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SPJ lights fire to report in Sparks
by Nathan Orme
Oct 09, 2010 | 1087 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
This past week I attended the annual Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) convention in Las Vegas. When I heard the group was coming to Nevada, I figured it was a good chance to get out of town for a few days while making the trip tax-deductible.

During the two-day conference, I attended many interesting lectures that made me reflect on the news here in northern Nevada. The point of these events, after all, is to give reporters a chance to hear about the experiences of other journalists and find new energy to bring home for the benefit of their own publications.

The biggest news of the past few years has been the economy, so I made sure to attend a session on business reporting. It was led by several leaders of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers and an editor at CNN Money.

An interesting concept that they brought up in the discussion was called “the new frugality.” This refers to shoppers who are cutting costs by patronizing places like Dollar Tree and other extremely inexpensive places to buy some basics that might cost several dollars more at another store. In response to this, the panel of experts said, manufacturers have sought ways to make certain products as cheaply as they can to meet this demand.

Toilet paper is one example of such a product, they said. Consumers are apparently looking for cheaper ways to clean their backsides and manufacturers are meeting the demand. If I had to pick an area to skimp, I am not sure this would be it.

While some retailers are able to thrive on this new frugality, high-end retailers also are doing well, according to the panel. As the middle class is hurting, the upper class — defined as the top 2 to 3 percent of earners — still has money to burn on expensive items. This raised the question of the success of Vegas’ new CityCenter hotel and shopping complex located just across the street from where the SPJ conference was being held. How would this massive project fare?

I walked around the CityCenter one evening and it is the type of place where the merchandise has no price tags: If you have to ask how much, you can’t afford it. I guess CityCenter’s success will depend on whether it can attract that upper echelon of shopper.

Shortly after this business reporting session, I heard about the closing of Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5th at the Legends at Sparks Marina. General manager of Legends Dennis McGovern said the center’s managers might have made a mistake in judgment regarding local shoppers’ tastes in choosing Saks to occupy a centerpiece location. He also said the closing could be a result of the economy. I would argue for the former. Saks is not targeted at the top earners but it is certainly targeted above the heads of the average local shopper, a fact that is just worsened in a bad economy. I am interested to see which retailer gets that spot next.

I also attended a session about reporting on the gaming industry led by two veteran reporters from Vegas and an executive from MGM Resorts.

An interesting comment was made by Alan Feldman, senior vice present of public affairs for MGM, which essentially was that gambling is a single element of the entire entertainment experience that is Las Vegas. I am paraphrasing, of course, and Feldman was not devaluing gaming, but rather putting it in its proper place as a corollary attraction rather than a primary moneymaker.

This might not have been news to many, but it kind of opened my eyes to gambling’s proper place. Then later it got me to thinking more about Legends and the hotel/casino to be built there. The city planning aspect of the project has once again started to roll, though who knows how long it could actually take to build it. But if my interpretation of Feldman’s comments is correct, when the addition is made it will not necessarily be the salvation of the project. The complete package will be needed to truly lure the tourist dollars. Legends management will need to solidify the retail and make sure the entertainment value is strong enough to keep the money rolling in. And with the winter doldrums to deal with, I am stretched to imagine how it will be a year-round attraction.

One other journalism session that struck me was about the impending results of this year’s census. Led by Bobbi Bowman, diversity consultant to the American Society of News Editors, the message in this discussion was that the United States is on its way to becoming “majority minority.” In this case, she said, the word “majority” refers to power, not numbers. The new population counts in growing minority areas could lead to redrawing of Congressional districts, hence affecting the representation coming out of those areas. This is how the minority-majority can become very powerful. Also, with 47 percent of children in America under the age of 5 being minorities, the education balance could tip toward less-skilled, lower-paying jobs, affecting the amount of taxes paid in the next generation. Put this all together and it will make for very interesting reporting.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I will go enjoy the rest of my vacation before heading back to work with a brain full of new ideas.

Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at norme@dailysparkstribune.com.
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