This summer, you’ll find the Ouray County Plaindealer is no longer available at one of its previous locations.
And that’s because a local business didn’t appreciate being highlighted in a story and told us to remove our rack from its property.
I struggled with the decision to write this column, but I’ve decided it’s important for our readers to know some of the challenges we face as community newspaper owners.
The KOA dealt with the county’s restriction on short-term lodging, meant to discourage visitors from outside the area from coming here and potentially bringing the virus, by having guests sign leases for 31 days and a document indicating they were “essential.” Even if someone stayed only one night, signing that lease gave the KOA the ability to say guests signed a lease showing they were long-term visitors, or they claimed they were “essential,” in compliance with the order.
We felt the story was important to report, given the debate the county had over instating the restrictions. It was also of public interest given the enforcement of the ordinance. While the former sheriff and the undersheriff had both been out to the campground several times, neither talked with the campers, and it didn’t seem law enforcement was keen on enforcing a public health order. There was a lot of traffic coming and going from the KOA, many vehicles with out-of-state license plates, and locals wondered what was going on.
Other lodging establishments voiced concerns that they had been punished for following the rules, leaving rooms sitting empty and forgoing revenue because they adhered to the public health order. That also made the story newsworthy, in our opinion.
When the story was published on May 21, we hadn’t started distributing to the newspaper rack at the campground yet. But I can’t say I was surprised to find a sign taped over the window of our newspaper rack at the KOA two weeks later when we inserted the first edition of the season.
I was a little surprised to see someone taped over the coin slot so no one could purchase the paper.
Nevermind the owners have our contact information and used it to ask for a photo we published earlier in the year. They loved the publicity they received from us when they bought the business.
This isn’t the first time we’ve had someone retaliate against us for our coverage. And it won’t be the last.
We’ve had folks cancel subscriptions because they’re mad about a story. Our own former sheriff, Lance FitzGerald, had one of his staffers call us to cancel the office’s subscription in retaliation for our continued coverage of his personal and legal issues. He also wasn’t happy that I refused to use a selfie he wanted us to use in the paper instead of publishing his mug shot, as we do with all other crime-related stories. He clearly didn’t like my answer – the rules applied to him, too, regardless of his position.
I don’t take it personally, because for every person who doesn’t like us publishing the truth, we know there are hundreds of others who appreciate it.
When we bought the Plaindealer, we promised ourselves that we wouldn’t make editorial decisions based on money. That means, even though I knew the KOA owners wouldn’t like the coverage and might try to punish us, I still needed to do what was right and report the story.
My goal is to prioritize truth and the community’s right to know over our own finances. I hope that will earn dividends from others who support our work and value what we do here. I don’t know the price of integrity, but it’s more than I ever made on collecting quarters from that newspaper rack.
Part of our job here at the Plaindealer is to hold people accountable – and usually people think of the government when we say that, because journalists are often referred to as the “Fourth Estate.” But it’s also about providing vetted information to our readers so they can make their own decisions. Businesses and their decisions related to public health orders during a pandemic certainly fall under that umbrella.
It’s not our job to be popular, or even well-liked. We hope you appreciate our work, but we know there may be times you’re not happy to see something in the paper. I accept this. As long as we know we’ve done our job fairly and accurately, I’m OK with that.
Even if you don’t like this stance, I hope you understand it. And if you value the service we’re providing to the community, even as some retaliate against us and try to hurt us financially, please show it.
Your support makes it possible for us to have Carolina Brown write business features and cover school board meetings and county commissioner meetings. It helps us have the resources to cover city council and town council and keep up on other important stories.
Advertise, subscribe, and please tell your friends and neighbors to do the same.
If you’ve done those things, please consider a donation to our Report for America project so we can keep journalist Liz Teitz here reporting on COVID-19 and housing issues.
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Reach Erin McIntyre by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.