In celebration of the 26th anniversary of Save our Waters Week, the Chronicle has been filled with many editorial and hard news stories about conserving our waterways.
Rep. Ralph Massullo, whose West Virginia roots makes him particularly responsive to the issue of waterway conservation, kicked off the week last Sunday. Never one to talk about personal accomplishments, Dr. Massullo’s numerous successful legislative efforts were highlighted in subsequent columns by others.
Members of the public who truly put the active in activist like Art Jones offered some simple small suggestions that could lead to large-scale change like providing better access to restrooms and designated anchor stations in areas of overcrowding near Three Sisters Springs.
Cheryl Phillips, a member of the Save Our Waters Week Committee who has served on many local planning boards and committees, discussed stormwater runoff prevention in a clear cut manner that untangled a complicated issue relevant in the headlines since the Commission’s vote a week and a half ago.
Overall, the Chronicle generously gave plenty of column inches to this worthy cause, inviting wonderfully knowledgeable voices to speak on behalf of the issue. And yet, it feels like there’s still more sides to this languishing in silence.
As I drove around Friday delivering the Concurrent to residents, I would reduce speed to idling through washed out roads passing homes in Homosassa Springs that were islands in the surrounding water. I didn’t even go into some of the worst areas in Floral City.
I’ve talked with residents of Homosassa near the Halls River, and after reviewing some of their correspondence with the state, I can only begin to imagine their frustration with the Florida Department of Transportation Secretary’s call for patience while the state addresses an issue that would have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for the residents’ advocacy to begin with.
The Chronicle’s online poll on Saturday morning, as unscientific as it may be, showed over 40% of respondents wanting to vote all the commissioners out of office for the outcome of the stormwater fee change, by far the most popular response, with less than 8% responding that the vote was consistent with the Save Our Waters Week conservation mindset.
These discussions between the Homosassa residents and the state show a disconnect, one demonstrated in the numbers of the poll results as well between the public and the county, that feels as vast and as helpless as a home surrounded by water on the east and west sides of Citrus.
Massullo, Jones and Kate Spratt from the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park are making a difference and I don’t want the following criticism to minimize their immense contributions to conservation. But the Chronicle’s coverage this week felt like the same social capital distributor of self congratulating that gives the paper far more of a public relations bent than one of journalism.
Objectivity in journalism is defined by balance and weight. Balance is if you are covering sides equally, oftentimes measured quantitatively in quotes or sources, and weight is if those sources have equal qualitative measure. For example, I applaud Mike Bates for still covering the topic, but the most recent news story written about the runoff into the Halls River has unequal balance.
The story is told exclusively from the side of the state agency, which can overlook the fact that FDOT is backtracking, whether intentionally or not, on previous claims made to residents without their voice represented. The effect of this can be helping to drive the narrative that the state is working toward resolution when the real story beneficial to Citrus may be how the state, potentially through lack of decisive action and rhetorical misdirection, allowed it to get this bad in the first place.
A column from Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach, who cast the sole vote in opposition to the change in stormwater prevention collection methodology, would have gone a long way in providing the weight side of objectivity in coverage. Instead, the stormwater voice was Ms. Phillips, who is accomplished, but she does not hold the same caliber as a popularly elected commissioner. Commissioner Schlabach would bring the credibility to a different perspective of how it could be done, but we instead get a lesser-weighty source who is more consistent with the narrative.
These nuances of objectivity is why an overwhelming number of people feel newspapers are biased but can’t articulate why. We should expect more out of our paper if it is to truly be a watchdog on the side of the public.