To judge by the chatter on the Internet, a lot of area residents are excited about the announcement that stylish Swedish home-goods manufacturer Ikea has announced the opening of a new store in Merriam.
By DEREK DONOVAN
The Kansas City Star
Congrats to the KC metro area for landing an Ikea store, wrote one commenter on KansasCity.com. My wife and I will be visiting from Wichita once the store is open in 2014.
The story got a good ride on the website throughout the day Sept. 27, and it was the Page A1 centerpiece of the print edition of The Kansas City Star the next morning. That didnt necessarily please all readers.
One caller Friday registered her objections to the topics being on the cover at all. You have Ikea, rental car and sports on the front page, and you put Israel on the back page, she said. Give us whats important, actual news.
(One clarification: The story she referred to as sports was actually about two high school football players who were diagnosed with testicular cancer but it did come from the Sports department, and written from the context of their participation in sports.)
Another caller registered her objection while the story was the main feature on KansasCity.com. Why does your website have to have all this news about Ikea coming to town so big? she asked. Is it all just a free ad for them?
This reader certainly isnt the first to question whether the line between reporting and advertising sometimes blurs. Its a matter of pure subjectivity, and one that journalists must consider seriously.
I hear a lot of generalized anti-business sentiment from readers, and I understand concerns that commerce can take a backseat to peoples well being.
On the other hand, news of a major world retailer such as Ikea coming to the area is about economics at least as much as shopping opportunities. Merriam and the state of Kansas will undoubtedly reap financial benefits from the store. The story quoted Merriam Mayor Ken Sissom, saying Ikea would (bring) thousands and thousands of people to this region who are going to be staying in our hotels and eating at our restaurants.
The store will also remedy what many see as a sore spot: It will be built on the site of the long-vacant, never-occupied Merriam Village shopping complex at Johnson Drive and Interstate 35.
Thats all positive news but I agree with the sentiment that The Star should follow the construction and opening of the store with a dispassionate eye. There will undoubtedly be objections and concerns about the project as it develops, and the paper needs to catalog those as well.
Ive spoken to readers whove offered similar criticisms about a variety of other businesses covered in The Star through the years. Recently, one Twitter user knocked the journalists covering the launch of the Google Fiber Internet/TV service for not having written anything about an update from the projects official blog about new channels recently added to the lineup.
I passed the tweet along to a reporter working on the story, and his reply showed an awareness that I was happy to see: We knew. But Im still struggling with whether we need to help them market their product by knocking out a story every time they add channels.
Last weeks Ikea news story identified the company as one of several that have built cult followings. As a result, their customers advertise for them, spreading the word, it said.
Apple, Chick-fil-A, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Harley-Davidson these brands all inspire great enthusiasm among some consumers, and journalists can sometimes act as evangelists for the cause.
Many of these companies announcements are certainly news, and they generate huge reader interest. But journalists need to maintain a distance.