I love newspaper readers, but please read carefully
Some things never change, and the reality of collateral damage from news stories is one of them. Plus the fact that I really just don’t like it when it happens.
Our cover story last week (www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/18931) examined concerns about how the presence of alcohol in rural Haywood County might change small communities like Fines Creek, Bethel or Jonathan Valley.
I don’t think beer and wine at convenience stores, gas stations or restaurants will dramatically alter these communities. They will remain rural and conservative. As James Ferguson of Fines Creek reminded a reporter, there has always been alcohol in rural mountains coves and communities.
And the stores and restaurants that do make the choice to sell spirits will level the field of competition with their in-town cohorts. If you’re driving from Bethel to the Canton Ingles to get beer, may as well make one stop and get gas, bread and milk while there. That’s dollars right out of the hands of the rural storeowners.
County commissioner and Jonathan Creek gas station/convenience storeowner Michael Sorrells pointed in last week’s story, he’s picking beer cans and bottles out of his parking lot and off his property all the time. Again, as pointed out by Ferguson, people who want to consume alcohol are already drinking in rural Haywood County
What never changes — at least for those of us in the news business — is the cold hard fact that people don’t read our stories before jumping to conclusions. I don’t really know which causes more problems: the skimmers — those who read the headline, the first graph, and the picture captions — or those who profess to have read the whole story but are so hell-bent on believing what they want that they just “miss” or “gloss over” the parts that might prove that theory wrong.
Case in point: see below the letter from Mike Graham at the Jukebox Junction restaurant in Bethel. He’s part of that collateral damage I’m talking about. Last week’s story contained this line: … a manager at Jukebox Junction said that they’d chosen not to sell alcohol, and said they wanted it to remain a “family restaurant.”
Despite what was said in the story, he’s been fielding calls and taking reservation cancellations because some of his customers who are against drinking somehow were led to believe he was going to start selling beer, wine or both.
Let me back up a minute. I’m truly reluctant to say anything negative about anyone who reads newspapers. You are my people, my soulmates, the butter on my bread, the money that pays my mortgage. In an era of declining newspaper readership, local papers like this one continue to fill a vital role by reporting stories you won’t find elsewhere.
That said, I feel a little like that stern high school English teacher who loved the language but was compelled to berate students who couldn’t use the King’s English properly whether in writing or when speaking: I’m so glad you’re reading, but please read carefully.
As I said earlier, collateral damage in the newspaper world is difficult to avoid. If we write a story about how horrible traffic is on N.C. 107 in Sylva between Ingles and downtown, motorists who try to avoid that traffic hurt the businesses located on the strip. When we report on horrible wildfires in the region and the smoke they are producing, internet readers in Charlotte or Atlanta may choose to go to the coast and spend their money there.
In the case of Jukebox Junction, however, we printed the truth but used the imprecise wording on the caption for a picture of the restaurant. We were thinking the wording we used — “Restaurants like Jukebox Junction in rural Bethel can now sell alcohol, if owners so choose” — would lead people to read the story and find out who had and had not applied for a license, information that was in the story. Obviously, as we found out later, it didn’t work. Another case of collateral damage.