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Are we all just on the Worcester hype train now?

BY Brad Kane

2/4/2019

On Jan. 21, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette chose to lead off a story about rising home rental prices like this, “The renaissance that’s happening in the city, including newly constructed and renovated apartments, is helping to drive up the cost of rental housing.”
The Telegram now joins MassLive as the two main local mass media organizations who now regularly say Worcester is in a renaissance as a statement of fact, without providing any real evidence supporting the claim. MassLive even said its desire to be part of the “ongoing Worcester renaissance” was a reason for it opening a downtown office.
There are very real consequences to journalists repeating hype like this. You expect organizations like the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, the City of Worcester and the Worcester Business Development Corp. to sell the city using terms like renaissance in their efforts to attract new developments and investments. Marketing the city is their job. But marketing is not the role of a media organization.
If a news story wants to claim Worcester is in a renaissance, that’s perfectly fine, as long as it backs up in some way. Are more people moving into the city? Is more wealth coming in? More housing? Jobs? How do those increases compare to local and national trends? Are new developments simply replacing old ones? Is the property tax rate dropping? Don't just repeat what city officials say, but offer compelling evidence from independent, verified third parties.
The problem with trusted media sources like the Telegram and MassLive just repeating hype without evidence is then it becomes generally accepted as fact. If it turns out not to be true, there are consequences. You can end up in a housing bubble where people make ill-advised investments and lose their homes. The electorate can wrongly believe a political candidate’s claim about crime being on the rise, even though the opposite is true. Worcester’s decision to invest $101 million in a ballpark to drive economic development for the next 30 years can be hailed (as the Telegram put it) as a “Grand Slam” even though such ventures have mixed results.
In this issue, WBJ News Editor Grant Welker examines the results of similar municipal baseball developments throughout the country, in the last part of his Tax Breaks: Paying for Growth series. His reporting shows Worcester will have to beat the odds to make the project a success. That is certainly doable, but the fact is far from certain.
- Brad Kane, editor