Missing a fact in pews vs. barstools

question mark2Gentrification is a big issue in Washington, D.C. Local journalists have done an adequate job of covering the clash between cultures and minorities being priced out of neighborhoods as property values rise. Jose Antonio Vargas' article in Thursday's Washington Post is a great example, other than a key missing detail:

It was like a scene out of "The People's Court" -- on one side the mostly white supporters of a gay-friendly bar, on the other the parishioners of a black church in Washington's historic Shaw neighborhood.

They all packed the hearing room of the city's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration yesterday to make their case for or against the Be Bar, scheduled to open in June on Ninth Street NW.

"A bar? Across from my church?" asked Barbara Campbell, who lives on Georgia Avenue NW and for three decades has gone to Scripture Cathedral in Shaw, where she works as a cook in the church's day-care center. "Don't they understand that there is a day-care center in the church?"

She and other parishioners opposed to the bar were seated in the small hearing room, their worries in their faces. Their pastor of more than 40 years, Bishop C.L. Long, was there, too, his staff in tow.

Vargas does a tremendous job painting scenes of the hearing room and the neighborhood. But the missed fact, which should have been in the first three paragraphs, is a critical mistake. I actually didn't stumble upon it myself and tmatt had to point it out to me. I'll give you a couple of paragraphs to guess what it is yourself.

FactSheetIn the meantime, I should mention that I am no stranger to alcohol-permit hearings. When I was a stringer for The Indianapolis Star, I covered many an alcohol board meeting. With regularity, a church group would show up with signs and posters demanding the closing of the local bar. It didn't matter if the bar was up the street, across the street or two blocks away. If enough people showed up and the petition signature list was long enough, the poor bar owner, often closer to the shady side than the typical churchgoer, would have his establishment shut down or curtailed to meet the needs of the church.

Clearly this isn't the case in D.C. In this particular case, the culture clash is the focus of the article. As a feature section take-out, this is not merely an argument between a church and some bar. It's a clash of civilizations, and in portraying that clash, Vargas leaves out the crucial detail of distance. How far is the bar from the church?

In describing the row between WiFi-using, vegetarian partygoers and churchgoing, Bible-reading folk, Vargas failed to step back and fill in that critical detail that will ultimately likely play a key role in deciding whether the bar remains open. As Vargas acknowledges, a fight over the location of a bar is an everyday issue, and while the gay/black church issue is compelling and well worth exploring, that doesn't mean you can leave out key facts like the distance between the bar and the church -- since that's what the law is based on.

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