At least, that's how it came across to me.
Doug Belkin is a reporter from the WSJ who was covering the Ten Living Cities symposium for that paper. His article's up at the WSJ Online. And damn if the man didn't concentrate on everything negative he could find.
One of the smarter suggestions from the conference - explicitly mentioned to combat negative stereotypes about these cities - was to actively engage the citizens themselves in combating those who perpetuate negative stereotypes. As representatives from Flint and Cleveland pointed out, the worst stereotypes about their cities date back 20 or more years.
But rather than acknowledge that things may have changed in these cities, or how they're trying to get the word out about the good things there, he mocks this innovative, low-cost, community-building way to manage brand perception as simply "A way to save Rust Belt cities".
And yeah, put that way, it sounds stupid. Because it's easy to make fun of things out of context, and to make fun of those people. The point of the conference was to put forth that a positive change is possible, explore methods for that change, and use this as a first step in continuing to revitalize these cities. We weren't commiserating; hell, all the presentations were positive. Labeling it as "commiseration" is an explicit misrepresentation of the entire damn conference.
Oh, and to balance out the civic leaders, citizens, and others who put hard work into getting this started, he talked to a 22 year old college student who works in a coffee shop. I'm not quite sure how a barista is more qualified to offer an opinion than, say, me. Maybe that's just a sign of how hard Mr. Belkin had to look for someone negative around the conference. Or maybe it's just lazy damn reporting.
Rather than focus on accomplishments, Mr. Belkin went out of his way to accentuate the negative. Rather than the inline links around his article pointing to positive things (or even the URL for the conference itself), they all point to negative articles and graphs.
Sure, Belkin's a skillful enough writer that he can claim innocence. Maybe like Joshua Zumbrun, he'll assuage his conscience by saying that it's what sells. Maybe that's what "everybody" does.
And maybe he can fool himself with that crap. But he's not fooling me.
Stop by his article, comment there, and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let him know what you think of someone going out of their way to slam our city.
Edit: Also e-mail the editor of the WSJ, and check out Aubrey's rather kickass reply.