Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Soaring like a vulture

Today's topic is robot reporting and the editorial rubber stamp, and today's query -- particularly for all of you beyond the Boone County frontiers -- is: How many newspapers ran this lede intact or nearly so?

WEST POINT, Va. (AP) - With gasoline prices soaring, President Bush urged Congress on Monday to encourage development of alternate fuels like biodiesel and ethanol to make the United States less dependent on foreign oil.

Given this, also appearing Monday, from Reuters:
U.S. retail gasoline prices fell to their lowest level in seven weeks, mirroring a drop in crude oil costs, the government said Monday. The national price for regular unleaded gasoline declined 2.3 cents over the past week.

And this from AP on May 9:
The average price nationwide for all grades of gasoline fell 3 cents in two weeks, continuing a drop in pump prices that began last month, an industry analyst said Sunday.

And this from AP on April 25:
The average price for all grades of gasoline nationwide has fallen nearly 4 1/2 cents per gallon in two weeks because of a drop in crude oil prices and slightly lower demand, an industry analyst said.

... it's worth asking if anybody is paying attention out there. Or maybe if by "soaring," the AP had in mind a vulture, circling ever lower over some particularly rank bit of road kill.

OK, one instance of robot journalism (jeez, does nobody at the AP even drive past a gas station on the way to work?) isn't exactly six months' worth of systematic misreporting on Iraqi WMD capabilities. But it's not really far enough away to take much comfort. Panic-button episodic reporting about gasoline prices tends to reinforce a series of dangerous frames: Gasoline is more expensive than ever (it ain't, and any article that mentions "record prices" without adjusting for inflation is fundamentally dishonest). $1.50-a-gallon regular is a civil right (uh, sure). It's all the producers' fault (make way for more idiot cartoons of guys in dishdashas* holding American vacationers hostage).

What's needed here is not another story about whether pump prices are down or up another three cents from last week, dressed up with another photo of an MU sophomore (or Huntersville commuter, or whatever annoying local fixtures you have on your pages) whingeing about the cost of filling an SUV. What's needed is some non-event-driven reporting that decouples week-on-week retail price shifts from the bigger picture.

In his own disingenuous way -- India and China better start conserving, but we need more production -- that's sorta what Mr. Bush was hinting at**. Somebody, meaning us, needs to go him one better.

Comments, complaints, other reflexive ledes?

* HEADSUP-L, as a longtime advocate of diversity in the news and editorial columns, is confident America's cartoonists will soon start including representations of OPEC members Venezuela and Nigeria in their paeans to cheap fuel.
** Though if he really wants us to believe he's off the herb for good, he might want to reconsider comments like "Our dependence on foreign oil is like a foreign tax on the American dream, and that tax is growing every year."


Anonymous colleen said...

i can't quite speak for what we copy eds would've changed, but that story was nowhere to be found in The Columbus Dispatch. (Believe me, I checked the A section and the business section.)

Which raises a good question: Haven't we heard enough of Bush telling us that we need to find ways to not depend on foreign oil? How necessary was this story anyways?

1:18 AM, May 19, 2005  
Anonymous john said...

just for sharing , right

10:25 AM, March 16, 2010  

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