly the same background information except that the Advocate's hit the streets two days ago. LUS is asking for final permission to go ahead with bond sales when the moment is right. They'll have to get permission from the state (watch for incumbent delaying tactics there), finalize the engineering plan and put it out for bids. No doubt LUS will want permission in place so that they can quickly take advantage of any changes in the bond market. As I understand it the bond market is becoming generally more expensive so there is the feeling that every extra day is costing the project long-term money. And interest, as always--think about a house mortgage, is the largest single expense in any construction project paid for over a long stretch. They'll be asking for the rights to bond 125 million, more than the base 110.5 million that has been discussed to date in order to cover the possibility that bids will come in higher than expected. Both papers discuss examples of the process where the money actually bonded came in considerably lower than the authorizing authority LUS had been granted. Apparently this is pretty common practice and makes sense especially in those eras when the bond market is volatile.

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On stories like this, where the event reported is in parallel ways by several media outlets I often recommend one to readers as doing a better job--that's the little efficiency demon in me, just trying to help folks get things done. But today I find that the teacher in me has control. I recommend that you spare a little lazy Sunday time to develop an epicurean taste in news reporting. Read them both and look at what is said, what each author considers worth informing the public of, and in what order the bones of the story are laid out and articulated.

I'll back off the usual teacher thing enough to tell you what I think upfront. I prefer the advocate writer Blanchard's more instructional model to the Advertiser reporter Taylor's strictly reportorial style. The introductory paragraphs in both are interchangeable and establish the basic reportorial facts. But thereafter the stories about the same issue, with much the same questions about the 110.5 vs. 125 million "cost," differ widely. Blanchard briefly reports issue history and informs the reader as to what the procedure will be turn an approval before the board into money LUS can spend. That includes two more landmark votes before the council and the very tasty little fact that to get it on the agenda for the next state bond commission meeting LUS will have to ask that body for a one-day deadline extension. The Blanchard story then goes on to explain the difference between the 110 and 125 figures basically in terms of interest costs on the bonds. Take a look at Taylor's story, and you'll see that the Advertiser version goes straight for the cost difference and then backtracks to explain its meaning. That style puts the importance of getting to the big, exciting facts early connected story telling. In the end I think you might agree, you come out with a better understanding of the issue if the story is treated as story.

But you be the judge. Its an interesting thing to think about on a lazy Sunday, nonetheless.

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