Friday, March 31, 2006

117: “The Demise of the Gettysburg Times”


[Opinion]
The owners and editors of the Gettysburg Times have now shed their skin one final time turning the Newspaper into nothing more than a mouthpiece for the developers and big moneyed interests in the area. In doing so, the Times now has placed itself beside the local Merchandiser as little more than a collection of paid advertisements.

How sad to see such an important newspaper decline into shelf-liner because of the policies driven by monied interests rather than the public service a newspaper is bound to serve.

The Gettysburg Times, which recently had two of its staff members win awards for investigative journalism, now is reduced to shilling for the casino investors. They have dropped all pretense of equity and fairness, they have dropped all pretense of presenting both sides of the issue, and they continue to run the dishonest and misleading advertisements of the casino investors.

[In fairness, so too does the Hanover Sun, which is guilty of carelessness in what ads it runs. The ads have been debunked here, and elsewhere. We expect the Hanover Sun to clean up its act and return to a position where they do not serve as a propaganda organ for the dishonest monied interests of development.]

A newspaper’s credibility is established over long years of service to its readership, and the community in which it is located. One bad decision can wipe out years of hard work, integrity and commitment to an ideal.

This is what has happened to the Gettysburg Times.

Over the past six months, an editorial policy has emerged that strongly favors not just the casino at Gettysburg, but also the rampant overdevelopment in Straban, Mount Joy, and Cumberland townships, and in the areas around Biglerville, and Fairfield.

This policy has not been made a clearly stated one in an editorial…no, the owners and editors of the Times do not have the courage to do that. Instead, they publish positively flavored articles for the casino and other development (note the recent series of puff pieces on Bob Monahan’s project at routes 15 and 30, by John Messeder, their principle ‘reporter’ for this policy), and negatively flavored ones about the anti-casino movement. Apparently the Concerned Citizens of Straban Township are not militant enough to warrant much coverage at all.

Certainly, the public is not being served by their local newspaper. Indeed, as of a few years ago, the word on the street was, if you want to read the news of Gettysburg, buy the Hanover Sun. That obviously continues to be the case today.

The recent award to one current (Scott Pitzer) and one former member of the reporting staff at the Times was cause for hometown pride, and rightfully so. The two won an award for investigative journalism for a series of articles on how the Charlestown, Jefferson County area of West Virginia has fared since the introduction of gambling in their area. The pieces were honest, and fair, though they could have gone a bit deeper into things. The awards, however, were well deserved.

Unfortunately, since that series ran, this policy of pro casino, pro development bias has become quite evident even to the casual observer. It does not take a microscope to divine the bias in any article run with the byline of John Messeder. And it is not the first time, either. In late April last year Straban Township’s Supervisors pulled a secretive end run around their citizens by declaring a new zoning plan in force that would change more than 8,000 acres of currently open and agricultural land to open it up for development. That would leave only 3,000 acres of current open and agricultural land in the township, which is one of the top agricultural-producing counties in the state. John Messeder gave the event one line at the tail end of his weekly article about the doings of these folks we call "The Strabaddies". In comparison, the Hanover Sunday Sun ran a large article detailing everything, and included a large color map. This is just one comparison that illustrates the Gettysburg Times failure of its implied promise to serve the people of Adams County. And the Times statement on its banner, “Adams County News First” is simply not true any more.

Their recent undeserved and unprovoked attack on the much honored and honorable Civil War Preservation Trust is something that will forever have the Times listed on a wall of shame. Here is a group that does so much good preservation work in this area and the Times gives voice to a few petty accusations in a rant by David LeVan as if he speaks with the voice of God. Money, not God. And the Times readily and conveniently forgot how much money the CWPT has sunk into the Gettysburg area for preservation, far more than LeVan has for preservation. But it did not serve their new purpose.

When it comes to development, the Gettysburg Times no longer prints news, it prints advertisements, and often covers them with innuendo-filled headlines, as it did today. [An article by Scott Pitzer covering the Borough Council meeting yesterday dealt with the reluctance of the local No Casino Gettysburg group to give up a list of businesses that are against the casino. The list was given to the Council. The reluctance stems from various threats and rumors of threats by the monied interests behind the casino to do financial harm to businesses and individuals that do not support the casino. So the Times ran the article with the headline, “Group says 70 businesses opposed. But which ones?” This is how to subtly change the thrust of an article by the lead-in headline.]

There is more in the history of the Gettysburg Times about which it should be ashamed, and when the time is right it will be revealed. Editor Small knows what it is, so does John Messeder. So does a good friend of mine, who has a signed and notarized affidavit on file with an attorney. All in good time.

In the meantime, there is no doubt that the Gettysburg Times does have a niche in the Adams County area. The comics are decent, the local sports coverage is about what you would expect for a small town newspaper, and it does make for great shelf-liner. It also does well to wrap glassware and crockery when packing it away for storage or shipping. That should at least provide a minimum for circulation.

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