Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Boom Town -A Study in Lazy Journalism

A book review of Boom Town by Marjorie Rosen reveals the book is less about the good people of northwest Arkansas and more about the prejudices and expectations of the writer:
In recent years, Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt Trucking and, most prominent of all, Wal-Mart have attracted workers from across the globe to the tiny corner of northwest Arkansas where the companies are headquartered. The effect on the local community, according to Marjorie Rosen in "Boom Town," has been "cold stark fear—at least among a segment of the white Christian majority, which sees its comfortable, all-white way of life fading."

But very little in "Boom Town," an engaging if sometimes distorted community portrait, actually supports this storyline of white Christians resenting the influx of diverse newcomers. Instead, we learn about African-American, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu groups blending rather smoothly into business and social life in Bentonville, Ark. (Wal-Mart's home base), and the surrounding area. Peaches Coleman, the African-American wife of Wal-Mart's now-retired director of human resources, captures the real state of community relations. She remembers that "people threw bricks at our house" when she was growing up in Chicago; but in northwest Arkansas, she reports, her white neighbors "reached out to us in many ways that they didn't really have to . . . and in ways that have endeared this place to me."

Rather than approach the subject with an objective journalistic eye - let's see how small town Arkansas adapts to the arrival of big companies headquartering in their midst - Rosen chose to bend her narrative to fit what she expected to happen among the Bible Belters. (And, hey, I thought Oklahoma was the buckle of the Bible Belt!) The locals reaction? About the same as anywhere: courteous, polite, a my-how-things-have-changed attitude.

Not much of a story, I suppose, if the locals turn out to be good, decent folk. But it sounds like the book gives the residents short shrift. Around here we have a name for behavior that shabbily treats hosts after being shown hospitality. We call it rude. Probably the same where you live.

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