From pats on the back for a job well done to kicks in the rear for dropping the ball, the role of a community newspaper is as wide ranging as it is important to the vitality of the area and the readers it serves.
To put it simply, it’s a balancing act on when to do either based on circumstances, timing and most importantly — facts.
More than once in recent months, The Messenger has been “blamed” — for lack of a better word — for causing a lost economic opportunity in Madisonville, according to Mayor Kevin Cotton. Most recently, Cotton said at a town hall meeting held this week that “a deal was made. They were coming, but there was an article that ran in the newspaper that talked about the decline in population. Top of the fold, big bold letters. Guess what happened? We lost ’em. We lost ’em because that was the message that they saw.”
Who did we lose, exactly? And, equally important, why did we lose them?
If you are to believe the mayor, the why is this newspaper. The who, on the other hand, has never been publicly stated. However, in talks with other public officials, it was made clear that a restaurant was the economic development opportunity missed because of a two-part series that ran in November that looked at declining population in the city and county.
The articles delved into the impact of a declining population base and what that meant in terms of the future for our area. Specifically, it addressed the potential need to consolidate schools because of a decrease in the number of students. It looked at a smaller employee pool for potential businesses seeking to expand or locate to the area. And, it addressed possible solutions to these very real issues.
As editor of this paper, I take very seriously our role to foster growth and to be a partner in all things good for Hopkins County. Having said that, I also draw a hard line between being a public relations publication and a newspaper — which goes back to the “pat or kick” analogy I referenced earlier.
If the city or county sneezes, it is this newspaper that leads the way in telling that story. Growth and added features through our city parks — we are there with camera and reporter’s notebook in hand to share that story. Much-anticipated movement on a long-talked about sports complex — we are once again at the forefront keeping you informed on the latest happenings.
Way more often than not, it is good news we are sharing about a community we not only love but have a vested interest in. But don’t mistake this support as blind loyalty, as we will not bury our collective heads in the sand while ignoring the writing on the wall when it comes to accountability of our elected officials.
Real issues will be written about, and tough questions will be asked. That’s our job.
But I digress. Back to the issue at hand — the supposed lost opportunity.
In another life, I was heavily involved in economic development issues for Hopkins County. As a magistrate, I chaired the Fiscal Court’s economic development committee and worked in unison with economic development officials at the local and state level to ensure resources were available to help Hopkins County position itself for real growth. I traveled to meet with Land O’Frost officials to help secure that deal back in the early 2000s. I led efforts to open up educational opportunities to better train our workforce for growth that followed ED endeavors. And, I always made sure monies intended for ED purposes were not squandered on things that didn’t lead directly to jobs.
I point that out for no other reason than for context. I’ve been there, and I’ve done it.
One thing I can tell you with a great deal of certainty is that if a deal was pulled based on a headline in the paper, then that relationship was fragile at best to begin with. This proposed restaurant was reportedly to be built in Mid-Town Commons — mere feet from I-69. The number one thing restaurant decision makers are looking at when deciding where to expand is traffic — not heads in beds. Is population a factor? Without a doubt. But what is a far greater factor is the number of cars traveling an interstate with an easily accessible exit just feet away.
The numbers from I-69 are there to support virtually any restaurant seeking to expand to Madisonville — regardless of a headline in this newspaper.
Perhaps moving forward, Mayor Cotton would be better served addressing the real issues facing Madisonville instead of trying to play the blame game. Meanwhile, The Messenger will continue to do its part in sharing the many positive things taking place daily in this great city and county, while never backing away from stories that impact our readers.
Jon Garrett serves as editor of The Messenger. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 270-824-3221.