Thursday, June 14, 2007

A study of ______ media obsession with studies (Fill in the Blanks)

Want a stadium? More arts funding? Pork for bio-tech? Just turn to the new boom business journalists can't resist: the economic-impact industry.

Every time an economic study comes out, you know the pigs are at the pastry cart.

Economic studies don't just happen. They are planned, a part of political and public relations strategies to get media attention and guide — or stampede — opinion toward seeing the enlightened self interest in giving more money to the haves. They're an attempt to convince us to fork over our hard earned dollars to subsidize successful businesses by showing the trickle-down benefits of trickle-up spending.

Just about everyone here does studies these days. A quick scan of _____ archives shows just how useful they are in getting ink. I'm sure if I donned the green eye shades and hit the microfilm, I could find enough to fill every recycling bin in town and make _____ happy.

The _____ have a study to help them get tax money for a new arena. The supporters of the _____ proposal had one to try and pry money from the state. _____, searching for major bucks from the public for a rehab, has a study. The _____ had a study to help them get a stadium. The _____ had a study, too. The bio-tech industry, which has successfully extracted money from the state, got it with the help of a study. Even the _____ _____ industry has a study: Apparently, we need reminding that apples still matter in _____.

Just the term study sounds academic, disinterested, objective, studious. But somehow these studies always come to the same conclusion: X industry generates multi-millions of dollars in local jobs and benefits. X industry ought to be taken more seriously because without it, we'd be screwed. In fact, supporting X industry with your tax dollars, ticket fees, public subsidies, tax breaks, incentives, matching funds, free parking, donations, etc., is simply pouring more chocolate syrup on a giant civic sundae. And here's the cherry part: Even if the numbers don't make sense, you're focusing on the wrong thing. Folks, there are always the intangible benefits.

One of the most study-happy "industries" is the arts. Local arts groups put out economic impact studies every couple of years. One problem in comparing them is that their focus or methodologies seem to change slightly, so it's difficult to get apples-to-apples comparisons. But the drumbeat is very familiar.

_____ of the _____ wrote a study story on Wednesday, June 6: "Local arts groups rev an economic engine: Non-profits generate $330 million annually in _____, study finds." The study was funded by Americans for the Arts, a national lobbying group. _____ was included in the study thanks to a grant from Paul Allen, who seems to like paying for studies. According to the story, this study was a breakthrough.

"This study is a mythbuster," Robert Lynch, president and chief executive of Americans for the Arts, said in a statement. "Most Americans understand that the arts improve our quality of life. This study demonstrates that the arts are an industry that stimulates the economy in cities and towns across the country.

"A vibrant arts and culture industry helps local business thrive."

It's the archetypal study: It re-enforces a pre-determined mission (the arts matter!), touts the intangibles (quality of life!), takes credit for non-arts related economic activity (what would you do without us?), and elevates the arts to the status aerospace (we're an industry!). Thank goodness someone as objective as Americans for the Arts settled those questions. Doesn't their name just scream lack of bias?
That study was by ArtsFund, which produces such studies every couple of years. According to their 2004 study, the economic impact of the arts in _____ counties was "$1 billion in direct and indirect business activity." Note the indirect claim. It allows the featured number to be inflated because they claim credit for activity up and down the economic food chain.

But _____ was satisfied with neither the bottom line nor the intangibles reported in the study. "If anything," he said with true showbiz hype, "[the study] understates the impact of the arts." For you see, the arts are so big, so important, their true import cannot be contained in a single study!

Which is why, I guess, they need to do study after study, and why the newspapers need to write about them year after year, much like Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" continually reporting that Francisco Franco is still dead. We need constant reassurance that the arts in _____ are still booming!

Someday, I hope Paul Allen will fund a study on the economic impact of the study industry. I have a feeling the benefits are both infinite and intangible. Crosscut, Seattle

No comments: