Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Shelby County Reporter and Conflicts of Interest?

***Note: some links in this post will link to previous postings due to the archived stories being unceremoniously removed by the SCR upon the recent relaunch of its website.

We have covered the Shelby County Reporter and its ostensibly continued biased reporting in previous posts, and will now go more in depth and present what we believe, are valid journalistic and editorial ethics issues that deny the citizens of Shelby County, Alabama fair and accurate reporting.

The Editor of this paper, Tim Prince, also serves as president of the South Shelby Chamber of Commerce (SSCC). On the SSCC website is a "Letter from the President" which includes the Articles of Incorporation:

The South Shelby Chamber of Commerce was founded and incorporated on October 20, 1993. The original Articles of Incorporation read that, “the object of this Organization is for the purpose of promoting economic programs designed to strengthen and expand the income potential of all business within the trade area; promoting programs of civic, social and cultural nature which are designed to increase the functional and aesthetic values of the community; and discovering and correcting abuses which prevent the promotion of business expansion and community growth.” Those same ideals are still pursued 15 years later, as the Chamber and its members continue to promote and enhance the economic vitality of South Shelby County.

"Discovering and correcting abuses which prevent the promotion of business expansion and community growth."
Exactly what does that mean? Does that include citizens that organize against a proposed business for their community because they do not feel it is in keeping with the "functional and aesthetic values of the community?"

"Correcting abuses." Does that mean violating a town's zoning ordinances and running rough shod over the procedures to change said ordinances because following proper procedure is an "abuse" or impediment to "business expansion and growth?"
(One thing it doesn't mean is a valid explanation for the hiring of the Chair of the Shelby County Commission, Lindsey Allison who is a family law attorney, to represent WRQ in the zoning lawsuit filed against the City of Vincent. That move has impropriety written all over it due to her position, influence and field of law expertise.)

Just because something prevents the promotion of business expansion doesn’t mean it’s inherently bad; quite the contrary--  we have zoning and environmental and health and safety codes that “interfere” with pure greed and expansion, for good and necessary reasons.  Which is why most communities have rules about where you can put slaughterhouses, cemeteries, quarries, coal mines, gravel pits, landfills and waste-disposal plants, and less obnoxious industries that rely on toxic or dangerous materials (like mercury and cyanide) which are perfectly useful and necessary industrial materials, but require careful monitoring and mindful application.
One man’s “business expansion” is another man’s front yard facing an auto salvage yard as a new “neighbor.”  “Slow growth” and “no growth” are perfectly valid concepts which many communities embrace.  Other communities confuse minimum-wage jobs and toxic workplace environments with “expansion,” and invite noxious businesses into the area (usually in locations where there’s no visible impact on the wealthy and powerful).
“Discovering and correcting abuses” is another way of saying “eliminate all roadblocks created by anyone with environmental or safety issues, and marginalize or neutralize any person or organization who uses the law to slow down or stop unregulated expansion and growth-for-profit at any cost.”

The SSCC makes their position in being staunchly pro-business to a fault very clear; they have even used the words "aggressively promoting business" in other documents that discuss the SSCC  "ideals."

We will not fault any Chamber of Commerce for actively wanting to promote economic development within their communities--it is to be expected from those entities. But, it becomes a problem when that philosophy extends to what is supposed to be an objective public forum; the local newspaper.

The Chemical Lime plant/quarry that was championed in the SCR Editorial from 2007 has not been the boon for the City of Calera that *it was claimed it would be. Clearly, the paper was led to write such a favorable editorial by interests other than the citizens interests.
*(scroll under consent order)

Time after time we have seen stories published that exhibit bias regarding the Vincent, Alabama community and the WRQ Vincent Hills quarry  as we explained in previous postings. But it extends beyond bias and moves into the lack of accuracy in reporting on facts and figures presented in one recent story regarding Vincent's projected population growth that were just plain wrong.

We have also made note of the very restrictive TOS revisions by the paper in January 2010, that have been revised yet again with the "relaunch" of their "new web version" on August 10, 2010. Forum commentators must secure permission to post links to other stories from the originating authors/sites, which is beyond any stipulation we have seen in any TOS to date. By posting these links, without permission, the paper puts the poster in danger of copyright infringement by declaring that the poster is claiming the link as their own material.

