I got into journalism because I love politics. The job is fun, but it is also a business. Basically, I view the profession as reporters and editors selling what people want to hear or read, what people don’t want to hear or read, or, in many cases, what the media think people should hear or read.
The arrangement is mutual. Consumers pay for news, either directly through subscriptions, or indirectly through advertisements or other spending on items such as televisions, computers and the like. Rarely does the news consumer purchase a product that he or she hasn’t the slightest intention of using — ever.
That strange deal, it seems, occurs only when the buyer is a public entity. One example happened earlier this month, when the results of an independent audit commissioned by the city of Phoenix were made public.
With the bottom line in mind, the city last summer paid a private consulting business $170,000 to examine how the city could cut expenses related to the Phoenix Police Department. This year, according to local media reports, the city will spend $540 million on police services. The results of the audit were astounding. Noting that calls for service dropped some 18 percent since 2007 while crime rates plummeted, the auditors recommended that the city eliminate more than 700 positions within the police department.
Far less astounding were the immediate reactions from city officials, particularly Mayor Phil Gordon. He lambasted the study as “incomprehensible,” and made the call to not only disregard the independent study, but advance a new agenda: bolstering the ranks of the Phoenix Police Department. Not surprisingly, there was little or no evidence of other city officials taking the results of the audit even remotely seriously.
What should gall taxpayers is the dismal return on the $170,000 investment made on their behalf by the city. For that amount of cash, the city could subscribe to the Wall Street Journal until the year 3101. (The Journal has a special $3 weekly rate right now. Under normal circumstances $170,000 would only be able to secure 683 years of office delivery six times a week.) At current rates, the city audit price tag could land a subscription to The New York Times for the next 442 years. Similarly, one could get The Arizona Republic delivered for the next 940 years, or Arizona Capitol Times for 1,700 years.
And the best part is that any and all of the publications would certainly inform the taxpayer — and quickly — of the painfully obvious fact that local politicians would rather undergo elective brain surgery than publicly call for reductions to the local police department.
The good news is that the cost of the audit appears to be a one-time expense. The bad news is that the city has allotted about another $330,000 to study how it could streamline other politically invincible departments — including the Fire Department.
Now, I am no expert on the city budget. Or the state budget. Or my budget. But I do think it would be more fruitful to spend $330,000 to buy the first 16,500 interested city residents a subscription to Mad magazine for a year. We can at least take that product, which openly boasts of “absurdity, foolishness, senselessness and preposterousness,” at its face value.
— Christian Palmer is the associate editor of the Yellow Sheet Report.