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When the Media Becomes the Story


“Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.” – Mark Twain.

Whether Twain actually said that quote is somewhat in dispute.  It has been attributed to several people over the years.  What does not appear to be in dispute is the somewhat public dust up between the Lake Norman Citizen and members of the activist group over the paper’s coverage of the I77 HOT lanes project.

The brouhaha started immediately after the “Media Watch” post from this blog on January 27th and has been running ever since.  Sparking a full-blown media controversy was not the intent of that piece, but apparently it struck a nerve.

Immediately after that post, the Citizen published this story HOT topic: A guide to the toll lane concept with Straight Talk on Toll Lanes as the cover of their January 31st issue.   It was a good article, and if it had been published earlier, there would have been no point in writing the “Media Watch” post.  Things seemed back to normal with the Citizen doing its usual stand-up job of reporting the local news.

After that however the back and forth continued with escalating barbs traded by both sides.  In the February 7th issue the Citizen also took on other local media outlets regarding how they were covering the story, publishing a piece with extensive references to journalistic ethics and poking some very direct and indirect jabs at the ethics and quality of other local papers.

Immediately after that issue, a part-time Citizen employee took to Facebook to stump for the paper on the North Mecklenburg Republican Women’s page without first disclosing his employer.  He was immediately called out on that fact by one of the readers.  A spirited back-and-forth ensued.

Finally, this week things apparently took an ugly turn with allegations of lawsuit threats posted on the Citizen website in its Editor’s Blog under a post titled”Crappy little newspaper? Not so much”.  For some reason this piece did not make it into this week’s print edition.  However, if its contents are true, then that’s truly unfortunate.  And unproductive.  And unnecessary.

The I-77 story is important.  It will change the North Mecklenburg area permanently.  And, if we’re being honest about it, nobody knows for sure whether that will be a positive or negative outcome for the region.  Both sides in this debate seem certain that they are right and that the other is not behaving in good faith.

Reality is something different.

The Citizen isn’t a “crappy little newspaper”, but the citizens opposed to the toll road need to be heard.  They do have a voice.  In the end, we will all be living with the results of this decision by our political leaders and that should be the focus of everyone’s attention.

Originally published HERE.  Posted here by permission of author.

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