“Perhaps it is time to ban the media,” a woman named Mary Harris said in a Facebook post last week after the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office announced a press conference regarding the drowning of two boys.
Her comment garnered nine “likes.”
A response that said, “There are countries where authorities have done just that,” had only three likes, one of them being The Oconee Enterprise Editor Michael Prochaska.
“Scumbag media is going to put their scumbag spin on whatever the story is anyway,” said Robert Thompson.
“Personally,” added Dave James, “I would rather get my info from the Sheriff’s Department over the news anyway.”
Melanie Parker summed up journalists in one word: “vultures.”
The Oconee Enterprise acknowledges that we don’t make the jobs of law enforcement easier. We know our camera is a nuisance and can be an intrusion into a person’s worst day.
We don’t take those moments lightly. Ethical decisions on what to photograph, what to publish, who to interview and when or if to release certain information is all carefully considered.
One of the tenants of the Society of Professional Journalists is to minimize harm and treat sources with respect. We think about that every time there’s a heartbreak in this community.
What we saw last week was a community turning against the media because they believed that journalists were disrupting the job of law enforcement.
It’s not unusual for vans of Atlanta-based television crews to come to town following a local tragedy. It happened when four University of Georgia girls were killed in a wreck on Greensboro Highway. It happened when a 16-year-old girl died in a UTV accident in North High Shoals. And, unfortunately, it will happen again.
Sheriff Scott Berry is prepared for out-of-county journalists, and he knows he will have to spend time answering questions from the press. This is true for any local government or state department or federal agency. It’s routine and an essential component to a free and open press.
The men and women with TV cameras last week were concerned only with disseminating truthful and accurate information. In a nutshell, that’s what we all strive for.
The Sheriff’s Office will disseminate truthful and accurate information too, but if you rely solely on state-run media, you likely won’t know if the governing agency is being sued or if an employee was fired.
Check the Oconee County Schools Facebook page to see if the school system is doing any kind of reporting on a gas pipeline that will need to be relocated.
Check to see if the Board of Commissioners has anything on its website about forcing out the economic development director.
And how about Animal Services? Do you really think the department will release the full report of a Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency audit?
Journalism serves a purpose. It tells the stories that the government won’t tell.
And are you, the reader, not also a taxpayer? Do you not deserve to hear from an impartial source what the people you elected are doing and where your money is going?
And when there’s a tragedy, should we not document the heroism of first responders or share with you the legacy of the fallen?—how people were immeasurably touched by having known the deceased, and now you can remember them vicariously too.
Should we not preserve the moments that shape this community, whether joyous or grievous, easy or rough, proud or shameful?
One day, your children or your children’s children may looked through the archives of The Oconee Enterprise. They deserve an honest, historical record of Oconee County—heartbreak and all.
For more, see the June 14 edition of The Oconee Enterprise, on sale now at convenience stores and grocery stores and newspaper boxes throughout Oconee County. To subscribe, go to oconeeenterprise.comor call (706) 769-5175.