SPJ "Ethics Week" Ideas
Some fascinating ideas here,
subjects of real significance,
none adopted, not even a response from Mr. Gratz.
Craig Cantoni's essay below is superb.
Dear Mr. Gratz and Mr. Scarp,
(President of the Society of Professional Journalists, and
SPJ Chapter President in Phoenix, respectively)
The widely accepted practice of airing VNRs (video news releases), without
attribution by all major broadcasters, is a perfect topic for SPJ's upcoming
Ethics Week -- especially with the White House's possibly illegal use
of this tool making front page news. Most people have no idea that a significant
portion of the news is produced by private interest factions, or commercial
groups, packaged to look like newscasts, and then simply aired without
notice by objective news teams and networks.
Because the question of bias in gun news coverage has been so well documented,
it seems a perfect subject for Ethics Week too. I have numerous stories
related to this posted for your review at
http://www.gunlaws.com/NewsAccuracy.htm, in case you are unfamiliar
The whole idea of reporting on isolated murderers, from thousands of miles
away, while doctors are responsible for hundreds of accidental
deaths every day, many near you, casts some doubt on the story selection
process the media uses. Do the shooting deaths way across the continent
cast a negative shadow on the value of firearms? Does supressing the doctor-death
stories give a false sense of security instead? Is the public interest
served, when the true risks we face are so mistakenly represented? What
a great subject for ethics week.
Now, my close friend and newspaper columnist Craig Cantoni has discovered
stunning bias in financial news coverage -- a profound additional candidate
for Ethics Week. His report, documented thoroughly:
[See what SPJ chose for its Ethics
Week topic -- Are some letters to the editor too strong to print?]
Journalism and the Biotech Feeding Frenzy
By Craig J. Cantoni
March 24, 2005
The Arizona Republic has been advocating huge public investments in biotech
research, due to a belief that such investments are a way for Arizona
to gain economically from the coming biotech revolution. Other big-city
dailies across the nation have advocated the same thing for their hometowns.
This raises two questions: First, are the investments a smart and proper
use of public money? Second, is it the proper role of journalism to be
an advocate for such investments instead of being neutral and presenting
both the pros and cons of this use of public money?
Let's start with the proper role of journalism.
Last Sunday's edition of The Arizona Republic devoted six pages to a new
biotech research center that was built with public money in Phoenix. Three
of the pages were in the news section, and three were in the opinions
In a blurring of news and opinion, there was no difference between the
coverage in the news section and the editorials in the opinions section.
Both sections quoted people and organizations that have a vested interest
in the public investments, and both sections steered clear of people,
studies and statistics that question the wisdom of the investments.
Such one-sided coverage plays into the hands of critics on the right who
say that the mainstream press is losing market share because it has a
big-government agenda and can't be trusted to report the news objectively.
My view is that newspapers should be a watchdog over the public purse
and should have a healthy skepticism about government proposals to take
money from the purse, especially for the purposes of industrial planning
and economic development.
Let's turn to the question of whether public investment in biotech is
a smart and proper use of public money. I'll skip the "proper"
part of the question, because that comes down to a philosophical, ideological,
constitutional and moral issue of whether the government should have the
power to forcibly take money from citizens for what is essentially a modern
form of mercantilism.
To determine if it is a smart investment to spend public money on biotech
research, we first need to know the following:
1. The expected rate of return on the invested money.
2. The historical return on investment of both public and private capital
invested in biotech research.
3. The success of such investments in other cities and states.
4. The economic opportunities that were lost by taking capital out of
the private sector.
5. The competition faced by cities and states in biotech, and whether,
instead of investing in biotech, they would be better off playing to their
natural competitive advantages, coupled with removing tax and regulatory
barriers to economic growth.
Amazingly, to the best of my knowledge, neither the local government nor
the press has provided the foregoing information.
Worse, with respect to No. 1, the local press did not challenge a specious
claim by the head of Phoenix's new research center that there has already
been a sizable return on investment. How did he calculate the ROI? He
included federal research grants in the center's revenue.
In other words, if money is taken from taxpayers twice - once to build
and operate the research center, and once to fund research grants - the
center is generating a profit. In reality, taxpayers have experienced
It's not as if the information listed above is difficult to find. I found
it in one hour by doing two things: one, typing various city names into
an Internet search engine, along with the words "biotech research;"
and two, sending an e-mail to contacts familiar with public policy issues,
asking them if they knew of any authoritative studies on the subject of
publicly-funded biotech research.
Here's what I discovered from my city-by-city search:
- That scores of cities are pinning their hopes on publicly-funded biotech
research but have not provided the information listed in Nos. 1-5 above.
- That scores of big-city newspaper are advocating biotech research as
an economic elixir but have not provided the information listed in Nos.
Here's what I discovered from authoritative studies by the Cato Institute,
the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and others:
- That there is now more biotech research capacity in the nation than
the number of scientists needed to fill the capacity, a situation that
is similar to the excess convention center capacity in the nation, due
to cities exaggerating the economic benefits of the centers and racing
each other to see who can build the biggest and fanciest facilities.
- That advocates of publicly-funded research centers have exaggerated
the returns on investment.
- That privately-funded research centers have higher returns on investment
than publicly-funded research centers.
- That the research centers are based on the idea of cluster-based economic
development, an idea that has dubious merit.
- That politicians are in a bidding war of financial subsidies for a small
number of biotech companies, thus driving up the value of the companies
beyond their true economic value.
- That a smart strategy for a city or state is to reap the benefits of
biotech research while letting other cities and states incur the cost
of the research, by instituting tax and regulatory policies that attract
biotech companies (and other companies).
For more information, see the following sources:
In closing, it would seem that before hundreds of millions of dollars
of public money are spent, the government and the press should at least
do an hour of research and report the results.
Mr. Cantoni is an author, columnist and founder of Honest Americans Against
Legal Theft (www.haalt.org). His new book will be published in a couple
of months (Breaking from the Herd: Political Essays for Independent Thinkers
by a Maverick Columnist). He can be reached at either firstname.lastname@example.org or
An hour of research to provide two sides to a hundred-million-dollar
story -- what a wonderful concept! Should the news media do this? And
what a wonderful topic for SPJ Ethics Week! Will it happen?
P.S. Mr. President Gratz, I have not yet heard from you on any of this
yet, would you kindly respond. Thank you.
[No response ever received]
Alan Korwin, Publisher
4848 E. Cactus, #505-440
Scottsdale, AZ 85254
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