“Did you see this?”
The text on my iPhone arrived with an attached tweet of a Business Insider article, “How Atlantic City went from a bustling tourist hub to a failing ghost town.”
I scanned the article from a waiting line in an amusement park and grew increasingly annoyed to see the out-of-town author had not stepped foot inside the city, nor bothered to talk to any original — much less local — source for the piece.
It only got worse. The large photos that served to break up the small blocks of text were chosen purely to support the premise of an empty town. At least several were clearly taken in the winter.
Business Insider selected a handful of articles including one of ours, all critical, several more than 2 years old, and strung together a narrative of a dying city. To do that, they had to ignore reality — the summer crowds, the major redevelopment projects underway and cautious optimism of local and statewide officials that Atlantic City has turned the corner on five casino closings and a free-fall in property values.
The article did not reflect the reality of what’s happening here. Here’s one reason why. It was actually first published in January 2016. Updated recently, it appeared back on the website as a news story with a new headline but much of the same content.
It was a straight up hatchet job and a lot of the feedback on Twitter from locals, or people who know the city, recognized it as that.
“Fake news!” tweeted several locals.
Not a term any journalist likes to hear, but in this case, it was deserved.
After some lean years, there is now much to be hopeful for in Atlantic City. The steel skeleton of what will be Stockton University’s beach campus grows every week, while further up the Boardwalk, work is about to get underway transforming the former Taj Mahal casino into a Hard Rock casino, one of the nation’s most recognizable brands.
That’s what you can see. What you can’t see, yet, is the next wave of entertainment complexes, outdoor festivals and beer gardens currently in the planning and approval stages. Each one, while not a game changer, will help add to the attraction of the city.
I know this — and our print and online audience does too — because every day in our newsroom, journalists are reporting the latest developments in the city.
It’s not all good news that we report, but it is being reported by local journalists committed to staying with the story.
That’s why local journalism matters.
As a rule, we don’t pick fights with other media over how they report stories, but sometimes the error, offense or damage are so big we feel obligated.
In the case of the “ghost town” tweet, the story just felt cheap. Did it damage the town? Probably not, although close to 400,000 people clicked on it.
But there have been times when other stories have done real damage. Five years ago, during Hurricane Sandy, “Good Morning America” reported that the Atlantic City Boardwalk was swept away by storm surge. Time magazine, nearly two weeks after the storm, published a photograph of a section of the Boardwalk in shambles.
The problem was, the photograph was of an already condemned section of boards in the Inlet and not part of the popular walkway.
It didn’t matter though. The story took off, and the perception grew nationally that Atlantic City had lost its main attraction.
This persisted, despite the efforts of the city’s marketing forces and our newsroom (we fought the rumors online, in columns, and published a video tour to show our work).
Stories like the ones after Sandy and the one that ran in Business Insider reinforce the power of the press. And remind us that journalists need to use that power wisely.