If you only read last week’s coverage of Carter County fiscal court in the Ashland Daily
Independent, you’d have a very different view of the new court than if you read it in the local newspaper.
Not because anything the ADI reporter printed was wildly incorrect. The writer was there for the meeting, up until executive session, and other than some minor discrepancies in numbers (the 911 rate is $1.74, not $1.70 and will raise to $3.50 not $3.75) the story reflected what you saw if you stayed up through the executive session.
Unfortunately for the ADI readers, a lot of important discussion occurred after the magistrates returned from that private session.
Let me be clear, I am not disparaging the writer. She does excellent work. She has scooped me a couple of times in the local community, and she is not the problem.
The problem is that the out-of-state owners of the Ashland Daily Independent – the same company that closed your Grayson Journal-Enquirer and Olive Hill Times – won’t pay the time for reporters to cover the entirety of the meeting.
They’ll pay them to come down and cover the first regular meeting of a new court, on a slow news week when they have space to fill. What they won’t do, however, is pay them to come cover the special meeting held the week before, which can provide more context for the dynamics of the court.
Or, as we’ve noted, to stay until an executive session has wrapped and the court has formally dismissed.
It’s a measured bet for them as a business trying to balance costs with meeting the needs of their readers. After all, in many instances councils or courts return from an executive session, give a vague synopsis of what they discussed – generally litigation or employee issues – then adjourn.
This is what happens in most instances, but not always.
And when action is taken after an executive session, it can be important.
Sunshine laws require courts and councils to meet in open session. This is so the public and the media can see what actions their elected officials are taking. But there are times that privacy is imperative, even for a public entity like the government. When it’s pending litigation, it’s done to protect the privacy of those involved or to protect legal strategy. Likewise, when it’s related to employee issues, it’s important to protect that employee’s privacy – especially if no action is taken.
When action is taken, it has to be brought before the court and voted on in public after returning to regular session.
That’s what happened last Monday when the court moved to reinstate a previously dismissed employee to the road department. That vote revealed disagreements among the court on that measure.
When taken in the context of the previous special meeting, and comments made by magistrates there, it also showed inconsistencies in the rhetoric and actions of magistrate Millard Cordle – inconsistencies he declined to address when questioned on them.
Cordle doesn’t owe me an answer on that question, but the public does deserve to know what their elected officials say and how they vote. What the public does with that knowledge, whether its ask their own questions or shrug it off, is up to their individual conviction.
Many people don’t even care to know. But those who do care to know deserve a full picture.
This is why locally owned media matters.
I understand that the company needs to be profitable. I guarantee you we struggle with less income and tighter profit margins than they ever did in the county.
But profits cannot take precedence over duty. If saving $15 is more important to you than reporting the news, you are in the wrong business. It’s easy to forget that when you aren’t in the community.
When you don’t have to face the people who rely on you for truthful, objective, unbiased coverage.
It’s why locally owned, and locally accountable, media matters; now more than ever.
It’s why we appreciate you supporting us with your subscriptions and rack purchases, so we can make sure meetings are not only covered, but covered fully.
It may be a land of milk and honey, after all, but you can’t smell when the milk is going sour if your nose is three states away.
Contact the writer at email@example.com