Informed public depends on informed news media

In the media business, the old saying “don’t shoot the messenger” applies in cases in which outlets report news people might not want to hear. But in several recent instances in the Grand Valley, much of the media didn’t have the chance to decide whether or not to pass along the messages because they never received them.

When Mesa State College and Community Hospital announced the college plans to purchase hospital property along 12th Street to expand the campus, the story was first reported on a local television station and the front page of the daily newspaper — in part as a result of an e-mail sent to college faculty.

Yet, no official news release was issued by either the college or hospital.

When the School District 51 Board of Education voted to approve a $138.4 million budget for the upcoming school year, no news release was sent to local media even though the district spent considerable efforts to inform media in advance of the extensive cuts and layoffs that are likely to occur. And when the district subsequently surveyed community leaders about a potential November ballot measure to ask voters to lift a mill levy freeze, no news release was forthcoming, although district employees received an e-mail about the measure.

When the executive director of the Business Incubator Center announced her resignation, she also chose to send out an e-mail to contacts, some of whom passed the word along to some media, but not others. Once again — no news release.

When the president of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership resigned earlier this year, the news came in the form of a story in the daily newspaper.

Going back to late last summer, a Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce initiative to recruit volunteer tutors for School District 51was reported in the daily newspaper days before the effort was officially announced to the rest of the media. Given the fact the publisher of the daily newspaper belongs to the Grand Junction Forum, the chamber group that developed the volunteer initiative, the development was understandable.

Finally, when the executive director of the Downtown Partnership resigned, the announcement came in the form of a paragraph near the middle of an e-mail newsletter sent to businesses belonging to the organization. At this writing, the Business Times remains the only media outlet, to our knowledge, to report the news.

We enumerate these developments not to whine about which media outlets get the “scoop,” but to point out a disturbing trend that ultimately affects the broad dissemination of the news upon which an informed community depends.

Nobody understands better that delivering the news is a business. Each media outlet is a distinct business entity in competition with other outlets. Each outlet and its reporters strive to present news that’s more relevant and interesting to consumers than its competitors — and to do so first. It takes a compelling product to deliver the readers, listeners and viewers that advertisers want to reach. And advertising revenues pay the bills. Competition drives media outlets to improve their products much in the same way retailers seek to improve their products and services to stay ahead of competing ventures. As is the case with retailers, competition increases the quality of the products and services consumers receive. At least that’s the free-market model in theory.

Media outlets that get the scoop as a result of good reporting and enterprise rightly deserve the credit. But when one media outlet receives stories in ways that other outlets can’t — or, worse still, has stories served to it on a proverbial silver platter — competition is unfairly decreased. As a result, fewer members of the public read, hear or see the information. Even the largest and most popular media outlets don’t reach every resident in Mesa County.

Of course, private businesses and individuals are free to announce news whenever and however they want. Public officials, however, have an obligation to inform the citizenry about important developments, particularly when tax dollars are involved. In one form or another, tax dollars are indeed involved at the college, hospital, school district, Business Incubator Center, Grand Junction Economic Partnership and Downtown Partnership.

The best way to ensure the most widespread coverage that in turn informs the most people is to call a news conference or to at least issue a news release to all media outlets simultaneously. With e-mail, the process has never been easier. Unfortunately, officials in Mesa County are availing themselves of that process less frequently — to the ultimate detriment of the constituency that foots the bills.

The Business Times remains committed to pursuing the free flow of information from publicly funded organizations to all media and thereby to the largest proportion of the population possible. We want to pass along those important messages.   

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