Craig Hall Column
It had to happen sooner or later, as all members of the media have to deal with at some point. And in our first case, it comes from an unusual entity, one that we’ve been supportive of and have run literally hundreds of stories for over the years.
The Business Times has been accused of bias for the first time ever under my direction. And as our readers can see on the next page, that accusation comes from none other than the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.
I could take this personally — which no matter how I look at it, part of me does — and take my sarcasm to a new level with the folks at the chamber. But this is the time to let the facts show our readers what has occurred.
If we can be rightly accused of anything in this case, it’s that we could not get a job in politics or with the CIA. I’ll explain. We put something in writing and e-mailed it to people we know. What we put in writing were the questions we’ve been hearing in regards to the chamber’s 500 Plan — from chamber members, business leaders and the public in general when the topic is brought up in conversation. Was it smart to place the questions in the context they were asked in instead of filtering them? Maybe. Maybe not. After all, we all talk differently in a casual setting versus a professional appointment.
As I mentioned earlier, the Business Times has published hundreds of chamber stories, features and nearly every press release it has sent our way. I can add that when we cover these stories, we go above and beyond in being positive and supportive. I challenge the chamber to find one time we were negative about anything it has done in a news story and not exhibited professional behavior in our reporting. I’ll go one step further: I challenge the chamber to find one news story or press release we’ve published since I have been here and apply any bias.
If I know nothing else about this paper, I know one thing: Mike Moran and Phil Castle are beyond reproach when it comes to unbiased reporting. This year the chamber has received from the Business Times professional coverage about its stimulus package, Blue Bandwagon campaign, 500 Plan and countless other press releases. These are indisputable facts. Another fact is that School District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz was happy to sit down with us and answer any questions we had, regardless of the context or wording. We even got some of the Grand Junction Forum members to go on the record. While some said the questions we had were a little conversational and a tad out of character for an interview, they also realized that in a professional setting, the questions would be asked appropriately.
So what happened all of the sudden? What made the chamber send us the “no comment” response and then, of course, send us comments in the form of a letter to the editor? What could the chamber possibly point to in knowing the paper was about to do a negative story inundated with misinformation and misconceptions? The short answer is it cannot.
I can only think of two things that have occurred that would cause the change in the chamber’s tone: The Business Times started asking questions about chamber programs the chamber perceived to be negative and the publisher of this paper wrote some columns with some very specific concerns that hit the chamber in a way in which it is not accustomed.
As for the story questions, I would think the chamber would welcome inquiries into what it;s doing, if only to solidify its position and actions in the community. The chamber should realize we’re asking questions as a member of the chamber, a member of the media and a member of the community these programs propose to affect. While the Business Times is no longer a member of the chamber, the questions the paper asked should not be worrisome for the veteran business members of the chamber staff and its boards. It is our mission — and should be the chamber’s — to give the people of this valley all the information they demand.
On the other hand, I wrote some opinionated columns on how I personally felt about the chamber and its overreach into the private and institutional sectors. For my efforts I’ve received, let’s say, “interesting”
e-mails from people at the chamber and its board members. Additionally, I’ve heard stories from business professionals in the community about the response of chamber staff when my name or the name of the paper is mentioned. Truth be told, those reactions matter little to me. In a way, it’d be interesting to hear the context the paper’s (and my) name was taken into during the board meeting where every board member agreed to send the letter to the editor, but I doubt they’d publish that.
There’s one thing we heard from the chamber that does stick with me on this episode: ”It all goes back to the buy local thing.”
Huh. Right about the time we asked a few questions and I started writing about the chamber. Maybe the chamber has some new questions coming its way.
Craig Hall is owner and publisher of the Business Times. Reach him at 424-5133 or firstname.lastname@example.org.