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Recently, I have been dissatisfied with the Star Tribune's unwarranted and unsupported negative coverage of Pittsylvania County that hasn't followed journalistic practices such as transparency, objectivity, and providing evidence to back up a claim.
Let me preface by saying that I believe the Chatham Star Tribune serves a crucial role in keeping our community informed. However, over the past few months I have been dissatisfied with unwarranted and often unsupported negative coverage of Pittsylvania County from the Star Tribune. I have seen a departure from standard journalistic practices such as transparency, objectivity, and providing evidence to back up a claim.
Let me give some examples.
During our April business meeting, the Board of Supervisors approved a resolution initiating a referendum for a 1% sales tax increase, where all proceeds would be used for school capital costs. If approved by the voters in November, this would generate approximately $3 million annually for needed repairs on aging and failing infrastructure, including things like new roofs and air conditioning units. These capital needs are coming regardless of how we pay for them, so why not levy a tax that is more equally distributed across Pittsylvania County residents and also applies to non-residents travelling through? This is better than placing the cost on the landowners, which is usually the route we have to take.
The Star Tribune’s coverage of the referendum featured a “man on the street survey of random voters registered in Pittsylvania County” that found “no shortage of opposition to the tax.” Yet only one person was quoted and no additional information about the number of people surveyed or the questions asked in said survey was included. This Board of Supervisors is working hard to make wise financial decisions that move us forward without placing unnecessary or disproportionate burdens on our citizens. I believe that this tax increase represents a necessary, prudent, and fair revenue stream to support our school system, so I was displeased with the Star Tribune using the opinion of one citizen to make it seem like there is widespread opposition.
Another example of poor journalism was the Star Tribune's coverage of our reassessment letter. The Star Tribune used the headline the “The county has failed” and said that the overwhelming majority of homeowners felt that our apologies and clarifications “were merely backtracking,” all based solely on "a social media survey," the results of which were never shared in the story. The paper also refused to provide any more information – such as what questions were asked, how many people responded, etc. – about the “social media survey,” which was the crux of the story’s claim. Just as concerning, the staff from the Star Tribune never asked anyone in Pittsylvania County government for comments, ignored our follow ups with factual corrections to the story, and failed to write about our effective efforts to correct our mistake and educate our citizens about the reassessment process.
A few more examples: the Star Tribune published a story about work beginning on Pittsylvania County Public Safety’s new EMS station in Hurt, yet no one from Pittsylvania County government was ever consulted for the story, which had several errors. In the spirit of public transparency, we were happy for the Star Tribune to publish the salaries of all Pittsylvania County employees making more than $55,000. In fact, we decided to publish the salaries of every full-time county employee. However, it was disheartening to see the way the paper seemingly tried to villainize our county government for providing fair compensation to a lean team of valuable employees.
I believe objective reporting can keep citizens informed and hold government accountable to its constituents. That’s why I hope the Star Tribune will return to providing an objective, transparent story of our community instead of resorting to unsupported and unnecessary negativity in their coverage of Pittsylvania County government.