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Charlie's Angle: The Panera Effect

Saturday, May 11, 2013 - Updated: 3:29 PM

The Feb. 25, 2012, edition of your local birdcage liner saw the birth of "The Panera Effect," a term I've used when I've seen readers flock to certain stories while staying away from others that actually cover more important topics.

Here's where it comes from: In that day's edition, there were several in-depth stories dealing with issues such as why defining Amsterdam's downtown area is a challenge, schools joining forces to seek mandate relief from the state, which was partnered with a story about local officials testifying how those mandates are crippling public budgets, and the political infighting over the Montgomery County Health Insurance Trust.

Tucked inside the paper was a small, 9- to 10-inch story about Panera Bread -- those wonderful creators of the Frontega Chicken sandwich and the best green tea this side of China -- announcing it was opening on Route 30.

It wound up being that day's most popular story. It dominated the "most viewed" list on our website for months, and it was one of the most shared and commented-on posts ever on our Facebook page.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's great Panera's in our area. But come on, you can't honestly tell me that's a story worth stopping the presses for. And for the record, "The Panera Effect" is not intended as a slight toward the business in any way. I love the place and hope it stays forever.

I've applied that term several times since, more recently when we published a standard arrest report involving a guy allegedly treating his body like an amusement park while watching county road crews hosing down a bridge, and the re-emergence of The Cold War in Gloversville when rival ice cream salespeople started feuding over who has the right to take a 5-year-old's 75 cents.

People went nuts over the first story, and the Coneheads' story went national.

Meanwhile, there was a well-publicized public hearing on this year's Greater Amsterdam School District budget this week, and only three members of the standing-room-only crowd of seven people actually spoke. School budgets are no big deal, however. They're only about the level and quality of education provided to our children balanced on the backs of property owners who have to pay for it.

Don't bother me with those details. I wanna hear more about hoses.

Stories about downtown and waterfront development also draw little interest. Several media outlets and Montgomery County's government oversaturated the market about overhauling the county seat in Fonda, and people were still saying on Election Day that they knew nothing about it.

We've long since learned that putting "MOSA" in a headline is the surest way to get people to skip over a page. In fact, if you're reading this now and have no idea what a "MOSA" is, thank you for proving my point.

Since Jan. 1, most of the wailing water buffaloes of national talk radio have been using the phrase "low-information voters" when it comes to how much the general public is aware of what's happening in the world around them. They use it to blame the national media for purposely misinforming the public to forward its own personal agendas.

They're right, to a point. After all, anyone who's watched CNN in the past few months can tell the IQs of its news reporters and commentators rank slightly below that of a common Holstein.

But I also think it's the news consumers' own fault that they're so ignorant and misinformed.

I've gone on and on several times about how self-absorbed and self-involved we as a society have become. If it doesn't directly impact an indvidual -- such as a new place to get a sandwich or the latest gossip about some diddling denizen -- they simply don't care.

The thing is, the joke's on them. But it's not funny. Issues such as tax rates, downtown projects, unfunded state mandates, school graduation rates, MOSA and form of county government are not only important, the success and failure of our neighborhoods depend on them.

So, yeah, those may not be as exciting as a chain sandwich shop, but these things matter a whole lot more.

This Panera Effect has also put media-types in a bit of a bind and has created a bit of a spiral I fear we won't get out of anytime soon.

We -- and by "we" I mean the media industry -- haven't done ourselves any favors as of late. The screwed-up coverage of the school shootings in Newtown and the Boston bombings was just another reason for people to stop trusting the news.

But this instant-information age presents a bit of a challenge because with so many different ways to get the news, the media -- print, online, TV, radio, etc. -- has a tougher time even maintaining an audience, let alone building it.

So what are we supposed to do? Increased MOSA coverage turns people off. For whatever reason, no one wants to hear about taxes. We've even looked at events and story topics and questioned whether it's worth putting in the time and effort to cover them since we have limited resources and would rather use them writing about topics people will actually read.

The result is a news media industry that makes a huge deal over feuding ice cream truck drivers and pays less attention to matters that really matter. That's turned us all into "Entertainment Tonight."

At the same time, it's resulted in the creation of an audience that cares more about 99-cent brownies and less about the ever-increasing cost of getting a kid to graduate on time. They'd rather watch Honey Boo-Boo than C-SPAN.

That's why I believe we are living in the dumbest and most ignorant period of the American experiment. Everyone's to blame for that.

Except Panera.

CHARLIE KRAEBEL is editor of the Recorder and believes the key to community rebirth is hey, look at what that perv is doing in the parking lot! Contact him at ckraebel@recordernews.com.

     

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