Monday, December 13, 2010

A Typical Case of “Community” Identity Theft

If you ever wonder why “36 Hours” in the NYTs tried to cover Durham as part of two huge metro areas lumped together (an impossibility by the way) but gave tiny Sun Valley in the center of my homestate of Idaho an issue all its own, look no further than this announcement related to the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards, R.I.P.

It is information like this, distributed either directly by Raleigh-based WRAL to publications like USA Today and others or relayed via the Raleigh-based office of Associated Press for North Carolina that pollutes and distorts, some say deliberately, Durham’s identity.images

The story mentions Raleigh three times in just the first three paragraphs regarding a thoughtful decision by the station to make a schedule change for a Duke University basketball game but without ever noting that neither Duke nor the game is located in Raleigh. Only in paragraph 10 does the information clarify that Duke is located not in Raleigh but in Durham, North Carolina.

AP guidelines stipulate that the location of Duke because it was different than the location of the outlet should have been identified immediately. But you wouldn’t believe the B.S. excuses given over the years including “everyone knows Duke is in Durham.” Oh Yeah, that’s why even outlets like CNN have placed it in Chapel Hill or Raleigh over the years.

Or could it be that some still harbor the notion that Durham should just be part of Raleigh?

Television stations covering this area may tout they broadcast to a mammoth 22-county area including parts of three states as defined by Nielsen as the Raleigh-Durham (Fayetteville) DMA (designated market area) but they are often careless when it comes to to the identities of communities and their assets.

Intended or not, these inaccuracies clearly undermine or enable others to undermine Durham’s identity. Just look at the Arts Institute of Raleigh-Durham based in Downtown Durham in the heavily taxpayer subsidized and incentivized, spectacular, adaptive reuse of an old Lucky Strike factory. When asked why it substituted the name of the co-owned airport as its location rather than using Durham, AI officials tried to cover by claiming they wanted to use the name of the “market area so students wouldn’t be confused.”

Give us a break, like using the so-called 22-county market area, truncated to drop “Fayetteville” from the reference, is going to give a clearer locator than just using Durham? Oh, and it turns out this is apparently the only AI location in the nation to substitute a market area as a locator. Because the owner of the Raleigh-based media company that owns the Durham facility where AI is located has been reported to say in public that he thought “Raleigh-Durham” was a good choice, people thought it complicit.

I’m not sure that’s true or it may have just been an aside to cover AI from the widespread irritation this caused residents. The owner who also owns the Durham Bulls but not the adjacent Durham Bulls Athletic Park has typically always appeared to be sure to give the community (and taxpayers) of Durham credit as partners in making the facility possible. In this case, someone, most likely based in Charlotte probably misled AI, although the AI based there certainly doesn’t use the name of the larger market area as a locator.

Maybe the newly appointed president of the Durham campus, Chis Mesecar, a 15 year veteran of AI, can quietly help the company find a way to correct the name appropriately to Arts Institute of Durham, honoring the community where it is located and putting it on equal footing with all of the other campuses. I guarantee there will be no drop-off in student interest.

Durham is proud to be home to an AI campus and Durham also has a more positive image statewide than North Carolina’s largest cities. It is also clear from scientific surveys that the people who live in the communities at the center of the so-called 22-county Raleigh-Durham (Fayetteville) market area, prefer instead to be characterized by the name of the distinct city, town or county where they live.

For anyone out there tempted to brush off why an accurate “identity” is core to a community’s brand success, just ask true, non-subservient Durham residents. Or ask yourself if a diluted identity and getting truncated into coverage of an area twice the size of Rhode Island is fair and rational while tiny Sun Valley’s identity is protected with a full issue.

With far too much of the heavy lifting falling on the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau, standing up to issues of community identity theft like this in teamwork with residents is one of the strategies by which Durham has reclaimed its identity and begun to receive the recognition it deserves as one of the most highly and widely rated communities in the nation as a place to visit, live, raise a family, retire and do business.

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