Specifically WaterFire, of KC’s most over-hyped non-event, event. Think of it as an outdoor, New Age send-up featuring “55 floating braziers” in Brush Creek with a mix of performances by local arts groups, fire eaters, jugglers and the like.
WaterFire’s sixth incarnation went down Saturday and was covered Sunday by intrepid Kansas City Star “hot fuel” expert Steve Everly.
While Everly has forged a career in recent years guesstimating consumer losses of less than one to two percent on gasoline sold during summer months and in warmer parts of the country, he missed the boat by as much as 75 percent in reporting WaterFire’s “expected” crowd.
With no fact-checking or skeptical examination whatsoever, Everly reported that the event was expected 30,000 to 35,000 attendees.
Nor did Everly bother to attribute that number to WaterFire organizers who’ve inflated its attendance from Year One.
Years ago then Star editor Mark Zieman issued a dictum to reporters forbidding them from publishing crowd estimates in all but the rarest instances when an unimpeachable count could be verified.
That after the Pitch embarrassed the newspaper by calling into question its light crowd count at a Plaza anti war protest in which the Star’s reporter swung by early and dramatically low balled the crowd size which later grew in size as the day went on.
Then there was the time Waldo businessman Gary Evert and a team UMKC statistics students conducted a crowd count at the vaunted Plaza Lighting Ceremony, reducing previous media estimates of as many as 300,000 people to 30,000 and change.
The Plaza declined to challenge Evert’s count and admitted it had never conducted its own count (nor did it know of one having been conducted). It hasn’t put out an estimate since.
Well, anybody remember the Million Man March?
It’s quite simple, actually.
Exaggerating the crowd counts at an event enables organizers to raise sponsorship money, attract vendors, sell advertising and ramp up media coverage.
I didn’t attend this year’s WaterFire, but if you recall, I took my teenage daughters and their friends a couple years back and they were bored to tears. Oh, and it was obvious that the event didn’t come close to drawing a Plaza Lighting Ceremony size crowd.
Local photograph Eric Bowers did attend and captured some amazing photos of the event.
Bowers take on Waterfire 2012’s crowd size compared to a Plaza Lighting crowd:
“My rough guess would be about a quarter to a third,” he says.
Back to you, Steve…
Photographs by Eric Bowers.