I know a talk radio host who has a passion for esoteric list-making — best NFL defensive linemen who are also convicted felons, best rockabilly guitarists who married their first cousins — that sort of thing. He invites listeners to call in and guess the top 10 names on his various lists. Callers who guess right sometimes win prizes.
I thought of the radio host yesterday while reading the Philadelphia Weekly’s cover story, “Top 10 drug corners,” which lists the city’s hottest spots for illegal drug sales.
Print stories involving lists are often planned in conjunction with campaigns to sign up advertisers. The tackiest and best known local example of this phenomenon is the annual Philadelphia Magazine “best of” issue.
Indeed, most list-oriented stories focus on specific categories of consumer goods — food, clothes, music, electronica, etc. If I were in charge of assigning such stories, I’d do an annual “Top 10 bands you will have completely forgotten a year from now.” Variations on that story are always popular.
A story that lists a city’s top 10 drug corners is different in that it isn’t a device for selling ads. It may whet the reader’s appetite for substances more exciting than foie gras and garage-band CDs, but it won’t be useful to ad salespeople unless they’re trying to sell display space to gun shop owners.
But I kid PW… “Top 10 drug corners” is an important story because its underlying point is that it’s impossible to do any reporting — and, more importantly, policing — that will significantly discourage the sale and use of illegal drugs, especially where “neighborhood-sustaining jobs” have disappeared forever.
As Steve Volk, the writer of the PW piece, put it:
Solving the drug problem by purely economic means would require a level of public and private investment on a scale that is simply not tenable in this day and age. Barring some massive New Deal-style public works initiative that revives the manufacturing base of the United States, the prospect of employing our way out of this problem seems remote at best. So finally, this leaves us with our last and perhaps most intriguing, promising and politically hazardous possibility.
We could legalize drugs.
You might disagree with this idea, but I defy you to come up with a better solution to the illegal-drugs problem.