Update: Obviously, The Town Talk has felt at least some heat. This is what they ran with in their print edition:

“Cenla’s 15 Minutes: Economic Impact of ‘Cajun Pawn Stars,’ Other Reality TV Shows Hard to Pinpoint,” an unabashedly negative and dismissive headline.

And here’s what they’re currently running with online:

Too little, too late. However terrible, at least the first headline was honest about the real theme of the article.

***

The Town Talk sucks. I know I’ve said as much before; it’s a running theme here, but this really takes the cake. The headline, A-1, above-the-fold story this Sunday is about how there’s no way to prove people are making pilgrimages to Alexandria to see, for themselves, the mecca of Silver Dollar Pawn. Silver Dollar, for those of you unaware, is the subject of the new hit reality show “Cajun Pawn Stars,” which has been a smash success despite the stilted acting and the blatant phoniness.

Hey, don’t get me wrong: I am a fan. It’s reality television; I don’t expect unscripted reality. And besides, it’s funny and interesting, particularly if you’re from Central Louisiana.

And that’s why I am disappointed in The Town Talk. Their reporter, Jodi Belgard, interviews the star of the show, Jimmie DeRamus, the head of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Sherri Smith, and the President of the Hotel-Motel Association, Tracy Godwin, and then publishes a tortured and almost mean-spirited article about reality TV tourism, as if such a thing has ever existed. I doubt any of the folks she interviewed knew her angle, and with all due respect to Ms. Belgard, I detest this type of journalism. It’s petty; it struggles so hard to assert its own objectivity that it it inadvertently destroys all credibility. It takes a positive and mutates it into a negative. Mr. DeRamus’s show garnered 3.6 million viewers in its debut; that’s incredible. But for the paper, apparently, it’s not good enough. He earnestly seeks to promote the area, and Ms. Belgard contextualizes his statements by way of pointing out that his show hasn’t booked a single hotel room… at the Holiday Inn Express. Seriously. To borrow a favorite expression of the paper, boos to The Town Talk for running with this.

And boos to Tracy Godwin. She should know better. Maybe her hotel hasn’t experienced any increase in business because of film projects, but I know for an absolute, take-it-to-the-bank fact that several other hotels have.

Tracy Godwin is the general manager of Holiday Inn Express on MacArthur Drive and the president of the Central Louisiana Hotel-Motel Association. She’s been in the hotel business in Alexandria for 15 years and said “Cajun Pawn Stars” and similar projects have brought exactly zero guests to Holiday Inn Express.

“The hotels in town that are the newer properties generally stay sold out during the week purely with business people,” she said. “On the weekends they stay sold out with teams for sporting events. We always ask our guests what they’re here for, and we’ve had zero at Holiday Inn Express that have said they’re here for ‘Cajun Pawn Stars.'”

As a matter of fact, television rarely brings visitors to Central Louisiana hotels.

“I don’t know that anything like this has ever brought in business,” Godwin said. “Usually it’s the negative things, like (The Jena Six).”

This lady is the head of the Hotel-Motel Association, and her statement to Ms. Belgard (if this really is her statement) about film projects affecting hotel bookings is an absolute lie. Sheesh. These film crews just aren’t booking at her hotel, because her rates are double what other hotels charge, plain and simple. And c’mon, the Jena Six was not a television show. How disconnected from reality must you be to conflate the Jena Six with “Cajun Pawn Stars”? It’s just insultingly and bafflingly ridiculous.

I have to be honest (if it’s not already obvious): This whole thing– couching a hit TV show as a negative and the almost reckless suggestions made by the leader of the hotel-motel association– is infuriating to me. And I reject it, entirely. I think Central Louisiana is worthy of its title as a National Geographic Wilderness Town; I think Jimmie DeRamus’s show, at the very least, reveals our amazing landscape and at its best makes for entertaining and educational television. You can say I’m being nit-picky, and that’s fine. I’ll stand by my criticism: Ms. Belgard’s report mentioned several positives, but her editors wrapped it all up and packaged it as a negative. (Because as I was recently reminded, The Town Talk thinks it’s important to prove they’re not “cheerleaders,” whatever the heck that actually means).

I don’t think anyone has ever, ever, ever wondered about reality TV tourism, except for Ms. Belgard and her editors; it’s about showcasing our region’s assets.

And, incidentally, until and unless Ms. Godwin clarifies and corrects her statements, I don’t think she should serve as the head of any organization responsible for attracting tourism into our region. If you’re thinking about traveling to Alexandria, I’d recommend the Courtyard by Marriott instead; the manager there has always been a champion of the community.

9 thoughts

  1. Lamar,
    I enjoyed reading your article and will pass it on to Sarah (Case) Clavier. Hope that you are doing well.
    Take care,
    Susan Marsh (Sarah’s mom) :~D

  2. Lamar – I know that Alex Cenla (and others, I’m sure) have been almost pleading for our local media outlets to cover this nationally broadcast show, set in Central Louisiana. They have reluctantly, slowly responded to this, but with this unclever, obvious negative spittle to add to the mix, ostensibly to avoid the accusation they are cheerleaders. Journalism effectively died in the United States during the Vietnam/Watergate era – they swung from being pro-American cheerleaders (residuals of this existed for the space program, elements of coverage of the Reagan Administration, the Gulf War, etc., and there is nothing wrong with American jounalists being cheerleaders for American success, as long as they do not drift into propoganda), to the most negative, “anti-” everything group of people. The coverage of our (mis)adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan have slanted heavily to the negative side. Not content to tell us what happened (or what is happening/will happen), they want to tell us, or at least suggest to us, what to think about it.

