Three Hoots! for “Soda Tax” Coverage.

Editor’s note: The proposed tax on sugary drinks is a major story impacting the citizens and businesses in the city of Philadelphia, and three media outlets have handled the story especially well.

I’m handing out a hoot this week for Patrick Kerkstra’s Inquirer article on the sugary drink tax. According to him, the tax does not match up with the Mayor’s language regarding slimming down the city. He backs it up well with logic and sources.

Nutter says that while the tax will create revenue, it will also deter people from buying high calorie beverages and make Philly that much healthier. This great article proves otherwise.

Kerkstra says that the new tax will not be applied to products directly.

“Instead, purveyors would be charged based on the total ounces they sell each year,” he writes. “They would not be required to add the tax – two cents per ounce – to the price of their Coca-Colas, Frappacinos, and Mountain Dews.”

This means that the companies affected will not be required to raise the prices of sugary drinks to compensate. They can raise the price on any product. Including healthy ones like bottled water.

The mayor’s spokesman even admits the loophole.

“We don’t know what retailers are going to do,” Doug Oliver said. “There’s a very real possibility they will absorb the tax increase across a number of products.”

In addition to Oliver, the article includes commentary from Temple business professor Eric Eisenstein, Penn business professor Jagmohan Raju, the President of Fresh Grocer, Pat Burns, and Danilo Burgos who presides over the Philadelphia Dominican Grocery Association. Pretty good for a relatively short 800-word piece.

It’ll be interesting to see where other writers take this story because Kerkstra has definitely opened up some doors with this smart, well sourced piece.

– Brendan McNamara

This week I chose to review a video package that appeared on NBC10.  In this story, reporter Doug Shimell reveals Philadelphia’s latest debate that seems to have everyone talking: the “Sugar Tax.” This tax would affect consumers and distributors of soda (and sugary drinks) by requiring them to pay an additional two cents an ounce on the beverages.   Shimell opens his package with a nat sound pop of attendees at a recent City Hall meeting in which the proposed tax was discussed.  Shimell narrates, “Anyone who makes, sells, or delivers soda and sugary drinks brought their ‘Philly Jobs, not Taxes’ message to City Hall…”.  By describing the crowd and their purpose, Shimell puts viewers in the City Hall meeting and sets the scene for what’s to come.

Within the package, shots vacillate between citizens and lawmakers, just as the story weaves the two opposing sides as well.  I feel that Shimell does a good job of answering the basics.  These are the ever-important (yet often forgotten) “five W’s” of what viewers want to know: What is this tax about? Who will it affect? Where will it be happening? When is the debate taking place?  Why is it taking place at all?  Most importantly, Shimell addresses all of these with great balance by featuring politicians with opposing viewpoints.

“If I went into Wawa and I wanted to get a cup of coffee, and I drink sugar with my coffee…” a woman asks, pondering aloud if she’d pay the tax.

Including this particular bite is important because it brings the ‘universal factor’ into the story.  Purchasing coffee is indeed for many an everyday occurence, and makes the debate more relevant to the average Joe (pun intended).

The best part of the package was when Shimell tells us the bottom line:  “The City needs it to offset a budget deficit,” he says, followed by a soundbite of a man explaining that this tax is above all else a revenue measure.

The only unbalanced part of this package is probably one that most won’t pick up.  At the end, Shimell should have gotten two soundbites: one from a supporter of the tax and one from an opponent.  Instead Shimell interviews a man who I am sure clamored to get on air just to promote his restaurant and mention crab fries… He is the owner of Chickies and Pete’s.  After such a stellar package, featuring fair, balanced, and relevant reporting, this soundbite left me scratching my head and thinking, “Really Shimell?  You couldn’t have used a better bite from someone less publicity hungry?”

– Julie Gargotta

6ABC’s Vernon Odom did a story yesterday on a meeting at City Hall on the city’s plan to tax soda drinks.  It’s a very complex issue with a number of different facets, a nd I thought Odom did an excellent job representing all parties involved an their concerns.

He first covered the Union’s concerns, noting that the tax would hurt bottling plants and make consumers buy their beverages outside the city.  He then balanced that point of view by noting the mayor’s goal to make the tax a financial winfall for the city, helping with the budget defecit.

Next he talked about the health views, quoting Deputy Health Mayor Don Schwarz as saying, “the amount of calories in what you drink, doesn’t do the same thing as a high caloric solid to make you feel full.”

However, I thought Odom’s inclusion of Gary Foster’s quote put an interesting spin on the issue – it essentailly addressed both the health issue, as well as trying to quell the fears of the workers: If indeed the tax does change the pattern of sugar sweetened beverages, rest assured, that companies will develop new products and or market already existing ones they have that are not sugar sweetened; they always do.”

But again, Odom counters this point by including one from another teamster who noted that the tax is only focused on soda, not cakes or cookies or candy.

The issue is a complex one, to be sure, and it has a lot of different facets.  It has the potential to affect millions of lives, and I think Odom did a good job showing that.

– Renee Cree

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