Care is needed with accusations in community

Mistakes, exaggerations could have huge effect

Throughout my journalistic career, I have found that certain rules and policies ensure that everyone the newspaper works with is treated fairly.

Some rules are simple, such as only publishing donation photos of a certain dollar value, $250 and higher, as the time and effort taken by the newspaper to publish the photos has to be justified.

I learned a long time ago to be careful about letters to the editor attacking local businesses. It can be very difficult to determine the veracity of such attacks, some of which can be surprisingly vitriolic considering the minor or even insignificant nature of some of the complaints.

Local businesses spend a lot of time and effort building up their reputation, a resource that’s very important in a smaller, rural community. It can take hundreds of hours, months or even years to build up a strong local reputation for a successful business.

If a newspaper prints a letter that attacks a local business, the number of copies of the paper printed could mean thousands of people will read the nasty letter, whether it’s true or not. If it turns out the letter is untrue or inaccurate, the newspaper bears some responsibility for the attack on the business’ reputation.

I’ve seen instances where attacks against an operation’s reputation were allowed to be printed, then turned out later to be false or exaggerated. The damage was done, and apologies are a lame way to try to make peace.

Thus, my policy as editor is that The Pipestone Flyer doesn’t print letters attacking local businesses unless the business owner is given a copy of the letter first and given a fair chance to address the issue.

One of the duties that’s now part of a newspaper editor’s job is to monitor and employ social media. Social media such as Facebook and Instagram can be useful to get the word out to certain parts of the community regarding the material we have on our newspaper’s website.

However, I’ve noticed some social media users feel comfortable attacking local businesses with minor or insignificant complaints. The complaints often are strongly worded and obviously intended to harm the operation’s reputation and rarely is an opportunity ever given for the business owner to address the issue before the accusations are spread.

Even if the complaint is valid, attacking somebody on social media doesn’t really solve the problem of whether your donut didn’t have enough sprinkles on it or your chicken burger was missing a slice of tomato in the drive-thru.

Anyone concerned enough with the quality of a product or service you obtained from a local business should have the courage to directly contact the business owner and discuss the problem.

If you feel the problem isn’t important enough to directly contact the owner, then it certainly isn’t important enough to post in a social media attack.

Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.

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