How Did the City of Chattanooga Land a New York Times Feature?

If you’re like me, you picked up last Tuesday’s New York Times and thought WTH? (OK, maybe it wasn’t “what the heck,” but you get the drift.)

How did feel-good storytelling on the City of Chattanooga end up above the fold in The New York Times?

The New York Times Business Section Article

I’m sure officials from numerous cities who have invested zillions of dollars in Internet infrastructure read the headline, “A City Wired for Growth” and immediately wondered why the NYT didn’t choose them. It’s not every day that you see a city of roughly 172,000 people lauded by The New York Times for business practices.

I’m guessing that Chattanooga’s version of an economic development team pitched the story. It’s also possible that the journalist, Edward Wyatt, who’s based in Washington, D.C., and covers Internet policy, overhead some FCC suits lamenting the fact that other cities haven’t followed in Chattanooga’s boots and proactively pursued the angle.

Regardless, reverse-engineering the storytelling reveals all the assets you would expect in a NYT feature:

  • Great nickname: “Gig City” is right up there with “Snoop Dog and “Dr. J”
  • Contrarian dimension: Advanced technologies conjure images of Austin, Silicon Valley and Seattle, not a place with a view of the Appalachian Mountains
  • Contrast Vignette A: 33 seconds to download a two-hour high-def movie in Gig City versus 25 minutes for the average city
  • Contrast Vignette B:  Named America’s most-polluted city in 1969 versus clean air, new waterfront and downright artsy
  • Contrast Vignette C: When Internet service at 100 megs per second is available, on average only 0.12 percent subscribe versus 33 percent of Chattanooga households and businesses subscribe to such a service
  • Quantifying the How: Federal grant of $111 million allowed the city to accelerate construction of a planned fiber-topic network
  • Game-changing example: Quickcue moved here in 2011, snagged $3M in investment and sold for a bundle to OpenTable
  • Requisite failure: Chattanooga dumped millions into a citywide Wi-Fi network that isn’t used
  • Quote that rhymes:  “This is a small city that I had never heard of. It beat Seattle, New York, San Francisco in building the Gig. People here are thinking big.” ~ Toni Gemayel who moved his startup from Tampa

That’s how the City of Chattanooga pushed the big boys aside for a day and landed a chunk of real estate in the New York Times.

 

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6 comments

6 Comments so far

  1. Frank Strong February 10th, 2014 6:05 am

    I’ve driven through the city, its gorgeous even from the highway. It occurred to me it might be a good place to get a cabin, take a vacation, or even retire. Middle America, through and through. My perception as formed through my window, on the highway anyway.

  2. hoffman February 10th, 2014 7:32 am

    Hey, if it worked for Charles Kuralt, it can work for you. Appreciate the view!

  3. Roger February 10th, 2014 9:16 am

    Thanks Lou – while I appreciate your thoughts I don’t think, from a communicators standpoint, that you really answered the question in the headline. How, in fact, did that story come to be? You write that you guessed someone in the city might have pitched the story to the NYT, or that maybe someone overhead the city mentioned in some meeting somewhere. I would guess that other cities have very good policies in place in many areas (not just internet accessibility) but they, too, do not get similar articles published about them. For a communications/story telling blog post, I would have liked some insight into HOW the story actually went from someone’s idea to actual publication.

  4. Edward Wyatt February 10th, 2014 4:19 pm

    I am the reporter who wrote the article. Sorry to disappoint, but the idea didn’t come from Econ Development folks or suits at the FCC. I’ve been following the topic for three years, and in fact few cities have invested in muni broadband, much less a 1 Gig network. Many states have passed laws forbidding muni broadband. Therefore I thought an example of where it was working and seemed to be contributing to economic development was worth taking a look at. So thanks for reading! Cheers, Ed Wyatt

  5. hoffman February 10th, 2014 6:03 pm

    Ed, thanks for taking the time to clarify. As shared in the post, your storytelling stood out and why I chose to reverse engineer the narrative.

    On the topic of municipalities, we happen to work with the Silicon Valley city Fremont. If you’re looking for a city perspective down the road, keep us in your “rolodex.”

  6. hoffman February 10th, 2014 6:13 pm

    Roger,

    Fair enough. The New York Times journalist was good enough to answer the question, “How did the story come to be?

    But I would argue that the core reason that the city of Chattanooga ends up with a chunk of NYT turf comes to back to the content assets which in turn enabled the journalist to write a story with a few twists and turns and wrinkles. Given what Ed Wyatt shared in his posted comment, we can assume he dug out the assets (as opposed to some type of PR function helping). Still, that doesn’t diminish the point of what goes into industrial-grade journalism.

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