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Saturday, 26 March 2016 17:25

Editorial: Knowing the Source is Essential Featured

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Accountability to readers is the cornerstone of community journalism. For over 10 years I owned and operated The Island Sand Paper on Fort Myers Beach. Heck, it was like my own baby since I "birthed" it on bar napkins over a Guinness at the long-gone Casey's Alley Bar and Laundromat behind Topps supermarket.

It was a labor of love. The story behind what motivated me to start a newspaper has not been told very often but a few locals know it well. In 1999 I went to work for Breeze Newspapers, known locally for publishing what was then the Beach Bulletin and The FMB Observer. I was a staff writer and despite the popularity of my articles, the Publisher of the Observer asked me to cut the length and detail of my stories or, in the alternative if I didn't want to accept that advice - "Start my own paper." The rest is history.
The Bulletin has since been merged into the Observer and the Sand Paper is now published by two transplanted Iowan's - Bob and Missy Layfield - who bought the paper from me in 2010 for approximately a million and a quarter dollars. At that time is was widely recognized as THE community paper for FMB. To many it's still viewed that way; but others are now not so sure.
Last week, local elections were held on the Beach. The week before Islanders cast their votes a negative ad appeared in the Sand Paper slamming one of the candidates - Tracey Gore. No one seems to know who actually put the ad in the paper since it was paid for by a group only known as "Beach Residents for Responsible Development."
This past week, several letters from well-known locals including Joanne Semmer and Joanne Shamp appeared in the Sand Paper taking the Editor to task for allowing what they saw as "irresponsible" and "biased" journalism. These writers expressed "outrage" over the ads and stated that it was apparent that "money received from the ad was more important than (the Sand Paper's} integrity and reputation."
Another writer, in a guest opinion, said that those placing the unattributed ads about Gore should have had the "guts to sign their name." We agree and it appears Semmer does as well since she called them "cowards." The last thing we need in our community news is a scaled down version of a nasty Super-Pac. If you want to single out someone we all know in a negative way then take responsibility for your negative viewpoint. Otherwise, it is cowardly.
A newspaper claiming to be "Your Hometown Newspaper" must be accountable to the residents of the community it serves. Hidden agendas, especially when they involve a proposed development like Grand Resorts, are anathema to a healthy community dialogue and anyone publishing should understand that and, should their secret minds be known, probably do. So why would a newspaper do it. The answer is as old as the hills - money!
"Follow the money" is the trail that good investigative journalists know often gets results and reveals the answers to seemingly perplexing questions. People know too, just like Ms. Semmer when she asks if the "money" is what is the most important.
It would be easy to dismiss the ad under scrutiny as an aberration but if one follows the money for long it might lead people to the "water" or should we say "Kool-Aid' that some in our community would prefer you not drink.
When a newspaper becomes too beholden to a handful of advertisers or a few powerful hands that hold the purse that pays the print bills and salaries, it can often lose the ability to remain objective and unbiased. Look carefully at who places the largest amount of advertising in a paper; that is following the money in publishing.
We believe you can fool some of the people some of the time but not all of them all of the time and this facade that hides those behind development is a perfect place to apply this wise maxim.
It is also said that "birds of a feather flock together" and that has a ring of truth to it as well. Those who own the largest developments often favor other similar developments because it increases their property values. If they have a large group of retail outlets under their wing they are also happy to see greater density because that density increase equals more consumers. Bigger is better is a shop-worn and tired model but some people from this mindset are reluctant to abandon it. Thinking this way doesn't make them "bad" people. However we are coming to realize the results produced by this way of seeing things often produces some "bad" results. Small town character, laid back ambiance, open view corridors and easy walkabouts are not by-products of the bigger is better mentality.
The type of people who try to manipulate end results for their pocketbooks are usually very clever, well-heeled and masters at using and manipulating organizations that we all want to believe are benign and good for our communities. This is one way they push their agendas. They use names like "Beach Residents for Responsible Development,." or "Chambers of -----, " ......well you fill in the blanks.
It is very likely that those behind the distasteful political ad in the Sand Paper will stay hidden to some degree. They might tell you they are just as appalled as those who wrote those letters to the editor - except those folks are telling the truth and their names are on their ideas.
It's heartening to see what's happening in America. From local news to the grand sweep of international affairs, voters are wising up. They are refusing to listen to bought- and- paid- for sources. They see the bias and agendas of a news media that for too long has put short-term profits over long term credibility. Folks are now doing their own due diligence and deciding for themselves what is right or wrong. News anchor and journalist Walter Cronkite - long known as "most trusted man in America" - is gone, but his spirit lives on in the desire of people who seek to be better informed about their lives.
Despite the fact that I love newspapers and media, I will not hesitate to say I don't trust them anymore than many of you. But I will promise one thing to our readers: If you want to buy a political ad in the Sun Bay Paper, we will know who "you" are and so will our readers.

Publisher Carl Conley

Read 1157 times Last modified on Wednesday, 20 April 2016 11:43

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