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COMMENTARY: At the Citizen, we're looking forward

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In all my years in community journalism, I have upheld the view that newspapers should cover the news and not make the news.

That remains a solid philosophy in virtually every case.

But occasionally a situation develops in which it seems prudent to address issues that relate both to truth and fairness.

In this instance, I feel compelled to come to the defense of a couple of our staffers at the Lovely County Citizen who have endured ugly and unnecessary comments and abuse over the past couple of weeks merely because they are trying to do their jobs and support their families.

This revolves around the "outsourcing" issue that has surfaced in the local community, especially as it relates to the Lovely County Citizen.

As has been noted earlier, local editorial content has never been dictated by company management and will not be in the future. Secondly, not one single employee at the Citizen has lost his or her job as a result of any production changes.

The irony is that our immediate past editor actually spoke out against a proposal to create several additional jobs in Eureka Springs, citing "work ethic" concerns in the community. With that specific exchange in mind, it appears clear to us this current skirmish is the culmination of an agenda over the past several months that had the goal of establishing a competing newspaper in the market. I feel confident others have gained that same insight.

Those who have followed the intriguing history of newspapers in this community know our company acquired the Lovely County Citizen in 2005, concluding the payment process five years later. To our knowledge, the principals involved (including our departed editor), cashed all the checks. Included in that transaction was a clear and valid business non-compete agreement that does not expire until 2015. So much for vaunted journalism and business principles.

I personally was responsible for the negotiation of that acquisition and have been indirectly involved in the management of the LCC since that time. I have been in the community many times, met local business and civic leaders and have continued to be encouraged by the way the LCC has covered the community, just as it did under its original ownership. It has been operated in a truly independent manner with the staff free to make local editorial decisions (including recent pointed criticisms of ownership and management without even a hint of repercussion).

My commitment to the LCC staff has been to help provide the equipment they need to do their work and support their goals of strong local autonomy as they publish an interesting and creative newspaper. I believe those goals were achieved in the past and will be in the future as we proceed with an essentially new, but talented staff.

Now to the employment questions being raised in the community. As noted, there has been no "outsourcing" of jobs in Eureka Springs. The parent company has entered into a contract with a Chicago-based company for basic ad-creation services. That company does have offshore employees.

The reasoning behind this action ― which has been followed in a similar manner by countless other newspaper companies in America ― is to enable local staffs to focus on what they do best: covering local news, promoting local businesses and providing solid customer service. Those will continue to be the goals of the Citizen as it moves forward. Furthermore, final design decisions will be made by our new creative director and news judgments will be made by our new editor.

What is great about Eureka Springs, and America, is that each person is free to hold and express strong opinions on issues of common interest. Such is the case in this current "debate." It seems reasonable that observers also consider a sense of balance and at least acknowledge the complexity of our current national and global economies and the way we all fit into the process in myriad ways.

An example of those pesky nuances perhaps could be that some of the principals in this particular "conflict" seem to espouse "outsourcing purity" while driving around the community in vehicles that clearly are not "Made In The USA."

Meanwhile, the Lovely County Citizen will continue to provide a significant number of jobs in the local community and will work especially hard to help attract visitors to this wonderful community to enjoy its beauty and unique place in our state and region.

Coming full circle on these thoughts, I just hope everyone treats our talented and committed staff with the respect they deserve as Eurekans just trying to do their jobs and uphold their own singular places in this close-knit community. They deserve as much, and I am sure that will be the case based on the community's long-term commitment to tolerance and disdain for mean-spiritedness.

― Ron Kemp

Regional Vice President

Rust Communications