The Hot Beat


The second-day story, with your help. Call Gazette reporter Adam Belz at (319) 398-8273 or e-mail him:

Politics, FEMA and the city: People! It’s complicated!

Judging by the uniform tone of comments on the story I wrote for today’s front page, readers do not understand what actually is happening.

The subtext of the entire story is that FEMA’s announcement of $77 million for Cedar Rapids is no more than a symbolic gesture, with no immediate effect. So when FEMA says the city is “moving too slowly,” well, that doesn’t mean a lot, because in the next breath FEMA says it’s important for the city to move slowly through a rigorous cost estimate process. Prosser says the city won’t see any money until its detailed damage and repair estimates are complete.

But FEMA did say the city was moving too slowly and the $77 million was a surprise. It was done behind the city’s back, you might say. So exploring that is worth a news story, right?

Now, Journalism 101. News stories are bound by a couple of things. They can’t be too long, and they must be written in plain language, with a clear, strong lead. If those rules are violated, nobody reads the story, because it’s boring and confusing. This is something public officials often fail to acknowledge.

But on the other hand, public officials sometimes have reason to be frustrated. Reporters like me can easily oversimplify a complicated issue, and in the process make public figures look bad. Politicians, especially, are aware of the fact that many readers are idiots, and if there’s something slightly negative in the headline, then that’s it. Lights out. The reader puts down the newspaper, sips his coffee, and is utterly convinced that so-and-so has bungled such-and-such.

My hope, and usually it’s a failed hope, is that the reading public take a more nuanced approach. I write a news story like today’s hoping readers get to the fourth paragraph and see that there is a tension between what FEMA says and what the city says. But no! All the comments on the website display a profound lack of understanding and an almost religious commitment to bash city government.

If there’s anyone out there, I’d be interested in his or her thoughts.

Filed under: Uncategorized

One Response

  1. Concerned Citizen says:

    In response to your request the following are my thoughts.

    I think the topic may be foreign to many and is a bit complicated thus leading to some understandable confusion. In fact I had to read the article 3 times before I felt comfortable I understood it. This is not a criticism of your writing. Some articles are complicated and difficult to understand no matter how clear and professional they are.

    I agree that it appears many of the commentators did not understand the story and they unjustly criticized Mr. Prosser and the City.

    There is one statement in the article that I continue to find confusing. It is as follows:

    “It’s more important to get the right amount of money than to get it quick,” Prosser said. “If you do it fast and find out that it wasn’t as accurate, what good does it do you?”

    I don’t agree with his statement, especially in an emergency situation. At times people need money quickly regardless whether it is the right amount (assuming there is no material difference). I generally find Mr. Prosser to be a capable professional thus I suspect Mr. Prosser would agree with my opinion thus I’m wondering if his statement quoted above was referring solely to long-term projects versus immediate aid or to the correct figures on the submittal sheets or something else?

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