Media Critique #7

I recently heard someone talking about the problems in Jefferson County and it peaked my interest, so I did a little research. John Archibald, of The Birmingham News, wrote an article earlier this morning with up-to-date information on Jefferson County. The article, titled “Dissolve Jefferson County? What’s left to dissolve?,” is a mini-debate with himself on whether the county should be dissolved or not.

In the beginning, he is a bit sarcastic about the problems and possible solutions for Jefferson County, but then he goes straight into a quote from lawyer Kenneth Klee, who says dissolution is “extremely unlikely.” Archibald states his opinion: the idea of dissolution is “all talk,” a way to put pressure on the Legislature, and a quick-fix for the time being.

Archibald moves straight from his opinion into a conversation he had with County Manager Tony Petelos. The conversation is confusing because Petelos says that he’s optimistic that dissolution can happen, and is hopeful that it will. For a minute it seems like a shocking statement, but Archibald is quick to point out their failure to communicate well. “While I was talking to Petelos about “dissolution,” Petelos was talking to me about “this solution.” It’s obvious how this mistake could be made, but it reflects very poorly on Petelos and all those involved with this important decision. If Archibald was trying to embarrass Petelos, he succeeded.

The conversation, which at first appeared to be unimportant and ‘filler’ for his story, turns out to be a key point when Archibald says, “That conversation may have been comically ill-fated, but it still summed up the county’s dilemma. When we try to talk of solutions, the meaning gets lost in translation. It dissolves into misunderstanding.” He says dissolution is not the solution because we don’t know what it would do, cost, or if it’s even possible.

He does, however, look at the issue from the other side. He points out a few positives of dissolution, including being free of the notoriety of “the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy” and putting them “at arm’s length from the baggage of [their] history.” But as soon as he finishes this short list of positives, he launches into what would be lost and how Jefferson County would appear in the future. Archibald says that, in his opinion, “a post-apocalyptic Jefferson County is desperate and divided. It is unable to perform governmental functions, and unwilling to pay for them.”

This leaves the reader right back where he or she began: with his or her own opinion. Quotes have been given from a lawyer (which was a weak quote because we don’t know how he is part of this issue) and from the County Manager (which only made Petelos look dumb), and both sides of the dissolution issue have been shown. How is the reader supposed to decide how they feel?

Archibald answers that question with his very last sentence. “That [post-apolcalyptic county] sounds strikingly like today’s Jefferson County: Maybe we ought to look into this dissolution thing after all. Desperate times, really, call for more than just desperation.”

Go big or go home, right? What a way to end his story! The entire time it was assumed by the reader that Archibald was against the dissolution of Jefferson County. In fact, he bluntly said that multiple times! But in a very sly way, he brings the reader around to see it from a totally different view. The best part is, the reader has no idea the punchline is coming, but it in fact makes complete sense! Minus the random quote from Klee, Archibald did a very impressive job.

The news article can be found here.

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