Among the emails and letters that have come across my inbox recently, two warrant a public response because they illustrate common misunderstandings about what news organizations can, will, won’t and shouldn’t do — and why.
“I am just amazed that you chose not to print my letter because I said some things against a local business,” wrote Lou Ellis of Myrtle Beach, referring to our policy to decline letters to the editor regarding disputes against businesses.
The letter referred to the failure of an area business to enforce handicapped parking regulations. It may seem logical that we would publish the writer’s complaint. But while we may share the writer’s view that misuse of handicapped spots is reprehensible, it is not fair for us to publish an unsubstantiated gripe about a specific business. And while such gripes more frequently include writers unhappy with area mechanics, home improvers, roofers, etc., the same standard applies.
“Send a reporter there for a day and see our truth,” Ellis wrote. “That’s reporting.”
Indeed, it would be reporting if we launched a reporter to spend 24 hours there, and at other locations to monitor the use, or abuse of designated parking spots. There are an infinite number of news topics that we could choose to cover, any one of them of vital importance to some residents.
Our task is to devote our investigative reporting strength on those topics impact the largest number of our readers. While that is somewhat subjective, our understanding of our communities — developed through many years of covering local issues — provides us with ample opportunities.
Our priorities are guided by: how your (and our) tax dollars are spent; drivers of the local economy such as tourism and real estate; and growth issues such as traffic, public education and public safety; and public safety itself.
Speaking of priorities
Jim Hatch of Myrtle Beach took issue with our coverage of the Carolina Country Music Festival. On Saturday, he wrote, in part:
“I was appalled at your coverage of the Country Music Festival in the Saturday paper. This festival was put together by people fronting millions of dollars to put on this event. Tourists are here by the thousands, spending money on the festival. The frugal fans story on the front page embarrassed me to live here. All these people are here spending money with national acts, and the story you publish basically tells people to don’t waste money next year, just watch from the Pavilion garage.”
Here, in part, is my response. “I would agree if the article on the folks trying to catch the acts on the cheap had been the only coverage we had provided. However, we have been covering this regularly since it was announced as new acts were announced, and we had photo and written coverage every day of the festival dealing with such things as the popularity of the performers, the quirkiness of some of the fans, the traffic and the impact of the fest on the area. I can promise that we will have additional coverage as officials tally the economic impact, among other things.
“When you are covering the same event that happens on multiple days, journalists must come up with angles so it doesn't sound stale from day to day, and so that we can provide as close to 360-degree coverage as possible, focusing on as many stakeholders as possible.”
I also sent links to some of what we published online, including photo galleries, videos and other articles.
All of this is to say thank you for reading and then writing. I appreciate the opportunities to explain why we do what we do, and to apologize when we have messed up, as we did last week when we picked up a year-old list of Belmont contenders.