Sunday’s editorial addresses actions by the chamber of commerce this week:
When your business and reputation is built on a foundation of accuracy, fairness and integrity, it’s tough to hear yourself called unethical, immoral, misleading, untrue, “unwilling or unable to report the facts” and “perhaps even illegal.”
We won’t lie. The dogpile nee press conference called Thursday by the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and the reactions of members and supporters afterward stung a little.
But none of the harsh adjectives thrown around this week can dent our pride in the work of our reporters or our dedication to act as a fierce watchdog for our readers’ interests. Our role as journalists in this affair has been simple from the beginning, and was laid out by Publisher P.J. Browning on Thursday: “Our goal is to show specifically how much money the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce has received from the local option tourism sales tax, how that money was spent, and provide context from experts in tourism and marketing on those spending decisions.”
Much of that goal has been accomplished on our news pages, through the work of our reporters who inform the public of facts without bias or comment. At other times, we’ve attempted to effect change through these editorial pages, where our editorial board takes those reporters’ findings, combines them with our own goals and concerns and offers comments, opinions and suggestions in an attempt to better our community.
It’s telling that of the nine “misleading” allegations attributed to The Sun News, some of which never even appeared in our pages, none addressed our main, often repeated and most basic concern: It has been impossible to determine exactly where our tax money has gone or what it has bought. After our taxes are given to the chamber for use in tourism promotion, they disappear into a vague, opaque world where they’re comingled with private funds. We’re given official reports and studies that tell us little about what actually happens and make measuring success grueling, if not entirely unachievable.
Please don’t misunderstand. We’re happy to support the tax for tourism promotion. This most recent summer was one of the region’s best in years and the local economy seems to be on a road toward recovery. At least some of that can likely be traced to more tourists lured through increased promotion. We also have no personal beef with Chamber CEO Brad Dean, an overall generous and friendly guy. (He’s voluntarily donating a kidney to a stranger on Monday, for goodness’ sake.)
But none of that goodwill toward the chamber changes our dogged determination to throw open the windows and shed more light on how and where our tax money and that of our readers is spent. Myrtle Beach City Council’s vote in October to require the chamber to separate public and private expenditures on its reports is a major step toward that goal, and with luck it will settle most of what has unfortunately become a much more tortured process than it should have been.
In the meantime, every report and editorial we’ve published in recent years on the Myrtle Beach chamber is available in the archives of our website for all to read. We stand firmly behind them and encourage readers to take another look if they’re unsure of what was published or where the truth lies.
When someone points out that we have made a factual mistake, we correct it, as we did regarding whether money from the chamber to Coastal Uncorked was public or private. (It was private, and we corrected that error as soon as we were alerted.)
But just because someone disagrees with what’s in an article, it does not mean the information in the article is wrong.
It’s not exactly clear what the chamber was hoping to accomplish with its defensive display on Thursday. If its leaders wished to file a formal complaint about the work of our reporters and allege some actual wrongdoing, there are more official avenues. If they simply wanted to offer their own explanations of some decisions, they have had plenty of previous opportunities. Almost every report published in our newspaper on the chamber’s activities in recent months has included a note that chamber officials were unavailable or declined to comment. One of the tenets of good journalism is to provide both sides of a contentious issue, and our reporters – as well as this editorial board – would be happy to include and explain the chamber’s perspective if that silence were broken.
Like the chamber, our goal is nothing less than the betterment of this community in which we live, pay taxes and raise our families. If we can work together toward that vision, all the better. But that will only work if we can communicate. The first step is answering the phone.