    I understand why – it sells. Take two faces of the same mirror – Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann – the draw of these guys is negativity, itself. They both evolved out of traditional journalism into political commentary. However, we don’t have to like it. It is an obligation of the Town Talk to promote the positives of our area, and not just “feel good” stories about high school students or athletics, but, and regardless if they like reality television or not, also things like Cajun Pawn Stars.

    I understand Cajun Pawn Stars is not as exciting as a scripted, fictional show about redneck vampires, but it will do until something like that comes along.

    1. Maybe I shouldn’t admit it, but I’m actually a fan of that redneck vampire show (I assume you are referring to HBO’s “True Blood”), even though it’s kitschier than anything that has ever aired on Lifetime and more gimmicky than a late-night infomercial.

      I don’t know if I agree with you about the coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean, one of the reasons we spent a trillion dollars in Iraq, for example, is because of cheerleading propaganda about the existence of weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s ties to al Qaeda and 9/11, touted and promoted by none other than the liberal Gray Lady.

      But I agree with your overall point about the responsibilities of a local paper. It’s not necessarily about cheerleading, of course, but it’s about serving and representing the best interests of the community it serves. When people do wrong, when there is corruption that affects all of us, when the law is broken and trust is broken, the local media must be willing to report the truth, no matter how embarrassing it may be or how poorly it may reflect on the community. Because ultimately, it serves our best interests.

      Jimmie DeRamus’s show gets millions of viewers. It’s an undeniable success. And good for him and good for all of us who believe that our community is filled with secret treasures and amazing tall-tales. The Town Talk’s headline: “Cenla’s 15 Minutes.” And here’s the message they’re sending: We are losers. Any positive attention our region receives is fleeting and ephemeral and probably undeserved. Andy Warhol was right about everybody getting fifteen minutes. It happens, and then it’s over. And in the meantime, no one is booking rooms at the Holiday Inn Express, so what good is it anyway?

  3. Oh and one more comment. The majority of the film crew was actually hired locally..Damn..did I just actually say that the show brought income to this little backwater river town? Shame on me!!
    Alex

  4. I would guess that the tone of this story was something decided long before the first interview, and that Jodi found herself having to awkwardly shoehorn everything she got into this narrative. I’ve worked as a reporter, and I know how that goes. Sometimes you get oddly leading story leads, but find out the opposite is true and/or irrelevant, but still work it to the original pitch anyway. Sometimes it’s the writer trying to appease editors. Other times it’s editors trying to appease whatever agenda has been set.

    Another theory: The Town Talk is a Gannett paper. Gannett (who I worked for for four years) is notorious for launching special initiatives regarding its reporting. “Watchdog,” “enterprise” and “local local,” are a few examples. They come from on high, and editors find themselves having to match stories with these ever-changing and shifting categories so they can satisfy corporate demands. So what might have been a celebratory piece about the impact of Cajun Pawn Stars has to be tweaked to fit the mold.

    Third theory: The copy editors writing the headlines for the print edition and the website are probably two different people. When I was a copy editor for Gannett, we were trained to write different headlines for each outlet because of space constraints, reading habits, etc. It makes sense, but it also means two people reading the story can emphasize completely different aspects. And headlines and subheds, as you know, are powerful tools in shaping the reader’s immediate impressions.

  5. Thank you Lamar for keeping our community positive. We feel exactly the same way. We are working hard to put Alexandria on the map by producing a show that is educational, fun and clean. It is time for Alexandria and surrounding communities to shine. We have been overlooked too long. We want to thank you for your support and the hundreds of people that it takes to produce this show. It takes the entire community pulling together to make it work. Once again thank you for your support.
    Jimmie and Peggy DeRamus

    1. Jimmie and Peggy–

      I thank both of you and your whole team. My father always loved your store. You probably know better than I do, but I am fairly certain he purchased more than one amazing guitar from you, which, by the way, were passed down to my brother (who still plays them).

      I don’t know why The Town Talk decided to take this angle, but I know they don’t speak for most of us. It’s a good TV show; it’s interesting and informative, and it’s quirky and funny at the same time.

      I TIVO’d all of the first season, and I look forward to the next one. Many of us in Central Louisiana have always known the folks at Silver Dollar are interesting characters with interesting stories to tell and interesting things for sale. I think it’s awesome that you are now sharing your stories and your store with the rest of the country, and I’m not surprised at all that millions of people have tuned in. And for what it’s worth, you guys have already lasted for way, way more than “fifteen minutes.”

      Keep up the good work. And interview that Dale Genius character more often. He’s a cool cat and, I think, one of the country’s best experts in Civil War artifacts. 🙂

      Kudos!

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