by: Walt Inabinet || Folks most often live in rural settings by choice or many times due to familial circumstances. Small towns and bucolic settings conjure images of a slower, more measured, less stressful way of life that are by in large true.
But one of the greatest sacrifices of living in the outskirts of civilization is that news here is not news to the masses; our problems, challenges, governance, and issues rarely receive the attention of city outlets like daily newspapers or television news. Out here in God’s Country, prayers for an aggressive, accountable journalist to take an interest go unanswered.
What’s more…more and more…the daily outlets have even given up the pretense of caring enough to truly report on what goes on out here in the nethermost news lands.
Newspapers accept at face-value any and all press releases put out by officials usually giving them the byline of “Special To…” (insert media outlet name) or just giving no author attribution at all.
And as for television news, Columbia, Charleston, nor Augusta stations are inclined to send even a one-person crew on a 3-hour roundtrip to obscurity to cover a rural story.
With little journalistic scrutiny, there is little to no public accountability here and thus our agrarian landscape provides fertile fields for government misdeeds, pretend economic development, voter apathy, and perhaps worst of all the false sense of security that at all is right in our once-removed world.
I live in a county with one of the state’s highest county tax rates, is chronically among the top-five counties in unemployment, whose population has declined 22% since 1980, has the state’s highest infant mortality rate, and where 40% of our children live in below-poverty households.
We are a slow-rolling financial catastrophe with all the social ills that brings…but slow-rolling news is no news in today’s fast-paced news media… we don’t sell in terms of subscription numbers, ratings, or website clicks.
In fact, we here are discouraged from bothering hallowed newspaper editors, or omnipotent tv news assignment editors, or the sacrosanct in-boxes of reporters.
Anyone who bothers these self-appointed stewards of our social conscience is at best brushed off with a “we’ll look into it” or at worst just tagged as a local yokel venting as part of a personal vendetta. Indeed, an area news outlet has gone so far as to direct its staff not to respond to inquiries from certain folks and refuses to publish accounts contrary to the line county officials provide them.
News stories are here, they just aren’t reported be it out of journalistic apathy, laziness, or misguided news judgments. Corroborated, documented, vetted, well-sourced and double-sourced stories from here have been supplied to news outlets only to be totally ignored and never to see the light of print or television screen.
Our county administrator is paid $120,000 a year but doesn’t even live in the county, has been court-ordered to repay millions he made off of a Ponzi scheme and for fleecing a former county, created and hired a friend to a $79,000 a year county job (she doesn’t live in the county either), and he has filed for personal bankruptcy.
The CEO of the non-profit economic development group contracted to perform all county economic development efforts makes $200,000 a year and his staff another $750,000 in salaries and benefits all while the county has lost far more industries than that group ever recruited here and has announced new industries and jobs that have yet to materialize.
Our county council has increased its budget 66% in just two years and uses a shell nonprofit to take out tens of millions in secretive loans; the county even deeded over title to our county courthouse to the nonprofit so it could take out a $10.8 million loan; yes, the county leases its own courthouse from the nonprofit.
Citizens voted via a penny sales tax to reconstruct our courthouse; the county instead pulled a bait-and-switch and used the money to build a new annex.
And in a neighboring county in just the past two weeks, a $314 million project that promised to create 1,547 jobs was announced while the news media just printed the headlines and the press releases with no background checks on the principals involved or the likelihood of the proposed project reaching fruition. These are but a few of the unreported real news stories from here.
Here on the outskirts, we’ve learned not to bother the bigger city news outlets; they can be so rude. Besides, what do we rural folks know about what is or isn’t news? You’d be surprised about that, too.
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