5/2/18: COMMUNITY JOURNALISM IS THE BEACON’S GOAL: The Outer Banks Sentinel Miscasts New Blog as Us-Versus-Them

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The Outer Banks Sentinel has an article in today’s issue about the launch of The Southern Shores Beacon. Sadly, the reporter decided to parlay his preconceptions about what The Beacon’s intent is into an us-versus-them piece, the “them” being represented by Mayor Tom Bennett, Mayor Pro Tem Chris Nason, and Town Manager Peter Rascoe.

Folks, I have 44 years of professional journalism experience, most of it in newspapers, and I believe strongly in the watchdog role of the press in our constitutional republic, in holding our local, state, and national governments accountable to the citizenry. I’ve read newspapers since I was a child, and I came of age during the Watergate crisis. I am dedicated to fact-based reporting, to providing reliable information upon which readers can make decisions about how they live and form opinions about their lives and the world around them. Accurate information is one of the cornerstones of knowledge.

I have no intention of editing and writing a predictable political screed or of discrediting people in public office simply because I happen to disagree with their opinions. I believe in reasoned discourse and in the democratic process of decision-making. While The Beacon (and I) may editorialize on occasion—and I will let you know that a blog post is an editorial and not a news report—its (my) opinions will be based on facts. As clichéd as it may sound, I truly do shop in the marketplace of ideas, and I believe in listening to a diversity of voices, not just to one’s cronies.

Mayor Bennett is quoted in The Sentinel article as saying that he has not seen The Beacon and has “no interest in it.”

“I know who they are and I know what their objectives are,” he reportedly said.

I have been interviewed for newspaper articles enough times to know that reporters often misquote people, opting to paraphrase thoughts instead of quoting language verbatim, and otherwise taking comments out of context. Perhaps The Sentinel reporter misquoted the Mayor. If the quotes are accurate, however, I would ask Mr. Bennett to reserve judgment. Maligning The Beacon and its reporters without having read it—without having any evidence to support his opinion—is hardly fair or open-minded. In fact, it suggests bias and prejudice. Inasmuch as The Beacon will undoubtedly be relying upon the Mayor as a source for information, I would hope he would endeavor to be helpful, despite what appear to be his personal feelings and unsupported assumptions.

(Subsequent to posting this blog, I ran into Mayor Bennett at Town Hall, and we had a very cordial conversation.)

Because I’m a stickler for accuracy, I would like to note that The Sentinel incorrectly reported that The Beacon has been publishing for a month. I posted the first blog on April 12, 2018. Also, the name of the grass-roots organization with which I was previously associated was The Alliance for the Preservation of Southern Shores (TAPSS). The Sentinel reporter mischaracterized the nature of that group and its actions. We did not lead “protests against town projects that involved clear-cutting of property owners’ trees,” nor did I run for Town Council in 2015 as part of a “trees” movement. The maritime forest of Southern Shores, albeit interrupted by development, is a precious resource that is a vital part of the town’s ecosystem, as well as its character and ambiance. TAPSS was about preservation of the whole of Southern Shores, from sea to sound, and dunes to woods, not about hugging trees.

TAPSS focused on ensuring that infrastructure projects in town had a low impact on the environment. We were dedicated to ensuring that the town’s land-use plan was respected. While we disagreed with the town’s destruction of dozens of large trees on Fairway Drive and at the intersection of East-North-South Dogwood trails, which we viewed as unnecessary, at no time did we organize to protest clear-cutting on private property, as The Sentinel alleges.

As I told The Sentinel reporter, my chief objective with The Beacon is community journalism. My roots in Southern Shores run deep—back 50 years to family vacations I spent here. I was raised in Maryland and went to college and law school in North Carolina. During two magical college summers, I waited tables and cleaned motel rooms on the Outer Banks, living in KDH and Nags Head. I remember when Carolista Baum led the movement to stop bulldozers from destroying Jockey’s Ridge.

My parents, Albert (Dr. Al as he was called by locals) and Fern, built the first cottage on pilings in Southern Shores on oceanfront property they purchased for $10,000. As you may know, the Kitty Hawk Land Co. parceled out lots for sale in Southern Shores, so as to ensure slow and smart growth. One day, my father, who had grown up on a farm and valued land, received a call from KHLC that an oceanfront lot had become available for sale, and he had 24 hours to decide if he wanted to buy it—sight unseen. Dad said yes, and then borrowed the money from his father, who thought buying property on the ocean was a terrible investment.

The construction of our family’s modest oceanfront cottage—it had a dishwasher, but no air conditioning or telephone—occurred in 1971. Today, my three siblings and I own the house and rent it on a seasonal basis. My parents retired here in 1996—two years after I made a full-time move to Southern Shores—and my father died here in 2014. I am the primary caregiver for my mother, who is 94 and still lives in the soundside house she shared with my father. I am committed to ensuring that she lives at home until she, too, passes.

So, you might say that Southern Shores is personal for me. It’s my home, and I would like to be a part of preserving its future. I love Southern Shores. I’m not just passing through.

BUT BACK TO JOURNALISM . . .

I will be reporting on the highlights that came out of last night’s Town Council meeting as soon as possible. The most important concerns details of the June 23-24, 2018 no-left-turn trial at the intersection of Hwy. 158 with South Dogwood Trail. Mr. Rascoe also announced that the proposed FY 2018-19 budget would be available on the town website as of 8:30 a.m. today, thus giving property owners more than a month to review it and ask questions of town staff before the June 5 public hearing. The Beacon will examine the budget and pass along any analysis we deem of value to property owners. There will be no property-tax-rate increase in the next fiscal year. Here’s the link to the proposed line-item budget:

https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/FINAL-FY2018-2019-Proposed-Operating-Budget.pdf

If you have any questions at all about The Beacon, please contact me, either through ssbeaconeditor@gmail.com or through my personal email, annsj@earthlink.net. I would be happy to talk with you.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, May 2, 2018

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