Meridian Star

March 12, 2007

March 12, 2007.

When all else fails, blame the media.

It looks like a few local officials have decided to take shots at the media, rather than focusing on how they can better serve the ones who pay their salaries — the taxpayers —when it comes to luring industrial prospects to East Mississippi.

At today’s Council of Government meeting, a few officials took shots at us for our series — “Why not East Mississippi?” They also took shots at WTOK-TV for their reporting of Toyota choosing to locate its next plant near Tupelo.

We’re too negative, they said. We’re part of the problem by the way we report such news, they said.

But guess what? Our job isn’t economic development; it’s reporting the news. The headline of our series, “Why not East Mississippi?” is a perfectly legitimate headline. That’s the question that sparked the series. It’s quick and to the point. And you know what — most of their constituents likely asked themselves that same question when they heard Toyota chose Tupelo. Heck, I bet even some of them quietly asked it when they heard the news.

And the story itself was very thorough and balanced.

We also wrote an editorial on our editorial page that touched on the Toyota announcement. In that editorial, we wrote that several government sources close to the Toyota deal said East Mississippi had a reputation for not getting along with each other and following through on projects.

Several officials at the COG meeting disputed that. They said, “but we do get along.” It’s not something we made up. That is the perception that some — especially some that really matter — have of East Mississippi. Simply saying we don’t have a problem won’t make it go away. We can no longer pretend problems don’t exist. That doesn’t work.

Let me be clear: we will be the biggest cheerleader of this community when good things happen. But we are not the public relations mouthpiece of the region. We will keep our readers informed and we’ll be here to hold our elected officials accountable to the taxpayers they serve.

I’ve heard people say that it can’t be good for a prospect to come into town and read negative headlines like, “supervisor arrested,” or “Why not East Mississippi?” Maybe they’re right. But it’s not our job to “manage” news, or headlines for that matter, to suit prospects. Again, it’s our job to report the news. We can’t report things that don’t happen.

At the end of the day, no one wants to see this area prosper more than I do. I truly love this place. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have left the Gulf Coast to take this job. I want to see us succeed. But I will never compromise my charge to keep our readers informed.

This community that I love will never grow as long as we continue to focus on ways to keep things from the public — in an effort to put a positive spin on everything — instead of focusing on ways to make this area a better place to live.

The good news: we have a lot of good, hard-working officials in this area that can help us reach our potential as a community.

On a side note, while we report the news, we also have a charge to take stances on certain issues editorially on the editorial page. And this past Sunday, we urged local elected officials in neighboring counties to put aside territorial differences and work jointly on economic development — similar to the Tupelo area’s PUL Alliance.

As of today, several officials have contacted us to let us know they think the meeting is a great idea (Clarke County Board of Supervisors as an example). We have offered to host the meeting. We will keep you updated as this progresses.