Comments on all Vincent stories "disappeared" along with original stories, other comments were removed that allowed readers to obtain a differing point of view, such as is presented on this site, and all the archives became inaccessible with the recent relaunching of the web paper. It lends itself to the appearance of deliberate suppression of any other point of view that media outlets should encourage even if they disagree with them.

One of our fellow bloggers who enjoys 500,000 hits per week puts it this way:

"Overly restrictive TOS and the persistent removal of comments that challenge the newspaper/writer/subject are usually the created when pretentious people are upset and are too weak to compete on a level playing field in the arena of public opinion. It sends a clear signal to the community that if you disagree or take a hard line stance, then you are unwelcome in their arena of public debate. Stifling restrictions imposed by the controllers are implemented to make sure that no one strays too far from the established thoughts and ideals."
Notes and calendar records were obtained through an FOIA request from the office of Kristine Goddard, Planner II with the Shelby County Development Board, that revealed that White Rock Quarries "maintains a blog on the SCR website." If there is a logical explanation for that we would like to hear it, because the aggressive PR firm they hired and numerous spokespeople they also employ, in addition to access to other big media outlets, raises the question of why would they need to influence the public discussion boards, if that is indeed what they "maintained the blog" for.

And why would a public newspaper allow this to occur in the first place?

Newspapers should serve three basic functions for communities: watchdog, teacher and conscience. Those three things are impossible to achieve if the reader suspects there is something else behind particular news coverage other than journalistic standards. Journalists must strive to avoid impropriety and conflicts of interest as the basic tenets of ethical journalism because a newspaper's credibility is its most vital asset.

In this case, the SCR Editor is self-defined in his role as president of the SSCC to be a strong advocate for business expansion and promotion. How can the paper he serves as Editor for possibly be fair and objective in their coverage of negative aspects of the county businesses and industries that are of interest to the public? Isn't there an obvious conflict of interest between journalistic and business goals in this situation?

When Editors place themselves in the position of putting their overlapping financial objectives from one entity to their management objectives in another, it creates a muddled atmosphere that blurs the line between journalistic standards owed to the public and business obligations to their competing corporate interests.

Corporate ideals and the public interest are often not aligned in their philosophies and journalistic impartiality is all but impossible to achieve in this scenario. Advertising dollars add to this problem because news outlets have become so dependent on their revenue that they will sometimes "look the other way" and omit certain stories and facts that would upset specific corporate clients.

Although there are no compelling laws that govern the media's suggested ethics codes that are enforceable under the First Amendment, many news organizations have adopted them and strive to "seek the truth and report it." Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

The Editor of the SCR should be promptly replaced because he has refused to disengage himself from these outside influences, and in doing so, he has lost all editorial credibility resulting from his position with the SSCC and their ideals.

This county has long labored under the delusion that the public figures rooted in Columbiana's power structure and special interests have the absolute right to control the news presented to the Shelby County residents. They would be wrong in that assumption and should be held accountable for their actions by the citizens of this county-- who deserve an honest, fair and accurate voice from their sole local media provider.

So say we the Opinion Board of the Vincent Alabama Confidential
**Update August 18**
We note that some past stories have made their way back onto the site, but you have to know "how to find" them. It will probably be chalked up to; "We are still working out the kinks in our new site." We thought of this too and took our own steps to document that what we saw at certain points in time.
Nice try though.
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  1. This unfortunately exists a lot in the media today, but to be the only paper a county of almost 200,000 (I checked your stats) makes the issues you raise alarming.
    Keep your eyes on this and stay after it.
    Good work.

  2. Maybe they need to change the name to the Shelby County Regurgitater.

  3. Absolutely insidious and reprehensible!!
    Thank you for the information and it will become an issue of discussion in my circles.

  4. Good one Razz! HaHaaaaa
    Seriously though, this is a load of bull#@*& and is not what the print media should be about. It's cronyism and propaganda...seems like your good ole boys have that down to a fine fart.


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