On a Diet on the Second Front

Here’s a good example of the Murdoch-era Wall Street Journal short-arming a potentially interesting story.

The paper reports on B1 that despite its 29 percent unemployment, Detroit’s gambling parlors are doing A-okay. But rather than explore the implications through a reported feature, we’re offered thin gruel. Don’t blame the reporters (yes, there are two on this one)—with 443 words, you can’t give your readers any depth. And there’s none here.

Here’s your color:

Late Tuesday afternoon, 20 card tables at Detroit’s Motor City Casino Hotel were packed with poker and Texas hold ‘em players. At least 50 more gamblers crowded around a roulette table. Richard Knoll, a retired truck driver, said he was at Motor City because of the casino’s giveaway of 20 cars in 20 days. He used to be a regular in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, he said, but now he sticks to Detroit and occasionally visits Atlantic City.

What’s the point of such a USA Todayish story splashed across the paper’s “second front” with dominant art? What is this story really telling us?

There’s no exploration whatever of why Detroit’s casinos might be faring better than those in Atlantic City and Las Vegas. Might it be because people are staying closer to home and avoiding the expense of plane tickets and hotel rooms? Well, who knows? There’s no information on how other non-destination casino towns are holding up.

What about who’s frequenting the casinos? Locals? Out-of-staters? Canadians? This is all we get on that:

Opponents say the casinos make hard times harder for families strapped for cash. But proponents note that the three casinos, which employ about 8,200 people, are one of the few sources of new jobs and have helped to increase tourism, convention business and city revenue.

According to MGM’s Lorenzo Creighton, most patrons come from within 50 miles.

Do the opponents have any data? Do the proponents?

Hey, no room for that stuff. How does this kind of thing, hardly a one-off, make The Wall Street Journal, once a unique beast if any paper was, stand out from the rest of the commodity-news pack?

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.