Photo by RussellReno.

Reporters try to present arguments objectively and fairly, but that doesn’t seem to extend to fees, tolls, and taxes, when it’s apparently totally fine to write an article for a professional newspaper talking about how much a new charge “sucks.”

Either that, or else during the holiday break, all the good reporters and editors go on vacation. Those are the only two explanations that come to mind for articles like this NBC Washington piece about the Dulles toll hike (to pay for the Silver Line) and the bag fee (to pay for environmental cleanup).

Writer Patti Petitte leads with, “Bad news for the new year: 2010 is going to cost you more,” and ends with, “In conclusion, um… Happy New Year?” Petitte could just as easily have written an article that starts, “Good news for the new year: A long-awaited transit line is moving ahead in Northern Virginia, and the Anacostia River will get some much-needed love.”

Petitte even gets it wrong, saying that the charge is for non-recyclable bags, while in fact it’s for all bags. That means even if this bill had been far, far less impactful, she would still have been whining.

It certainly appears that area editors handed out assignments to “write about how bad new fees are.” What else would explain this lede from Michael Laris’ article in the Washington Post on the same topic:

Speeding drivers, tow truck operators and fast-food fans who prefer not to be confronted with calorie counts are among those who might be frustrated by new laws in Maryland in the New Year.


The law in Maryland mandates disclosure of information to consumers. It took quite a contortion for Laris to fit that into his list as something that could be bad for Marylanders. Next, will we see a story with a lede like, “Parents who prefer not to know about the lead content in toys their children put in their mouths might be frustrated by a new product safety initiative from the Obama administration”?

Most of these whiny articles don’t bother to delve into the reasons behind the laws. They could have interviewed supporters and opponents of each to try to explain the arguments for and against, but that would just get in the way of phoning in the article and getting on with the holiday break.

The most content-free piece was the City Paper’s “Confessions of a Wi-Fi Loafer” column, in which Christine MacDonald writes a whole post about how one Petworth listserv poster said charging for Saturday parking “completely sucks.” I know it’s the holidays and nobody wants to actually work, but the City Paper is still a newspaper. Are they thinking that some blogs involve people posting their quick reactions to items without any serious thought, and therefore they ought to get in on that?

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle.