Rupert Howell’s column

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 18, 2007

Playing footsy with pols, trying to report news

By Rupert Howell

This isn’t always an easy business — being the local press.

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Our job is to report local news to our readers. We work hard at it all the time and think we do a pretty good job most of the time.

There’s a game played with members of the press by elected and appointed officials in the area of economic development.

They don’t want to tell the local press about negotiations concerning possible industrial prospects who may be moving to our locale.

On the local level, those connected with economic boards and committees are often asked to sign non-disclosure forms that forbid them from talking to anyone about the industrial development under consideration.

Meanwhile, some “in the know” talk in hushed tones to those who inquire and word spreads, sometimes embellished, as often happens in rumor mills, throughout the community.

So the local press, whose job it is to factually report matters of interest to their readers, is sometimes accused of trying to kill an industrial project by reporting what everybody at the coffee shop already knows.

Local officials are reluctant to give  information to the press at this point, but everyone will want to be included in the election year groundbreaking picture.

Governor Haley Barbour indicated that part of the success in luring Toyota to the Wellspring site in northeast Mississippi was the ability to keep negotiations secret. Japanese have been known for secrets and surprises.

A Mississippi Development Authority representative told this newspaper that MDA didn’t report whether or not they were working with a particular industrial prospect.

That was the same week that Governor Haley Barbour told members of the Mississippi Economic Council that General Electric was going to build a new facility in Mississippi and the day before MDA Director Gray Swoope said on state-wide radio that GE was going to build a plant to make jet motor components in Northeast Mississippi.

Local officials have attempted to be as frank as possible and we realize that a certain amount confidentiality is necessary. We appreciate that and those who are working tirelessly to provide jobs and opportunities to our area.

Some of these jobs and opportunities often come with hefty price tags in the form of incentives and tax breaks.

The question is, “Do we report what we know to inform our readers, citizens and taxpayers what is going to happen or do we play along with government officials and bureaucrats and let them control the information flow on their time schedule?”

When General Electric announces they will break ground for a new 200,000 square foot facility that will hire over 100 on Highway 6 east of Batesville to make jet engine components, know that we’re only trying to do our job — not trying to destroy someone else’s.

And if you don’t read it here first, chances are those in charge decided to make a bigger splash elsewhere. After all, it is election  year.