What’s fair and right
Well, I’m back. I mean, I’ve physically been back from India for three weeks. So back really now means that my brain and body have caught up with each other and I’m ready to tackle the issues again. But, actually, before I get on to new things, I really need to wrap up an old issue that has been bothering me: The Vail Daily’s coverage of the conference center ballot question prior to the election.Now bear with me because this is important. And I couldn’t do it before for several reasons. To begin with, any complaint before the election would have been viewed as whining. Secondly, I wanted to run the whole thing past the Daily’s Andy Stone.Just in case you haven’t heard, Swift, the parent company of our newspaper, has employed Andy to act as their ombudsman – a title that is as difficult for me to say as saying “aluminum” is for others. Nonetheless, they hired him to receive and investigate complaints.So I called him and e-mailed him, and he called me and e-mailed me, and then I left on vacation. While I was gone, he looked into the issue which had also been raised by others besides me. And then he responded with columns on Dec. 10 and 22.I read with great interest his very thorough assessment. For the most part I agree with his conclusions. He researched the volume of public input into Tipsline, letters to the editor, the poll, commentaries and Web site and determined that proponents far outweighed opponents in their use of these vehicles. After determining that all of the items received had in fact been published, only one conclusion could be reached. Those in favor of the ballot question were far more diligent and organized in their use of the paper than those opposed had been. He also pointed out that there had been a systematic procedure used in determining what opinions would be given the status of “guest commentary.” This designation elevated those pieces to a prime location, which was questioned by some, but Andy found that at the very least a consistent method had been used.Ad placement was another concern. He outlined the paper’s procedure in locating ads within each section and came to the conclusion that there had been no favoritism applied to the placements.So far so good. He then analyzed the Daily’s personal stance and how it directly effected their coverage. And that’s where our positions started to diverge. Andy’s conclusion, which was strongly supported by both the editor and publisher, was that the paper has not only a right but a responsibility to take positions on important issues in the community. They all further believe that the Daily clearly followed that dictum in their coverage, as they had supported the conference center even as far back as the first vote in 2002.To this end, Don Rogers wrote multiple editorials and commentaries in support of the ballot question, but even Andy feels he crossed over the line on several occasions.In more than one edition, Rogers’ comments and reactions were classified as “rude” with a “condescending tone.” Some “complaints were justified,” and on at least one occasion, Don’s response was an attack when an apology was called for.” Don of course thought his coverage was fair and accurate. Whoa there! Now he’s on thin ice. In three years of committee meetings, never once did the editor in chief attend. So hearsay is all his comments could have reflected. But more pointedly, in several attacks on opponents, he took some unfair, uneducated and unfounded jabs, most notably at Heywood Sanders.Professor Sanders is head of the public policy department at the University of Texas and is recognized by those without an ax to grind as the country’s leading authority on conference centers. While he has been very prolific in his writings on this subject, his presentation to the Brookings Institute in January 2005 is the basis for much of the debate over the validity of employing CCs as a means of economic salvation. So when Don on more than one occasion referred to him as the “nutty professor,” several questions came to mind.First, I’d like to inquire on what basis Don felt qualified to cast aspersions on the professor’s credentials? Does he have a Ph. D. in public administration? Secondly, I’d also like to know if the Brookings Institute has ever invited Mr. Rogers to make a presentation on anything much less the topic at hand? I for one took great exception to those meanspirited comments.But there was another very significant area where Andy and I parted ways. He excused their coverage because, though the Vail Daily was “careless,” nothing they did was unethical. And that’s probably true. But in my opinion, there’s more to the story.In a community as small as this, there are different rules. Or there should be. Because first you must keep in mind that for all practical purposes, we’re a one-newspaper town. That puts a lot of pressure and responsibility on the Vail Daily to present the issues before us with an even hand. Oh, I’ll agree, they’re allowed their opinion and are entitled to express it. But more importantly, they have an obligation to make sure all sides of the story are presented in a balanced way. Forget what’s legal or ethical or who wins or loses. It should be about what’s right and fair for the community. And it’s certainly unprofessional and childish to call names. My opinion is that the Daily’s coverage of this topic reflected badly on the credibility of the newspaper and those entrusted with its management.But what’s the old saying, “You get what you pay for.” After all, it is free.To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail email@example.com. For past columns, go to vaildaily.com and click on “Columnists” or search for keyword “ferry.” Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily. Editor’s note: Professor Sanders’ report dealt with the convention center business, not the smaller conference centers like that proposed for Vail, which actually have seen their business increase. Ferry also blurs news “commentary” and news “coverage.” As “commentary” deals with opinion, she is of course welcome to hers, which she expresses freely in this space every Wednesday. Reporters worked hard to cover the issue fairly and comprehensively, even going to other communities to report on how their conference centers work. Vail, Colorado
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