A reader challenges a newspaper, a councilor

For the editor,

In today’s world, there is no limit to the resources people have to source information and news. There are various social media platforms where we can afford to enter an echo chamber and only follow, read and subscribe to people, outlets and sources that we believe are telling the truth, in isolating ourselves from the point of view of others.

We have friends and family members with whom we discuss the news. We have cable to watch local, national and international news. We have radio and, my favorite, podcasts. I omitted a source because that’s what I wanted to discuss today. It’s no surprise to anyone that our country has become incredibly polarized, but it seems to have affected our small town newspaper as well. Many people in our community rely on the newspaper as a source of local information. Biased reporting appears to be at play and access to accurate reporting is particularly important during election time.

The same reporter had been reporting on city council meetings for a long time. I have noticed that lately the newspaper has been reporting polarized and negative views on these meetings with very little or no mention of the positive. Last Saturday (October 22), an article was written with the title “Downtown petitions attract over 1,000 signatures”. The first two words of the article were “citizen unrest”. I was unable to attend the meeting in person on Thursday, but was able to watch it on the Town of Mount Airy Facebook page. There was no commotion.

In fact, it was an incredibly constructive meeting where all but three citizens talked about all the positive aspects of our downtown. They talked about how businesses, old and new, thrive. Mount Airy has grown from the edge of a “ghost town,” like most downtowns in the 80s and 90s, to an admirable town that is seen as an example of rejuvenation across the state.

If I hadn’t watched the meeting, reading the title and those first two words would have led me to believe it was a controversial meeting. How are our residents supposed to know what’s going on when there seem to be so many inaccuracies in our local newspaper? I realize that an article was written three days after the fact highlighting the positives, but the damage was already done. People remember what they read the first time. Especially when there is a flair for the dramatic.

It is sad to say that this polarization and repeated dissemination of disinformation is not only coming from our local newspapers, but also from our candidates in public elections. One candidate, in particular, spoke highly of MAD (Mount Airy Downtown Inc.) at Thursday’s council meeting, but is also a member of the movement to “save downtown Mount Airy.” He was even a supporter by posting a now-deleted message on the group’s Facebook page saying that people who visit “love Mount Airy as it is, and so do we!!!”

He was also quoted in the Mount Airy News on Tuesday as saying, “If I had been mayor, I would have publicly corrected the misinformation that was spreading and avoided the wasteful vote of the commissioners after the public hearing” (candidates divided on the plan of the city centre).

Which is it? How can you praise the work MAD did in one breath and then claim to want to “save” downtown from the work you just hired?

His job as commissioner is also to correct misinformation. If he can’t be trusted to fulfill that requirement as commissioner, why should he be trusted to continue as mayor? It’s like not being able to run a cash register, but thinking you’re qualified to be the shift supervisor. Causing fear and division is a political tactic used to win an election. In my opinion, this is not the type of leader I want for my community, my state or my country.

I repeat, change is the only constant in life. It’s how you prepare for it that’s most important. Coming together as a community moving forward, not backward. We deserve it, our children deserve it, and so do future generations.

Lauren Jennings

Mount Airy