Jackson newspaper doesn’t do state any favors by race baiting

By DAVID GUSTAFSON,

I try not to be overly critical of other media outlets - particularly other newspapers - especially when you consider how tough things are in our industry these days. But when the state’s largest (and shrinking) newspaper publishes a sensational story about our city that gives the impression this community is something it is not, I’m going to make an exception.

The Jackson-based Clarion-Ledger published a story this week focusing on social media response about a Hattiesburg restaurant that was vandalized with racist slurs.

Some Facebook users, according to the story, questioned whether or not the restaurant owners themselves were capable of such an “attack.”

The headline said it all: “Social media divided on motives behind N-word slur, vandalism at black-owned restaurant.”

Except social media is not really divided on the issue. A few comments does not make division, but the newspaper knows that division – particularly racial division – will warrant website clicks and page views, which is all their coporate governance is concerned about.

As a member of this community - particularly the downtown business community - it’s clear to me that this type of “news” reporting by the Jackson newspaper does nothing but promote negative discourse among blacks and whites and only sets this state back even further on race relations.

And frankly, we have enough problems on our own without the state’s largest newspaper painting the Hub City in such a negative light.

Page views and clicks.

Hattiesburg deserves better.

For that matter, so does Mississippi.

Recently, this city’s largest Southern Baptist (and predominantly white) church was vandalized in a very similar fashion. There was no story in The Clarion Ledger citing Facebook comments that suggested it was an inside job. And there were plenty of those.

And what about earlier this year, when a local gay man was assaulted - allegedly because of his sexual preference? Was there a story in The Clarion Ledger about Facebook comments suggesting he wasn’t telling the truth? Because those were out there, too.

The newspaper’s corporate ownership has been very clear to its local news staff that the only stories they want covered fit certain categories likely to generate high web traffic.

If asked privately, reporters there will confirm the same. As a result, they are left with hardly any choice but to rely on social media comments as story fodder.

If the police are investigating this as an inside job, they’re not communicating that to us. And if they ever do, we shall report it.

Until then, don’t expect to read about this nonsense in The PineBelt NEWS.

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when media outlets would ignore dumb comments made by individuals who were simply trying to stir the pot.

And then America elected Donald Trump and that changed everything.

Gustafson is the not-so mild-mannered editor and publisher of The PineBelt NEWS.

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