Tuesday morning saw a new development in the unfolding controversy known as TacoGate. Nooga.com, the city’s digital newspaper of record, finally got around to covering Saturday’s debacle at the Chattanooga Taco & Tequila Festival. The piece featured quotes from angry ticket-holders who were happy to vent about long lines and few choices. Additionally, reporter Chloe Morrison nails an interview with the event’s organizer, Matt Lowney of Acklen Park Productions.
According to the interview, Lowney blamed long lines on an alcohol vendor’s “vehicle problems” before going on to explain that despite the significant online backlash, there were also “a lot of very happy folks who had a great time.”
The piece also included an interview with an executive from the First Tennessee Pavillon, the venue which hosted the event. She tried to distance herself from any responsibility to properly vet the event’s organizer, explaining that their responsibilities only extend to rental of the space itself.
So who exactly is to blame if a less-than-reputable event organizer pulls a fast one on the people of Chattanooga? Is there any mechanism in place to protect consumers? While Nooga’s article definitely helps to shine a light on the anger so many people felt afterwards, they also used their platform to promote the event on multiple occasions beforehand.
Like for instance, this press-release that appears to have been rewritten in the style of a newspaper article. Or when the same info was more briefly summarized in this Weekend Top 5 list. But look up past events, and it’s easy to find negative comments from ticket-holders who had very similar experiences to those in Chattanooga.
By no means am I suggesting Nooga was being paid or doing anything nefarious at all. No, it’s just that a site like Nooga walks like news and talks like news, but often functions like a circulator of commercial press releases. So when something like the Chattanooga Taco & Tequila Festival rolls into town, their only real responsibility is to repeat soundbites about how great this great new thing is going to be. But nobody’s really expected to ask any questions or do any cursory Google searches that might paint the event in a different light.
But before it sounds like I’m being too unfairly critical of Nooga, let me take a step back and inform you all that I harbor an extreme bias on this particular matter. I’m personally consumed by bitterness and resentment over the fact that when Nooga finally did get around to covering the Taco & Tequila Debacle, they failed to mention my illuminating, bombshell coverage or provide a link to my site, thus depriving this mom of the small satisfaction of seeing a momentary spike in her readership. It was I who took those screenshots of angry comments. It was I who solicited and conducted those initial interviews. It was I who compiled it all into a series of engaging, entertaining articles that were shared on social media — where reporters from Nooga were eventually tagged and encouraged to cover the story too. Naturally, I feel my journalistic efforts deserve Chattanooga’s equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. But I would have settled for a pingback.
Looking back, maybe there will be more scrutiny paid to new promoters hosting events in town, either by the venues who book them or the media that promotes them. Acklen Park had announced plans to host two more events in Chattanooga this year, and despite my personal sour grapes, I’m glad that the coverage from Nooga’s powerful platform will take this story to a wider audience.