CBJ Editorial

The derecho that ravaged much of the Corridor, especially Cedar Rapids and Marion, has caused much lamentation that the national news neglected this big story.

Social media is abuzz about the lack of coverage and the Washington Post carried a column about it penned by a Cedar Rapids Gazette writer.

We don’t disagree but must point out that it isn’t uncommon for the people of America’s so-called flyover country to be passed over in news coverage.

The centers of influence for national news are primarily New York City and Washington, D.C. If it doesn’t happen there, then they need to be shown that it matters, or they will default to parochial matters.

It didn’t help that several local and regional news outlets based in Cedar Rapids were also severely impacted by the derecho, preventing them from relaying the story to other affiliates.

The question should be, what can we do to get coverage in the future since the derecho, as stunning as it was in magnitude, is now old news?

The simple answer is: better public relations. We need a PR boost, but it will take a financial investment.

Des Moines astutely explored a national public relations strategy years ago.

The Greater Des Moines Partnership hired Edelman, a worldwide public relations firm from New York City, in 2002 to help it with its national image when it was best known as the city where people eat more Jell-O per capita than anywhere else in the United States.

After hiring Edelman, Des Moines was featured positively in 10 major publications, including  Forbes, Businessweek and Fast Company, which in October 2003 went with the amazingly positive headline “The Hippest City in the USA.”

The impact has been “fantastic,” said Tricia Garton, marketing and media director for The Greater Des Moines Partnership, in a 2005 news report.  “We are very pleased with the work they [Edelman] have done for us.”

Public relations works, especially when a firm is keenly tapped into the media sphere that they want to influence, as Edelman does on a national scale and many of our regional firms do on a local scale.

There is little doubt that with limited tax dollars and a severely challenged economy, it will be difficult to cobble together money for this type of investment, but it’s one that could pay dividends at critical times and should be explored on a regional basis.

After we recover from this devastating storm, we should come together as a region and hire a public relations firm like Edelman on retainer to make sure when the next disaster or calamity occurs, news producers know our communities and why they are worth covering.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an upsurge in interest in relocating to smaller communities, suburbs and rural areas in which infection rates are lower. Let’s use this opportunity to tap into this exodus of young people by raising our national profile. CBJ